For love of Books

October 20, 2015

I started my Bachelor’s degree as a callow 17-year-old listing my major as Communications. Married the following summer, I dropped out to work full time to support my husband. But for many years I felt the secret ache of that lost opportunity. Every visit to the campus filled me with yearning for learning.

I learned about the Bachelor of General Studies program from BYU just after my first book, The Angel’s Song was published and as my youngest went to school. By then, we were financially established enough that I could earn a degree with no definite earning potential. I had always been an avid reader and believing myself to have potential as an author, I decided to major in English and American Literature. I want to learn what makes great literature great. I wanted to truly communicate ideas with others.

It took me four years of home study to earn the 86 credits I needed to graduate. It was a four-year-revel, swilling in the sea of knowledge and gulping all I could. The most important thing I learned was that I have merely sipped from the ocean of knowledge. My thoughts on the BGS program are best described as reverent gratitude for the difference it made to me.

Part of the result of earning that degree was to develop my personal tests for important literature. I love a good romance, mystery or fantasy, but to make my “important” list, it must have some intriguing idea: a new way of understanding the world. It becomes a love letter from the author to me.

I don’t include the Holy Bible or the Book of Mormon because though they each have elements of great literature, their purpose transcends literature when cherished and studied. They become love letters from God.

This list below includes some titles I loved as a child. In many instances, the favorite title I list represents much of an author’s work.

I’d love for you to add your own titles to the list in the comment section! Or rank your top five or ten from the list. Are there any on my list that surprise you? I know there are some that could.

  1. Les Miserables (Hugo)
  2. Unbroken (Hillanbrand)
  3. The Fountainhead (Rand)
  4. The Shack (Young)
  5. The Secret Garden (Burnett)
  6. Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
  7. Gifted Hands (Carson)
  8. Christy (Marshall)
  9. Our Mutual Friend (Dickens)
  10. David Copperfield (Dickens)
  11. All Creatures Great and Small (Series by Herriot)
  12. The Help (Stockett)
  13. AnnE of Green Gables (Montgomery)
  14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Stowe)
  15. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Jacobs)
  16. Tess of D’Ubervilles (Hardy)
  17. Pride and Prejudice (Austen)
  18. Sense and Sensibility (Austen)
  19. Centennial (Michener)
  20. My Antonia (Cather)
  21. Oh Pioneers (Cather)
  22. The Prince and the Pauper (Twain)
  23. Moby Dick (Melville)
  24. The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorn)
  25. To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)
  26. My Name is Asher Lev (Potok)
  27. North and South (Gaskell)
  28. Wives and Daughters (Gaskell)
  29. The Pit (Norris)
  30. The Hiding Place (Ten Boom)
  31. East of Eden (Steinbeck)
  32. The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
  33. The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas)
  34. Gone with the Wind (Mitchell)
  35. Ramona (Helen Hunt Jackson)
  36. Killer Angels (Shaara)
  37. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Ford)
  38. John Adams (McCullough)
  39. The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein)
  40. Robin Hood (Pyle)
  41. Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)
  42. Little Women (Alcott)
  43. The Sea Wolf (London)
  44. The Diaries of Adam and Eve (longish short story by Mark Twain)
  45. The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy)

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Jeff Stephenson October 21, 2015 at 12:25 am

    I really liked a number of these also, including Les Mis (which may be my favorite) & Unbroken. Several other Sharra books not mentioned are also good. One book I really like that you didn’t mention is Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

    • Reply BEMS October 21, 2015 at 2:11 am

      Yes, I liked “Woman in White” but it was merely fun, not otherwise distinct enough to be significant. I read some of his other stuff, (other than “Moonstone”) and it was LOUSY! Another author I considered listing was George Washington Cable who wrote about French LA/New Orleans. It’s interesting but not powerful enough writing to join my elite list.

  • Reply Janet Warren October 23, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I loved a number of books on your list, Beth. I have Les Mis bought and on my bookshelf for a time I am recuperating from something and have the time to devote to it :-).
    I have a book on audio now that I can’t seem to get into and I’m not sure if it’s just because it’s my first audio book. Have you read “All the light we cannot see?” I’ve heard it is life changing and then I’ve heard it got more publicity than it deserves. I think I need a hard copy.
    Also I have to admit the only Austen book I have read is Emma and I thought that was a bit of a snoozer. On your recommendation I will try Pride and Predjudice. I have it downloaded on my kindle but never read it.
    I love to hear people’s recommendations. One I can add is The Book Thief.” I loved how the narrator is Death.

    • Reply BEMS October 23, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations! I didn’t enjoy Emma as much as Sense and Sensibility or P & P. But if readers are like me and enjoy Austin, I bet they’d enjoy Gaskell as well. I need to read “The Book Thief”! The Shack is amazing, especially for people who have lost children.

  • Reply Jeff Stephenson October 23, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Not sure I see how “Woman in White” differs from “Robin Hood” as far as being something other than just entertaining

    • Reply BEMS October 23, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      Jeff, If I say, “The dems want to play Robin Hood, everyone knows what I mean. For this list, I guess I have to have learned something.

  • Reply BEMS October 23, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    I am very properly chastened by my sister-in-law Theresa on Facebook for leaving the “E” off of Ann in number 13. My sincerest apologies to all the AnnEs out there who may have been offended by my careless behavior. I will change it straightaway!

  • Reply Janet Warren October 24, 2015 at 2:02 am

    If we are harping on spelling change Austin to Austen :-). Although I had to look it up and I found it spelled both ways, but more times Austen. You don’t have to approve this message, Beth.

    • Reply BEMS October 31, 2015 at 11:47 pm

      Thanks Janet! Helping is not harping and my spelling is a chronic embarrassment to me! Thanks! I welcome all helpful editors and ALL comments!

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    %d bloggers like this: