My Top 13 Favourite Books of All-Time

My Top 13 Favourite Books of All-TimeMy friend Gini Dietrich recently wrote a post entitled “Top 10 Favorite Books of All-Time“.

Of course, I knew I couldn’t use the same title, even with my “Canadian” spelling of the word Favourite.

So I thought I’d tweak it a bit and pick my favourite number: 13 (my husband, then boyfriend and I met on a Friday the 13th, many, many years ago, so 13’s my lucky number, and a Friday the 13th is positively glorious!)

Gini’s post originally appeared over at my friend Margie‘s, and was entitled “Gini Dietrich’s 10 Favorite Books (aka Margie gets the smack-down)” I like that title:)

In no particular order (except for the first one, which is my #1 fave of all time), here’s my

Top 13 Favourite Books of All-Time:

1. The Secret World of Og by Canadian author Pierre Berton, copyright 1961. The pages have yellowed with age, and my maiden name appears in cursive handwriting on the inside cover. The quality of the paper is lovely: thick and heavy and rich. The black and white illustrations are detailed, and paint the perfect picture of the characters. And the story…the story is the fantastical journey of 5 children to the underground Secret World of Og, through a square cut in the middle of the playhouse floor by…well, you’ll just have to read to find out by whom:) The story is loosely based on Pierre Berton’s children, and each page sings with delicious descriptions and tongue-in-cheek wryness like: “There were five children, counting the Pollywog, and their names all began with the letter P. Why that should be no one was quite sure but Father said it was done purposely so that it would be easier to divide up the silverware when they all got married.” I read this book at least once a year, every year, and it never loses its appeal.

2. Damage by Josepine Hart. This is a complete departure from the Secret World of Og. It’s a dark, painful, graphic, compelling, wrenching story that begins: “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outline all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone, on to its fluid contours, and are home.” It’s a triangle of a love story that is poignant and painful, that pits father against son, and the women in between. It was made into a movie with Jeremy Irons. The movie was excellent, but for me, it could not paint the picture to the level and intensity that the book did. But this little one-minute video with Jeremy Irons speaks volumes about the author and the book.

3. North to the Night, A Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic by Alvah Simon. Alvah Simon and his wife Diana spend a year aboard a 36-foot yacht lodged in ice, high above the Arctic Circle. They’re a hundred miles from civilization, alone in a hostile environment. When Diana’s father becomes ill, she leaves to attend to him, leaving Alvah alone to endure 55-below Arctic winter. This quote sums up quite nicely how “trapped and buried beneath drifting snow, he (Alvah) struggled through the perpetual darkness towards a spiritual awakening and an understanding of the forces that conspired to bring him here. [It] details the transformation of a man under extreme conditions.” This is a book I will read again and again, that highlights the spirit of adventure, the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and triumph. Marvellous.

4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This book was first published in 1911, and its message is relevant today. When a spoiled young girl finds a secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor – the bleak mansion she’s been sent to as an orphan – her world is transformed. The question? “Is it the secret garden that holds the key to health and happiness, or is it caring about others and being cared for in return that make children blossom?” A perennial favourite.

5. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. No…it’s not the same as The Secret Garden, but some of the messages are. This 545 page novel, I could not put down. It captivated me from the first sentences: “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told. The lady had said to wait, it wasn’t safe yet, they had to be as quiet as larder mice.” I usually have fun guessing and speculating how a story might unfold, but this page-turner kept me riveted (and unsuccessful in figuring it all out) until the very end.

6. Four Wings and A Prayer, Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly by Sue Halpern. This book is about the migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly, but it’s no dry, boring read. Halpern details the flight of the monarch that starts in Canada and ends thousands of miles away in Mexico in a way that makes you feel like you’re on the wings of this delicate creature. The book is beautifully written, fascinating and infused with humour and adventure. A spectacular example of the beauty, power and wonder of nature.

7. Plato not Prozac! Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff, PhD. This book shares insights from various traditions, from Socrates to Lao Tzu, from Kierkegaard to the I Ching. Dr. Marinoff shares stories, based on his philosophical counselling that “demonstrate the effectiveness of philosophy in helping people feel better, think better and live better.” Amen to that! With chapter titles like “What Went Wrong With Philosphy – and What’s Going Right With It Lately”, “Why Be Moral or Ethical?” and “When Work Doesn’t Work”, for example, I was hooked.

8. Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. THE best book I’ve ever read about the craft of writing. It’s a for-heaven-sake-just-write-dammit manifesto, and my biggest take-away and constant reminder is this quote: “We always worry that we are copying someone else, that we don’t have our own style. don’t worry. Writing is a communal act…We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original mind. We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us.” I like that.

9. The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence. I bought this hard-cover book when it cost $5.95. The pages are a bit crumpled from the several times it landed in the bath water, and the scotch tape that holds the dust cover on is yellow with age. But it’s another book I’ve read numerous times over the years, about “everywoman” Stacey MacAindra, her husband and four children, and the dreams (shattered and not), fears, desires and disappointments in her small town life. It’s a glimpse into the window, spirit and soul of the universal womangirl.

10. Living the Moment by Lance Secretan. I first learned of this book while driving on the highway, listening to a radio interview with the author. I scrambled to find a pen, wrote the name of the book down on a paper napkin, and rushed out to buy it. The author, Lance Secretan built his business from zero to $100 million in annual sales, and retired at the age of 40 to build a Leadership-based community. This early book of his can be read in less than 15 minutes, and follows the travels of two Native brothers in their quest. This little parable packs more wisdom, lessons and messages into its 56 pages than many books of hundreds of pages. My two favourite lines are: “Live this Moment nobly, passionately and with love” and  “…live in my moment instead of your future.”

11. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) A Memoir of love, exile and crosswords by Sandy Balfour. Autobiography, history and travelogue combine to delve into the origin of crosswords, the secret language of crossword creators and how to look beyond the surface of a clue to find deeper meaning…kind of like life. It’s a quirky, fun book that introduced me to things I’d never known about the world of crossword, and reads like a crossword in itself. Delightful.

12. Sweating with Finns: Sauna Stories from North America edited by Raija Warkentin, Kaarina Kailo and Jorma Halonen. Hey, I had to include this one because my story appears in it! There was a call for submissions in a writing competition, and mine was accepted for inclusion in the book, which now also resides in the Finnish Literature Society folklore collection in Helsinki, Finland. I’m delighted to not only have had my story included, but also to have been mentioned in the Introduction of the book: “Kaarina Dillabough provides probably the fondest description of a former Finnish sauna…” (shameless self-promotion:)

13. Einstein’s Dreams – A Novel by Alan Lightman. This little book is possibly a tie with the Secret World of Og, in terms of how many times I will read it. It’s a fictional fantasy of what could have been Einstein’s dreams, all based on theoretical realms of time, like frozen moments…places where time (like the movie Groundhog Day) repeats over and over…where time is attempted to be captured. This tiny book follows an imaginary friendship between Einstein and Besso, and unfurls at a pace that makes you forget time. It’s dreamy…pun intended:)

These are my 13. What are your favourite books of all time? And since I’ve broken the “top ten” rule, feel free to share as many or as few of your favourites as you’d like.





  • Ralph Dopping

    Hey Kaarina, It’s awesome how different all the lists are. I haven’t ready any of those. If I had to pick one which one would you recommend?

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       My pick for you would be Einstein’s Dreams, @twitter-229922134:disqus . I think, with some of its ‘architectural’ aspects, you’d enjoy it. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Adam Toporek

    These lists are really interesting; you get a different window into people you know. It’s also interesting how much there is to read out there… I did enjoy Writing Down The Bones (and the movie Damage), but otherwise I haven’t read any on the list.

    So, do you have a favorite business book?

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I do, and it’s required reading for every person I work with: “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber

      What’s yours? Cheers! Kaarina

      • Gini Dietrich

        Well, and Marketing in the Round.

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           Well that went without saying @ginidietrich:disqus :) But I’ll say it…

          But of course!!! Marketing in the Round

          • Gini Dietrich


          • Kaarina Dillabough

             I’m here to serve:) Next…in your cape and with your wand. 28 sleeps and counting…

          • Gini Dietrich

            I just counted, and you are correct…28 more sleeps!

          • Kaarina Dillabough

             Did you think perhaps I’d done it in metric, haha!

        • Adam Toporek

          I will have something to say about this Marketing in the Round book on Monday… but not today.

          • Kaarina Dillabough

             I sense a book review coming on….

          • Gini Dietrich

            I’m scared.

          • Kaarina Dillabough

             Oh, Adam will have nothing but good to say, I’m sure.

      • Adam Toporek

        Good book, and you are very wise to recommend it!

        • Kaarina Dillabough


  • Marjorie Clayman

    I hope Gini gives you as much crap for cheating as she did me. It’s only fair :) Great list – I’ve only heard of one of these so I’ve got even MORE catching up to do!

    • Gini Dietrich

      She did cheat, but only by three. You cheated by like 100!

      • Kaarina Dillabough

         No cheating @ginidietrich:disqus : it’s just the metric system, haha. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Enjoy @MargieClayman:disqus . And like I said to @ginidietrich:disqus , it’s not cheating: it’s metric:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Jason Konopinski


    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Double yay!

  • Gini Dietrich

    The Secret Garden! Yes!! I’m telling you, we could go genres, years, centuries, classics. We’d have blog fodder forever. 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       To fodder!

      • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

         no secret anymore. They just changed the title to the Public Garden

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           Oooh, did we let the cat out of the bag, haha!

  • Life, for instance

    This is great Kaarina! I wish we lived closer so we could swap our top 13 books!  I’m not familiar with any of yours except The Secret Garden. I’d have to give some thought to my top 13 list, but let’s see how far I get off the top of my head: The Joy Luck Club, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, Beach Music, Bag of Bones, The Wars, Cats Eye, Grandmother and the Priests, The Bonesetter’s Daughter…that’s all I’ve got! Just started reading 11/22/63 and I have a feeling it’s going on my list!
    Now to put all these books into my iPod for my next library visit!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks for sharing those @twitter-228904159:disqus . I’ve read your first few, but now I’ve got some new ones to check out. Thanks! Cheers! Kaarina

  • Bill Dorman

    Can I cut and paste my response from Gini’s place? It was hard enough to come up w/ 10. Of course, you can never go wrong w/ Dr Seuss, right? 

    One interesting thing is when you see someone else’s top 10/13 and you think ‘ok, I’ll read those then’ and you do, but it doesn’t knock your socks off. Just like blogs I suppose, some books/authors resonate more strongly with some than others.

    Out of your list, which one should I knock off first?

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       For a dark, erotic read…Damage.
      For an inspiring, fascinating tale of strength and courage…North to the Night.

      And yes @twitter-34985693:disqus . You can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss. I was tempted to include “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, because I love it and give it as a gift to new parents and graduates, but I had to stop at the “metric” 13. Cheers! Kaarina

      • Sandi Amorim

        I read Damage years ago and it blew me away. If I remember correctly I was travelling in Europe at the time, reading on the train and I couldn’t put it down! 

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           It’s definitely a book that draws you in @devacoach:disqus . Beautifully crafted: compellingly tragic.

      • Bill Dorman

        I’ll start w/ Damage………..

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           How did I know that @twitter-34985693:disqus ?

  • Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Hi Kaarina, Great list. I have read Damage twice and have seen the movie. So powerful! Jeremy Irons is starring in The Borgias and is magnificent in the series. I have The Forgotten Garden and hadn’t started it yet but now I will.

    Thanks for sharing this great list with us!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Every time I read Damage, I’m moved by the depths the writer goes to, to paint a picture of love and loss. I preferred the book to the movie, but I’m a huge fan of Jeremy Irons, and all the actors in the movie were superb. Damage, as well as several others I listed, are books that I read and re-read.

      I think you’ll really enjoy The Forgotten Garden. Kate Morton also wrote The House at Riverton which I read next, and thoroughly enjoyed. I’m now on page 179 of her book The Distant Hours which, so far, is a disappointment. Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad. Enjoy the Forgotten Garden:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • ShakirahDawud

    I’ve not read any of your favorites except The Secret Garden, and I read it over and over and over and over when I was little, not knowing it would be made into a movie years later. I remember I got it and A Little Princess when I was in fourth grade, at Reading Is Fundamental at school, where we all got to pick free books. I picked it because it was thick and I half wanted to show off that I could read a chapter book with no pictures. But as soon as I started reading them, showing off didn’t matter anymore.

    Of all the ones you listed, I’m pretty sure I want to read The Forgotten Garden most!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I think you will LOVE The Forgotten Garden @ShakirahDawud:disqus . If you loved The Secret Garden, this one will resonate, I’m sure. Enjoy! Cheers! Kaarina

  • Sandi Amorim

    I’ve read 2 of your top 13 and am excited to have new titles to explore! I’ve been a bookworm since age 4 when I learned to read and will devour pretty much anything. I don’t know if I’d be able to create a favourites list as I’d have such a hard time narrowing it down 😉

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I, too, thought it might be difficult @devacoach:disqus , but funny enough…I went to my HUGE bookcases, and it was no problem at all to pull the ones that hit my heart. Explore away:) Cheers! Kaarina P.S. Any favourite you’d like to share here? I’m always looking for new reads

  • Soulati

    WOW. I can’t hold a candle to this. In fact, I don’t even have a list to share, sniff. Admiring you both from the comment section. @ginidietrich:disqus 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Your candle always burns brightly @soulati:disqus , you firecracker you:) I’m not necessarily a fan of “list” posts per se, but I’m calling this a compilation…like they do with “best of” records, haha!

      So tell me: what’s the one book that comes to your mind when I ask you, “What’s your favourite book?” Cheers! Kaarina

  • socialmediadds

    I am ashamed that I have not been here to visit in awhile @twitter-257025239:disqus This is always such a lovely place to sit for awhile.  And today…well, today’s post is SO inspiring.  Back in the day, from the time I was able to read until about 15 years ago, I read 1-4 books a week.  I am embarrassed to admit that in the past 15 years, I hardly sit to read a book at all anymore.  I marvel at how these wonderful people here who have incredibly busy lives (ahem…like YOU) find the time to read.  By the end of my day, it is all I can do to catch the weather on the news before I drift off.  Your list of books, Kaarina, looks SO scrumptious….you are WONDERFUL at writing compelling synopsis of these books.  I want to read each and every one of them…but…

    Maybe I should just sit down with a book (I have about 40 waiting for me on my Kindle and piles of books given to me by my voracious reader Mom) and give it 15 minutes at night…and see where that takes me….I so want to get back into the world of reading.  I miss it.

    Thank you for a beautiful post and I LOVE that you are a contributor in one of the books!! How awesome is that!!!

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks @socialmediadds:disqus , and no need EVER to feel badly about not getting here. I haven’t been to your place in a while either. My comment over at Lori’s was simply to say: I miss you:) But you know the welcome mat’s always out, so whenever you can make it, I’m grateful and happy:)

      I was so pleased that my submission was a winner in the writing competition, and I take great pride that my story was included. Maybe I’ll include it as a blog post one day:)

      I schedule my reading time into each and every day. First thing when I wake up, I get my coffee and take 15 minutes to pleasure read. That’s often around 6 a.m.

      I then read every night before bed, usually for 20 – 30 minutes. I’m a pretty fast reader, so these two reading breaks are not only oases in my day, but allow me to consume content quite quickly. I usually have at least 6 books on the go at any given time.

      My business reading is done at lunch time. At least 15 minutes of business-book reading. And on vacation or leisure time, reading…and of course photography…can occupy hours of time.

      Luv ya, my friend: great to see you here. Cheers, Kaarina xoxo

  • Mark Harai

    Hi Kaarina, I have not read any of these books – which one would you recommend I read first? 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       For you, @markharai:disqus , I pick my all-time favourite: The Secret World of Og. Not just because it’s written by a famous Canadian, Pierre Berton, but because, regardless of the ages of your children, I think they’d enjoy it just as much as we adults. Cheers! Kaarina

      • Mark Harai

        Thanks for the reco Kaarina, I will give it a read : )

        • Kaarina Dillabough

           Enjoy: it will make you feel like a kid on a lazy, sunny but adventure-filled journey:)

  • Hajra

    I would agree with @ginidietrich:disqus ! If we were to make lists like this, we would have blog fodder for a long long time to come.We might as well rename our blogs!

    I said it there and here goes : my favorites include Paulo Coelho, William Dalrymple, Fatima Bhutto, Naguib Mahfouz, Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri! 

    Also,I don’t know why but while studying Shakespeare in college I developed a strong love for his work…. My friends call it a college crush 😉

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       College crush indeed @hajrak:disqus . My mother always said to me, “This above all, to thine own self be true”, and it’s something I live by.  And yes @twitter-34985693:disqus , I said thine:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • Barbara Klein

    Sorry to be late to the party, I had to watch the semi finals of the European Football Championship: Italy won, so it is Spain vs. Italy in the finals( just in case you are interested! And I mean Tuscany is part of Italy after all).

    The Secret Garden is my favourite, but honestly I am not familiar with the other books on your list. But I both enjoyed the book and the movie together with my daughter and it brings back memories! 

    I will definitely check out the other books and above all #12 (haha!), although I am far more partial to a Thai steam bath (or whatever the correct word for this is!).

    Interesting compilation, if I had to make one Saint Exupéry with “The Little Prince” would be at the top! 

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Thanks @BarbaraKlein:disqus , for chiming in with The Little Prince. I believe that’s a favourite of many.

      I doubt you’ll find #12 on many/any bookshelf, but I still had to list it. I’m very proud and happy of that accomplishment. I might just post the story as a blog post one day:)

      If you loved The Secret Garden, then I think you will thoroughly enjoy The Forgotten Garden. It’s probably one of the more recent books I mentioned, so easily available.

      And Tuscany…sigh… Cheers! Kaarina

  • Craig McBreen

    Hey Kaarina,

    It’s nice to see a list like this, because I’m been so immersed in non-fiction lately and well, I think me needs and ol’ break, eh? 😉 I have not read any of your books, but “The Secret World of Og” wins for best title. Heard of more than a few on your list, but never go around to reading them. Maybe you can scan my list and let me know which of your books you think I would like … ?You did recommend the movie, “The Way” which I loved.Since you asked for only 13: Pillars of the Earth, Slaughterhouse 5, The Sun Also Rises, 1776, Exodus, The Man in the High Castle, Sarum, Eye of the Needle, Catch-22, The Stand, Cold Mountain, Contact, Band of Brothers.Thanks, you cool Canadian :)

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       I like that “cool Canadian” moniker @CraigMcBreen:disqus :) Based on your reading list, I suggest North to the Night. A true story of courage, resilience, love and challenge. Based on some of the topics you cover on your blog, I also think you’d quite enjoy Plato not Prozac – I think many of the topics the author covers, with reference to great thinkers and philosophers over time – will resonate with you.

      And hey! Thanks for your list. You’ve now given me a few that I haven’t yet read. (BTW, have you read the Alchemist? It ran a close #14) Cheers! Kaarina

      • Craig McBreen

        Thanks! Have not read The Alchemist, but will add all these to my list.

        I forgot “The Black Rose.” The best book I’ve read about the American Civil War.

        • Kaarina Dillabough


  • Erin Feldman

    You have a number of books on your list that I’ve never read! I knew I shouldn’t have come here… 😉

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       You will love Einstein’s Dreams, I believe, @ErinFeldman:disqus

  • The JackB

    I haven’t read any of the books on your list…yet. It kills me sometimes to think about how many stories I haven’t had the chance to experience yet.

    I keep meaning to write a post about my favorite books, but I haven’t been able to decide which ones to include in it.

    • Kaarina Dillabough

       Write that post. And read Damage first. I think you will like it. Cheers! Kaarina

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