During the long winter months I keep my house closed up to ward off the cold; but once the days get longer and the temps get warmer, I open up the house and begin my annual spring cleaning ritual.
I also start a “donate” box, where I collect clothes and household items I no longer use or need.
And every year I stand in front of my bookshelves and try to decide whether I should, could or can bring myself to add one of the books in my collection to the “donate” box.
It’s a hard decision, but I always manage to cut a few books from the herd and add them to the box.
Of course, there are some books in my collection that have had such a profound impact on me, I would never consider giving them away.
Here, in no particular order, are the top ten fiction books that changed my life:
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
I was twelve years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice, and it (and the author) have held a special place in my heart ever since. I can’t explain why this book touched me so deeply, except that it has everything I want in a novel: humor, tragedy, mystery, adventure, travel, romance, suspense, villains, heroes, and a heroine who represents the ideal young woman I often wish I could be more like.
Besides that, it’s just a darn good love story.
My tattered, well-worn copy of P&P.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
When I was a kid, as far back as I could remember, there was always a copy of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our bookcase at home. They were a set that belonged to my mother, which she purchased together when she was twenty years old.
I began reading Jane Eyre one summer afternoon when I was in middle school because I had nothing else to do, and ended up enthralled by a world of mystery and romance. At the center of the story was a plucky young woman with whom I strongly identified. Jane may not have had grand plans for her life, but knew who she was, and she was always true to herself—and that was the lesson I took from the novel.
Yes, this is the cover of my copy of Jane Eyre. This edition contains reproductions of the creepy but compelling original woodcut illustrations.
Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer.
This was the first book I read in which the author built an entire world that was previously unknown to me. I was captivated by the language, the manners, the wit, and the active, multi-layered plots Heyer created.
Regency Buck was only the first of Heyer’s books I read; it didn’t take long for me to scoop up all her other titles, too. They’ve held a place of honor on my book shelves ever since, and I reread at least one of her novels every year.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
First, the story contained in the pages of this novel is wonderful. Second, Lee’s writing style is magnetic. But the lessons I learned in this book about life and courtesy and how to treat other people have stayed with me since I first read this classic in high school. It’s one of the few books I read regularly every couple of years.
How Green was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn
I was eleven years old when I discovered this beautifully written gem in my school’s library. I checked it out for one capricious reason: the borrowing card was clean—no one had checked the book out before, and I decided I wanted to be the first.
I took it home and read it. I was so touched by the story of the Morgan family, and their simple, honest ways that How Green was My Valley instantly became one of favorite books. In fact, I checked it out of the library so often, the librarian questioned me about it after the fifth or sixth time. But that’s how good this book is; I just couldn’t get enough of it then, and now that I have my own copy, it enjoys a permanent place on my keeper shelf.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.
A friend at church handed me this book and said, “You have to read this.” So I did. Then I read the rest of the series, and spent endless hours talking with my friends at church about the symbolism and metaphors and meanings in the book. Then we’d seize on passages in the novel and search our Bibles for scripture to reinforce the point we thought the author was trying to make. In a sense, this book taught me and my friends how to exchange ideas, make our arguments, and research on the fly.
Add to that the fact that the book is (on the surface) a wonderfully written story of adventure and good versus evil, and it easily earns a place on my top ten list of all-time classics that everyone should read at least once in their life.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dosteyevsky
When I first read Crime and Punishment, I had no idea it was written in 1866. To me, it could have been written in 1910, 1940, or even 1960; the story is that timeless.
This novel reads like a mystery, although there’s really no mystery here; we know from the outset that the main character commits murder. The author’s master stroke is the way in which he manipulates our emotions about the murderer. Should we hate him? Root for him? Feel compassion for him? That’s part of the mystery!
From this novel I learned a lot about human nature: that the face people present to you may not represent who they really are; that good people do bad things; that remorse doesn’t always lead to redemption or even forgiveness.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
This is not a children’s book. I read it in high school, again in my twenties, and a couple more times since then. The odd thing about this book is that no matter when I read it, it seems to present a commentary on the current state of affairs in the world at the time. On the surface, it’s an entertaining story. In reality, it’s a warning about what can happen when we ignore what first appears to be a gentle, slight slope of moral decay.
If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t want to give the story away; but I think it’s a book that everyone should read today, right now, this minute.
Testimony of Two Men, by Taylor Caldwell
This is the book that made me think, “I’d like to write a novel like this someday.”
Taylor Caldwell doesn’t just write, she paints word pictures that bring her stories to life. From the settings, to the clothing and furniture, she draws me into her books and lets me see what her characters see and experience.
In Testimony of Two Men Caldwell’s skills are on full display. It has everything I love in a novel: family drama, an engaging hero, doomed romance, and tidbits about the time period that are skillfully woven into the story. My well-worn copy is on my keeper shelf.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
My mother read Little Women to my sisters and me when we were young. We were four sisters, so it was easy for us to identify with the March sisters. I remember that I wanted to be as pretty as Meg, as brave as Jo, as gentle as Beth, and as talented as Amy.
My mother read to us from the very same book she read when she was young; it was given to her by her Aunt Helen at Christmas in 1936. My mother had just turned twelve years old. As she read to us, it was clear how much she loved this novel and the characters’ stories.
My mother was a busy woman, who always worked full-time outside the home when we were growing up; and when she got home at night, there were meals to prepare, cleaning to do, an ill husband to nurse, and a million other cares and worries for her to tend to. When I think of all she was up against, I cherish my memories of the time she took to read Little Women aloud to us.
I have to admit, there are many more novels I considered for this list; but in the end, these are the books that really spoke to me. They changed my thinking and my outlook on life and how I wanted to live it. They taught me about strength of character, honesty, and standing up for what is right; about love and commitment, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures along the way.
What about you? Have you ever read a book that made a profound impact on you? Please share it!