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Bibliophilism - 10 Of My "All Time Favorite" Books

The other day, I had a free day and was reading a book in a cafe in North Texas, and had an interesting thought. Even amidst all my travels (Dallas is my 79th city I’ve traveled to over the past 4 years), the escape a good book provides is on another level. I don’t think I can say that one is better than the other; each different in wonderful ways. The way that our own minds can create an experience— one that can even transcend time— is unlike anything else. And even as I think about all the amazing and wonderful books I’ve read, there is that sad reality—encased in bittersweet nostalgia- that it has been many years since I’ve felt the same way I did while reading certain books in my youth. And with each year, it becomes apparent that time is the only thing we cannot buy more of. It makes me think of a certain scene from a rom-com called About Time (a guilty pleasure favorite of mine). The father, played beautifully by Bill Nighy, can travel time, and one of his favorite things to do is to go back and re-read his favorite books of all time, enjoying each one as if it was the first time he read them. It’s funny how it seems that as we get older, it’s as if time has suddenly sped up and we tell ourselves that we don’t even have a single hour to set aside to escape into a book.

In no particular order, here are ten of my favorite books. Some have been quite influential in my life and journey. Others have become must-reads that I’ve gifted numerous physical copies to friends.

1. This Side of Paradise- F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was one of my favorite books I read as a young adult. The author carefully balanced a fine line between immature adolescence and tender manhood. Even though The Great Gatsby gets more fanfare, I preferred this book with its literary flaws and all. And these flaws were especially more excusable given that the author wrote this at the age of 23. I also mind the “technical” absence of a plot. I enjoyed the inner-workings of a mind at war with oneself and the world; what with its entrapments including love. This book ends with one of my favorite ending lines I’ve ever read: “I know myself, but that is all.”

2. The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway embodies all of what literary ellipsis is. To me, I feel that there is nothing better than this notion that emotions are so tremendous that there are no words to adequately describe them. I wonder if so many people loved reading this book the same way someone is aghast at a bad reality tv show, yet you’re sucked in. Alcohol, flirting, brokenness, and the wonder of France and Spain are all shaken up into a cocktail worth sipping slowly. I might need to bring a copy to Barcelona with me in a couple months.

3. Love in the Time of Cholera- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is one of the most beautifully written, and complex books I’ve enjoyed. It isn’t just your typical love story about love triumphing over all. Under the surface, you see that Ariza does the same thing that many do; he is a victim of his surroundings and what others consider “ideal happiness.” I also found it powerful that love was presented literally as an “illness.”

4. Meditations- Marcus Aurelius

This book is one of the first I mention to others when asked about favorite books. Despite being written so long ago, the thoughts and musings still apply, maybe even more so today. I love this: ”Look beneath the surface; do not allow the special quality or worth of anything to pass you by.” Instructions to make the most of everything and everyone. Cherish every situation and every chance that life throws your way because when they have passed (and they will), we may not get them again.

5. Demian- Hermann Hesse

I recall this to be the very first book my mother gave to me (oddly enough, in Elementary School). I now look back at the randomness of it. Maybe as a single mother, the role of women in the book was something that struck her. Or maybe it was the character of the protagonist’s mother, Frau Eva. The book challenged me to think about duality (the existence of opposing forces, within one’s consciousness, and the idea that both are necessary). In some odd way, it encouraged me to challenge the status quo and allow myself to color outside the lines.

6. Brothers Karamazov- Fyodor Dostoevsky

This was one of the most challenging books I have read. It’s a different kind of difficulty than say James Joyce’ Ulysses. Rather, there is a struggle regarding the numerous ethical debates surrounding faith, existence, and reasoning. At times, the struggle becomes overwhelming. No other work of fiction has tugged at the foundations of my thoughts. Up until 5 years ago, one of my most cherished belongings was a 1st edition hardcover copy of Brothers Karamazov.

7. A Severe Mercy- Sheldon Vanauken (+ C.S. Lewis)

Hollywood romance is cliche. If you want to read something truly heart-wrenching, authentic, and worth calling love, read this. Prepare the box of tissues.

8. Every move must have a purpose - Bruce Pandolfini

Not many know that I used to compete in chess in elementary school all the way up to high school where I was one of the starting 5 for the high school chess competing team. Chess is so much like life. For me, I have come back to it so many times to allow myself a respite of sorts to find out if the same strategies I use in chess are consistent with the parts of my life I most feel they align with.

“Playing chess nurtures what we need. We must have mental dexterity to survive. Analyzing, seeing ahead, calculating, reconsidering, strategizing, evaluating, sequencing, reasoning independently, thinking convergently— these are the chess moves that advance civilization.”

9. The Art of War- Steven Pressfield

I received a copy of this book from a dear friend who pushed me to grow creatively. This book has influenced me greatly to push through creative blocks and I’ve made it required reading for dear friends and fellow artists who create art in any capacity.

10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Persig

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert M. Persig is one of my favorites. With all it's amazing insights and poignant perspectives, many passages moved me deeply.  He wrote "The study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon." I love that.

What are some of your favorite books and why?