Ten Books, Four Words Each

top ten book list, Christian parenting, feminist parenting, Perhaps, like me, you’ve been tagged in a Facebook chain asking you to list ten books that have stayed with you. Not necessarily your ‘Top Ten Books!’ in capital letters, but books that have lingered and been significant.

Facebook is too ephemeral for something as important as books, so I thought, what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t host this kind of wonderful discussion? Way better than Facebook!

Also, when I read other people’s lists, I want to know more than just a title and author. Writing a whole paragraph review on each book is more than I can manage at present, so I thought a happy medium would be to offer four words on each book, just enough to get a tiny taste. They’re also linked, of course, so you can follow them up.

Re-readability is a common thread. I’ve read eight of these more than once, and some more like a dozen times.

I’ve stuck to fiction, but otherwise, have just picked ten favourites, though I could easily pick a different ten that would be just as beloved. They’re roughly in order of when I first read them.

Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
A very fine nose.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Twisting hay to burn.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
Faithfulness, introversion, scheming, Bath.

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton
Apartheid, father and son.

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
India; poverty and precariousness.

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Appalachia, moths, predators, science.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Father writing son’s ‘begats’

Master and Commander (series), Patrick O’Brian
Twenty-one books. Twice through.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
Thomas Cromwell is astonishing.

American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
Marriage is flippin’ weird.

And a bonus one for my favourite book this year:

A Brief History of Montmaray, Michelle Cooper
Threadbare princess on island.

I’d love to hear your list, with or without bullet reviews (of whatever length you like).

Try for the ten-plus-one that I’ve gone for, but I’m not setting any rules πŸ™‚

Give as many sub-lists as you like (ten young adult favourites; ten sci-fi novels; ten books about chocolate…) Can’t wait to read them all.


This is an addictive game! I’m drafting my fourth list now, with more to come. So how about we keep this thread to genera/adult fiction (ish), and I’ll start new threads for specialty lists in the new year.

Childhood faves, children’s books you’ve discovered as an adult, teen/young adult, dystopias, what else shall we do?

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27 comments on “Ten Books, Four Words Each”

  1. Steph Reply

    I’m up in the middle of the night so I’ll be first to add my list – roughly in order of when I read them:

    The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe – CS Lewis
    Salvation plan in Narnia

    Alex – Tessa Duder
    My favourite teenage heroine

    To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
    I love Atticus Finch

    Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
    Yorkshire moors love story

    The Power of One – Bryce Courtney
    Apartheid in South Africa.

    Black Rain – Masuji Ibuse
    Hiroshima post atomic bomb

    Silence – Shusaku Endo
    Christian martyrs in Japan

    Mr Pip – Lloyd Jones
    Great Expectations in Bougainville

    A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled
    Women in Afghanistan

    The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency (series) – Alexander McCall Smith
    Easy reading in beautiful Botswana


    The Book Thief – Markus Zusac
    My best read in 2013

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Morning, Steph πŸ™‚ Me, too!

      Oh, what a GREAT list!

      Why didn’t I put Alex on my list?! Maybe because my Mum has borrowed the whole series and it’s not on my shelves!

      At least I have rhapsodised about her here:

      To Kill a Mockingbird could easily have made my list too, another day.

      Wuthering Heights not so much – it pretty much passed me by and I’ve never really connected with it, though I can see why people do (particularly people who first encountered it elsewhere than fourth form English, perhaps :))

      Silence is on my one-day list (and on the shelf, ready for the one-day). Never heard of Black Rain so will hunt it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

      Thanks again for the list πŸ™‚ Hope you get some sleep soon, and enjoy newborn snuggles in the meantime. xox

  2. Alex Reply

    Ha! I filled in a list on my sister’s FB page the other day, but it wasn’t entirely satisfactory. Nice to get another shot at it πŸ˜‰ This isn’t quite the same ten books, but very nearly… I’ll try to follow your lead and do these approximately chronologically in order of first reading, and will stick as far as possible to 4 words:

    Quest for a Kelpie – Frances Hendry
    Scotland, myth, magic, adventure

    The Magicians of Caprona – Diana Wynne Jones (could have picked any of hers, really)
    Magical escapism, parallel worlds

    The Silent Shore – Ruth Elwin Harris
    Sisters in Somerset, WW1

    The Firebrand – Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Kassandra of Troy reimagined

    Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
    Classic for a reason

    Waterland – Graham Swift
    Eels, the Fens, incest

    Wild Swans – Jung Chang
    Reason I went to China

    Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
    Disturbing dystopia, very moving

    First Century After Beatrice – Amin Maalouf
    Also disturbing but thought-provoking

    Small Island – Andrea Levy
    Wartime Britain, race, relationships

    Honour – Elif Shafak
    Best book of 2013 (as far as I’m concerned, at any rate)

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Wow! This is such a great exercise. Thanks for this list!

      I’ve only read four of yours, and I’ve never even heard of four of them. What a great way to discover books.

      If I did a non-fiction list, Wild Swans would very likely be there. I heard her on the Guardian books podcast talking about her new bio of Empress Ci Xi – sounds fascinating.

      Thomas Hardy and Lionel Shriver are the two authors I have banned myself from because they are so bad for my mental health. I was so angry and depressed at the end of Tess, which I finished on Christmas Eve, that it completely spoiled Christmas for me! Mark of a good writer, obviously, but I can’t be doing with it!

      I’m tempted to do a top ten dystopias (very *now* πŸ™‚ ) with Never Let Me Go on it.

      • Alex Reply

        Snap! I’ve only read three of yours, and you have four on there that I’ve not heard of either.

        I think a lot of people feel that way about Tess – and I don’t really have much time for the rest of Thomas Hardy! – but it genuinely is a book that has stayed with me. I’m intrigued that there’s two on my list that I studied at school (Tess and Waterland) but none at all from the books I studied in my 8 years at university…

        I also need to add a slight disclaimer – Quest for a Kelpie really stands for a whole “series” of books (unconnected and by different authors but published by Kelpie in a standard style and packaging, if that makes sense?) that I read a lot of between the ages of about 8 and 12. Mostly set in Scotland, mostly historical, some with magic (or rather witchcraft). Come to think of it, I’m not sure that one really had all that much magic if any at all in, so my 4 words are possibly a little misleading on that one.

  3. Frank Reply

    I will get back here to add in my top 10 from childhood… but wanted to say that the twisting hay to burn is totally what I would have put for the LIW book.
    I would have to say “Anne with an e” though for Anne of GG.

  4. Frank Reply

    Okay here goes (and I’ve included some series as one item, sorry!)
    Anne of Green Gables series (Anne with an E)
    The little house on the Prairie series (tribulations on the frontier)
    The conjuror by Jack Lasenby (turns racism upside down)
    The Mangrove Summer by Jack Lasenby (disastrous outcomes of war)
    The Lake by Jack Lasenby (girls escapes to forest)
    Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (beautiful fable, staying true)
    I am not Esther by Fleur Beale (junior psychological cult thriller)
    Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson (lonely kids create world)
    The World around the corner by Maurice Gee (caroline saves the world)
    Under the mountain by Maurice Gee (twins save the world)
    The Silent One by Joy Cowley (deaf-mute boy and turtle)

    So there you have it. I wouldn’t have claimed Jack Lasenby as one of my favourite authors, so I find it interesting he managed to get THREE books in my top ten childhood reads that have stayed with me.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Fascinating! So this is books YOU read in childhood, not necessarily your fave children’s books now, right?

      I’ve read most of them, but only half have really stuck (if we count those entire series as one entry each, of course!).

      Maurice Gee would take up half my list if I let him – Halfmen of O series and Under the Mountain in particular.

      I see another list forming…

      Can you please post your adult/general list too? πŸ™‚

      • Frank Reply

        Yes, these are books I read in childhood. I’m interested to know which stuck from my list? I think a lot of it is about the age and stage I was at when I read it. Like I think I read The Workd Around the Corner just after getting glasses (which I hated), so the idea of magical glasses that help save the world struck a chord.
        Here’s my general list

        The history of love Nicole Krauss
        If you can walk you can dance Marion Molteno
        I know why the caged bird sings Maya Angelou
        The book thief Markus Zusak
        The conjuror Jack Lasenby
        A fine balance Rohinton Mistry
        The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
        The other hand Chris Cleave
        The secret life of bees Sue Monk Kidd
        Potiki Patricia Grace

        • not a wild hera Reply

          Yes, the circumstances, age/stage are key for me, too.

          Anne, Laura, Maurice Gee, Mangrove Summer (though I hadn’t remembered it until I read the title). I read I am not Esther as an adult and found the story compelling but not the writing – I often feel that way about Fleur Beale, eg Juno series.

  5. John Reply

    OK – here goes – in randomise order – a bunch of stuff that is surprisingly eastern european mixed with some other stuff. Solzhenitsyn, Winton and Steinbeck get one entry as best earning placeholders for a bunch of other great stuff. One buried in here is not really fiction, but so radically good it can’t be left off! And agonised over leaving out ‘Perdido Street Station’ by China Mieville (Weird Leftist Steampunk masterpiece) but doesn’t quite make top 10 +1.

    1) Papa Panov’s Special Day – Leo Tolstoy
    – delightfully retold Christmas classic

    2) Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl
    – best boys book ever?

    3) The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (who ever cares what the JRR stand for anyway?)
    – heroic triumph for normality

    4) One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    – Incredible in every way

    5) Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    – Murderous, poverty themes, redemptive

    6) All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
    – horrifyingly depicted, heartbreakingly real

    7) Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
    – gritty, broken, ultimately redemptive

    8) Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
    – it made me cry

    9) Maus – Art Spiegelman
    – brilliantly drawn holocaust memoir

    10) Cry the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
    – compassionate, painful, racism, reconciliation

    My best for 2013 is ‘Bring up the Bodies’ – Hilary Mantel
    – Tudor England was dangerous!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Great list John!

      I’m currently working on 11-20, being so sad at leaving so many out of the original list πŸ™‚ Solzhenitsyn is a contender. Harrowing.

      I was struck in writing my list at the dominance of female authors. I see your list is largely male. I think there’s another discussion to have about that. Dostoyevsky in particular is often on Christian guys’ top ten lists, but rarely on women’s.

      I’d never heard of Papa Papanov – thank you for that!

      • John Reply

        Actually it looks totally male – chauvinism peeking through? I hope not too much. Dostoyevsky was a fascinating guy, but being unable to finish reading ‘The Devils’ proves just how amazing Crime and Punishment is! Papa Panov is a children’s story that is a pretty cool variation on a common story thread. The book I should spriuk for female authors is the Tessa Duder Prize-winning ‘A necklace of Souls’ by RL Stedman – the author being my sister-in-law clearly has nothing to do with it.

  6. Ruth Cook Reply

    Anne of green gables
    Tennyson Puffed sleeves, gilbert

    My Family and other Animals
    Laughing, boat, scorpion Larry

    Rebecca – daphne du Maurier
    Danvers, boat

    Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
    We are too many

    Poisonwood bible – Barbara kingsolver
    Africa daughters snake toxic

    Old man and the Sea – Hemingway
    Sparse expanse young old

    Child in Time- Ian mcewan
    Child supermarket lost forever

    Bring up the Bodies- Hilary mantel
    Cromwell, dark precarious precocious

    Sorrow of war – Biao Ninh
    War separation love loss

    Secret History – Donna tartt
    Students secret guilt destruction

  7. not a wild hera Reply

    ‘We are too many’! Oh! Possibly the most heartbreaking moment in literature.

    I love the Secret History, too – have you seen she’s written another (one per decade is a respectable rate :))

  8. Rochelle Reply

    Alright, even though you hijacked my thread, here’s mine πŸ˜‰ Or at least, my first one… a general ‘stuck with me’ list. I’ve been brewing kids / YA / poetry / theatre lists as well… let’s see how they go!

    The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver –
    Ender’s Game (series) – Orson Scott Card
    Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
    The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
    Children of God – Mary Doria Russell
    The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
    Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
    Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
    Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
    The Bone People – Keri Hulme

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Yes, thanks for not complaining too much at the abduction!

      I’m fascinated that you gave TWO WHOLE SPOTS to Mary Doria Russell! Those books stayed with me, too, but even if I’d included one, I decided to stick to one book per author, to get more in πŸ™‚

      I’ve read all on your list except Ender’s Game – I do love seeing your bookshelves and feeling at home πŸ™‚

      Four of yours narrowly missed out on my list, too – Poisonwood Bible (chose Prodigal Summer as I’ve reread it a few times – less harrowing!), The Bone People, Time-Traveler, Cloud Atlas. I’m working on a 11-20 list now!

  9. Cara Reply

    Thanks for the inspiration to get reading! I few mentions of Barbara kingsolver’s books – I would strongly recommend her latest Flight Behavior – it is fantastic!

  10. Stacey Reply

    Difficult. I’ve been pondering this list for a while, and am glad that it’s ‘books that have stayed with you’, rather than ‘books you recommend’, or ‘favourite books’ πŸ™‚ I tend to blitz through books and even if one stays with me, I often can remember neither the title nor the author. The following is a snapshot of what I’ve picked today. If I’d made the list last week it could well have been quite different πŸ™‚ There are two non-fictions here, but they’ve been really quite important to me and definitely stuck around, so I’m keeping them in.

    In no particular order:

    1. Z for Zachariah by R. O’Brien
    Teen. Post-apocalyptic. Resourcefulness. Hopeful

    2. Little Women by Louisa M Alcot
    Dependable / Academic / Decorative / Consumptive

    3. The entire Company Series by Kage Baker
    Historical Romance Fiction. Cyborgs.

    4. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
    Napoleonic War, with Dragons

    5. The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
    Victorian Egyptology. Mystery. Romp.

    6. Ender’s Game (and the rest of the series) by Orson Scott Card
    Choice. Consequence. Culpability. Childhood.

    7. Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
    Money equals life energy

    8. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
    Tradition. Modernity. Finding God.

    9. Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by Joan Chichester
    Benedictine life for everyone

    10. Always Coming Home by Ursula le Guin
    Community. Humanity. Interconnected. Earthed.

    And my almost-ran is the Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents couplet of books by Octavia Butler. Distopian Futuristic. Powerfully written and important. It chiefly stuck in my head because it gave me the willies. But it was so scary because it was utterly, brutally believable.

  11. Esmee Reply

    About ten years ago a friend and I, who were / are avid Crime readers, embarked upon a journey of reading women crime writers with a woman as the main character. It was a great success, and many of the authors endure on my favourites list. So I thought I’d share my top ten in alphabetical order!
    1. Nevada Barr (Anna Pigeon, Park Ranger)
    2. Patricia Cornwall (Dr Kay Scarpetta – Forensic anthropologist)
    3. Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum, Bail bonds)
    4. Linda Fairstein (Alex Cooper DA)
    5. Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone PI)
    6. Sue Henry (Jessie Arnold and/ or Maxie McNab; Canadian sled riding!)
    7. Marcia Muller (Sharon McCone PI)
    8. Val McDermid (Kate Brannigan)
    9. Sara Paretsky (V I Warshawski PI)
    10. Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan Forensic anthropologist)
    11. Stella Rimington (Liz Carlyle MI5 Intelligence)
    12. Zoe Sharp (Charlie Fox Bodyguard)
    13. Lisa Scottoline (Mary DiNunzio Lawyer)
    14. Dana Stabenow (Kate Shugak Aliut Private Investigator)

    Sorry – can’t count!

  12. Rod Robson Reply

    How about
    1. Patrick O’brien novels – astonishing story telling arc.
    2. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – like nothing else around
    3. Gore Vidal’s Lincoln – well researched and surprising
    4. Gore Vidal’s Julian – last pagan roman emperor
    5. Robert Harris’s Fatherland – best alternative history novel
    6. Ian Pears’ The Dream of Scipio – connections between the ages
    7. Ian Pears’ The instance of the Fingerpost – amazing historical whodunnit
    8. Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart – ultimate apartheid liberal challenge
    9. Hillary Mantel – all her stuff
    10.Marilynne Robinson’s Home – writes like a god!

    Great idea TKR – could we have one on biographies or possibly on books to avoid, I have a few.


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  15. Stef Reply

    The well of loneliness- Radcliffe Hall- Not a proper woman
    The color purple-Alice Walker- Women’s love heals all
    Pride and prejudice- Jane Austen-Sarcasm misinterpreted as romance
    Wuthering heights- Emily Bronte- Abuse, dysfunction, revenge, death
    Lady Chatterly’s lover- DH Lawrence- She got laid
    The knight by the pool-Sophie Masson- Fairy tales, dark yearnings
    My Place- Sally Morgan- She was Aboriginal
    Animal Farm- George Orwell- Revolutionaries become the oppressor
    The Pale Horse- Agatha Christie- witchcraft? how did they?
    Cat’s cradle-Kurt Vonnegut jr- Nice, nice very nice

    plus one

    The Hourglass Factory- Lucy Ribchester- suffragettes, corsets, girl reporter

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