Quick! Write down your five favorite novels. Don’t think too long or too hard . . . Just pick the first five titles that come to mind regardless of genre or when you read them. I was surprised at the books that immediately leapt to mind. Some are old; some are new. Either way, each one is special to me.
Here’s what I picked:
Number One: The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. This is my go-to book for fictional inspiration. The story opens with a severely wounded gunfighter staggering on to the farm owned by Rachel Yoder and her young son. Rachel is recently widowed and part of a “Plain” community similar to the Mennonites. I’ll never forget closing this book at about 3 a.m. and thinking, “I want to write this exact kind of story.” What makes this book so special to me is the mix of faith and rugged realism. Add in Penelope Williamson’s lyrical prose and you have the reason I stayed up half the night to finish it, and why I cried happy tears at the end.
Number Two: This selection surprised me. I don’t generally like books set in ancient times, particularly ancient Rome. Gladiators? No thanks. A glossary? Call me lazy, but I get tired of looking up strange words. All that changed when my dental hygienist handed me the first two books in Francine Rivers’ the Mark of the Lions series. Do you know how it is when a dentist or a dental hygienist has you captive? When they”re talking and you want to say something, but you have stuff in your mouth and can’t respond? My hygienist raved about these stories, then gave me a set of the books. She
was right. They’re great. I became so involved with the characters that I couldn’t stop reading. Hadassah and Marcus and Artretes came alive for me.
Number Three: Jane Eyre . . . I’ve loved this story since the made-for-TV movie with Susannah York and George C. Scott. He was perfect as Rochester–gravelly voiced, arrogant, tortured. Timothy Dalton is a strong second. He’s a little bit too good looking to match the Rochester in my mind, but that’s more than fine with me. I”ve seen just about every Jane Eyre movie ever made. Some are better than others, but the book trumps all of them.
Number Four: The Reluctant Prophet series by Nancy Rue is about a woman who leaves her comfortable church and life, buys a Harley and becomes involved with the homeless and prostitutes in the bad part of her affluent town. The Book Club I belong to read the first one and all of us had the same passionate reaction. These books are lifted us up and challenged us all at the same time. I have two sets and often loan them out. It”s also the reason I”ve been working on a contemporary romance with a western flavor.
Number Five: Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion was my favorite childhood book until I read Gone With the Wind in middle school. Alec Ramsey and his spirited horse were the stuff of dreams for this city girl, and those stories certainly influenced my decision to write a western as my first-ever ms. The entire series is wonderful. It’s full of adventure, courage and friendship and I still love it.
Those are my five fabulous favorites. How about you? If you pick five books off the top of your head, which ones come to mind?