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.

  6. I’ve only read two of those, but I agree that they were fabulous books. Cutting for Stone was one I avoided because it was too buzzy. I shy away from books that everyone’s enthusiastic about. But, I eventually read it because it was a selection for my F2F book group and I found it absolutely engrossing. It was a fantastic choice for discussion, too.

    The Sherman Alexie blew me away so I pressed it upon my youngest child, who was about 16 or 17, at the time. He hated it because of the constant use of bad language. I found it easy to look past that for the story itself, which was meaningful to me as a person who grew up in a city with an “Indian reservation” (using the words of my childhood) called White Eagle, nearby. I knew about the horrible rate of alcoholism but I don’t think I’d ever read anything set on a reservation and it was so, so funny. I read it when my mother was dying and I needed something to laugh about, desperately. I’m sad that Alexie is now known for blocking other Native American writers rather than helping them get a leg up, but I still love his writing.

    Fun post, Bryan!

          1. Thanks for the link, Bryan. I’m pretty sure I’d read about that, before, and forgotten. It’s not going to stop me from reading the Alexie books I have but it makes me want to seek out more Native American writers and give his other books a pass.

  7. Great list of books! I wish I had kept a record of the books I’ve read but I didn’t start that until my first blog. Five books that have stuck in my head starting from when I was really young are Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, Dollanganger series by V.C. Andrews, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, The Stand by Stephen King, Zoya by Danielle Steel.

  8. Great post, Bryan! Being Mortal, Cutting for Stone, and Owen Meany are among my favorites, too. My all-time favorite are probably Crossing to Safety, East of Eden, and Pride and Prejudice.

    1. I always get Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose confused, but I know I loved them both (though Stegner apparently plagiarized one of them.) I still need to read East of Eden. I didn’t read Grapes of Wrath until I was an adult, and it really impressed me.

  9. I hate picking favourites, and to be honest a single book rarely stands out over a decade, in which I would likely read around 2000 books.
    Unfortunately my β€˜read’ list is pretty spotty before I started my blog in 2010. I did access my loan list from the library but that only took me back to 2005 or so when we moved here, and so that’s where my Goodreads record starts mostly, which means there will always be a few thousand books missing from any official list.

    Have a great reading week, and thanks for sharing your favourites.

  10. Being Mortal and Prayer for Owen were and are still great in my book.

    All time faves…

    The Goldfinch
    A Little Life
    The Stand and IT
    A Separate Peace
    The Fountainhead

  11. I’ve been keeping handwritten journals from the age of 9 up until the invention of blogs, and I love, love, love lists, but for some reason it never occurred to me to keep track of books I read until maybe…10 years ago? I started plugging books into an Excel spreadsheet. A master list of books I want to read. I eventually plugged that list into Goodreads so I don’t use the spreadsheet anymore. If I need a spreadsheet I export Goodreads and then manipulate the data for whatever I’m trying to analyze at the moment.

    But yah. I wish I had kept track of my reading all my life because there are books that I read as a kid that I want to re-read today but I only have access to vague excerpts in my mind’s eye and can’t come up with titles or authors. Example: Two sisters go to summer camp. I remember horses and swimming and some kind of mystery about a lady of the loons. I’ve checked with all the websites and other online helpers that help you find a book via vague tidbits of information like that, to no avail. They were able to help me figure out titles to three other children’s books I remembered and I immediately jumped online and bought two of them. The other one is, unfortunately, way too expensive. How expensive? Currently $200 for a used copy via an Amazon re-seller. Whyyyyyyyy? Ugh.

    1. I’ve remembered some books too from my childhood but can’t remember enough. Like you, vaguely, or if I do find, there are out of print and worth more than what I want to spend online for them. Plus maybe the books weren’t as good as I remembered. I liked pulp fiction like John LeCarre and Louis L’Amour as a teen but when I’ve returned when I was older, I was like, “Gaaa. What was I thinking?”

  12. Year after year, top of mind is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. God how I love that book! One of the few I’ve read multiple times. It’s famous for exposing the horrors of the meat industry before we had the FDA, but there is SO MUCH MORE to the story!!!

    It’s about the struggle of immigrants in America. It’s about poverty. It’s about Jurgis Rudkus and his wife, Ona and the extremes they would go to to provide for their family.

  13. I’ve been keeping a record of books read since June 1980, when I was 18 and had just completed my first year of university. The books that mean the most to me (as evidenced by the number of re-reads) are The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Rings, The Glass Bead Game (Hermann Hesse), Duplicate Keys (Jane Smiley) and Nemesis (Agatha Christie). I can’t play favourites more than that πŸ™‚

    1. I am amazed at those of you who can keep track so thoroughly. Like I said, my record-keeping is very sporadic and unfortunately, much of it is lost with my former blog, which I had to “let go” after a dispute with a hosting company. They wanted me to pay more and I didn’t want to, so alas those lists are gone into the ether.

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