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Favorite Books

Ten years ago, I made a list of my top five favorite books. They are all books I've read more than once, a luxury I don't allow myself very often, given that long list of books not yet read.

Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Wallace Stegner

This coming-of-age story is a sprawling autobiographical epic, the story of a family's hardscrabble life in Western Canada and the United States. To grow up, Bruce, the younger son, must come to terms with a violent, ne'er do well father who drags the family from town to town looking for the next get rich scheme and becomes a rum runner during the 1918 flu epidemic.

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers

Gaudy Night is the tenth book in Sayers' series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and the third featuring Harriet Vane, the woman who transforms him from a brilliant fop into a man in love. Harriet, visiting Oxford for a reunion—a gaudy—of her college, is asked to find the villain behind the obscene messages and ugly pranks that mar the event. It's worth the price of the book for the proposal scene between Lord Peter and Harriet.

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow

Henderson, a combination of Eeyore and Tigger with a life in middle-age shambles, travels to Bellow's mythical Africa to quiet the voice within him that shouts I want, I want. His attempts to do good and think of others create havoc and put him in peril. In its own way, Henderson is a coming of age novel that combines zany comic moments with philosophy.

Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams

Williams is the mistress of the braided essay, creative nonfiction that weaves disparate threads into a coat of many colors. In Refuge, she weaves the death of a loved wildlife refuge, nuclear testing, her Mormon faith, and the death of her mother from breast cancer into a profound meditation on loss, grief, and faith. The book prompted me to make a pilgrimage to the refuge and drive until the road ended in water left by the flood.

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

My nominee for Great American Novel. The story of Frank and April Wheeler, a talented young couple who believe they can be great, Revolutionary Road is also the story of life in suburban 1950s America with its surface calm, its boredom, and its lost dreams. No one tells that story better than Yates.

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