There’s reading and then there’s Reading; just like there’s literature and then there’s Literature (if I were speaking rather than writing, the difference between these two sets of statements would be air quotes surrounding Reading and Literature).

These second elements of each statement suggest a higher standard; greater intellectual depth and rigour; a broader scope and more culturally complex explorations; dazzling eloquence. They suggest superiority, I think.

When you read the first sentence of this blog, what pops into your mind? Do your thoughts line up in an order akin to this one?

 reading/ literature                                                        Reading/Literature

-Harlequin Romances!                                        –Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover


-Murder mysteries!                                              -The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe


– Fantasy and Science fiction!                             –  The Odyssey, The Iliad


– Anything by Stephen King!                                – Anything by Charles Dickens

The left column feels upbeat and enticing; the right column feels rather sober and solid and slightly stick-in-the-muddy, don’t you homerthink?

Maybe. But maybe not. Because what matters is whether you’ve enjoyed any of these books; whether they captivated you, transported you to another time, place or mindscape.

Is there such a thing as a literary hierarchy? Should there be?

Just this week, a challenge popped up among my closest Facebook friends. Like many of the games and quizzes that circulate on the social network, I don’t know exactly where this one originated, though I think it’s with one of my son’s friends.

The challenge was presented to me this way:

In your status list 10 books that have stayed with you over the years. Try not to take too long or to think too hard about it. They don’t have to be the “right books” or the greatest works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Tag as many of your friends as you want, including me so I can see your list!

What fun!

Guess what I did first?

I checked out the lists of others who had answered before me. Now why did I need to do that? The challenge made it clear that this 71gXBXSRCqL._SL1200_wasn’t an intellectual exercise―that it was simply about the books that had left the deepest imprint. And yet I was a little worried that my choices might not be “right”, and I had to make a conscious effort not to overthink and to simply share the titles of books that will always be close to my heart.

This is the list that I eventually posted. They are books that evoked feelings of exhilaration, sadness, safety, intrigue, compassion, outrage, hilarity, poignancy, tremendous tenderness and even love, and finally astonishment (usually by their originality) and which, upon finishing the last page, caused me to sit very still,  because I wanted to hold on to them just a bit longer:

La Vie devant soi, (Émile Ajar/Romain Gary)
The World According to Garp (John Irving)
The Intuitionist (Colson Whitehead)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon)
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
What’s Bred in the Bone (Robertson Davies)
Ensemble, c’est tout (Anna Gavalda)
Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)
Little Lost Angel, (Janet Field Heath, Janet Laura Scott –illustrator)
I Am the Messenger (Marcus Zusak)
La Serpe d’Or (René Goscinny et Albert Uderzo). My first Astérix!

Lists like these are always too short (I know, I cheated and included twelve titles), and we inevitably forget personal treasures. I could have named 40 in a matter of minutes. And in a sense, that’s why this challenge works: because there are only good answers and because it invites us to conjure up happy reading memories and reminds us again how much joy literature has brought to our lives.

downloadWhat’s most striking about the other lists that popped up on my son’s and then my own Facebook page is their variety. These were the lists of both twenty-something and fifty-something readers, and they included The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon), All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), A Damsel in Distress (PG Wodehouse), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson), Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, (Douglas Adams), Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare), Le Grand Meaulnes (Alain Fournier), The Old man and the Sea (Earnest Hemingway), Calculating God (Robert Sawyer), Anil’s Ghost (Michael Ondaatje), A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens),  The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America  (Joe Posnanski), and so many more!

And the lists keep popping up, as people embrace the challenge with relish. They make up a fine catalogue indeed.

In a thoughtful and somewhat playful essay first published in English translation in 1986, Italian author Italo Calvino asks the AVT_Italo-Calvino_9078question “Why Read the Classics?

It is a profound question I think, and I was expecting some sort of survey or perhaps a critique of the syllabuses of modern university humanities and literature programs.

Happily, Calvino subverted my expectations and instead wrote a lovely and slightly rambling exploration of the parameters of the term “Classic” as it applies to literature.

Although he begins with references to the more daunting ancient classics, such as the works of Herodotus and Thucydides, Lucretius and Lucian (the type of works usually tackled in the classroom); and though he includes a later, European bibliography featuring Balzac, Dickens, Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle, Kafka, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Dostoevsky’s The Possessed that is firmly planted in scholarly tradition, Calvino  nevertheless offers a meandering and very personal expression of what reading the Classics  should mean to readers everywhere.

He begins in a tongue-in-cheek manner, saying that:

“The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say: “I am rereading…” and never “I am reading….”, suggesting that as readers, we all have our insecurities.

And then quickly goes to the heart of the experience, explaining that:

“The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.”

For Calvino, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

His view of the reading experience is at once personal and intimate, creating a far more emotional than intellectual connection:

 “The classics are books that we find all the more new, fresh, and unexpected upon reading, the more we thought we knew them from hearing them talked about. Naturally, this only happens when a classic really works as such—that is, when it establishes a personal rapport with the reader. If the spark doesn’t come, that’s a pity; but we do not read the classics out of duty or respect, but only out of love.”

 a_midsummers_night_dreamWhat strikes me the most about his essay is that it offers a definition of the Classics that embraces the same spirit that animates the Facebook challenge, and if I look at the lists still being posted on Facebook, it’s clear that most if not all the books listed have indeed entered the collective imagination as well as our own, and will quite likely stand the test of time.

So, how about meeting this week’s challenge? List 10 books that have stayed with you over the years. Try not to take too long or to think too hard about it. They don’t have to be the “right books” or the greatest works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.

And have fun doing it!


“Then I ought to rewrite it yet again lest anyone believe that the classics ought to be read because they “serve any purpose” whatever.The only reason one can possibly adduce is that to read the classics is better than not to read the classics.”

Italo Calvino

41 thoughts on “THE TEN BOOK CHALLENGE

  1. People’s taste in books is as different as people. The wonderful thing about reading is today one could be reading The 50 Shades of Grey, and tomorrow Tale of Two Cities. My motto never pass up a good book, be it a mystery, romance, classic, etc.

  2. Hi Lorraine,

    It’s hard to argue with that!
    Could you post your Ten Books List here, on the Online Book Club page?
    Those among all those great books you’ve read that have stayed with you?

  3. My List:
    1.Gone With The Wind…Margaret Mitchell
    2.Naked in Death…..J.D Robb
    3.Survivor in Death….J.D. Robb
    4.The Little Prince….Antoine Saint Exupery
    5.The Book of Negroes……Lawrence Hill
    6.Look Again…… Lisa Scottoline
    7.Parce que je t’aime……Guillaume Musso
    8.The Bible
    9.The Best of Me….Nicolas Sparks
    10. Dracula……Bram Stoker

  4. I took Michelle’s advice and didn’t overthink. In no particular order:
    * Hemingway, the short stories from “The Fifth Column and the First 49,” such as “A Clean-Well-Lighted Place”
    * The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
    * As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
    * John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins
    * The Interpretation of Dreams, S Freud
    * July’s People, Nadine Gordimer
    * The Undertaking, Thomas Lynch
    and a couple I have rejected since, whose vision I no longer follow:
    * Damian, Hermann Hesse
    * Le Grand Meaulnes, by… Help!
    I think this is a mixture of young readings and philosophical works that have helped me along. Of course this list is subject to change!

  5. Alrighty….here’s my list. Try not to laugh too hard. 😉
    For some reason I read it as 12 books. Perhaps that’s the best sign that I need to read more. That and I’m terrible at following directions (and that has nothing to do with reading)

    Are you the biggest fish in the sea? (Dahlov Ipcar)
    Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie)
    The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)
    The Magician’s Nephew (C.S. Lewis)
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)
    The After Dinner Gardening Book (Richard W. Langer)
    A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
    His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)
    Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
    The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)
    A Spell for Chameleon (Piers Anthony)
    Cacas: The Encyclopedia of Poo (Oliviero Toscani)

    Upon review, I feel I’m looking at the list provided by a 12 year old. Maybe that’s the way I intend to remain young (at least at heart). The Fountain of Youth is actually discovered through books and reading. What a novel (pun intended) thought. 🙂

    1. Brilliant!
      You have me chuckling as you clearly intended.
      It feels like you found hope, escape and the fuel to dream big with this book list.
      I’ll have to think up another book challenge to keep your comments coming!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

  6. Well these lists are a hard act to follow!
    What a great idea Michelle.
    Here’s my list (in no particular order)

    – Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
    – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    – Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, and the Sonnets by William Shakespeare
    – Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
    – Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
    – Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
    – Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler
    – Wuthering Hights by Emily Bronte
    – The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
    – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    It was fun to write the list and remember what the books meant to me then and now. I agree with David that the list is “subject to change”.

    I think I’ll be using these lists to select some future reading material. I’ve always wanted to read “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman but I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the tip LaSimone!

  7. Hello Mary Jane,
    I love the balance and variety in your list. Darkenss and light, the Renaissance and modernity; Europe and North America (Canada! Quebec!). Well done!
    I think more will follow.
    To me, this is a great example of the fun that an online book club can offer!

    p.s. I haven’t read the last two (I don’t think I could read The Road).

  8. Greetings all, here is my list (in no particular order!)

    Your lists are all so wonderful! So many new reading ideas!

    1. Dark Debts (Karen Hall)
    2. Calculating God (Robert J. Sawyer)
    3. La Vie Devant Soi (Romain Gary)
    4. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    5. Ensemble C’est Tout (Anna Gavalda)
    6. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
    7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
    8. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
    9. All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
    10. Le Serment des Limbes (Jean-Christophe Grange)
    11. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
    12. Crocodile on the Sandbank (Elizabeth Peters)

  9. I’m partial to this list because I’ve read every single one of those books and loved them all. It’s the list of someone who loves to laugh, to escape into his imagination, to shiver with fright and to feel for the characters.

    Thanks! We will add your distinctiveness to our list! (Star Trek reference) 🙂

  10. Well, 10 is too few, so I’ll tell you my 10 best childhood books. Best meaning the ones I loved most. That’s leaving out wonders like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Series, and all the Nancy Drew mysteries, among who knows how many others.

    The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, Margaret Sidney
    Heidi, Johanna Spyri
    The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
    Science in your Own Back Yard, Elizabeth K Cooper
    Anne of Green Gables, L M Montgomery
    The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Kim and Katy Circus Days, Mary Grannan
    Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
    A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton-Porter

    and last but not least…..
    Pookie, Ivy Wallace

  11. There are so many amusing titles in your list, Gail! And several I’ve never heard of.

    Did The Five Little Peppers and The Secret Garden inspire your love of gardening? And what of Kim and Katy? Was it a book that belonged to you or one you found at the library?
    Were these books you read (or had read to you) over and over and over?

    A list of childhood books is just a little bittersweet.
    Thank you Gail!

  12. I tried to read the Five Little Peppers to my sons when THEY were little peppers but they couldn’t stomach it at all. It’s from another era; poverty is rosy, and being penniless is just wonderful as long as you keep the house clean, work hard (Mamsie ruining her eyes sewing by candlelight) and love one another. Still, they seemed to have lots of rowdy fun and a harsh word was never spoken!

    The Secret Garden is a convincing testament to the transformative power of the garden and of wholesomeness generally. A beautiful life-enhancing story!

    I see that Kim and Katy, Circus Days is available on Amazon so maybe I’ll buy it to see what the attraction was. It might just be that it gained top ten status by having been tragically left behind in a trans-Atlantic move.

  13. Off the top of my head, I’d say: Atonement by Ian McEwen, A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving, Mists of Avalon by M.Z. Bradley, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, Solomon Gursky was Here by Mordecai Richler, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and guilty pleasure The Shining by Stephen King.

    1. Donna; that is an awesome list, and I’ll agree with sister–in-law Michelle, that Stephen King need not be a guilty pleasure! Solomon Gursky! Wow what a great book! These lists make me want to re-read my Robertson Davies, my Mordecai Richler, and my John Irving books!

  14. Hello Donna,

    Thanks for your input!

    I love your list and have only one bone to pick: the pleasure of reading Stephen King should never be guilty. He is one of the greatest storytellers of all time (in my opinion 🙂 )

    I’ve always preferred his short stories and other writing that wasn’t horror, though his Dark Tower Series and cross-over stories like Hearts in Atlantis are magnificent and of tremendous originality.

    Yours is the list of a reader who enjoys dipping her toes in many genres and who appreciates many writing voices.
    Thanks again!

  15. Hello everyone, here is my list! Lots of wonderful recommendations from everyone here!

    1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
    4. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
    5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
    6. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler
    7. The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
    8. Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
    9. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
    10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

  16. Hello Michelle:

    This is my list in response to your “challenge.” It probably suffers from a recency bias, in that there are a couple which are just that, but wonderful nonetheless. Jonathan Tropper and Marcus Zusak’s books pushed aside such titles as “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and some others of Douglas Adams’ series, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Hirsig, another recent one, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” and so many so touching. How can I leave out “The Greek for Love” by James Chatto, a heart rending story from someone more a travel, food, wine writer? Or Anil’s Ghost, from Ondataatje, “The Given Day” from Dennis Lehane? Well, nonetheless, here again, is that list………….oh, and lest anyone think #9 down there is a baseball book, think again. Buck O’Neill one of the last of the “Negro League” ball players, had a view of life reaching far beyond that mere game, and a grace and love of humanity which most of us would flatter ourselves to be able to emulate.

    1. Fifth Business – Robertson Davies
    2. The Book of Joe – Jonathan Tropper
    3. Trinity – Leon Uris
    4. The Drifters – James Michener
    5. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
    6. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
    7. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
    8. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    9. The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America – Joe Posnanski
    10. The Adventures of….. Thornton W. Burgess – A series actually from when I was reading by the hall light in bed when I was a kid, ostensibly about a bunch of animals -Reddy the Fox, Peter Cottontail, Sam the Squirrel, Woody the Woodchuck.

    1. Dear Charles,

      Thanks you so much for taking the time not only to share your list, but also to frame it with such warm and personal comments.

      I also praise your ability to stick to the limit and remove some books despite your obvious love of them. Bravo!

      Your list is more North American than some, and so interesting!

      I’m also touched by your inclusion of a childhood favourite. We hold these in our memory more tenderly, I think.

      I DO know who Buck O’Neil is: I saw him in Ken Burns’ Documentary, “Baseball”. He stands out more than anyone else in that series. He was a giant talent and a humble man. He was someone who refused, even decades later (when Major league Baseball players of all colours had become racially integrated multi-millionaires) to be embittered and negative. He was full of natural gratitude and kindness. He towers over today’s players.

      What a delight! Please leave us more comments in the future. 🙂

  17. And just to add some (more) Canadiana to the list, I could add “River City” by John Farrow, “Canoe Lake” from Roy MacGregor, and “The Game” by Ken Dryden with the fore mentioned Roy MacGregor

  18. Oh! You’ve helped me to discover a new book! You should go to our Reading Canada page and add two of these, the Farrow and the MacGregor, to the list in a Comment!

    I didn’t know about the MacGregor, or have perhaps a vague memory of this book about the death (“the mysterious case”) of Tom Thomson.

    The Dryden, unfortunately, doesn’t qualify for Reading Canada this time around because it isn’t set in a specific region, but that only provides me with inspiration for a future blog posting.

    Keep’m coming, Charles!

  19. Here we go:
    1- Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane – This book was so moody! Loved it!
    2- Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman – Cool concept!
    3- The entire collection of the Wheel of Time books. – Robert Jordan – Yes, these are a little on the cheese side, but the world was huge and so detailed. As a kid, it was the first time that a book had ever transported me to another place.
    4- A Brief History of Time – Hawking – Made something as complicated as string theory enjoyable.
    5- Shogun – James Clavell – Anjin San!!!!
    6- Noble House – James Clavell
    7- ALL the Sigma Force – James Rollins – These aren’t literature, but the science, the history and the action is just outstanding.
    8- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – My little bro got me this one.
    9- The Fionavar Tapestry – Guy Gavriel Kay
    10- The Dark Tower – Stephen King – Time Warps, associated paradoxes! Just the most amazing concept ever!

  20. Hello Jeremy,

    Wow! another great list!

    This one has muscle. 🙂

    It seems to me that your list of beloved books is also a list of loved authors, and that at least in part, you read to escape into the expanses of greater worlds or mindscapes as you travel through time.

    It thus feels perfectly natural that you have included Stephen Hawking. It is your single non-fiction choice (which have been rare in the lists posted so far); and what choice!

    Thanks for contributing and please leave us more comments in the future.

  21. Here’s my list for the ten book challenge: Michelle Payette-Daoust

    1. Cold Mountain. Charles Frazier
    2.The Girls. Lori Lansens
    3. The Elephant Keeper. Christopher Nicholson
    4. Rose Under fire. Elizabeth Wein
    5. Charlotte’s Web
    6.The Hobbit
    7.Lonesome Dove. Larry McMurtry
    8. My Antonia. Willa Cather.
    9. Year of Wonders,Geraldine Brooks.
    10. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

  22. Hello Patricia,

    I’m so happy to have you on board!
    And thanks for a great list that introduces all kinds of new books.

    Though I didn’t put Cold Mountain on my list, I could have. It left such a deep mark in me that I’ve never wanted to tamper with it by going to see the movie.

    The collateral damage of the battlefield is a subject close to my heart, (see this posting:
    so I was very moved by Inman’s quest and suffering, and loved the two strong female characters.

    But you know, I think that what touched me the most was the sense of place that Charles Frazier created: it was so evocative that I can still almost conjur the smells and shades of green of the deep woods, the birdsong and the rustling of leaves. It was such a tour de force, that I looked him up, and read that he wrote Cold Mountain hidden away in a cabin in the woods.
    Mystery solved.

    Middlesex is on my own list. A towering novel.

    As for those I haven’t yet read: goodie-goodie (I am rubbing my hands in delighted anticipation).
    Welcome to the Pointe-Claire Library online Book Club!

    Please leave more comments in future.

  23. Thanks for your comments Michelle! I know the list was10 books without thinking too hard but there is one more I just have to add. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It was suggested to me by my son David. It was required reading for him in high school I think. Wonderful book about humanity, our beliefs, and our impact on the planet earth and where we are heading. Very thought provoking!

  24. The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro – can’t get enough of his writing
    Anything by David Mitchell including Cloud Atlas
    Nadja – Andre Breton
    Norwegian Wood, After Dark, A Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami
    Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
    The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
    The Sound and the Fury – Faulkner
    A Quiet Life – Kenzaburo Oe
    The Empathy Exams – Leslie Jamison – best thing i’ve read in awhile
    The Dark is Rising Sequence – Susan Cooper – probably my favorite childhood series
    Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

  25. Hello Dara,

    You have such an interesting list! It’s very eclectic.

    David Mitchell is perhaps my favourite writer, ever. He is a genius.

    I have never heard of Bulgakov; based on your recommendation, I will definitely look into this work.

    You have a penchant for Japanese writers (and even David Mitchell has been touched by Japan in so many ways). I really must look in that direction as well.

    I picked up The Empathy Exams several months ago and quickly read through Leslie Jamison’s brilliant and very distinctive collection of essays. It was strange and serendipitous that within days, I heard about both Morgellons and the Barkley Marathons.

    I plan several future blogs on the essay form.

    I love that you included beloved books from your childhood.That’s where it began for all of us, I think.

    Please continue to read the blog and to comment any time!


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