Book List: Five Favorites/Five years

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Dear Kristin,

Last week we asked readers for topics, and Patty suggested “Best Book Ever Read.” A great idea, but way too hard! I mean, if I had to say the best book I ever read, I’d have to say A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, right? Or I could make an argument for Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe To Kill a Mockingbird. Little Women? Annie Dillard’s American Childhood or A Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek. I could go on. 

To make things a little easier, I thought we could narrow it down to our five favorite books of the last five years.  To that end, I went through the notebook where I write down all of the books I’ve read. I can’t remember; do you keep a reading list? I started my first one years ago in a small, hardcover notebook that I’d thought I lost but recently stumbled across–hurrah! Anyway, it’s fascinating to go through the lists and see what books I remember, which ones I have no recollection of reading whatsoever, and which ones I’d be tempted to read again.

Now, even narrowing the list to five and changing the qualifier to “favorite” instead of “best” doesn’t make this an easy task. But when I look over my list, I’ve got five novels that definitely stand out as favorite books. I thought I would have a lot more nonfiction, since I’m so much pickier when it comes to fiction, but the fact is, when I love a novel, I LOVE a novel. I feel like it becomes part of my DNA.

So what follows is a list of five novels read in the last five years that stole my heart:

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. As a kid, I was a re-reader. If I loved a novel, I read it over and over. Nowadays, I don’t have that kind of time! For the most part, I’m one and done. The Great Believers is an exception to that rule. I read it twice in two years, and both times I fell hard for this story about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and two people whose lives are deeply affected by it. 

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of 11, and not too long afterwards Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet.” In Hamnet, O’Farrell imagines Shakespeare’s first wife Anne (called Agnes in the book), her romance with the Bard and the family she raised as he rose in prominence as a playwright. I had no expectations going into this book and was gobsmacked by it in the best possible way.

Demon Copperfield by Barbara Kingsolver. When I heard that Demon Copperfield won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, I cheered. It took me three chapters to get into this re-imagining of David Copperfield (a novel I also loved), but once I was in, I was all in. As someone who has lived in Southern Appalachia and has many ties to that part of the country, this novel felt all too real to me. Demon is one of the great characters of our time–and maybe of all time. 

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Here’s the publisher’s description: “Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh ‘Shuggie’ Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland.” It is bleak and heartbreaking and absolutely stunning. Don’t read it if you’re looking for something uplifting; do read it if you want a book where you really want to care what happens to the people in it. 

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher. Ultimate comfort read. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and now I try to re-read it (or at least part of it) every year. I love Pilcher’s down to earth, sensual characters. I love how much they love food and the comfort of everyday things (a warm fire after a walk in the cold, a cozy bed, a good dog). Winter’s Solstice is, of course, a story that takes place in December and takes us into the Christmas holiday. Bliss!

My quick list of favorite nonfiction from the last few years: Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, The Life We’re Looking For by Andy Crouch, Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up–and What We Make When We Make Dinner by Liz Hauckand, and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr.

Okay, your turn!


Dear Frances,

Well, you picked a hard one this week! I too have a hard time picking a “favorite” of almost anything. But I can come up with lists of things I like a lot–just don’t as me to rank them!

I’m envious (but not surprised) that you keep a journal of the books you’ve read. What a great idea! Is it too late for me to start? I know some people (including Chloe) use Goodreads as an ongoing Read and TBR list, but it’s never stuck for me. Since I rarely read a hard copy book anymore, I ended up looking through my Libby history and my e-book purchases from Amazon. I came away realizing that I have a lot of books tucked deep into my Kindle that I still need to read!

First of all, I’m surprised that yours are all fiction! But I feel like I remember when you read each of these books and how much you loved each of them. When I started to think of books that have impacted my life, they tend to be non-fiction. I originally chalked that up to the fact that I read a lot of light-weight fiction (sorry/not sorry). But after looking through my lists from the last five years, it turns out I’ve read some quality fiction as well! I was able to cut myself some slack. I was glad to be reminded of a few favorite novels.

In no particular order here are my five:

The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. Though I have yet to lose all the weight I want to lose, this book really opened my eyes to how the body really works, particularly blood sugar, insulin resistance, and the role of fasting in weight loss. I read this book three years ago and have been a dedicated intermittent faster ever since (as have you!). I experienced some initial weight loss, but maybe more importantly my blood sugar numbers have continued to drop each year. I’m so glad to finally understand how fat loss and fat storage work.

Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’m hardly the first one on this bandwagon–but James Clear has a way of taking the science of habit formation and breaking it down into its most accessible form. My main takeaway from this book is that small changes matter. I’m such an all-or-nothing personality. Sometimes this serves me well–like when I take on a new project and knock the whole thing out. But mostly it gets in the way of making small, consistent changes. And Atomic Habits is all about how small changes add up. And that’s a lesson that I need to keep hearing.

The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi. I listened to the Lazy Genius podcast for many years before Kendra wrote this book. First of all, I love her philosophy of “Be a genius about what matters and lazy about things that don’t”. She has many principles that I sort of already had in my own life, but she has given them names and really dives in on how they make your life easier. One favorite of mine is Decide Once. Make your life easier by deciding once on everything you can: your go-to gift for graduates or for weddings. Decide once on what you make when people come over for dinner. Even decide once on what you wear every Monday, just to take that day a little easier. Another favorite is to Decide What Matters. Most problems can be solved a million ways–you get to decide what matters. Is it cost, convenience, or quality–you decide–and it really narrows down your choices. It’s a book I re-read every once in a while and always take away something new.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I’m a little late to the party about Ann Patchett. She has been writing for a long time, but I only recently discovered her, and I’m still working my way through her books. I could have listed Bel Canto, The Dutch House, or Commonwealth just as easily as State of Wonder, but I have a reason for giving this book the edge. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic (another book I could have listed), she talks about how if you don’t respond when the Muse inspires you–the Muse will move on. She goes on to tell the story of how she had this idea to write a book that took place in the Amazon. I don’t remember all the specifics, but she never got around to writing it. Cut to her having dinner with Ann Patchett ten years later and asking Ann what she’s working on. Ann tells her that she is writing this book that takes place in the Amazon (State of Wonder). The book ideas were not identical, but very similar. The Muse had moved on. So, of course I had to read it. It’s about a doctor who travels to the Amazon to reconnect with her mentor on the progress she’s made on a new drug. What was supposed to be a short trip takes many unexpected turns. Patchett writes so beautifully that you just have to pause and appreciate the language sometimes.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. I never thought I could love a story about an octopus so much. This debut novel is such a touching story about an elderly woman coming to terms with what her life has dealt her and how she will live out her remaining years. As the night cleaning woman at a local aquarium, she forms an unlikely friendship with the Giant Pacific Octopus, Marcellus, when she realizes that he escapes his enclosure at night. This friendship leads to some life-changing consequences. An absolutely delightful read!

I’m immediately adding your list to my TBR list, except Winter Solstice of course, which I have read at least a dozen times. It’s my cozy comfort read every December–great choice.

Also, I’m looking forward to all the favorite books our readers tell us about!


  • Patty

    What a fun topic suggested by your smart friend. (wink) I started keeping a journal of books read in 2022 so it is never too late! I’ve never got into Goodreads myself.

    Here are my top 5 read in the 2002/2023: (1) A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers and (2) (sequel) A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers. This is a story of a monk who meets a robot some years after robots were banned because they were ready to take over the world. Very hopeful story! (3) Flawed by Cecelia Ahern (4) Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (5) Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

  • Robin Leftwich

    Wow, what a hard topic! I’d do better if it was favorite authors! But here goes:
    1. Keeping Faith, by Fenton Johnson. An author from Kentucky, he writes both fiction and nonfiction, but the book that really sticks with me is Keeoing Faith, a non fiction account of his spiritual journey through many faiths.
    2. Horse by Gaperaldine Brooks. Captivated me from the beginning.
    3. Hello Beautiful. As a sister, this touched me deeply.
    4. The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Eilliams, a musing about her life and a history of the National Parks system.
    5. 10 Miles From Nowhere by Frances. I don’t mean to kiss up, bit this YA novel is a powerful statement about civil rights, in a sneaky way, that just won’t leave me!

  • Marsha

    I don’t read a lot of non-fiction although I did love The Lazy Genius. I keep a very simple Word doc of the books I’ve read since 2009. I am not as good about recording books as I did when I started. I find this list very helpful.
    Short & sweet- these are my top five in no particular order:
    A Man Called Ove-Frederick Beckman Ove’s lack of political correctness cracked me up.
    The Last Letter from Your Lover-JoJo Moyes
    This Tender Land-Wm Kent Kruger Between the cruelty of the world these orphans experienced and how they overcame by becoming their own family broke my heart.
    Circle of Friends Maeve Binchy Could not put this down. I actually think Kristin recommended her books on her podcast? I have read quite a few of her books but this one is my favorites. And weren’t Minnie & Chris so good together in the movie?
    Secret Life of Bees Sue Kidd Monk
    Another good post from Frances & Kristin. Have a great weekend.

    • Kristin

      Oh! Circle of Friends! I loved that book! But then I read Light a Penny Candle by the same author and had to give that one the edge. Really anything by Maeve Binchy is a treat.

  • Tracie

    I loved reading your book picks from the last five years. I used to track my books in Evernote and then GoodReads. Yet, a simple paper list would probably serve me better because the technology seemed a bother.

    I concur with Frances that Falling Upward by Richard Rohr is a great read. My sister recommended Hamnet, especially the audiobook, so I’m back on LIbby’s waiting list (14 weeks). My favorite fiction has been Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series because of the character development and growth as the books progress. Plus, the themes of redemption, justice, and mercy are timeless.

    I’m reading William Kent Krueger’s books now and enjoyed his visit to our local library last month. However, his books, Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land, were so depressing. When Kreuger said he modeled these books after John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, I had a flashback to high school American Literature class. My friend and I lamented that Steinbeck was too depressing to read. My taste hasn’t changed!

    I originally planned to teach high school English, so, Frances, your list of classics made my heart sing: To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlotte’s Web, and don’t forget The Count of Monte Cristo. So many good books! Thanks for sharing some of your favorites.

  • Leslie Santacroce

    In 2008 I began keeping a list of books I’ve read and/or listened to.Just the title and author so I knew where I left off in a book series. But over the years my main goal has become to read more books than the year before. I’m competing with myself! How great is that?
    Like everyone I have a hard time choosing between favorite books and favorite authors. Hands down I will buy any Nora Roberts book without reading the synopsis and always always love it. I love a good mystery or true crime story. I’m not much into fantasy though on occasion I enjoy the genre. I’ve discovered I love the audio versions of what would be a difficult read due to book length or pronunciation of foreign names and places.
    I LOVE a good book series and will list my top five favorites that I am working my way through and whether ( in my opinion) it’s best on audio or by reading the written word. Also I’m a stickler that a series must be read in order! How else can you follow a character’s development? My list does not include the Louise Penny Three Pines books or the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini as those are automatically on any book list I recommend, especially the audio versions.
    1. The William Monk series by Anne Perry. Set in mid-1800’s London. About a detective that has amnesia from an accidentt, a nurse that was taught by Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, and a lawyer/solicitor that often join forces to solve crimes/murders. I’ve read and listened to this series depending what version is available through my library.
    2. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone alphabet series. Wonderful escape reading. Funny, sad, each book so different from the next. I’m ready for V, but I’ve been procrastinating as I don’t want the series to end. These I READ so I can digest each word.
    3. Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series. Love these way more than the TV series! I so enjoy all the characters! Read or listen, both versions are wonderful.
    4. Nelson DeMille’s John Corey detective series. I just got into this series and can’t put them down! Series starts in New York in the 1990’s and works its way through 9/11 and beyond. Im reading these as that’s what I’ve found available through my library but I would bet if you listened to these on a cross county trip your drive would be inconsequential!
    5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and the rest of the series. The audio version read by narrator Simon Vance is way better than trying to stumble your way through all the European words and languages. The accents used in the narration are wonderful. I highly recommend the audio versions.

  • Laurie

    Oh man! So many books, so little memory.
    When I was a kid and lived a block from the library I LOVED reading all the Nancy Drew books and my taste has not changed much. I’m trying to find the next Sherlock Holmes / Mary Russell book by Laurie King because I like to read series in order.
    Also love the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (magic division of the London police dept!), Death of a…… by M.C. Beaton because Hamish Macbeth is such a lazy cop, but still finds the murderer. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman was another one that looking at my Libby list, I said, “Oh yeah!”
    But really, the last book I finish is my favorite. And I’ll go get my mother’s copy of Remarkably Bright Creatures because it was her book club book and she “could not believe a woman was talking to an octopus.”

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