A Completely Subjective Book List

Sometimes I like reading posts titled things like “Books Every Family Should Have In Their Library,” “Best YA Books of All Time,” and “Top 100 Fantasy Books Ever.” While I’ll occasionally get an idea for a new book to read, I usually end up checking to see if they’ve “rightly” included any books I like or “wrongly” included books I hate. One thing that always amuses me, at least slightly, is how all these lists propose to be good for every family or include all the best books even though it’s clear all such lists are completely subjective.

For this list, I’m not even going to try to be objective or include all the best books. This is an unabashed list of my favorite books, which I irrationally think everyone should read and enjoy just as much as I do. They aren’t even organized alphabetically — just whichever popped into my head first.

My “Must Read” Books

Mara: Daughter of the Nile

My mother gave me Mara, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, when studying ancient Egypt in elementary school and I’ve read it pretty much every year since. It has everything a book needs — strong characters, good writing, and intriguing plot. On top of the admirable writing is danger, mystery, and romance. Spies! Double agents! Political intrigue! It also features the most romantic (possibly the only romantic) attempted murder in literary history. If I’m forced to choose just one favorite book, this is the one I pick.

Ender’s Game

Moving from one of my oldest favorites to one of the newest. I first read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card at the end of last year. It’s brilliant. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t spend much more time telling you how wonderful this book is, especially the characters. I cried buckets of tears in the last chapter.

The Blue Sword

Written by Robin McKinley, this may very well be my favorite fantasy book. Like Mara, The Blue Sword features a strong female protagonist and an irresistible hero (let me just say Corlath is the only person who I wouldn’t mind being abducted by [this statement will make sense if you read the book]). McKinley’s world building, characters, and story are excellent. My only quibble with this story is that, like many of her books, it doesn’t really end. It’s as if the author wasn’t sure how to end the story, so she slapped an epilog on and called it the last chapter. Perhaps I should just say that is part of the book’s irresistible charm.

Pride and Prejudice

I know it’s a terribly predictable title to include — couldn’t I have at least chosen one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known works? But I’ve read all six of Austen’s major novels at least once (some two or three times), and Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite. Maybe it’s the fact that people type Lizzie Bennet as an INFJ (which I’m not entirely convinced of, but it would explain why I identify with her so much). Perhaps it’s because Mr. Darcy is my favorite of Austen’s men. Whatever it is, Pride and Prejudice is firmly on my recommended reading list.

Fairy Tales

Not a single book, but it would take to long to list them all separately. I recommend Jack Zipes’ translation of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, augmented liberally with Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault. The reasons for this have been explored at length in my posts Fairy Tales and Dark Fairy Tales, so I’ll not devote any more time here on describing their merits.

A Gown Of Spanish Lace

Roses for Mama

I read Christian fiction on an irregular basis, usually because I want a easy-to-read book that doesn’t require much thought to digest and might supply some spiritual encouragement (yes, I know that sounds terrible). In spite of my generally low expectations, two books by Janette Oke have made it to my favorites list. A Gown of Spanish Lace has outlaws.  Roses for Mama is simply charming.

Dinotopia

If I was offered the chance to move to any fictional place I wanted, I’d pack up right this minute and relocate to James Gurney’s Dinotopia. Who wouldn’t want to live in world filled with dinosaurs and without any worries about money? Specifically, I want to visit Waterfall City and the coastal towns along Warmwater Bay where you can swim with cryptoclidus. Once you’ve read Gurney’s first book Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time, I advise moving on to Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster. I’ve read that one at least four times.

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Love in the Enderverse

Cover of the only version of Ender’s Game I could find in the library

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender books. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’ve been absorbed by them. So far, I’ve finished Ender’s Game, the three sequels, and four of the Shadow books (Shadows in Flight is waiting for me on the bookshelf). After finishing these books, I feel like I know the characters better than many people I’ve been friends with for years.

I’d been meaning to read more Orson Scott Card for some time, since I stumbled upon one of his short stories in a sci-fi collection. Ender’s Game moved to the top of my reading list after I found out it’s going to be a film. I wanted to read the book before Hollywood ruins it (don’t get me wrong — I’m going to see the movie and it might be good, but there’s no way it can be as good as the book).

The Ideas

It’s not just the amazing characters that make these books so compelling. The ideas that Card presents in his stories are some of the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Ender’s key to defeating an enemy is just a sample of these compelling ideas (quote is from Ender’s Game, the idea shows up in all the books).

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.

Don’t you just want to give him a hug? Anyway, this is the idea I’ve pondered the most since starting this series: when you fully understand someone and see through their eyes, you can’t help but love them. This is underscored (for me at least) by my reaction to the characters. By the end of Ender’s Game, I knew him and felt for him. I had similar connections with Bean in Ender’s Shadow and Peter in the other Shadow books, especially Shadow of the Giant. Orson Scott Card wrote the characters so well that readers can understand them well enough to love them (to the point that I finished three of these eight books in tears not necessary because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed by how much I sympathized with the characters).

A Spiritual Question

One of the thoughts this idea — the connection between understanding someone and loving them — has sparked in my mind is a possible answer to a spiritual question. Just reading though the Bible, I can accept “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). But when I start to think about this a little more deeply it’s mind-blowing. Christ didn’t come to die only for the good “lovable” people in the world. He died for and loved everyone, even the people we would classify as the most unlovable. How is such love possible?

Since reading books from the Enderverse, I’ve been wondering if God’s love for everyone might have something to do with the fact that He is all-knowing. He understands everything  and sees into our hearts, and even when He does not approve of our actions or is angry with us, He loves perfectly. It’s an interesting “something to think about.”

If you’d like to try reading these novels, here’s a list of books in the series. It shows both publication order and a (rough) chronological order in the Enderverse.