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My Top 13 Books of All Time

By December 12, 2021Musings


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.

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.

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