A librarian’s Top 5 books 

Published 12:08 am Sunday, November 6, 2016

As a librarian and certified bibliophile, I am often asked, “What is your favorite book?” 

Just recently I was posed the question of my top five books. While I read a great deal, it would be easier to categorize the five worst books I have read. I will read about anything. 

I do feel a little guilty about the fact I have never read any of the Harry Potter series. When I sheepishly revealed my secret to a friend and librarian, she yelped at me across the room as if I had suddenly turned into an alien. Perhaps this winter, when the snow falls as well as the temperatures, I will crawl under a warm blanket and read them. But until then, I will devour the poetry of Mary Oliver, my new favorite poet, and transport myself to the Celtic world of the late John O’Donohue.

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My list of authors and favorite books gets longer with each passing year. I pay close attention to the cadence of words that make the sentences jump off the page and deep into my heart. Like a painter, I visualize the characters and the landscape that create the plot and setting. 

But when I finish a book and close the cover for the last time, I feel a little sad for having known them and their story. I want to be touched in some way, fiction or nonfiction, by the story.

There really isn’t a bad book. There are just some that appeal to readers and some that don’t.

I am getting to the point I read to my age (58). If I am not interested by then, well, I never will be. But sometimes, as in the case of “Gone Girl,” I held on to finish the book.

In my lifetime of books, I have tried to name my top five. They are not from the canon of reading lists for colleges and universities.  They are not all classics. They are, however, books that spoke and speak to my heart. For the most part, years later, they still do. 

Lara Thornberry, here is the list:

No. 1: Anyone who is the least bit close to me knows my favorite book of all time is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. The story is told through the eyes of a child. With childlike innocence, the main character, Scout, is thrown into a world of prejudice, hatred toward her father, as well as her brother Jem. What Scout continues to teach me is to “walk in another person’s skin/shoes” so to understand the insecurities and fears all of us carry. While I used to read this book every year, 2016 might be a good year to revisit this perpetual classic.

No. 2: “Good Night, Mr. Tom” by Michelle Magorian. Thirty-one years ago, I devoured this book during pregnancy with my daughter, Meredith. I love a book with history mingled in its plot. This novel takes place during World War II where children were moved from London to the countryside and placed in homes. This is a tender story of love and its power to transform. It is timeless and offers the reality of how love wins.

No. 3: “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell. This is a young adult book that stole my heart. It is a multifaceted book that caused me to think about the kids who do not have a safe home, are forced to endure abusive situations with family, and are deemed “different” because of their clothes, their culture and their environment. What was so moving was how two teenagers overcome peer pressure to realize that differences only draw people together if one is willing to take a chance. The book is also a portrait of society and how children often suffer due to parental decisions.

No. 4: “Prayers for Sale” by Sandra Dallas. Even though I took history all through high school and college, I was unfamiliar with the history of copper and bauxite mining in Colorado. This is the story of two women, separated by 70 years but making the most of life in this desolate mining company camp. There is also a side story of redemption and forgiveness. It is a heartwarming novel set in 1936 that will stay in your heart after you close the cover.

No. 5: “Bread & Wine” by Shauna Niequist. After my father’s death, I found solace in the kitchen. I liked to cook before, but this light filled my heart when I cooked for my family and friends. Niequist speaks of the idea how when we share food and eat together, communion takes place. We break bread, we pray or bless the food, we eat the food provided by our soil and the toil of farmers. We sit and share this intimacy with those we love. The book offers recipes and the power of friends communing together.

There is the list. 

Many I have left out — Steinbeck, Dickens, JoJo Moyes, Elizabeth Gilbert as well as hundreds of others that have spoken to my heart.  The characters whose words left me breathless. The worlds I traveled to and never spent a penny or worried about delayed flights. The weight of the book in my hand that will lull my body to sleep.

My life is a book with pages of characters and places and names.  My world with books is best defined by Sarah Addison Allen, who said, “Who I am, what I am, is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, a lifetime of stories. And there are still so many more books to read. I’m a work in progress.”

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist on revitalizing downtown Winchester.