If I had to stick to a finite number, however, I guess this would be what I'd go with.
1. "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch: Fiction. Fitch only has written one major novel ("Paint it Black") other than this one and I desperately wish she'd write more. I've read and re-read this book so many times it's beginning to show its age. It's also the first book I ever took a highlighter to, marking well-written phrases and lines I particularly liked. I've noticed there's a theme in the books I really like of the main character struggling to overcome something (in this case, Astrid Magnussen's life in the California foster care system after her narcissistic mother murders a boyfriend) and usually doing it on their own. The movie tried, but did not do this book justice.
2. "A heartbreaking work of staggering genius" by Dave Eggers. Memoir. The title, dreamed up by Eggers and his Gen-X friends is meant to be a joke, but this really is a staggeringly good book. Eggers, the third of four children to a suburban Chicago couple, loses both parents to cancer within a matter of months. The recent college graduate is left raising an 8-year-old brother mostly on his own, although an older sister is around to help. The trio wind up moving to San Francisco where Eggers juggles temp jobs and raising his brother before starting an "indie" magazine with friends and trying out for "The Real World: San Francisco" and not getting a spot on the show. Real life, however, marches on and Eggers manages if not to triumph, then at least to manage, in the brother-father role life handed him.
3. "The Glass Castle," by Jeannette Walls. Memoir. Oh my. This family just cannot get a break. Jeannette is one of four children born to an endearing, although alcoholic, father and a mother who does alright by her kids as long as they don't get in the way of her own fantasies. When things literally go bust out west – one of Walls' father's projects was to find gold – they wind up back in the Appalachian town of Welch, W.Va., in a house on a street which is depicted as the poorest house in the poorest town in the state. Walls is another girl who manages to triumph – and not be bitter – about the cards life handed her. This is another book that soon may fall victim to my highlighter pen.
4. "Blue Like Jazz," by Donald Miller. Christian/Memior. When I was a "baby Christian," a preacher friend of mine let me borrow this book. I never gave it back and he's since moved to a different state without coming and looking for it, so I guess he didn't need it or had other copies. Instead of a permanent highlighter, I have Post-it notes with pencil in this book. It's hard to describe what's so great about it, other than he's my age and seems to "get" that sometimes, despite all the prayer and good wishes and positive thoughts one can stand, life is just messy.
5. "I'm perfect, you're doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness upbringing," by Kyria Abrahams. Memoir. And now for something from the opposite spectrum of religious reading. With apologies to any Jehovah's Witnesses out there, this book is hysterical. Abrahams takes a sharp, yet biting sarcastic look at the religion she spent her childhood in, until she was ousted in her early 20s for reasons you'll have to read the book to find out. Trust me, you'll be laughing out loud.
6. "Holidays on Ice," by David Sedaris. Humor. When I am president, this book will be required reading at all holiday parties. I love a lot of Sedaris's work, but this is some of his best. There's a particular story in here about his time spent as an elf at Macy's in Christmastime New York City. The orientation alone is worth the price of the book, which is less thick than a small-town phone book but worth the read.
7. "The Last Juror," by John Grisham. Fiction. I've always been a Grisham fan since the "Time to Kill" and "Pelican Brief" days, but some of his work can be hit or miss. This book, however, is a huge hit. It gives an excellent (and hilarious) look at not only how small newspapers are operated and the characters that work in them. It also, like many of Grisham's novels, tackles race relations in the South, through the eyes of a sweet elderly lady whose dining room table I wouldn't mind having my knees under any day.
8. "All over but the shoutin,'" Rick Bragg. Memoir. Yes, I know. Bragg had a questionable departure from the New York Times in recent years. But I was a fan of his work (I recommend all of it) even before I moved to Georgia and even got to meet the man once at a writing workshop in Atlanta (also before I moved here.) Of all the things that happened that weekend, the meeting with Bragg (my copy of "Shoutin'" is signed) is one that stands out the most.
9. "Dry," by Augusten Burroughs. Memoir. Burroughs is best known for his book-turned-movie, "Running with scissors," which chronicled a beyond-crazy childhood. I recommend all of Burroughs' books, especially his collections of short stories. "Dry," however, is his recollection of his time spent in rehab and his road to recovery afterwards. It's brutally honest and painfully funny, for which Burroughs is known best.
10. "She's Come Undone," by Wally Lamb. Fiction. Delores Price is another heroine that must overcome much to succeed in life. It reads like a memoir with crazy, yet believable, twists and supporting characters. You won't be able to put this down and you'll root for Delores, just like I did.