This month our Round Robin Blog Hop question is: What is your favorite book(s) of all time in your favorite genre(s)?
My eyebrows went up when I read this topic – How in the world could I possibly name a single favorite book of all time? Just not possible! You’re talking to a person who actually has a library rather than a “study” where I write that boasts floor to ceiling bookshelves on three walls – all filled with books of some importance. I’ve given away more books than I currently own to give you some idea of the number I’ve read in my lifetime. Add to that a well-used library card. I don't even have a favorite genre. There are a few genres I don't care for, but I read and enjoy action/adventure, mystery, suspense, mainstream and some less mainstream romance.
Part of the reason there isn’t just one best book is because there are just too many that have touched me deeply, even changed my perspective on life, or given me pleasure over and over again. But also, because I am an ever-evolving person. I am not the same person who loved Heidi at the age of 8, or the young woman who discovered Georgette Heyer. I’m not even the same person I was when I first read Outlander shortly after I became a widow. Even my attitude toward books in general has changed. Once upon a time, if I’d purchased, been given or even just borrowed a book from the library, I was determined I’d finish it however boring or difficult it might turn out. But, let’s face it, even if I live to be 300, there’s no way I can read all the great books out there, probably not even all those currently in my TBR pile either in print or on my Kindle, so if a book isn’t really good, it gets tossed, even ones I’ve paid good money for.
So, let’s consider a few that stand out. As I mentioned, as a kid I fell so in love with Heidi I wanted to be that little girl living on the mountain with her grandfather and Peter. Definitely one of my favorites. I read every single book that Georgette Heyer wrote. I loved her rich cast of diverse characters. Even in the regencies, set in the same place among the same strata of society, she created wonderful characters, some of who have stayed with me all these years, but then I found her historical, The Conqueror. For someone who barely passed history in high school, this book was a revelation. Suddenly a historical figure came more than just a name to memorize for a test. That discovery led to an interest in English/Scottish history my high school teachers would find nothing short of amazing.
One of my former employers, after discovering I loved to read, brought me a copy of Killer Angels, a book he’d been required to read in officer candidate school. Another eye-opening book. This one told the story of the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg, seen through the eyes of the men who fought it on both sides, from grunt to general. That turned my historical reading from the isles across the Atlantic to my own country. Michael Shaara’s son, Jeff, picked up where his dad left off and has written books about all of America’s major wars and I’ve read them all, but my favorites were Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause, which tell the story of how our nation became The United States of America. Those two books give the reader a far better understanding of what our forefathers put on the line to stand up to the most powerful army in the world at the time, a monarchy that considered us nothing but rabble and a Navy that outclassed even the Spanish Armada, and again, it was told through the eyes of many who participated, on both sides of the war. Thoroughly researched through dispatches, letters, journals and news articles at the time, those men and women became people for me. People who had put everything on the line, including their reputations, their property and even their lives. So, I would have to say those two books are among the top of my list because they gave me a better understanding of the meaning of Freedom and the price it costs, both to gain and to maintain. My Book Iain’s Plaid was inspired in part by the stories and history found in those two books.
House of the Purple Hearts, by Paul Solotaroff cut deep into my heart. It is the story of men and boys who came of age at the same time I did, but who went off to fight an unpopular war, then came home to little thanks and a lot of scorn. This non-fiction account of the struggles these young men fought after they came home actually began my serious attempts to write a novel. (I’d been dabbling at writing ever since high school, but an early marriage and a houseful of kids derailed that for many years.) Some parts of three of my current books in print, The Candidate, Worry Stone and Healing a Hero, took shape in my mind after reading House of the Purple Hearts, so that book has to be on the top of my list, too.
In my spiritual life there are two books that stand out. One is Two From Galilee, by Marjorie Holmes. Written as a novel, it’s the story of two real people whose lives were touched by God: two people chosen by God to provide an earthly home for His Son. Another author who made important people from the past, only partly understood, real. Mary and Joseph weren’t just remote figures I read about in the Bible, or thought of as our Lord’s parents – they were real people - a teenage girl and a young carpenter—alone, frightened, in love, and faced with family conflict, a hostile world, and an awesome responsibility. How could that NOT color everything about the faith I’d grown up with and continued to believe? That was followed by Three From Galilee, the missing years of our Savior’s life on earth.
But it took Michael Quoist, a French Catholic priest, theologian and writer to deepen my prayer life. His book, Prayers, doesn’t use the flowery, lofty words heard in church and read in prayer books, but the down-to-earth language of everyday people, praying in every day situations. For the first time, the Stations of the Cross became meaningful to me. Instead of simply rattling off the same prayers at the speed of a gatling gun, he stops to consider what that last walk of Christ was really like. The agony, the heartbreak, the loss and the anguish of all who witnessed it. That changed my personal prayer life forever and gave far more meaning to Good Friday. Wherever I am, every year, I follow that journey with Quoist and my Lord.
And last, but certainly not least, my favorite novel of all time is Outlander. Long before Sam Heughan and Starz made it a popular series, I read Outlander and fell in love again with the history of Scotland (where many of my ancestors came from, by the way) and a young Scot named James “Jamie” Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. I am not so enamored of the later books in that series or even the Starz TV series, although I have to admit I think Sam Heughan is pretty damned sexy. Diana Gabaldon seems to be so in love with her research that she includes way way more minutiae about the time period than I can possibly stay interested in and a 300-page story becomes a 1,000-page drag. I haven’t read the most recent of her books, but I’ve read Outlander several times and probably will again before I leave this earth.
If you had all day, I’d tell you how much I like Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan and Mitch Rapp, to name a few favorite heroes, but that’s for another blog perhaps, a blog about our favorite series. But until then check out what these other authors love to read and why.
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright