Top 20 Books of All Time

Reading is a passion for me and it has been since I was old enough to know what words were. It is second only to my love of writing. I am not the only person who feels this way. Millions of people in the United States alone consider themselves to be avid readers. The preferred genres vary, the favorite authors vary, but everyone seems to agree on one thing: they love to read. They love books. They love the written words on the page. Walking into a bookstore stirs something inside of them. They love the stories that come off of the pages before their eyes, the look into others lives and the trips to worlds beyond this one. From Steinbeck and Hemingway and Kerouac to Dickens and Twain and Hawthorne, authors have held us captivated for decades. Each decade produces new authors, each year people find the classics to pick up again or maybe for the first time.

I have read a lot. I have made lists of the books that I consider to be my favorites. Mind you, these are my top 20; the books I have read that have shaped me and left me feeling something. Whether you are already collecting ideas for summer reading or if you are just looking for a good read anytime, the following titles will not let you down. So, in no particular order, here they are:


  1. Cherry by Mary Karr

This book is a memoir of Mary Karr’s life as a young girl, growing up in the world and learning to discover herself and see the world around her. Her experiences vary between the hilarious and the horrific and left me with a powerful feeling of the idea of experiences and self.

2. The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

This memoir was Mary Karr’s first, and tells about the years of her life before the events in Cherry. You can read both this and Cherry in any order, it doesn’t really matter which one comes first. Mary Karr again tears open the pages of her turbulent childhood and tells her stories with poetry, wit, and deep insight.

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3. Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie was Stephen King’s first novel, the one that started him off and paid the bills. It also introduced the world to his world. Carrie is chilling. I have read about seven of Stephen King’s books, including The Shinning, Misery, and Bag of Bones, but this one is my favorite.

4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This story is short and can be finished in a day, but it is not simple by any means. It’s deep, but it’s not. It’s a brief look at the life of a few people, a young girl and a lost writer in particular, and an even deeper look into something more inside of us all. The book is different from the movie and will hold you captive until the last page.

5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck’s classic about the dust bowl migration. It has something in it that everyone can relate to, things like struggle and the meaning of having nothing.

6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

This one is truly one of my favorite favorites, if I can so state it that way. Nothing happens in the novel, and at the same time, everything happens. Holden Caulfield is an angst filled teenager who sees the world through an interesting pair of eyes.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel is a classic and has been listed many times as being one of the greatest 100 books of all time. It does not disappoint either. It’s a coming of age novel, taking place in the south. Characters Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus are well loved.

8. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The Andromeda Strain disappointed me a lot, but Jurassic Park has always been one of my favorites, since I was about thirteen and picked it up for the first time. The book is so much different from the movie. In fact, the movie pales in comparison next to the book, the novel about a world where dinosaurs live again…and what happens when it all goes wrong.

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9. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This one makes my eyes swell up a little. It tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a man born with a low IQ who is going to be the subject for an experimental surgery that all hope will make him “normal”. The book is interestingly written in “Charlie” script. As Charlie goes deeper into the experiment, his world changes forever.

10. Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

This book amazed me when I first read it four years ago. It opened my eyes to the prejudice that exists in the world, almost as much now as it did when John Howard Griffin changed his skin tone and took a trip to the Deep South.

11. 1984 by George Orwell

The classic novel of a world of the “future” run by Big Brother. Yes, 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s world makes you feel like the events in these pages are still to come.

12. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Another of Orwell’s classics, this satire centers on a farm where animals not only talk and think, but run their society as well.

13. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

It took me about a month to get through this one, as there are some slow parts. But Kerouac’s story is a classic adventure novel. It will teach you a bit about who you are, what the world is, and what your place in it eventually becomes.

14. Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer is one crazy ride, as are the rest of Gibson’s novels. It follows the story of Case, a hacker cowboy of sorts in a different futuristic world where humans and technology are extremely fused. Written well before the public event of the internet and advanced computer technology, Gibson shows that he had an ideal of the future…most of which is still coming. Case is one of my favorite literary characters, too.

15. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Here’s my all time favorite “girl” novel. It’s short, but again, not simple. This is the story of two twins, one loved and one apparently hated by the world. The story is told through the eyes of the “hated” twin and how she finds her place, how all of us find our place.

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16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s childhood and early adult life are filled with stories, ranging from the hilarious to the horrific as a young black woman. This is another memoir that I find to be amazingly written.

17. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

There was a movie, but the book was better. Morrie is a dying college professor and Mitch Albom still has much to learn from him. The writing style is simple, but the lessons you take away are not.

18. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Not nearly as long as The Grapes of Wrath, but a good short story, about as long as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Steinbeck again takes the reader on a journey into the meaning of human dignity.

19. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Again, better than the movie and longer, the novel is about the amnesia plagued assassin, Jason Bourne, and his re-awakening to a life that, this time around, he does not want anymore. But escape is not easy. Escape from either side, both former allies and enemies, comes with a price.

20. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The movie Gettysburg was based off of this novel. The novel tells the story of Gettysburg from both sides. It tells about the real life soldiers and the real life battle that was fought. Historical and a good story as well.

These are my favorites, although I know I will find more. I know I will never stop reading. Books shape me as I am sure they do many. To everyone, happy reading!