Monday Question – Your Top Five Part I: Books

Today is the first Monday question in a series of five where we share our Top Five lists for several things. First up are books. (Advance warning: perfume will be last, so we have some time to pick our five most beloved scents.)
So let’s get started with Part I:

What are your Top Five books of all time?


My Answer:

Here we go, after much deliberation:

1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years Of Solitude (RIP, one of the most wonderful, magical authors ever). – A sweeping story of generations full of magic and unforgettable characters.

2. John Irving: A Prayer For Owen Meany – the story of a very unusual man and how he saved the world.

3. Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum – everything you ever wanted to know about arcane wisdom, the occult and more. There is almost nothing Eco doesn’t touch. He is a true renaissance man.

4. Wally Lamb: I Know This Much Is True – a rich, intricate novel about identical twin brothers dealing with their family history in very different ways. One is schizophrenic, the other is not. Impossible for me to summarize in a few words, this is a book that won’t ever leave you again.

5. Pat Conroy: The Prince Of Tides – deeply touching family history set in the deep south. Also made into a very good movie with Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.

Special mention (because I just can’t leave them out!):

Stephen King: The Dark Tower Vol. I-VII – King’s opus magnum, the culmination of his entire body of work. A must-read for fans and just a fantastic story for everybody else.

Isabel Allende: The House Of Spirits – what can I say? I am a big fan of South-American magic realism.

Irvin D.Yalom: When Nietzsche Wept – a ficticious story about real people. What happens when Friedrich Nietzsche goes into therapy with Josef Breuer. Oh yes, a young medical intern is also important to the story, his name is Sigmund Freud.

Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island – dizzying crime story about a murder set on an isolated psychiatric hospital on Shutter Island. A psychological closed door murder mystery with a twist you’ll never forget.

I cannot wait for your Top Five Books!



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101 Responses to Monday Question – Your Top Five Part I: Books

  1. Sandra says:

    Loved your books! My top five, in no particular order, are:
    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
    The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
    the Stieg Larsson trilogy

  2. It’s a very hard question to consider, actually, but I very much enjoyed reading about yours.

    • Olfactoria says:

      It is! I would love to get a glimpse of your reading preferences, I have a feeling I’d want want to read them all! If you have a minute, please share your top five (or the first five that come to mind which you can’t be without). 🙂

  3. Alice says:

    Lovely idea for Easter Monday. Here are five, the first that spring to mind (if I think about it too long I’m sure the list would change!)
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (reading this currently)
    Emma by Jane Austen
    Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
    The Seamstress by Maria Duenas
    The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

  4. Sabine says:

    We do have quite a few in common, at least authors.
    So mine are, in no particular order:
    Umberto Eco Foucault’s pendulum
    John Irving Last night in twisted river (but could also be Garp, so I’m cheating a bit here)
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez 100 Years Solitude
    J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings
    Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye

  5. Heya Birgit,
    I found “Solitude” far and above my head. Owen Meany was a wonderful book but I love all of John Irving’s work that I’ve read. My most consistent re-reads I will have to put as my faves. These are all books that I have had to replace because they fall apart on me after a few reads. Tolkien, Austen, and a slew of others have to be left off the list, though it hurts me to do it.
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    Dune by Frank Herbert
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    Magician (Series and counterseries with Yanny Wurtz) by Raymond E Feist
    Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
    Portia xx

  6. That’s a difficult question…It’s been a while since I read any novels, these are some books that stick in the mind:
    Anna Karenin/ Tolstoy is sensational in the writing and sometimes one is in the mood for tragedy!
    The Road To Wigan Pier/ George Orwell (as a young person, made an impression about the way other people lived, again beautiful writing)
    Man’s Search for Meaning/ Viktor Frankl (life in the concentration camps, keeps you grounded about what’s important in life)
    The Hare With Amber Eyes/ Edmund de Waal (superb story telling of his family’s fortunes from 19th century Vienna onwards, done through tracing the history of 264 wood and ivory netsuke)
    Recently finished and greatly enjoyed
    Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead (the irrepressible, inimitable, forward-thinking founder of the Selfridges department store in the UK – the Jeremy Piven series on British TV was great – the first man here to put perfume and cosmetics on the ground floor and make girlie shopping fun!

    I will have to look up Wally Lamb, my dear friend who is a great reader has recommended it to me so many times and When Nietzsche wept sounds fascinating.

    For a more jolly bank holiday I recommend A short history of tractors in Ukrainian/Marina Lewycka never fails to put a smile on our faces at home.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful picks, Lila! I must finally get around to read The Hare with the Amber Eyes! Mr Selfridge also sounds like something I would enjoy a lot.

  7. fruwinther says:

    Top five? Ohom, almost impossible- love your list though, many of your favourites are mine as well,Okay…trying to pick the five…:
    The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien (I can read this one 5 times a year…)
    The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
    A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
    Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

  8. Ines says:

    I can’t believe this! 🙂
    That’s because I’m lazy and slow.
    I’ve been meaning to introduce my top 5 posts for weeks now and now I’m too late. 🙂 Hell.

    My top 5 books of all time (in some cases, series, sorry).

    1. Harry Potter
    2. Lord of the Rings
    3. Marija Jurić Zagorka: Vitez Slavonske Ravni (that’s a Croatian one)
    4. Max Brooks: World War Z
    5. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

  9. Annina says:

    Oh, great (and difficult) question! Off the top of my head, here’s my list. But I’m sure I’ll have thought of more as the day goes on.

    The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
    The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
    Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
    Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
    The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

    Honorable mention:
    The Four Agreements, Miguel Angel Ruiz
    Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin
    The Hunger Games Trilogy
    Creation, Gore Vidal

  10. Jane P says:

    Hi Birgit – interesting topic an very difficult to come up with a shortlist, but these are ones that changed my consciousness, just a little:

    That Old Ace in the Hole – I love Annie Proulx’s characterisations of mid Western eccentrics
    Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
    Hard Times – Dickens
    Music for Torching – A M Homes – gateway to American contemporary literature, for me
    The Tortilla Curtain – T C Boyle
    … A couple of philosophy texts changed the way I view the world, and I did love Les Miserables, too …

  11. Claudia Bloemendal says:

    That’s a great idea! So interesting to read everybody’s favorite books. My top 5, in no particular order:
    The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
    The Hour I First believed, Wally Lamb
    The Secret History, Donna Tartt
    White Oleander, Janet Fitch
    The Frozen Heart, Almudena Grandes

  12. rosestrang says:

    R.I.P. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I also love John Irving, but my ultimate favourites are:

    To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee
    Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence
    Le Rouge et le Noir, Stendhal
    The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

  13. Lady Jane Grey says:

    5 only is difficult, very difficult… Mine are really all time favs, most of them cherished by me since my teeage years (which I passed just yesterday really !).

    The World According Garp (or anything else by Irving)
    The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
    We were the Mulvaneys (JC Oates) – was hard to decide, I love her books
    What I loved (S. Hustvedt)
    The Sirens of Titan (and lots of others by K. Vonnegut)

    Honoarary : Ice Storm (R.Moody), So Much Pretty (C.Hoffman), Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne); Pale View of Hills (K. Ishiguro), Catch 22 (J.Heller)

  14. Laurels says:

    The first four aren’t hard to place:
    Joseph Heller, Catch-22
    Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
    Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
    Toni Morrison, Beloved

    I find it impossible to pick one last book, though. My Collected Keats? Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale? Donna Tartt, The Secret History? David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest? Anything by P. G. Wodehouse or Douglas Adams? The list keeps expanding instead of contracting.

  15. Amy Bella says:

    We share quite a few all-time-favorites! One Hundred Years of Solitude is my #1 favorite. House of the Spirits, Foucalt’s Pendulum, & I Know This Much is True are all on my top 10 list.

    Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
    Imaginal – Clive Barker
    The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
    American Gods – Neil Gaiman
    Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

    I love reading!!!

  16. Tomate Farcie says:

    I adore seeing what everyone loves. It’s a great way of learning about people. My favorites are rather fluid, but at this moment-
    A Tale of Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)
    Half a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
    The Inheritance of Loss (Keran Desai)
    The Map of Love (Ahdaf Soueif)
    The Pursuit of Love (Nancy Mitford)

    and all women…..

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  18. SallyM says:

    An almost impossible task but here goes:
    Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
    We Were the Mulvaneys – JC Oates
    Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
    Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
    JR Tolkein – Lord of the Rings

    And because I’m a series nut, I give honorable mention to:
    The Outlander Series – Diana Gabaldon
    The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher
    A Song of Ice & Fire – GRR Martin

  19. Oh I have to second Disc World. Terry Pratchett is so much fun.

    But I love me a 19th century novel so manage to re- read Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds or Can You Forgive Her? or Austen just about every other year. Also have to have some Waugh, A Handful of Dust, and Mortimer’s Summer’s Lease, plus Dorothy Sayers! Read a lot of non-fiction though…

    • Olfactoria says:

      I never got into the Discworld series (yet!), since they seem so overwhelming in their multitude. 🙂
      I read a lot of non-fiction too, but no matter how fascinating the topic, nothing bears the thrill of immersing myself in the world of a well-written novel.

  20. anitathepianist says:

    This is going to be so interesting to see what all of your read. I’m an English teacher and have
    hundreds, but here are some of the top ones:
    War and Peace (read it once every decade to see how my perception changes)
    Middlemarch..George Eliot
    Ship Fever…Andrea Barrett
    The Human Stain…P. Roth
    Mendel’s Dwarf…Simon Mawar
    Pale Fire…V. Nabokov
    Forgetfulness…Ward Just..

    Oops, it seems I can’t count..

  21. Tara says:

    I wanted to wimp out of this one but it’s only fair to try and play the game. Especially as I enjoyed reaidng everyone else’s lists so much.

    My Top 5 is –
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    Jane Eyre
    Catcher in the Rye
    Paula by Isabel Allende
    Now the cheating –
    Either of the two Tropic books by Henry Miller which make me feel alive and grounded
    or Stardust/Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman which take me somewhere else entirely

    Books that made such an impression I recall them often –

    The Girls, a novel about conjoined twins
    Never Let Me Go, which makes me fearful whenever there’s talk of genetic engineering and the like.
    The Time Traveller’s Wife, which bored me during the first third and then engrossed me.. The ending is a killer.

    I must read Wally Lamb Birgit (as well as lots others mentioned) my sister is obsessed with his books at the moment.

    • Olfactoria says:

      So glad you didn’t wimp out on us, Tara!

      I love your selections. I think you will love Wally Lamb! His She’s Come Undone is wonderful too.

      • Lady Jane Grey says:

        Never Let Me Go scared me no end, it’s a phantastic book but I couldn’t read it once again. Really, I feel the Panic in my stomach now that we just talk about it,

  22. Kate says:

    Long time lurker here, but this is a topic close to my heart. Also, almost impossible to narrow it down to 5! It depends on mood and circumstance, I think. At the moment, then, my top five (and these are just novels) are:
    1. Adam Bede (George Eliot)
    2. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
    3. The Violent Bear it Away (Flannery O’Connor)
    4. Life A User’s Manual (Georges Perec)
    5. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
    After thinking about it for a while, I realized it would be much easier to name my top five perfumes or top five pieces of music than it would books.

    I’ve loved reading about everyone else’s choices, though.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello, Kate, I’m glad you decided to de-lurk for this topic!
      Thanks for taking the challenge of narrowing it down. The Perec sounds very intersting, I will investigate…
      You’ll get your chance to name music and perfumes in the coming weeks! 😉

  23. Farouche says:

    Here are five that haven’t already been mentioned:

    John Updike, the Rabbit series
    Ian McIwan, Atonement
    Geraldine Brooks, March
    Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
    A.S. Byatt, Possession

  24. anitathepianist says:

    Also,,,all three novels by Alison Krauss:
    A Man Walks in a Room
    The History of Love
    Great House

  25. Gretchen says:

    Oh, how I love this – cannot wait to see what the next 3 will be. My favorites:
    1. A History of Love (Alison Krauss)
    2. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)
    3. The Book Thief (Markus Zuzak)
    4. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint Exupery)
    5. Beautiful Souls (Eyal Press)

    and an extra pitch for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll) and all the Harry Potter Books (JK Rowling)

  26. Kandice says:

    Well, I won’t even try to compile a list. I’m a voracious reader, and I would find it very difficult to pick my top five. However, one possibility may certainly be The House of Spirits. My aunt recommended it to me. It was so lovely and so full of magic. It has a fond place in my heart since my aunt was my hero, and she is now gone. Whenever I think of the book it not only reminds me of a lovely story, but a wonderful women.

  27. Lej says:

    Wow, great question and one I’m finding very hard to answer. It seems as most of my favorites are series or the entire writing of certains authors. My answer goes from my childhood thur adult years
    Madeleline L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time Series
    C.S. Lewis – Narnia series & Out of a Silent Planet
    Frank Herbert – Dune series
    Jean M. Auel – Clan of the Cave Bear series
    W.E.B. Griffin – Semper Fi series
    Honorable mentions must go to Robert Heinlein, John Steinbeck, Henning Mankel, Stig Larsson, Donna Leon and Andrew Vachss. Wow, it’s sorta hard to stop listing authors but all of these are ones I can still read & enjoy. I love books either bound or e-version but I always have a book on hand. Escapism at its finest and cheap traveling!

    • Olfactoria says:

      I wholeheartedly agree, books are adventure in the head and no other pastime is better (or cheaper!).

      You reminded me of how much I liked A Wrinkle in Time as a teen.

  28. jdennard75 says:

    I loved reading your books, dear Birgit. “Owen Meany”, “One Hundred Years”, and the Dark Tower series are among my favourite books as well. “Mystic River” would be my pick of Lehane’s books. But Shutter Island was very good. I haven’t read Allende yet, but she is on my list.

    My answers to your questions will come from my own top ten blog post from earlier this year. In no particular order they are:

    My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George
    A Separate Peace by John Knowles
    Walden by Henry David Thoreau
    Quiet by Susan Cain
    On The Road by Jack Kerouac

  29. Vanessa says:

    Great question!
    I would say, in no particular order (and slightly cheating):
    Perfume, by Patrick Süskind (read way before I had any real interest in perfume!)
    Harry Potter series
    All the books of Michel Folco, especially “Dieu et nous seuls pouvons” (I read them in French, not sure if they were translated, but if you do read French, definitely a must read!)
    Pillars of the Earth, by Follet
    Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amélie Nothomb (again, not sure if the English translation is good, but the original is amazing)

    Special mention to the Stieg Larson’s trilogie, Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello Vanessa,
      unfortunately my French is not up to speed for Folco or Nothomb. 😦
      Funnily though I find the German translations of French books always better than the English ones…
      Thanks for sharing your favorites.

      • Laurels says:

        Interesting. I’ve never much enjoyed French literature, and wondered if the English translations were to blame. My own fault, I suppose, for not learning French.

  30. empliau says:

    I can’t resist – although (as everyone says) such an impossible question. Here is a list of books that I read again and again, just for the sheer pleasure of reading them …

    1. O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo
    2. Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered
    3. Wodehouse, anything with Jeeves (or Psmith or Lord Emsworth).
    4. Nabokov, Pnin
    5. Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield.

    Fascinating to see all the other lists.

    • Laurels says:

      I love your list. I’ve never read #2, will have to remedy that.

      • empliau says:

        A spectacularly funny and learned mystery novel. Sarah Caudwell only wrote four novels, and the first is the best, though I must say I love them all. Julia is my role model.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Your own list is pretty fascinating to me! I will look these up right away.
      Thanks for sharing!

      • empliau says:

        Into the Heart of Borneo has a special place in my heart. Although it is a little too long, it’s amazingly funny. I remember I nearly fell out of an airplane seat into the aisle the first time I read it, I was laughing so hard – and I was flying coach. It’s a nonfiction narrative of a natural historian and a poet going upriver in Borneo. I am not brave enough to undertake such a trip, but I can enjoy the narrative in my happily leech-free surroundings!

  31. Undina says:

    It was a tough question, you feel like betraying a favorite book by not including it into the short list. But then I decided to cheat and give you two lists – five my favorite books (I decided to name those that weren’t mentioned by others yet) and five of my vSO’s (three of which are my favorites as well ; -) ).

    My list (random order, of course):
    1. Vladimir Nabokov, Mashen’ka (English translation: Mary) (it’s hard to choose just one novel from this author, I really like at least four more but Mashen’ka, in my opinion, is an ideal way into Nabokov’s world)
    2. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
    3. Erich Maria Remarque, Arch of Triumph
    4. Boris Vian, Froth on the Daydream
    5. John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

    My vSO’s list:
    1. Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
    2. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils
    3. Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
    4. Jorge Luis Borges, Short Stories
    5. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

    An honorable mentioning: Stephen King, It (for me it’s not a horror novel but rather an ultimate story about a childhood) and Patrick Süskind, Perfume (I read it soon after it had been published and it changed forever my feelings towards previous centuries: now I always think about how it all stank back then).

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you, Undina! I cheated too! 😉
      I totally agree with you that It is a fantastic coming of age novel, the horror is completely secondary, as is often the case with King (the horror element is why he is so unfairly underrated by many who believe that is what it’s all about).

  32. nemo says:

    I love reading everyone’s lists! Off the top of my head, some books that would definitely be included on my top more-than-five list would include The Dark Tower series (so wonderful!), The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien, The Once and Future King by T.H.White, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and the 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall Smith 🙂

  33. Hi Birgit – this is a tricky question and I love seeing what other people have on their lists.

    A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
    Middlesex – Jeffrey Euginedes
    Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
    Atonement – Ian McEwan
    Love In The Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    I also love Margaret Atwood and can’t believe I didn’t get her in on my list.

    Am currently reading the Game of Thrones books – up to the second one – A Clash of Kings. These books are door stoppers – will take me a while to finish!

    • Olfactoria says:

      I am somewhere past page 2000 in the Game of Thrones series (the kindle version has them all in one big chunk), so I know what you mean!
      Thanks for sharing your faves with us!

  34. Vanessa says:

    Wow, so nice to see Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian pop up in Undina’s list – it is one of my favourites and I made a special study of his work at university. I had forgotten all about it though, it was all so long ago…

    I am not sure of my five but in there might be:

    The Magus by John Fowles
    A Passage to India by E M Forster
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (already mentioned!)
    One by Barbara Trapido but not sure which…maybe Juggling
    Anita Shreve The Last Time They Met

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