These are a few of my favorite books from my last five decades

Last month Sarah of the blog Puss Reboots recounted how she has been keeping track of her reading for 32 years – in handwritten volumes – since junior high school. Then last week Wendy of the blog Falconer’s Reading looked back on her favorite books at every age she’s been, in celebration of her turning 50 this month. Both of those posts got me thinking about how I’ve kept track of my own reading over the years and compiling my own list of favorite books since I turned 50 last month.

Unlike Sarah, I didn’t start keeping track of my reading in junior high school. I didn’t keep track in senior high school or college either, although I do remember having summer reading lists of books, mostly classics I wanted to read and many of which I did read in high school. Then in college, I didn’t keep track of what I read until I started a book blog in the late 2000s. And then I only kept track sporadically, from LibraryThing, lists on my former book blog, and now Goodreads.

So instead of a list of favorite books that I read each year, I am going to give you a list of my five favorite books, from each decade of my life:

  1. 1969-1979: The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
  2. 1979-1989: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. 1989-1999: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  4. 1999-2009: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  5. 2009-2019: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

The last three were all based on recommendations from friends or book bloggers.

Wendy also made a list of her favorite books published in each year she’s been alive. Instead I will give you five favorite books published during each decade I’ve been alive, rounding up to the 1970s to start:

  • the 1970s: The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (1971)
  • the 1980s: Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins (1980)
  • the 1990s: Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63 by Taylor Branch (1992)
  • the 2000s: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
  • the 2010s: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

These are books that either blew me away at the time (the Alexie) or were just so different from anything I had ever read (the Robbins one for example) or from which I learned a lot about a time period I didn’t know much about (the Branch book). I had a class on William Faulkner and O’Connor in college and I admired the amount of research that Hillenbrand put into Unbroken as well as the story itself.

What are some of your all-time favorite books? Ones that you just can’t forget, even without delving back into notebooks or Goodreads or LibraryThing? That ones that immediately come to mind? Others, for me, include All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Truman by David McCullough, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, All of Us: The Collected Poems by Raymond Carver, The River Why by David James Duncan (one that Wendy also mentioned), just to name another handful.

37 thoughts on “These are a few of my favorite books from my last five decades

  1. I am pretty sure I have logged every single book I’ve read (other than some picture books) since I joined Goodreads, but before that–nothing. I just added as many as I could remember to Goodreads over time. Of the ones you list, I’ve loved Lord of the Rings, Prayer for Owen Meany, Absolutely True Diary, and Still Life with Woodpecker. I keep meaning to read Being Mortal, Cutting for Stone, and Unbroken.

    I’m sad I missed your giveaway–it is really disappointing when something like that gets so little attention. I’ve had the same experience. After reading that post, I’m also now listening to the Prince Originals–very fun.

    Thank you for featuring my posts too!

  2. I like your lists. I’ve actually only read one that you mentioned, The Lord of the Rings.
    I’ve only been keeping a list of what I’ve read since I joined Goodreads in 2007.

  3. I’m not sure I’ve read a book published for each year I’ve been alive. I feel like I need to make sure I have by the time I turn fifty. That gives me four years to plan and read. Thanks for the link to my blog. My week in review

    1. I don’t know if I have either, to be honest. Read a book published for each year I’ve been alive, that is. Thank you and Wendy for the inspiration and also the discussion that you both have started.

  4. I just started keeping records of what I read in 2011. (I am also 50). So I have about 8 years worth of records.
    I keep it on Goodreads and I keep a written list in a basic journal.
    I have also recorded reading challenges and reading groups that I have been a part of. I usually make notation of whether I read the book from the library, kindle, audible, for book club, print copy that I own, etc. But I don’t know if I’ll keep that up because it’s just extra info that doesn’t seem important.
    My earliest memory of being read aloud to is from my third grade teacher. I’m sure it occurred before then but I don’t remember. She read Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Those three remain sentimental favorites for me and I have them on my top shelf of my book shelf.
    I have Cutting for Stone on my shelf and I haven’t read it yet. Good to know it is a favorite of yours. Also, I want to read Being Mortal because I remember your review, it was very touching.
    My very favorites are Watership Down and To Kill a Mockingbird. And I’m so glad to see someone in your thread that enjoyed The Fountainhead. I did too. Hard to find folks who like her. (That’s all I’ve read from her though.)

    1. I remember being read to, in fourth grade. The Hobbit. It led to my love of The Lord of the Rings. Charlotte’s Web also is a childhood favorite. Easily could have gone in place of Bartholomew Cubbins.

  5. I like your spin on Wendy’s lists. Your lists are simple and brief; it’s easy for me to reflect on your choices. Of the ten books you listed, I have read seven. I found all seven exceptional; six of them (500 Hats, Lord of the Rings, Being Mortal, Parting the Waters, True Diary, and Unbroken) were exceptionally good, and one of them (Owen Meany) I found to be exceptionally awful. (I can’t talk rationally about OM. I hated it when I read it. I felt like the author had punched me in the gut. Just MHO.)

    I currently have 141 favorites listed at Goodreads. When I think about books I’ve read several times, books I encouraged other people to read, books with interesting ideas, I think of My Name is Asher Lev, A Wrinkle in Time, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath, The Bell Jar, and The Good Earth.

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