Soul Songs; the Books I Love Most

Soul Songs; the Books I Love Most

Books have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. I always had a book in my hand. I never feel quite right unless I’ve got a bookmark shoved in a book somewhere waiting for me to return. It was reading that made me want to be a writer. I want to tell stories that inspire the same kind of wonder my favorite books have always given me. Continuing to write about favorites that inspire me, here are my five favorite books of all time.

I’ve tried to keep this post spoiler-light. It goes without saying, I think you should read these books.

5. Venus Among the Fishes – Elizabeth Hall and Scott O’Dell
The Plot:
Killer whales have moved into waters once inhabited by dolphins. Now that it’s unsafe for the herd, Coral has been sent to find her older brother, Silver, to help protect the pod. Along the way, she encounters the dangers of the ocean, including a brush with humanity and captivity.

Why I love it: Venus Among the Fishes is one of the first books I can remember reading. I’m pretty sure I read it in elementary school. But the emotions evoked by the book have stayed with me. I think about this book often, even though it’s been about twenty years since I read it.

I’ve always had an affinity for dolphins. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book is one of the reasons. The story is told from the perspective of a dolphin. While that may sound gimmicky, I don’t think it’s impossible to enjoy (Black Beauty is another example of a great story told from the perspective of an animal). The authors paid a great deal of respect to dolphins and their intelligence when they wrote the book. It’s told from the first person perspective, but has none of the filters which remove the reader from the action. You are with Coral on her journey, you share her thoughts, her desires, her anxieties. The appeal for me is the unique perspective. Normal human activities are described from a dolphin’s point of view, and thus in terms a dolphin, rather than a human, would understand. I appreciate that level of immersion.

The story also contains elements of unrequited love. I will admit, I have a soft spot for love stories.

Favorite Character: Coral (the narrator)

Teaser: Silver was so happy he began to whistle a beautiful song. He used all our name signals, weaving them together in an intricate melody. The music rose and swelled. The rest of us floated in silence, entranced by the lovely sounds.

The humans paid no attention to the song, which surprised me. Later I discovered that the creatures are almost deaf. They can hear only coarse, deep sounds. Their disability cuts them off from much of the world’s beauty. It also makes it very difficult to communicate with them.

4. The Graveyard Book – by Neil Gaiman
The Plot:
Nobody Owens’s parents were murdered. His life was saved when he wandered into a nearby graveyard where the ghosts adopted him. He is raised and educated in the graveyard where he learns of forces unimagined by other living people.

Why I love it: Neil Gaiman has a gift for the dark. His stories tug at the imagination, introducing strange and wonderful places and creatures. The thing I love most about The Graveyard Book is the graveyard. It’s almost a character itself. Everyone lives near a graveyard. Everyone spends a part of their childhood fearing to enter one. Everyone spends a part of their life dreading to visit one, and most everyone will end up in one someday. They’re an ever-present part of our lives, but most people avoid thinking about them.

In this book, the graveyard is a portal into a larger world. It is governed by its own rules. It has its own citizens and they’re as unique and varied as the living people you meet – more so because each is different depending on the time period in which they lived. And the denizens of this strange world have skills which they impart to Bod (Nobody Owens) throughout his strange upbringing.

I feel no shame admitting my sorrow when I finished reading this book. I sincerely hope to read more of Nobody Owens someday and I hope those further adventures would include some of the interesting characters from his past.

Favorite Character: Silas

Teaser: One grave in every graveyard belongs to the ghouls. Wander any graveyard long enough and you will find it – waterstained and bulging, with cracked or broken stone, scraggly grass or rank weeds about it, and a feeling, when you reach it, of abandonment. It may be colder than the other gravestones, too, and the name on the stone is all too often impossible to read. If there is a statue on the grave it will be headless or so scabbed with fungus and lichens as to look like a fungus itself. If one grave in a graveyard looks like a target for petty vandals, that is the ghoul-gate. If the grave makes you want to be somewhere else, that is the ghoul-gate.

There was one in Bod’s graveyard.

There is one in every graveyard.

3. The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho
The Plot:
A young shepherd boy dreams of treasure buried at the base of the pyramids in Egypt. After meeting an old man who calls himself the King of Salem, he undertakes a journey to find the treasure from his dream. Along the way he meets thieves, a crystal merchant, an Englishman and an Alchemist. He also gains important insights about life and happiness.

Why I love it: A friend once described this book by saying it was crystal clear, every word from beginning to end. She was right. The Alchemist dives into some deep, meaningful material. There’s some heavy philosophy here, and that’s one of the reasons I love the book, but the reader never gets too mired in it to understand what the author is trying to say. An amazing feat too, considering the English version isn’t the original, it’s a translation.

The further you get in the book, the clearer it is that The Alchemist isn’t just a story. The author obviously believes in the philosophy his character is learning. This has led many people to label the book ‘self-help’. Whether you believe in the philosophy or not, some of the concepts introduced in the book do have the potential to change your life, or at least the way you think. It certainly did for me. And that’s ultimately why it’s on my list. Few other books have touched my life like The Alchemist.

Favorite Character: The Alchemist

Teaser: When the stall was assembled, the candy seller offered the boy the first sweet he had made for the day. The boy thanked him, ate it, and went on his way. When he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.

And they had understood each other perfectly well.

There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought. I’ve already had that experience with my sheep, and now it’s happening with people.

2. The Time Traveler’s Wife – by Audrey Niffenegger
The Plot:
The first time Henry meets Clare, he is 28 and she is 20. The first time Clare meets Henry, she is 6 and he is 36. This is possible because Henry often finds himself an unwilling time traveler, flashing backward and forward through the years of his life, meeting the people who were important to him before they became important. Thus do he and Clare fall in love and deal with all the issues that come from one member of a relationship being a time traveler.

Why I love it: As I mentioned before, I’ve got a soft spot for romance. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story. It centers around the lives of the two lovers. For the most part, it takes place in the same world in which we live, but it has an element of the fantastic which makes the book more interesting. Henry and Clare deal with all the same problems regular couples do, but Henry’s condition adds a few extra. Their tale is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. For me, it’s the added supernatural element that sets the story apart from your average romance.

The book is written in first person. It switches between Henry and Clare, since one or the other isn’t always present. I mentioned before how first person can be tricky. I often feel removed from the action when the narrator speaks in first person. But that isn’t the case with The Time Traveler’s Wife. There are times it does feel like you’re reading a journal or as if one of the characters is speaking to the reader, but it works. It’s easy to get caught up in the story and tune out everything else.

Fair warning for anyone like me; have tissues handy for the end of this one.

Favorite Character: Alba

Teaser: Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plaid cotton shirt with the white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in one heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route. You wait a minute to see if maybe you will just snap right back to your book, your apartment, et cetera. After about five minutes of swearing and shivering and hoping to hell you can just disappear, you start walking in any direction, which will eventually yield a farmhouse, where you have the option of stealing or explaining. Stealing will sometimes land you in jail, but explaining is more tedious and time-consuming and involves lying anyway, and also sometimes results in being hauled off to jail, so what the hell.

1. The Neverending Story – By Michael Ende
The Plot:
Bastian Balthazar Bux, a shy, awkward outcast, steals a book called The Neverending Story and runs away to the schoolhouse attic to read it. The book tells the tale of Fantastica, a magical land plagued by a peril known as the Nothing. The Childlike Empress, ruler of all Fantastica is dying, and her land with her. Chosen out of all Fantastica’s inhabitants, the young hunter Atreyu must discover a cure for her ailment before Fantastica is completely ravaged by the Nothing. As the story goes on, Bastian finds himself pulled into the world of the story.

Why I love it: The first movie I remember watching was The Neverending Story. I remember renting it dozens of times when I was a kid. I always asked for ‘the flying dog movie’. When I was in middle school, to my unending delight, I discovered that movie was a book and I simply had to have it. I learned later that ‘the flying dog’ was actually a luckdragon and that the movie was a pale shadow of the book’s plot. But I have since read my copy of The Neverending Story so many times the front cover has crumbled, held together only by clear tape.

The Neverending Story is a story for readers. It was written by someone who clearly understood how a book can draw you in, wrap you up in it and break your heart when it ends. It’s a story for every lost child who ever turned to a book in their darkest hour for comfort. It’s the hope and promise that, somewhere out there in the vast unseen of the universe, everything we imagine in our deepest dreams is real. It’s what inspires every persecuted child to find their inner strength and become a hero.

Whenever anyone asks my my favorite book, I never hesitate to answer this one. No other tale has ever spoken to me like this one. I am, to a certain extent, Bastian. I understand his feelings and desires because I share them. As a kid, I never wanted anything more than to step into the worlds of my books. It was that more than anything which inspired me to become a writer.

Aside from the way this book speaks to me on all the deepest levels, the plot is engaging and the characters lovable. Plus the first chapter at the beginning of the book starts with the letter A and each chapter begins with the subsequent letter of the alphabet until the final chapter begins with the letter Z (and that’s after it’s been translated from German). Hell yeah, that’s awesome!

Favorite Character: The Child-like Empress (but Atreyu squeaks in a very close second here)

Teaser: If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger-

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early-

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless-

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.

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