Sparked by Words

I must admit I lied, an act of exclusion not intention. Of necessity for restraint not extravagance. These are not my favorite twenty-six books I’ve ever read – only the favorite for each letter of the alphabet. Even that was a miserable choice for nearly every letter. I had to leave out so many incredible books screaming, “Pick me. Me! You know you love me best.” Look at the possible choices just for the letter A:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
The Alexandria Quartet (4 novels) by Lawrence Durrell
All Other Nights by Dara Horn
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (This was the book I selected.)
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
Atonement by Eon McEwan

How could I write about All the Light We Cannot See but leave out All Other Nights, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Atonement or the other eight books? Only by wringing my hands and making promises in the dark, sometimes picking petals off the daisy, did I come to conclusions. In some cases, I had to choose a favorite book for a particular letter though I really adore another book more than the one for the letter for which I was writing. Anointing a single child. Medieval torture. The aching limitations of the series. The books left out cry to me in my dreams, “How could you do this to me?” Love is a fickle entity. I had to choose one, only one book for each letter, but still, I love all of you equally.

How did I even come to have a selection of titles from which to choose?

About ten years ago I began to keep a list of books I’d read, sometimes writing a very brief review. I’ve added titles read long ago as I remember them. The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope, a pseudonym for a group of writers, is the very first book I ever read by myself when I was five, but this book only recently got onto my list. Close to a thousand mostly fiction books read since 1953, the earliest date I can remember reading books for pleasure or elucidation. It remains an organizational mess – not in alphabetical order by title or author, not even organized by the year read. Kids’ books are mixed in as well as non-fiction which I chose not to include for possible review, nor biography or autobiography, philosophy, religious exegeses, history, science, technology, poetry, short story collections, or Shakespeare’s plays, almost none of which are even on the list. I’ve not included all the books read in support of my career as an art teacher: how to teach, how to teach art, and art history, production methods, materials, and techniques, and commentary. Also not on the list are the dozens (hundreds?) of textbooks pored over for college, and any books I still don’t remember. (OK, Captain Obvious, go away now.) This year I got a bit smarter and created a page just for 2017. I’m not a marathon reader by any means, and the list of books I’d like to read is at least another thousand.

So, picking a favorite for each letter posed a challenge. I didn’t want more than one book per author, nor to lean too heavily on any one genre, or select more female than male writers. Nor should only the classics or only recent books be considered. I selected the entire series before I began to write about Doerr’s book in order to keep my pen out of those quagmires. Didn’t mean I didn’t change my mind – I did that too, for about every letter as its publication date approached.

My original idea was only to choose adult books but if you’ve followed the series, you know I didn’t stick with that plan. Some children’s books are too exceptional and memorable to be ignored. Thus Max made his bow in Where the Wild Things Are, right after I’d sent my beloved copy to my youngest grandchildren in Northern California.

These are books that pulled me between their covers and held on to my heart and mind, sometimes making me laugh out loud in awkward places or leaving me in tears. Most of them I’ve read more than once, some as many as six times (imagine how long my list would be had I not done that) but many I haven’t read within the last year or so. Which meant I had to skim the book, most of them fortunately still on my shelves. But I’m not a speed reader and that’s why there are gaps of more than a week between some of the posts. I read “out loud in my head,” usually in voices, and that takes time.

As I worked through the alphabet my focus changed. From writing reviews of great books I wanted people to read, I wrote personal stories about why each book meant so much to me. They influenced other book choices, or how I write, or what I think about the world, or compelled me to dream bigger, try harder, research deeper, write more. There are hundreds of thousands of reviews on the Internet but my series reveals at least twenty-six gherkins of information about me.

I gave up quoting my favorite line because that became another nearly impossible choice. Most of my books are flagged with dozens of sticky notes, indicating a passage I wanted to remember. When I started copying ten or twelve sentences, I got close to crossing the acceptable legal line of limited exposure of another writer’s work. I stopped including them at all.

Toward the end of the alphabet I got creative, as you’ve probably noted. Consider X is for The Book Whose Title I Can’t Remember – that one was a mighty undertaking, demanding a return to my earliest childhood memories, but it might be the post in this series for which I’m most proud.

You, my readers, have graciously offered your own favorite titles for various letters, and I’m so thankful for your interest and recommendations. I hope you’ll consider a book or two from my list for something to read over the next year. When you open to the first page, tell them their old friend Shari sent you.


Other books that were serious contenders for A to Z:
Perhaps another 300 books I couldn’t write about, my other favorite favorites.


Painting “Interesting Story” by Laura Muntz Lyall, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Comments on: "The Scaffold for My A to Z Favorite Books Series" (29)

  1. You set yourself an impossible task for anyone who’s a bookworm, Sharon! As I always say, So many books, so little time. Nevertheless, i did enjoy reading those posts – they brought both memories, and inspiration 🌺


  2. The only way I remember all the books I read is by curating them in Goodreads. I often check that list before I buy a book! Sad, but true. This aging thing is not kind to memory.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your favorites. So many I also loved and so many new ones to add to the TBR list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You, Jacqui, have the advantage of being a marathon reader, a skill I lack. While the pile of books has become a tower, the others on the computer list has become a tidal wave – I will never get through them in this lifetime.


    • I have the same problem, Jacqui. There are so many books I have read that I do not remember a thing about at all. I should keep a list like Shari does.


  3. I love the list, but I have to admit that I haven’t read anywhere near as many of them as I feel I should have done!


    • Let’s see now: accomplished teacher, blogger extraordinaire, talented musician – and oh yes, bride to be. Busy some? You’ve got time, Suzie, and there are no should-have-dones in reading – it’s what-I-chooses. Well that didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I choose books by author but a lot of TBR are standing by.


  5. Your list is mind-boggling, Sharon! So impressive, that you read so many, but also remember, make notes and can write an extraordinary review for each! I started reading very young; every summer we went on a two-week vacation to Yosemite. My mom would take us to the library and have us pick out books to read. I could read 5-6 in the two weeks, where the best part was reading on the long drive 8 hours one way. Around 12-14 years old, though I got caught up in comic books. I can tell you quite a bit about Superman and Wonder Woman and perhaps a little Mad magazine, LOL! I still read on our vacations. My hubby will sit with me on the airplane and try to read along with me and my kindle, and i leave him in the dust! I have had memories of particular books based on where I read them.


    • I love that you remember books by where you were when you read them – that congers all kinds of other experiences.

      One thing I can’t do is read quickly. I don’t know why. I don’t know how other people read so quickly. A lot of my friends read 2 – 5 books a week, whereas a 400 page book will take me at least a full week, often longer. I do read “out loud in my head,” if you understand that process. It probably slows me down. But still, I am slow though persistent – always have a book to read. Thanks, Terri, for all the admiration but now you know my weakness as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How interesting! Sometimes reading quickly takes some enjoyment away. My new problem is the amount of books on my kindle–I take it to the gym and read while working out on a machine. So I may have 10 non-fiction books concurrently going, along with 4-5 fiction. Plus I started listening to audiobooks (chick lit) for my weekend drives to our windsurf campground. Eeek! I borrow those from the library via Overdrive app which means I sometimes have to hurry through them if someone else places a hold on it.


      • Those are two other things I can’t do. I have no idea how people work out and read – the bouncing around would make me sick. I can’t read when a passenger in car either. And I’m a terrible listener, have to doodle or take notes at any kind of speech or lecture to stay focused on the presenter. So audio books are out. Don’t own an e-reader either. (Don’t have a smart phone, just so you know how backward I am.) You function with many more advantages than I have. Maybe that’s why I’m so slow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aah, so you’re a little tech-challenged. But you are a wizard with words–that is your superpower (or at least one of them)!


      • You just made my day. Thank you.


  6. I have the same problem in that I cannot read quickly. It was a real struggle reading all the books and papers I had to read for my masters. It just wasn’t possible in the time frame I had. I find it hard to skim too and like you lose concentration when being read to. Roger loves being read to whereas I hate it. The last time I enjoyed it was before I could read for myself. Like you too I know how many books I have left to read and I know there won’t be enough time to get through them all. I’ve enjoyed your series and know I will read some that you have pointed me in their direction.


  7. I have a list due to your list. As long as we are reading life is good. I enjoyed this series, Shari. Thank you


    • You started a list because of my list? That’s wonderful. What are you reading now? I’m reading The Weight of Ink , historical fiction by Rachel Kadish. I’ve only just begun the book but already I love it. She’s a gifted writer who did an enormous amount of research for this story.


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