The Best Books

20 November 2011

A fellow blogger recently asked me, “What is the best book you’ve ever read?” That’s a tough question. I can’t pick just one, but I’ll tell you some of my current favorites, and I may add to this list occasionally.


As a faithful Latter Day Saint, I’m supposed to answer, “The Book of Mormon, without a doubt.”

I can’t deny it’s a priceless gift, full of truth and wisdom, and able to change lives. But I’d be lying if I told you it’s my favorite to read for entertainment. 


For a non-religious spiritual work, this one is tough to beat:

Pirsig  packs a lot of wisdom (and common sense) into his story of a father and son riding a motorcycle across the country. Every time I re-read a part of it I discover new insights.


This is probably the best non-fiction book I know of (although there are many others that come close):

Bryson does a remarkable job of making science interesting and understandable, even for the casual reader. He covers physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, and biology, and he also weaves human history into every chapter. A wonderful combination of entertainment and education.


For poetry, it doesn’t get any better than Robert Frost. This is one of several excellent collections:

Arguably, many poets surpass Frost in technical perfection, emotion, and/or in ethical or moral gravity. But I find his work gives the greatest rewards for a given level of investment from the reader. I never tire of his poems.


Anyone who enjoys fantasy (and honestly, who doesn’t?) should read this one:

I’m about halfway through this book right now. My wife and I are slowly reading it aloud together. Six or seven decades ago, White and Tolkien laid the foundations of modern fantasy, setting up many themes and patterns that have been followed by hundreds of subsequent authors in that genre. Reading The Once and Future King, you see examples of this on almost every page.


I confess I’ve never read a Hemingway novel, but I adore his short stories. This collection contains a good representative sample:

I’ve revisited some of the stories over and over. “The Killers,” for example, is probably my all time favorite short story.


Finally, another one I’m currently working through for the first time:

Chabon is among the most literary authors in America today, which is how we English majors say he’s super talented at serious writing. Kavalier and Clay is very serious in places, but it’s also full of sweet, simple brain candy. This would be an excellent pick for a book discussion group.


Thanks for the question, flameinside.


  1. Can't go wrong with Hemmingway.
    Robert Frost is the author of one of only two poems I've ever tried to commit to memory.

    Looking forward to the updates on this page.

  2. Probably the best school paper I ever wrote was about a few of Frost's poems: "Mending Wall" and "The Axe-helve." I presented that paper at a national conference, which was one of the great highlights of my college experience. You could spend months studying one of these poems and never wring out all of its brilliance.

    I'd like to learn "Birches." At 59 lines long, it's just enough to provide a good challenge for me. I think I could memorize it in 3 or 4 weeks if I set my mind to it. I just haven't focused on it yet.

    Frost wrote some excellent short poems, like "Fire and Ice," "Canis Major," and "The Pasture," which virtually anyone should be able to memorize in an hour or so.

    (Can you tell I like good poetry?)

    Which Frost poem did you attempt to learn, Guapo, and what was the other one?

  3. I'm honored that my question would prompt such a lovely page.

    I can also appreciate the mention of The Book of Mormon, but not leaving it there. I'm not Mormon (although I have a "CTR" ring that I've had for years and years that I use an an anchor for me spiritually), but a friend of mine gave me a copy and I read some of the chapters she suggested. I've done similar things with the Bible. But, agreed: neither of them are what you read for entertainment. They're study guides for spiritual growth.

    Conversely, I love the books you mentioned. Having not read any of them, you offered very compelling reasons for reading them. I love it when people can get past the "I like it 'cause it's a good book" part of a description. Call it the salesperson in me. I like to hear people's thoughts and opinions. I should belong to a book club.

    Robert Frost has some amazing poetry. I've only read a few, but I think I'll be investing in more. Thank God for the Kindle. All kinds of great books at my fingertips.

    I'll think about it, as well, and post my favorites here. In the meantime, thanks for the plug and for answering the question so well!

  4. Thanks, flameinside. I'm really glad you asked about a topic that interests me. It's one of my favorite topics, in fact.

    You're right about scriptures. The Bible, Book of Mormon, and others are important and great things to read, but I read them for different reasons than all other books.

    If you're not already familiar with Goodreads, I recommend checking it out:

    It sounds like your CTR ring is sort of a talisman. To see what I mean by that, look at this recent post from a blogger friend of mine called El Guapo:

    When you have the time, please comment again or send me an email with your favorite book picks, and I'll add them to the page.

  5. Kav & Clay is one of my all-time favorites!

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Lori, and for taking the time to comment. I've enjoyed your writer's blog, and I kind of envy you for attending Bouchercon, even though mysteries are not my favorite genre.

    Folks, Lori Rader Day is an up and coming author. Check out her blog, where she offers lots of nice, short book reviews:

  7. Coincidence? Just the other day, someone recommended Bryson's book to me and it's right at the top of my reading list. None of my favorites come to mind, probably because I don't have even one or two, but many, from all different genres.

    As an English major, I loved reading Hawthorne and Kate Chopin. I recently picked up a couple of poetry into books which I've started to go through but only one poem at a time, depending what I'm in the mood for.

    I loved 'The Life of Pi' because of the question it left me with at the that gave me so much to think about and in a way I didn't expect.

    I loved 'the Solitaire Mystery' and 'Sophie's World' by jostein gaarder. They are intros to philosophy in novel form. Very compelling stuff.

    Often it's the books that reflect life in a meaningful way that move me. True stories or topics of personal relevance are the most compelling.

    For sheer entertainment, there's no beating Robert Parker (who died during the summer) and Carl Hiaasen. Both brilliant writers whose works are definitely worth reading.

  8. Thanks for the ideas, WG. I always like to hear what others are reading. I highly recommend Bryson's "A Brief History..."

    I read a little Chopin in college. "At the 'Cadian Ball" and "The Storm" stand out, and so does "The Story of An Hour," an interesting, very short story. (So short, in fact, it's almost what we'd call 'flash fiction' today.)

    I've looked at "The Life of Pi" before and been tempted by it, but have not gotten around to reading it yet.

  9. My favorite Chopin was The Awakening. It was much more poignant when I read it recently than in college.

    I'd recommend moving "The Life of Pi" to the top of your reading pile. Part II is a quick read, while Part I is more cumbersome. It's a great story.

    I'd like to add Dessert Circus by Jacques Torres, which is is only fiction if you aren't a baker. I've just selected the highlights of this week's birthday celebrations - napoleons and Langues du Chat cookies (sounds much more appetizing in french than english).

  10. What's unappetizing about cats' tongues?

    Dessert Circus sounds like something my wife would like to read. She loves to spend time in the kitchen and has always dreamt of being a baker.

  11. The Road Not Taken (Two roads diverged in a wood and sorry I could not travel both, long I stood...)
    and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight by Dylan Thomas.
    First heard it in Rodney Dangerfield "Back To School", but still, it's a great poem.

  12. Cat's Tongues were a real hit - filled with chocolate, raspberry and nutella. Can't wait till the Napoleon's are ready.

    If you ever get to NYC, you should visit Mr. Chocolate on Hudson St. You may encounter Jacques Torres, author of Dessert Circus and Chocolatier-in-Residence at the shop. Good stuff!!

    In the digital age, you can think of it of the streaming version of his cookbook only in color and with smells. What could be bad?

    Haven't seen Back to School in a long time. Maybe it should be movie night...

  13. WG, I've been to New York, but never touched ground in the city. Just toured by helicopter, which left from and returned to Valhalla, I think. I must say it was beautiful from the air. I told my wife about Dessert Circus. Because that guy's title is "Chocolatier-in-Residence," I think he could be her idol.

    Guapo, those are two great poems. "The Road Not Taken" is both very popular and very good, in my opinion, which is sometimes a rare combination.

  14. Geez...that's some heavy book list.

    Kinda makes my ongoing love affair with Stephen King and Terry Pratchett books seem trite and shallow by comparison.

    Oh well, just call me Ms. Trite-Shallow then.

    1. Nothing wrong with some light "brain candy." I read lots of stuff in that category. This list is just what I consider the best books (as its title indicates).

      Thanks for the comment. It reminded me that the list is due for some additions.