My Top Five Books


The books below are my all-time favorites. They are books I return to over and over again, finding something new in them each time, reading them each time and catching my breath at the brilliance of the writing and the story.

Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver
Dalva, Jim Harrison
Sleeping in Flame, Jonathan Carroll
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Shiveringly brilliant. Terminal underachiever and self-designated outcast Codi Noline goes back to her home town of Grace, Arizona to tend to her father, who is suffering from Alzheimers. During the visit, she faces the ghosts of her past, including Loyd Peregrina, the one-time high school bad boy who'd unknowingly gotten her pregnant. Loyd's straightened himself out and is a terminally sexy temptation to Codi, who tries to remain as alienated from Grace as she had been when she'd lived there before.

The story is much deeper than this, though, a story of personal revelation, of surmounting past tragedy, of the true meaning of community. Through Loyd's Apache roots and the Hispanic culture that dominates Grace, Kingsolver shows us a different way of thinking about the land, property, the environment, and our connection and responsibility as human beings to the rest of the world. I've read this book easily a dozen times, and each time it triggers an amazing array of emotions from me: joy, sadness, desire, anger, responsibility. Kingsolver writes impeccably, investing each sentence with a sense of timeless beauty and importance. It is an amazing read.


Dalva by Jim Harrison
An achingly romantic and painful story, Dalva is the story of a woman's attempt to deal with the demons of her past. Dalva returns to her Nebraska home to face the tales in her great grandfather's journals of living with the Lakota Sioux and to begin the search for the son she gave up for adoption at birth, the son from her first and only love. Harrison switches between Dalva's point of view and that of the stories told in the journals, each so absorbing that it is a wrench when each section ends.

Harrison does an amazing job of writing believable women characters. Strong, independent, and insightful, Dalva is someone you'd want to know. Yet she is wounded from the tragedy of her first love. The prose is hauntingly beautiful, the characters are pitch perfect, and the ending will take your breath away.


Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll
A tale of magical realism that jumps from Vienna to L.A. and across time, Sleeping in Flame exists in the space where real life intersects with fairy tales. Even as Walker Easterling falls in love with Maris York, his world begins to unravel into a series of unbelievable events.

Carroll takes the tale of Rumpelstiltskin and deconstructs it into a story of reincarnation and obsession. The story is fascinating, wildly romantic, and surprising in its depth.


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Forget all you know about the movie. The book is infinitely richer and more brilliant, the prose haunting, the characters drawn with gorgeous precision. Hanna the nurse, Caravaggio the thief, Kip the bomb-defuser, and the English patient, all drawn together in a bomb-scarred villa at the end of World War II. The story veers from the controlled insanity and alienation of the post-war period to a dark tale of love and betrayal set amid the pre-war exploration of the northern African desert.


Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley
I loathed A Thousand Acres, but I adored Horse Heaven. Capturing the depth and complexity of the horse-racing world, Horse Heaven features a cast of trainers, owners, breeders, jockeys, bettors, six horses, and a Jack Russell terrier. At its core, Horse Heaven is about relationships, passion, hope, and forgiveness. It is wise and wry and full of scenes of great fun, such as the story line in which an animal psychic communicates with a stable pony to determine which horse to bet on in a race. Give Horse Heaven a read; you won't regret it.

Return to What I'm Reading

Back to top