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Our Favorite Books and Why We Love Them

Today, it’s all about books we love. We’re sharing ours. Will you share yours?

At Automattic, we have a plethora of book lovers. We love to read and we love to share. And today, we’re going to share books we’ve loved with you, in the hopes that you’ll return the favor and share your favorite books with us in the comments.

lorilooLori McLeese

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion allows us into her year after her husband, Gregory Dunne, died. I read this book once or twice a year, and it always brings tears, though I know the outcome. It’s not a romanticized love story, it’s a real love story, and it’s about those incredible, raw, numbing, forgetful moments you find yourself emerged in as grief washes over you.

My favorite passage:

Was it about faith or was it about grief?

Were faith and grief the same thing?

Were we unusually dependent on one another the summer we swam and watched Tenko and went to dinner at Morton’s?

Or were we unusually lucky?

I can only hope to be as unusually lucky as they were.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I don’t remember when I first read this book; the story has always been a close companion. It’s a story of family, and all families are crazy, right? It’s a story of telling the story as you want it told, which is what we all do at some point or another. The loves are complicated and the deaths are fantastical.

My favorite passage:

It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia.

I can’t imagine anything dreamier than being preceded by butterflies. Heaven.

* * *

zandyZandy Ring

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I didn’t find out about this book until grad school, when a professor tried to describe what magical realism was. Intrigued, I dove in and was captivated from the start. The distinct but overlapping members of the sprawling Buendia family from the Colonel, his wife Ursula, to the seventeen Aurelianos make this other, charm-infused, world real.

Favorite line:

The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

(And that’s just the first page!)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I read this book first when I was maybe 21 or 22. I hadn’t read much at that point that began in media res, and riddling through the story alongside Vonnegut’s own voice was such a bizarre experience, I was smitten. I loved it so much that I ended up writing my thesis on it, later on. The slowly building apprehension over what it is that has unstuck Billy Pilgrim from time; waiting for the other shoe to drop, the inevitable “tock” that follows every “tick” of the clock, all in Vonnegut’s devastatingly casual voice, is what keeps me coming back to this book time and again.

Favorite line:

Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.

* * *

andreabadgleyAndrea Badgley

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
My Uncle Syd, who sends me random books at random times, gave me this book in 1999, and I’ve read it almost every winter since. Set in Newfoundland — wild, isolated, and raw — The Shipping News sates my deep craving for characters of the cold every time December rolls around. Proulx is a master sentence-crafter, and with each reading, I fall deeper in love with her verbs, her humor, her Newfoundland sea, and Wavey Prowse: the Tall and Quiet woman.

Favorite quote:

The idea of the north was taking him. He needed something to brace against.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I don’t know why I do it to myself, reading this book over and over again, willing it to end differently each time, and sobbing all over again when it doesn’t, but I cannot resist Lonesome Dove. I’m a sucker for frontier literature, and Lonesome Dove not only delivers on the harsh earthiness of the pioneer life, but McMurtry makes me want to spend every waking moment of my life on the plains with his characters. I scan the Texas horizon, I sleep by the campfire, I eat Gus’ biscuits, I giggle at the dialogue. I cry, hard and deep, and I ache with the poignancy of this book.

Favorite quote:

‘My main skills are talking and cooking biscuits,’ Augustus said. ‘And getting drunk on the porch.’

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
I am a Hemingway fan. It is difficult for me to choose between his works to pick a favorite, and this slot was a close three-way tie between The Sun Also Rises, The Garden of Eden, and A Movable Feast. I ultimately selected this one because it incorporates everything I love about Hemingway: lean sentences, masculinity, precise word choice, empty space that must be filled by the reader, and (and this is the real reason) my favorite scene in all of literature — when the characters go fishing, and they chill their wine in an Alpine stream. Something about that scene gets me, and I can’t get enough of it.

Favorite quote:

I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.

* * *

adamhecklerAdam Heckler

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Humans tell themselves many stories about their place in the world. For example, we think we are unique and somehow apart from all other species, and that we are exempt from the laws of nature. But we enact this story to our peril. If we view the Earth and nature as enemies, something to wage war with and to be conquered, “one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
A truly remarkable collection of essays by one of the best writers to ever live. Have you ever wanted to read a 62-page review of an academic grammar usage guide? Wallace will make you not want to stop reading it. It’s essays like these, when Wallace is at his very best, using his rich literary talent and winking sense of humor to bring to light the absurd realities of life that we’ve never noticed before.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
This is one of the saddest books I have ever read. Using all sorts of first-hand accounts and written records, we can see how time and time again American Indians had their land, their dignity, and ultimately their lives taken from them by ever-expanding white settlers. Most of history, as we know, is written by the victors, so books like this are precious few. This should be required reading for every U.S. citizen.

* * *

eurelloElizabeth Urello

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
I’d like to list all of Robinson’s first three novels, but that would be tiresome, so here is the first one (although Gilead is better). I firmly believe that Marilynne Robinson is our greatest living writer (possibly tied with Alice Munro). Her writing is beautiful, original, and graceful. Just read the first chapter of Housekeeping: I ask you, would you ever in a million years have thought to describe a lake the way Robinson does? And yet if anyone has ever described a lake more perfectly, I don’t know about it.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
I find that most of the time when a novel is described as “a cult classic beloved by writers,” it turns out to be impressive, but a total snore. Not so The Last Samurai! This is a clever and unusual book about a boy’s search for his father, his deeply antisocial mother, and learning many languages. It’s also great fun from the first page to the last, and although it prefers ideas to people, it still manages to be heartwarming in its way!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This novel was so important in my formative years, and although as a wiser, older feminist, I am now absolutely horrified by just about everyone in the book (and equally horrified by how blissfully unaware of their horribleness I was at 13), I will always have a soft spot for sober, plain Jane and her stubborn adherence to her own (often poor) decisions.

* * *

wensco Wendy Scott

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
This was my first favorite story and I credit author Margery Williams with unlocking my imagination (and also with the vast collection of stuffed animals I amassed as a kid, any one of which might have been rendered real). My first grade teacher read it aloud to the class when I was about five years old and I remembered being captivated by the central question: What does it mean to be Real?

The Skin Horse, the sage of the nursery toys, explains it this way to the Velveteen Rabbit:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

That Skin Horse. So wise.

(PS – My teacher gave me a copy of this book as a gift and I still have it on my shelf).

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
I’m a sucker for strong, vibrant characters set in turbulent or historically significant or interesting times, and Scarlett O’Hara certainly fits that description. She’s a character that you can despise, pity, and root for, all at once. Aside from that, at its heart, GWTW is a story of survival and an examination of what separates survivors from those who are crushed by catastrophe. The author, Margaret Mitchell, calls this quality gumption, in itself a charmingly Southern-flavored word.

This quote sums up the evolution of the former southern belle:

Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet & dancing slippers had slipped away & there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies & turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she stood.

Or, as Rhett Butler would say,

Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless.

Oh Scarlett!

On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
OK, so I’m cheating a bit here by listing a combo for my third pick, but it’s impossible to choose between these two. Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird are must-reads for any aspiring writer or anyone looking for insight on the creative process as told by two fabulously irreverent and entertaining people.

Possibly the most well-known quote from King is this one from On Writing:

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

But this one speaks to my soul more:

Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Lamott captures the essence of why I continue to pursue story writing:

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve thought that there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were little gods or sorcerers.

* * *

stevensKrista Stevens

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
This is a beautiful book set in war-torn Chechnya. It explores families made but not chosen: from failed doctor Akhmed and his orphan charge Havaa, to Sonja and Natasha, two sisters — one brilliant, one beautiful — who struggle to express love for one another, to six formerly domestic, now feral dogs whose pack leader, Khassan, is a taciturn former university professor and father of the local informer.

This is a community of people “whittled by the deprivations” of war, corroded by betrayal, guilt, guilt by association, and shame, yet somehow humanity survives. This book had me sobbing for grief and joy. I have many favorite passages in this book. Here’s one of them:

She flipped through the book and found answers to questions no sane person would ever ask. The definition of a foot. The average length of a femur. Nothing for insanity by grief, or insanity by loneliness, or insanity by reading reference books.

Only one entry supplied an adequate definition, and she circled it with red ink, and referred to it nightly. Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, A Tale For The Time Being rocketed to the top of my all-time favorite books list after two consecutive reads. It’s rich and deep, yet accessible. East / West, past/present, the relationship between the writer and reader, quantum theory, reflection, memory, regret, shame, cruelty, brutality, and pacifism are just some of the ground Ruth Ozeki covers in this stellar novel that left me thinking differently about how I perceive the world. The twin protagonists, Naoko (Nao) Yasutani and Ruth, a blocked writer, are in the language of quantum theory, entangled particles — two things that share the same characteristics. Bravery, heroism, and the examined life take on new meaning viewed through the lens of this book.

Two favorite passages:

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.

Finally I achieved my goal and resolved my childhood obsession with now because that’s what a drum does. When you beat a drum, you create NOW, when silence becomes a sound so enormous and alive it feels like you’re breathing in the clouds and the sky, and your heart is the rain and the thunder. Jiko says that this is an example of the time being. Sound and no-sound. Thunder and silence.

Over to you: tell us all about your favorite books — which would you recommend?

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  1. I love Marquez! 🙂 One of my favorite books is “Anna Karenina” – from Tolstoj. “All happy families are the same. All those unhappy ones are unhappy each in their own way.” (I don’t know if I quoted it correctly) 🙂 I loved each page of it, it’s simply magical 🙂

    Liked by 9 people

  2. I came here ready to sing the praises of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, this post beat me to it. It’s the first book that ever made me realise it was still possible to completely lose yourself in a book as an adult, the same way I did as a child, before the real world hits you head on. It’s still the only book I can keep going back to without tiring of, because I find something new in it every time. It’s comical, horrific, amusing, tragic, bizarre, nonchalant, all at once without ever being jarring. I love it.

    Liked by 12 people

  3. My most loved book (and the title itself, and the author) is Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson.

    My favourite part of the book is the inside tale of the 12 princesses who married the 12 princes and lived happily ever after, just not with their husbands. There are many sides to this book though and tertium non datur.

    But the best book I’ve ever read is Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. The subject matter is not light (featuring concentration camps and an unpleasant main character) and I don’t wish to give away the point of the book, but it’s the book with the best idea and brilliantly executed. See if you can stomach it.

    I invite you all to contribute your favourite book to my list of favourites, collected from friends and family. It is one awesome list:

    https://manjamaksimovic.wordpress.com/booklist/

    Thank you very much for this article. I love when people get to talk about who they love and why.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. -The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’ve read this book more times than just about any. I love how he captures how obsessive Dorian becomes over his looks. I think we can all still learn the valuable lessons of becoming obsessed with just about anything.
    -Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I’ve read this book more than any. I first read these as a child. I was an only child so all I had were books and my imagination. Shel let me dig into my imagination with his poems.
    -On Writing by Stephen King. I only started reading King books maybe five or so years ago (IT, Under the Dome, Lisey’s story, Duma Key, Bag of Bones, plus a couple others) but I absolutely love the way he captures characters. He is amazing at making you cheer for or hate a character. He is so good at creating scenery that I feel transported, watching the scene work itself right before my eyes. I have his book and plan on reading it many times over. It’s written as a biography/writing guide and it’s a great mix.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Whew! I thought no one would ever mention ‘The Picture o Dorian Gray’. Glorious book, neatly capturing the vanity of humans. My blog began with Oscar Wilde’s quote from this book, and DEFINITELY will end with it.

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  5. Always love to read about others favorite books. I can never say precisely I love so many. But Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann are always near the top of my list – Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Magic Mountain , er Buddenbrooks, er….. See what I mean.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Ralph Glasser (1987) Growing up in the Gorbals is one of the best books I’ve read or I’m ever likely to read. Glasser takes the reader into the heart of what was once one of the most densely populated place on earth. The son of a Lithuanian immigrant Jew, an outsider in a strange land, which despite Empire and Commonwealth children run barefoot in winter and poverty, disease and dying has more friends than Jesus. The loss of his mother to cancer and his best friend Charlie Varnet, lured back to a Russian homeland with promises of a worker’s paradise, leaves a lost child. His father a gambler, and his sisters caught up in the world of make- do, leave little room for nurture, but time to ponder, think and observe. At the age of seven he works out the nature of infinity. Later he attends a lecture at the University of Glasgow in which Einstein explains his theory of relativity. Glasser understands all too well that there’s more chance of the ghosts of quantum physics haunting him than he’ll get any kind of education. He tells how poverty eats the soul in prose that sing.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. I have a favourite genre rather than purely a favourite book. I immerse myself in old-fashioned children’s books such as those written by Louisa May Alcott (‘An Old Fashioned Girl’ ‘Little Women’), Ethel Turner (‘Seven Little Australians’ ‘Three Little Maids’) and of course L.M. Montgomery (‘Emily of New Moon’ series, and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series).
    These authors used a language that was magical and measured, showing a time that was peaceful and simple (at least in the story books!).

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Just re-read The Long Winter on an Amtrak trip from Chicago to Seattle. The storytelling is really powerful. Savouring meals of beans and bacon. Warm sun on skin. And the fearful isolation of the train that never comes …

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  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King is beautiful storytelling. It takes place in the Dark Tower universe with all of its majesty, but is split into three short stories to avoid the bloated style of some other DT books. The stories of magic and wizards do fine as standalone tales, but also offer a lot of background to the Dark Tower stories if read together. My favorite King book.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Fabulous list of favorites. Quite a few of mine are there, especially The Shipping News and The Year of Magical Thinking, which I was also lucky enough to see Vanessa Redgrave bring to life on stage.

    One of the books that I keep returning to is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. “First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.”

    And my absolute favorite, <Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. “Even now he could feel the start of the long journey, the leave taking, the going away from the self he had been.” Breathtaking, and so universal.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Looks like I need to put The Book Thief on my reading list. I saw the movie and enjoyed it (I love period pieces) — though the book clearly has depth that the movie didn’t cover.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was hesitant to see the movie because I loved the book so much. What I loved about the book was it’s structure and the rhythm and texture of it’s language. I couldn’t imagine how they would convey that in film, but they really did do a beautiful job with the movie. I think that if you liked the movie, you will love the book.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Krista, I am with you on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. A powerful book. But one that really got me to thinking was Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange. A powerful peace about the value and importance of shared meaning from words. My favorite line – “On a very cold and lonely Friday night last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.” Thanks for the chance to share!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was getting terribly embarrassed reading this list – I’m a librarian by profession and have read absolutely none of the books until I came across your post.
      Absolutely love The Time Traveler’s Wife. Such books are so hard to come by.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. I read The Sun Also Rises in college. I didn’t really care for it then, but I recently grew to enjoy it. Also, when I read Jane Eyre I had the same feeling as you did. The only difference is that I was eighteen.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I agree with Lori. The year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a wonderful book. But don’t read it too early in your life. You must have lived and suffered a little bit to appreciate it.
    One of my favorite books is Pride and Prejudice from Jane Austen. Before reading it, I thought it was a sort of romance and I was wrong. This is something completely different.
    Thanks to all for sharing your favorite books, I’m always looking for reading advice.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. I haven’t read any of these so I’m excited for some new reads! My favourite book is a bit of a difficult question, it always changes. I am in love with fantasy books, and my latest favourite series has been the “Tawny Man Series” by Robin Hobb. I can’t just pick one book on it’s own!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’m a huge fantasy fan too and loved the Robin Hobbs books. Am excited to see she’s continuing with Fools Assassin. Will need to put in a request at my library for it. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I read her series probably 2 years ago now and I wasn’t expecting her to write another. One day I was just browsing through a book store and I saw it, and I think I screamed. I remember texting some of my friends going ‘YOU CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT I JUST FOUND’. As you can tell I was, and still am, excited that she is writing

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m mired in the Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan. I’m interested in the characters but I find the narrative gets bogged down in extraneous description. I need a new fantasy series to look forward to and I appreciate the pointer to Robin Hobb.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. A good friend of mine read the Wheel of Time series and said the exact same thing! How far have you managed to get in? There’s something like 14 books! And if you do read Robin Hobb I really hope you enjoy her, although I’d start with her ‘Farseer’ Trilogy so you can understand background story to the ‘Tawny Man’ Trilogy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m on book seven. I’ve slowed down a bit with that series — I’ve been allowing myself to read other books at the same time. I’ll eventually get through it, but I couldn’t stand depriving myself of other books and authors for another six mega-thick books. 🙂

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  14. Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, by Tom Robbins. Favorite line: “The naked parrot looked like a human fetus spliced onto a kosher chicken.” I think I’ve read it 10+ times; it never gets old. I love me some Switters!

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I cannot second The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt enough. Didn’t think I would like it but I love, love, love it.

    The same goes for Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I was reluctant to read it but I’m so glad I eventually got over myself. It’s a masterclass in character voice.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I love sharing books – and every time I see a list like this I rush to order a huge pile from the library. (I like borrowing from the library, and then buy the ones I’ll want to come back to.) In about October last year I decided to write a short review of every book I read and every movie I watched. I’ve posted nearly 50 reviews so far – come on over and browse… 🙂
    https://americansoustannie.wordpress.com/books-and-movies/

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Liking that you included One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez is awesome. But my favorite would have to be The Alchemist! Great book for anyone wanting to pursue their dreams. Also discovered Unbroken last year, can’t say enough about that book. Inspiring!

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Favourite book that I read last year was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So very beautifully written and far too many wonderful quotes to remember them all. I recommend it to everyone. Fantastic book!

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is one of my favorite books. I love the dark humor that’s prevalent throughout. When I was a kid, I carried Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster with me around for more than a month because I liked it so much.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. I love to read Sherlock Holmes because I want to be as a great detective as Sherlock. I love reading the exciting mysterious case and am very admirable by his incredible logical thought. One word to express my feelings of my favorite book: Cool ! Check out my blog about Sherlock Holmes and you will know how much I love him.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sherlock Holmes is one of the detectives I love to read. My love of detective stories was cultivated from a childhood of reading the Secret Seven and Famous Five series by Enid Blyton.

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      1. To me, I started reading my favorite Sherlock Holmes detective stories officially from the beginning of my college life. You know, I was deeply attracted by the attractive mysterious cases and Sherlock’s incredible detective skills. All of those are what made me insane for Sherlock Holmes. Besides, we can learn something about logic brain thought, right ?

        Liked by 1 person