The fact that you’re here probably means you’re a reader. After all, why else would you check out an author’s blog?
I’m a reader, too, always have been. Fiction is my favorite, but I also love biographies, sports, and true-crime. Television has never had the same allure of books, though I must say that This Is Us comes darn close. Starting when I discovered the Childhood of Famous American series of biographies in the Hurlock Elementary School library, I’ve been hooked on books. Even during the summer, I would be at the corner every other Tuesday when the bookmobile arrived.
There have been so many books, so many good books, over the years, but when it comes to those that rocked my world, the list is small. I’ve narrowed it to five, but could easily include five more. Or ten. Or fifty. My list includes four works of fiction and a self-help book. Four would be considered contemporary, one is a classic. Four were written by men, one by a woman. They cover topics that greatly interest me, including social justice, small-town life, and leadership. You’ll find bits and pieces of them in what I’m writing today.
So, without further ado, my Top Five. If you're interested in learning more, I've linked the cover photos to each book's Amazon page.
5. A Time to Kill (1988), by John Grisham – His first and still his best, A Time to Kill was rejected repeatedly before finally being published following the success of Grisham’s second book, The Firm. This was the first contemporary portrayal of American racial tension that I’d read at the time, and I found it easy to empathize with the characters. My only criticism would be that the heroes are white, contributing to a theme in some books that people of color need white people to save them. Overall, a true classic. Sycamore Row, the follow-up, was only so-so.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee – What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Atticus Finch is as synonymous with American literature as Scarlett O’Hara and Holden Caulfield. The book is great. Like A Time to Kill, it’s based in the American South, but the events take place in the 1930’s. You can tell that the topic was close to Harper Lee’s heart. The movie is pretty good, too. Sadly, Lee's recently discovered sequel, Go Set a Watchman, fell short of expectations.
3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), by Stephen Covey – I became a school administrator when I was barely into my thirties. Way too soon. I was opinionated, ignorant, and completely unprepared. I ran roughshod over people to get things done, and nearly got fired because of it. When I first came across the Seven Habits, I was too self-absorbed to bother reading it. When I finally decided to dive in, I found out how wrong my approach had been. Dr. Covey’s book is slow-slogging in parts, but it made a real difference for me.
2. The Prince of Tides (1986), by Pat Conroy – Thirty years ago, I pulled this from the shelf of the public library in Perryville, Missouri because I liked the cover. Pat Conroy went on to become my favorite author, and I will pay good money to read anything he wrote, even if it's his grocery list. Despite criticism from some that he uses too many words, Conroy’s prose put you in the middle of every scene. The Prince of Tides dealt with mental illness and its impact on a dysfunctional American family. I read it again this past year and am happy to report that it holds up just fine. His other books are also worth a read.
1. Chiefs (1981), by Stuart Woods – Many people know Stuart Woods from his Stone Barrington series of novels, but Chiefs, his earliest work of fiction, was easily his best. Woods has even said he doesn’t have it in him to write another like it. It’s the story of three police chiefs in a small Georgia town over a forty-year period. I’ve read Chiefs at least seven times over the years. It never gets old, especially Chief Tyler Watts, who ultimately solves a decades-old crime that had stumped his predecessors. If you’ve read my first book, Harvest of Thorns, you’ll see how I tried to emulate Woods’ ability to move a story forward from one generation to another. Notice I said tried. I’ll never do it as well as he did.
So there you have it. One person's list of favorites. There are others I could've included, like J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Jim Bouton's Ball Four, and anything by James McBride. I hope you'll share your favorites as well! Respond with a comment below or on my Facebook page.
Thanks for reading!