Monday, June 24, 2019

Ani's Personal Essential Bookshelf

Okay, so here's my sort of contribution to Moonlight's call for 25 essential books.  I'm a little late, but better late than never, right?  I'd love to say that I've been busy with a lot of family stuff, but that's only half true.  While we had a couple days of shopping and helping with wedding prep, to be honest, I DID also spend a few hours drowned in a mobile game that I shouldn't have started playing.  I've read only 30% of my BL-opoly book, when I could have had it done two days ago, really.

Mobile games are time-wasting pits... but I regret nothing.

But never mind all of that.  We're moving forward now and trying very hard not to keep going back to the mobile game.  I've got a book to finish, and some reviews to write and post.

And also, here's my personal essential reading list!

In truth, these are probably not all that essential on a global level, and is more a personal canon type of list.  The list itself didn't really take long to come up with, but like everyone else, I had a little trouble whittling my first draft down to a more manageable 25 books.  There were so many other books I wanted to include, but my list would probably go on forever.  Thus is life.

In addition, I went back to a previously written post that was similar to this one, a Top Ten Tuesday topic requesting your Top Ten Gateway Books or Authors--a topic that focused on books that made an impact in our reading lives.  So some of the books in this list are repeats from the other one, and I've even rewritten some of my little explanations as well.

Stealing TeaStitchRead's format, I'm dividing my list into different categories, such as the 'Childhood Years,' the 'Older Years', the 'Post-College Years', and so on.  Basically, these lists follow my reading journey from young to present day.  And while I know that we're trying not to list too many books from those mainstream "greatest books of such and such" lists, I couldn't help but add a few.

So let's move on to the list!

Childhood Years

1.  Charlotte's Web by E.B. White -- As far as I can remember, Charlotte's Web was the very first chapter book I read as a child, my first favorite book, and the first chapter book I owned.  It was pretty much the only chapter book I owned for the longest time.  This is probably the one book I've read and reread more times than I can remember.

2.  The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner -- Previously, I think I'd tell people that the Nancy Drew books were the first mystery books, and one of the first series, I'd read as a child.  But the truth is, I honestly believe that that honor goes to The Boxcar Children books.  I know I owned at least four or five of them (none in the right order, which would be blasphemy for me these days); in fact, after a bit of a search through my shelves, I still own four books in this series.  I've never finished the series, but I recall enjoying them a lot!

3.  Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- Laura Ingalls was a popular author with a popular book series (and television adaptation to the series), introduced to myself and my classmates when I was in elementary school.  I absolutely loved these books, devouring one book after another, and became highly obsessed with all of them.  As my best friend likes to describe, the books give you a warm, tingly feeling, with the cozy family settings, the new exploration of moving from one locale to another, and the sweetly adorable stages of young love.  Of all the books, my very favorite one was the first, Little House in the Big Woods, which I know I've read at least three or four times.

4.  The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright -- This book was one of the first haunted house books I read as a child, and was in fact probably THE first haunted house book I read.  While I'd read other creepy, scary stories before, such as Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or even some Christopher Pike, this was actually the singular ghost story that scared me enough to get me keeping lights on at night when I was a child.  Also, for a few years after reading this book, I'd say I went into my first attempts at writing my own haunted house mystery... which never came to fruition, but I was persistent for years until after high school and realized that I'd rather read books than write them.

5.  Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar -- This was an interestingly strange book that I had a lot of fun reading.  Nothing in this entire book made any sense, but in a way, it also made a lot of sense.  From the missing 13th floor that may or may not end up taking you to another dimension, to the teacher's cowbell, the elevator that only went up and the elevator that only went down (and were never used again after that first use), and the stinky kid who always wore a raincoat, the absurd humor made for some wonderful laughs.  I'm a little impressed that I even remember much about this book, but I suppose that's what comes of a book that leaves a lasting impression.  Also, this was a book that actually belonged to my brother, and I sort of stole it from him for a long time before he finally had to ask for it back...  =P

6.  Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein -- I read and reread the poems in this collection as a child, and carried this huge tome around wherever I went for a long time.  Do I remember any of the poems?  Not really.  But I loved them in the way that these were fun poems, simple and sweet, and I never felt like they tried too hard to be meaningful in any cryptic fashion.  I'm a person who doesn't really "get" poetry.  Silverstein is probably the one and only poet I've ever loved.

The illustrations were also super cute!

Adolescent Years

7.  Phantoms by Dean Koontz -- I first read this book in high school after having watched the movie (I was in a "Ben Affleck is so cute!" phase).  I ended up loving the book, even though I felt like the writing had much to be desired--and also, the book somehow felt much more preachy and dragged out than the movie.  This propelled me into reading more Dean Koontz books, none of which ever really lived up to how much I loved Phantoms.  After I finished reading Phantoms, I was scared of the dark hallway in our home for days, and couldn't walk down the hall without turning all the lights.  I even started imagining that I was hearing creepy sounds around the house while I was reading this book.  Not a lot of books I've read ever gave me that feeling, but then again, I don't read a lot of scary books...

8.  The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan -- I'll have to be honest and admit that I don't remember why The Hundred Secret Senses was my favorite Amy Tan book.  The truth is, Amy Tan was one of my first favorite authors, but I honestly feel like the reason was because she was one of the first diverse authors I'd ever read.  Amy Tan is a Chinese-American writer whose early books really related to me, because she meshed together Chinese-born mothers living in America, with their American-born daughters, depicting their differences and their interactions.  I loved her books because I felt like she was telling relationships similar to the relationship I had with my own mother at times.

While I will fully admit that The Joy Luck Club was probably her best and most popular, it wasn't really my favorite if only because I felt like there were too many story lines going on.  The message behind it was no different than the rest of her books, though.

I'll be the first to admit that, looking back, Amy Tan was probably such a favorite because she was different than the mainstream, mostly Caucasian authors (or dead white men) you're introduced to during school years.  Truth is, Amy Tan isn't the best writer, and sometimes tended towards boring or overly wordy.  I actually haven't read another Amy Tan book since her first four books, The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter's Daughter, and her memoir, which was a collection of essays, speeches, and some anecdotes of her life.

9.  Jurassic Park / The Lost World by Michael Crichton -- Michael Crichton was an author I learned about through my brothers, as well as those infamously popular, and classic, dinosaur movies that were much more exciting than the books, but made much less sense.  In fact, I even recall The Lost World being my favorite of the two books, and feeling a bit disgruntled when I realized that the movie adaptation did not do the book any justice, because it just completely missed the point of the book.  Or at least that's how it felt to me.  Crichton had a hand in writing the screenplay for the first movie, but I'm not sure if he had any input into the script for the second movie.

10.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not exactly a reader of classics.  There have been very few that I've actually enjoyed in my life, and during my high school years, classic literature was required reading, which in turn made classic literature into books that I had to read rather than books that I wanted to read.  Of all the classics I'd ever read, I recall Huck Finn being my favorite.

11.  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine -- I first fell in love with fairy tale retellings through Ella Enchanted, the movie.  And so true to form, I followed by reading the book it was based off of and found that I loved it just as much.  Both the movie and the book had all the right elements of cute, romance, humor, and a spunky, strong heroine who saves herself and saves the day!  Yay!

12.  Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale -- Despite not being the first fairy tale retelling, nor even the first Shannon Hale book I read, Book of a Thousand Days ended up becoming my most favorite fairy tale retelling to date.  I've reread it twice, listened to the audio twice, and have loved the telling each time.  Dashti is one of the strongest, most level-headed, and resourceful heroines in a fairy tale retelling I've come across.  And I have no doubt that I could read this book again and again and still love it!

13.  A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks -- While I will probably never read another Nick Sparks book again, I DO remember that I really liked this one when I read it in high school.  It was a hit book, with a hit movie, it was the first book I'd ever read with a depressing love story, and one of the first books that ever made me cry.  And at the time I absolutely loved it!  These days I don't read books with sad or depressing stories.  I've sworn never to reread this book, if only because I know my tastes these days, and I don't want to lose that feeling of love I had for this book after that first experience.

I was never able to enjoy another Nick Sparks book if only because, even back then, I preferred not to read anything depressing if I could help it.  And it took a while for me to realize that Nick Sparks novels always followed a specific formula as sad love stories, with depressing endings, and dead main characters.  A Walk to Remember was probably one of few exceptions, as it was a book that had been recommended to me by friends because of how popular the movie had gotten.

14.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield -- This was probably my very first foray into Gothic, if we don't count my attempt at reading Dracula when I was in middle school (because I never actually finished reading Dracula back then--I have since remedied this by listening to the stellar full cast audio book and loved it).  But at the time, I didn't know that there was such a genre as Gothic.  Nonetheless, this was a twisty book with a wonderfully moody atmosphere, and so many convoluted plot twists that I somehow ended up loving it a lot.

15.  Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling -- These books are probably on a lot of people's list, and so my list is no exception.  Harry Potter came later in my reading journey than it did for most other readers.  I didn't read the books until after watching that first movie and finding it quite enjoyable; this was during high school.  One book after another, I became obsessed with the series, the world, the characters...  Harry Potter was my first fandom, and aside from anime, my first fanfiction writings, none of which I ever posted, but they exist somewhere.

Of the series, my favorite book was The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Post-College Years

16.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins -- It wasn't until after college that I was able to start reading as religiously as I did before college.  The Hunger Games happened to serve as a multi-functional gateway in my reading journey.  The Hunger Games is not my favorite book, and the series itself wasn't the best.  But this book started me into a love affair with Young Adult literature, a desire to read more dystopian books/series, and helped me discover book communities such as Goodreads.  I was so interested in finding more similar books that after a lot of extensive Google searching, I stumbled upon Goodreads, which allowed me to find so many more books to read.

My TBR ended up becoming immensely increased afterwards and has never really gotten under control since.

17.  Stardust by Neil Gaiman -- Stardust was the very first book I ever reviewed on a public forum, even if it was an extremely short, two paragraph review with little detail.  But it was a review nonetheless, and it got me started, and I began writing reviews randomly, which eventually lead to some serious book blogging via BookLikes, meeting other book bloggers, and then creating a personal book blog at Blogspot to call home.

18.  The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater -- The Raven Boys doesn't cover any milestones for me in my reading journey, but it was most definitely one of my most favorite Young Adult novels.  What DOES make The Raven Boys so special was that I hadn't fan-girl-ed any main hero character for a long time since I fan-girl-ed Fred Weasley in the Harry Potter series, or since I fan-girl-ed some anime characters during the years I watched anime religiously.

I totally fell in love with Gansey, and most important, I fell in love with the entire set of characters in this entire book (as well as the entire series).  I went into The Raven Boys not expecting much, after a bout of YA books that seemed to repeat ideas and plot devices, and ended up finding a special world, a magical writing, and Blue and her boys.

19.  The Distance Between Us by Kasie West -- After I started reading YA books, this was probably the first contemporary young adult romance that I loved.  I remember absolutely loving the dry sarcasm of the main character, Caymen, and enjoying The Distance Between Us as a light-hearted, warm and fuzzy young romance--nothing angsty, nothing complicated.  It was just simply a fluffy love story with a witty, sarcastic main character.  And I liked it in it's simplicity and wit.

20.  Extreme Exposure by Pamela Clare -- While this isn't my favorite of Pamela Clare's romantic suspense or contemporary romance novels, this was my first foray into the genre of romantic suspense, and probably the first ever more racy romance novel that I truly enjoyed.  I'm a hopeless romantic and I like crime thrillers and mysteries, and it seemed that romantic suspense combined these elements into a package I could love.

Extreme Exposure was heavy on the romance and the suspense and the sex scenes, and after starting this book, I found that I loved all of it, proceeding forward to read the rest of Pamela Clare's books.  Today, Pamela Clare is one of the few auto-buy authors in my personal canon, not only because her books hold a special place for me, but they are definitely well-written with a sense of heart that I love, even in spite of her tendency to drop exposition fairies everywhere and get a little to schmaltzy.

21.  The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas -- This was my first historical romance, which is an interesting milestone for me, if only because I'd never really read a lot of historical before.  I think I'd read a historical romance when I was in high school and just couldn't get into it.  But after reading a young adult high fantasy by Sherry Thomas, I decided I'd try to give her historical romance books a go, as recommended by some other readers online, and ended up really liking The Luckiest Lady in London, even if it's not my favorite.  But it got me started and I now read historical as if I've always read them.

22.  Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin -- Butterfly Swords isn't the best of Jeannie Lin's books, but it certainly was the first historical romance written in a setting NOT England, that I read.  I certainly looked forward to it as a Chinese historical romance.  And upon finishing it, I found that it greatly reminded me of the wuxia story television adaptations I used to watch when I was a kid.  That feeling of nostalgia was there and made me love the book all the more, despite the rather standard romance being told.  Coupled with Jeannie Lin's beautiful writing, I decided that I would absolutely continue to read more books written by her.

23.  Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris -- This was the very first audio book I listened to without first having read the print version.  And this was the first nonfiction book I'd read since college textbooks and medical journal articles.  This book was tons of fun, and NPH is one of those narrators you could absolutely listen to over and over again, just because he's an absolutely charming person.  And also, the format of his autobiography is just super unique, though I suspect it would have been much more fun in print, even if I absolutely enjoyed listening to the audio book.

24.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie -- This was my first Agatha Christie book.  And allow me to just reiterate my very short review on this book:  MIND.  BLOWN.  After reading this book, I started wondering why I'd never read Agatha Christie before.  I must have lived under a rock for a long time, because there's no other reason.

25.  The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) -- In truth, the entire Cormoran Strike series is phenomenal, but when I had read the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, I wasn't really all that impressed, even if the characters were well-written, and the story was great.  The mystery and story felt rather standard, to be honest.  But this second book in the series, The Silkworm, truly stood out in its genius, even in spite of all the grotesque happenings.

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