Happy 2017 or whatever.
I was asked to compile my top ten favorite books of all time. I happily agreed to the challenge. I thought it might be a dope thing to list my favorite books and why I enjoyed them so much. Until I remembered how many books I’ve read and absolutely loved… and had no idea how I would narrow them down to just ten. So then, there was anxiety and angst as I did my best to come up with this list. I’m stressed, y’all.
So many of you want to do more reading in 2017. This may be a good place to start.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I first read this book as a ninth grader and was absolutely delighted at Salinger’s overuse of the word ‘fuck’ in this text. Every time my teacher read a passage aloud and came across that word, I would fall into fits of hysterics when he read it. I was completely and absolutely enthralled with profanity and this book gave me everything I needed.
Beyond that, it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that takes place in the 1950s about a 16-year-old kid named Holden Caulfield who is struggling to find his way in a big, confusing world. He alienates himself almost completely from society, struggles with expressing his emotions, deals with crippling loneliness, and tries to navigate the phoniness of the adult world. He also says ‘fuck’ a lot, which, even as an adult, still makes me inexplicably happy.
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Ever read a story so beautiful you could hardly breathe as you turned the pages? Or am I just that much of a geek that these things only happen to me? This was, by far, one of the best books I have ever read in my entire life. Wally Lamb tells a story unlike anyone else I’ve ever encountered. This one was no exception.
The book is, no exaggeration, about 700 pages long. So not only is it an awesome read, but could also double as a weapon should you need to teach someone a lesson. But, I digress. The story is told from Caelum Quirk’s perspective, a high school English teacher living in Littleton, Colorado, who has an anger management issue and the tendency to cheat on his wife, Maureen, the school nurse at Columbine High School, the school where Caelum works. It is while Caelum is in Connecticut visiting his ailing aunt that the infamous Columbine High School massacre occurs. Maureen survives by hiding in a cabinet in the library. The story unfolds after the shooting, when Maureen, plagued with survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and still trying to cope with her husband’s infidelity, becomes adducted to Xanax, all while Caelum is wrestling with his own demons, including his childhood memories and unresolved family issues.
I have a penchant for books with normal characters. Caelum is ordinary. He’s not particularly good, but he isn’t bad, either. He, like Holden, is a regular person dealing with regular issues in the real world. This story is beautifully told. The 700 pages fly by, I promise.
Note: Everything by Lamb is magic. Get into his books. He’s incredible.
Sula by Toni Morrison
When I was in college, I had a professor who was absolutely obsessed with Toni Morrison. As part of my senior thesis, I had to read every single weird book this woman ever wrote. And while Morrison’s books can be difficult to understand, Sula grabbed my attention from the very beginning, because Sula was, for all intents and purposes, a hoe, but the way she owned her shit and reveled in exactly who she was completely fascinated me. Sula vehemently rejected social conventions. She is who Future was talking about when he says, “You do what you want when you poppin’.” While the women in The Bottom (where the story takes place) hate Sula because she flirts and beds their men with absolute ease, her presence in their community challenges each one of them to find and assume identities of their own, lest they live their lives in the shadows of the beautiful, sensual woman who has their men spellbound.
Sula also sleeps with her best friend’s husband. So there’s that.
I admire women who do what they want. Well-behaved women rarely make history, and Sula behaves as badly as they come. She’s also beautifully human, fiercely confident, and comfortable in her own skin, despite the naysayers, the likes of whom she completely ignores. Sula definitely has questionable morals and her own way of doing things, but a badass woman always gets my vote. This is definitely one you should read.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This book is 208 pages of the weirdest shit I’ve ever read. Most of you have seen the movie, but the film pales in comparison to the book. The book is about a nameless insomniac white-collar office worker, desperately looking for a way to change his life, to give meaning to his mundane, “little” existence. He comes across Tyler Durden, a rebellious soap-maker, and together, they form an underground fight club for men who feel repressed by their own mundane lives and need an outlet for their frustration, so they beat the shit out of each other, and go to work the next day, notably more relaxed and in control, but with black eyes, missing teeth, and the sense that they can handle anything.
What starts out as a fight club evolves into something much more as the story unfolds. The book is hilarious. I laughed out loud a lot while reading it. It’s also an amazing commentary on what the world looks like when you have the courage to throw out all the rules, to do exactly what the hell you want, and to not care what other people think of you.
I enjoy books with badass characters. I’m seeing that now. Anyway, on to the next…
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
This book recalls Walls’ unconventional, poverty-stricken childhood and how she and her siblings navigated life with their deeply dysfunctional parents. Walls’ father (Rex) was an alcoholic. Her mother (Mary) was an artist. Together, create the perfect shitstorm of dysfunction, moving around Arizona and California with their children in tow every few months when Rex and Mary’s debts become more than they can handle. Walls doesn’t enjoy stability until she is 6 years old, but as her parents are unable to live normal, functional lives, this stability is short-lived. Eventually, the family moves in with their paternal grandparents, but the dysfunction continues, following Walls and her siblings into their adult lives.
I like this story because it’s real. It’s neither happy nor sad. It’s not meant to teach any grand life lessons or make you consider your existence. It’s just the story of a fucked-up childhood and the author’s struggle to live outside of her parents’ messiness. The book spent 261 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. That’s a long damn time. Read the book.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is one of the best-selling books in history. It’s about Santiago, a shepherd boy, and his journey to realize his “Personal Legend.” While this is Santiago’s story, the book is so popular because it has inspired people all over the world to live their dreams and be better people and other similar warm fuzzy things. The book addresses real issues, like fear, and how the fear of an obstacle is often bigger than the obstacle itself—something we all need to understand.
Santiago’s story also teaches readers to make difficult decisions without hesitation, to understand that their actions have ripple effects, that they should embrace the present, break the monotony, always take action, and be unrealistic in the pursuit of dreams and goals. It’s a beautiful story about a sheepherder who decides to take a risk and changes his entire life. We can all learn something from Santiago.
This is great for all the “new year, new me” readers. That wasn’t shade, either. *walks away whistling*
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
First of all, let’s get into James Baldwin real quick. He was another one of those “I do what the f*ck I want” people that I admire so much. Baldwin wrote books, beautiful, prolific books, but also spoke out against racism, homophobia, and injustice. Eventually, he was sick of America’s shit enough to move to France and live the rest of his life there. His books often mirror his disgust with American society.
The book, which takes place in Harlem in the early 1970s, is about a 19-year-old girl named Tish and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Fonny. The two become engaged and Tish becomes pregnant, but soon after, Fonny is set up by a racist police officer and falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman. He ends up in jail as a result. Baldwin narrates the story from both Tish and Fonny’s perspectives. The story is both sad and sweet. It’s meant to highlight the power of family and what happens when people stick together and work toward a common goal.
There are some mature scenes with explicit content in this book. Don’t be clutching your pearls and acting all saditty when you get to these scenes. I warned you.
Eva’s Man by Gayle Jones
Talk about when a woman’s fed up… This is the story of a woman scorned and her inability to love for fear of being hurt. Eva Medina Canada, the main character, tells the story as she remembers it during her incarceration at a psychiatric facility in upstate New York, where she is imprisoned for the brutal murder of her lover. She poisons his drink with arsenic, and, immediately after his death, bites off his penis and wraps it in a silk handkerchief.
I know, right??
Eva’s story is one of emotional and psychological abuse. She recalls incidents that happened throughout her life that may have contributed to her heinous actions. The book is bizarre. It’s bizarre and kind of disturbing, and even difficult to follow, as it’s told from the perspective of a mentally unstable woman in no chronological order. It was graphic, and almost nightmarish, and you’ll be confused as hell when you finish it.
It’s a great read, though. It makes my list because sometimes, life is ugly. Sometimes, we can’t outrun our demons, and they get the best of us. Everything isn’t flowers and rainbows and happy endings. Sometimes, shit gets real. This is a heavy read, but definitely worthwhile.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
This book was written in 1937. It reads like it was written in 1937. If you can get past the language, however, this could be one of the most powerful books you ever read. And it’s way famous, so that should count for something. In short, this book is about the Law of Attraction and how it can be used to completely and totally grow your fortune and change your life. The premise? You are what you focus on. Your life becomes what you spend your energy and invest your emotions in. If life sucks for you, if you’re broke, unhappy, tired, and you just suck in general, according to Napoleon Hill, it’s your fault.
Hill says you have the power to change your life simply by changing your thoughts and your words. He says that if you always think thoughts of poverty, dejection, and sadness, that’s what your life will be. Once you start thinking about success and prosperity, and put your energy behind these thoughts, your life will completely change. This is perhaps one of the most powerful self-help books I’ve read. I put Hill’s theory into practice. It works. Your thoughts become actions. Your actions become your destiny. In all honesty, this book changed my life. If you don’t read anything else on this list, read this one. The free pdf is available here in case you’re interested. See? You don’t even have to buy it. You’re welcome.
Forty Acres by Swayne Alexander Smith
This makes my Top Ten list, but not because it’s so brilliantly written or because it was so enthralling—though it was both. This book makes my top ten because it really forced me to consider my own perspectives on race relations. The book tells the story of a small group of prominent, respected, very wealthy Black men who share a grizzly secret. Once a year, they take a trip to a remote property in West Virginia, owned by their mentor and leader. Everybody who works on the property, from the landscapers to the cooks to the maids and even the people who work in an underground mine, are the white descendants of slave owners.
These men feel empowered to treat these white people the way Black slaves were routinely treated in America. They whip them, rape them, and revel in the fact that they are the masters of white slaves. There’s a lot that happens in the book, but I honestly found myself wondering if, considering the way African slaves were brought to America and treated, these men were justified in their awful behavior. The text forced me to really consider how I felt about race and the idea of reparations and revenge. It also got me kicked out of a book club for sharing my perspective on it, but that’s neither here nor there.
There you have it. I know this was a lengthy read, but this was my top 10. Honorable mention goes to Child of God by Lolita Files, Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement, and You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.