1. The Silmarillion
What Amazon has to say about it: The title Silmarillion is shortened from Quenta Silmarillion, "The History of the Silmarils," the three great jewels created by Feanor, most gifted of the Elves, in which he imprisoned the light of the Two Trees that illumined Valinor, the land of the gods. When Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, destroyed the Trees, that light lived on only in the Silmarils; Morgoth seized them and set them in his crown, guarded in the impenetrable fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth. The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Feanor and his people against the gods, their exile in Middle-earth, and their war, hopeless despite all the heroisim of Elves and Men, against the great Enemy.
What I have to say about it: The Silmarillion was Tolkien's attempt to make a set of myths for England. To my mind, he succeeded as well as any entire people ever did. The Silmarillion shaped my imagination as a child. I had read this book 30 times by the time I was ten years old, and to this day, I can close my eyes and see Finrod walking beneath the trees in Valinor.
What Amazon has to say about it: Sparkling comedy of provincial manners concerns a well-intentioned young heiress and her matchmaking schemes that result in comic confusion for the inhabitants of a 19th-century English village. Droll characterizations of the well-intentioned heroine, her hypochondriac father, plus many other finely drawn personalities make this sparkling satire of provincial life one of Jane Austen's finest novels.
What I have to say about it: This one was a tough call for me, as any of Jane Austen's works would qualify. But Emma has one of my favorite heroes, Mr. Knightley. He is the one who pushed this book ahead of the others.
3. Jane Eyre
What Amazon has to say about it: An orphan girl's progress from the custody of cruel relatives to an oppressive boarding school culminates in a troubled career as a governess. Jane's first assignment at Thornfield, where the proud and cynical master harbors a scandalous secret, draws readers ever deeper into a compelling exploration of the mysteries of the human heart.
What I have to say about it: I cannot even remember the first time I read this book. Jane has been an inmate in my mind for as long as I can remember. She is one of the best heroines ever put to paper.
What Amazon has to say about it: A dreary castle, blood-thirsty vampires, open graves at midnight, and other gothic touches fill this chilling tale about a young Englishman's confrontation with the evil Count Dracula. A horror romance as deathless as any vampire, the blood-curdling tale still continues to hold readers spellbound a century later.
What I have to say about it: Before Bram Stoker, vampires were not a thing, not really. (Yes, I know about Pollack's Varney the Vampire and Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. I stand by the statement.) But Bram Stoker created a being that seems to be fully the equal of other, older monstrous types, such as mummies or the walking dead. Plus, it is gorgeously lush and sensual.
5. The Man Who Was Thursday
What Amazon has to say about it: Part surrealistic comedy, part psychological thriller, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday inventively unravels the nightmare of paradox and surprise to probe the mysteries of human behavior. The seven members of Europe's Central Anarchist Council, who, for reasons of security, call themselves by the names of the days of the week, have sworn to destroy the world. But events soon cast doubt upon their real identities, for the man called Thursday is not the passionate young poet he claims to be. Put into context by Matthew Beaumont's introduction, which examines the novel's modernism, background, and depiction of turn-of-the-century London, The Man Who Was Thursday is both a brilliant thriller and a trenchant look at modern life.
What I have to say about it: This was one of the first books that actually did my head in. For an instant, when I read the ending, I understood a new thing. It was disconcerting, and I fell in love with the story.
Note: This was really hard for me. There were several others that I wanted to put on, but we limited ourselves to five. Alas for Till We Have Faces, Tales of King Arthur, and The Scottish Chiefs!
1. Jane Eyre
What I have to say about it: It is the face of true love. The final chapter best explains the nature of love, and those who have found it understand what Jane is saying.
2. The Silmarillion
What I have to say about it: The first time I read this book, it blew me away in its scope and expression. This is the kind of book which, once read, can be picked up and opened to any page for a new, fresh glimpse into a world unmatched by any other mythmaker.
3. The Grapes of Wrath
What Amazon has to say about it: A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.
What I have to say about it: This is the first book that made me cry.
What Amazon has to say about it: The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out a specific whale—Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.
What I have to say about it: I wrote my Master's thesis on this book, so I got to know it very well, indeed -- Dog-eared, notes in the margins, read til the cover literally fell off. I guess it comes down to Ahab and the poetry of his blasphemy.
5. Pride and Prejudice
What Amazon has to say about it: In one of the most universally loved and admired English novels, a country squire of no great means must marry off his five vivacious daughters. Jane Austen's art transformed this effervescent tale of rural romance into a witty, shrewdly observed satire of English country life.
What I have to say about it: I have six daughters, and I'm of no great means...
So, what's your top five?