What’s the Best Book You’ve Ever Read? #AmReading

Best BookWhat’s your ‘best book ever’ — this was a question I came across in a reading group. A lot of readers named the Potter series, some listed romance and scifi titles, and the rest came down hard on them, for not appreciating ‘the classics’ and ‘literary’ books.

To me, the word ‘best’ is subjective, in a relative world. What’s good for me could be utter trash for someone else. I’ve read all the Potter books, liked the first and couldn’t resist finishing the last few– but thought they could all use editing.

They are by no means the ‘best’ for me, but my ‘best book’ changes year to year. Right now, it seems to be ‘All the light we cannot see.’

What’s important is that there are books for every kind of booklover, and even those books we look down upon secretly ( I’ll admit to not being fond of E L James) are important and useful: because they get people reading/ engaged in stories. The very experience of immersing oneself in a story has far-reaching psychological and physical benefits, so I’m not going to trash any book at all.

We can all agree to disagree on what the ‘best book’ for us is, and leave it at that. The Potter books brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and that in itself propels it to some kind of ‘best of’ list, I think.

From time to time, ‘best book lists’ crop up, like this one. Or another, of books you must read before you die, like this one. While opinion may differ on whether they’re the best– these lists can be an easy way to access good books– with so many books published each year, we’ll never read all the books in the world that we’d like to.

So what is your ‘best book ever’? Do you read books for enjoyment, insight, knowledge, escape? Would you recommend a book, or a list of books you’ve liked in recent years, so we can all add to our tottering TBR piles?

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74 comments

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  1. Robin O. Cochran

    I like the book The Once and Future King about TH Whites view of Camelot! It created many dreams and enjoyment in King Arthur stories and Launcelot is not handsome but more toadlike. Guinevere fell in love due to his ability to save a jouster’s life. I read this while 11 and reread it often.
    I liked the Thomas Paine historical fiction book since it talked about freedoms. It is called but may be out of print, To Spit Against the Wind. I believe Paine has so much to do with the positive attributes of our revolution and freedoms. . . Smiles, Robin

  2. Ramya

    I read for a combination of reasons. THere must be enjoyment, a bit of insight too and the prose must stand out… For me its MArgret Mitchells Gone with the Wind!!! HAve loved it since my high school days

  3. Rachna

    I can’t name one best book though there are so many sterling ones that I’ve read in my life. I read books for enjoyment, knowledge, to know more about different people and places and for fun.

  4. DGGYST

    I’ve read so many bad one’s this year. It’s my fault. I must stop picking books based on their tantalizing descriptions. I’m totally taken in by promises of betrayal, passion, war! But they are always total shit. Must bring myself to select books promising slow neighborhoods in the dust bowl where the hero finds a spoon and learns a valuable lesson.

  5. Liesbet

    “Best of” questions are always subjective, but appealing to ask people. A favorite to ask us is “What is your favorite country you visited, or sailed to?” So much depends on the mood you are in, the weather or what happened that day. What works for some people might (and will) not work for others. That being said, some movies and books are just really, really good! 🙂

  6. hilarymb

    Hi Damyanti – I do enjoy something that engages me and doesn’t fob me off … bad grammar isn’t my friend either (not to say I can really comment in that direction – at times mine is appalling) … but the books I’ve become entranced with is the Patrick Leigh Fermor trilogy of books … where he walks from Amsterdam to Istanbul … his writing is wonderful – stunning … and so much history, as well as descriptive excellence …

    Some wonderful suggestions from your readers … always good to see and find out about – cheers Hilary

  7. dkatiepowellart

    Then there is the best books at what age…. Looking at the first list, I read about 2/3 of the first 50, and after that there were books I’d tried and could not get through… some I could not even believe were on that list… which lowered it to about 50% of the list I’ve read. I think best book ever does change, and also, what genre… these all look like fiction, but I have a couple that aren’t that are the “best books ever”. If we stick to fiction, then I can tell you my favorite authors, MUCH easier: Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, AA Milne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Tom Robbins. These are authors who’ve I reread… Some several times. Autobiographical authors: May Sarton, Terry Tempest Williams, Nancy Mairs. Personal life-changing books: “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” “Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness” by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

  8. Rajlakshmi

    Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy is my favorite book and series ever. Mostly because it evoked in me all the right feelings… Of happiness, wonder, curiosity and amazement at the creativity of the author. Yes, it is true that there are booka for every kind of people.

  9. Crystal Collier

    Best book ever… That’s asking a lot. Classic: Les Miserables. Dickens: David Copperfield. All time: The Book of Mormon. Beyond that? I have too many favorites in too many categories and it all becomes subjective to where I was at in life when I read each book. I mean, how can you pick JUST ONE when you have HUNDREDS of book loves out there? That’s like asking which cheese is my favorite. Silly. 😉

  10. Tarang Sinha

    Oh, it’s really difficult to answer. Best book – just one book. I agree with you when you say, ‘What’s good for me could be utter trash for someone else.’ No book has ever received 100% positive reviews.

    I like women-centric fiction, and I have realized that I enjoy any genre (Mythology and psychological thrillers are pleasant surprise for me) if it has a female protagonist. And, I can’t read a book if it doesn’t interest me by 50-60 pages (Unless it’s a review copy. It’s painful to finish a book that you don’t find interesting).

    The Palace of illusions is an absolute favourite because it was a learning experience. It inspired me to read (more) and write mythology (I never thought mythology could be that interesting). I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella was a fun read. And, I totally loved Love Virtually and the sequel Every Seventh Wave (I couldn’t believed I enjoyed reading emails, just emails!) 🙂

  11. artrosch

    For starters, I think of the Jack Vance fantasy trilogy, Lyonesse. Not much heard of these days but Vance is my favorite writer, period. He’s influenced my work more than anyone else.

  12. ccyager

    I really do not have a “best books” list. My tendency is to forage for books everywhere, and subscribe to Publishers Marketplace Publishers Lunch newsletter which lists upcoming titles, award-winners when awards are announced, and so on. Instead of “best,” I’d like to mention a couple memorable books from the last few years: “The Monsters of Templeton” by Lauren Groff, The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, any mystery by P.D. James, and “Quiet” by Susan Cain.

  13. D. Wallace Peach

    I have to say The Lord of the Rings trilogy is still the book that had the greatest impact on me. With The Hobbit, the series kicked off a life-long love of books. For me, that was huge! I read through the comments and I see I’m not alone! A fun question, Damyanti. 😀

  14. Birgit

    This is difficult because it is subjective in so many ways. Of course, a book must be well written before one can say, it is good but then, it becomes personal. I have to say To Kill A Mockingbird is on my list as well as Green Mansions. I love biographies so Barry Paris’s books on Louise Brooks and Garbo are excellent. Mafia Riva’s book about her mom was great and so was Goldwyn…about Samuel Goldwyn.

  15. Sarada Gray

    I’m going to sound like a real egghead here, but my favourite book of all time is in fact six books. If I was ever on Desert Island Discs I would ask to have all six volumes of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (in English) because this is a book that can keep you going for a lifetime. Convoluted, difficult to read, dense; but utterly stunningly brilliant. I truly believe Proust is God: there is nothing he doesn’t know

  16. Peter Nena

    I was once asked this question and I couldn’t answer it. I couldn’t name my best book but I could name my worst. I only know the worst book I have ever read. I have read plenty of good books, though, that to single out just one as the best of them would be reprehensible.

  17. Parul Thakur

    This question has been on my mind for quite sometime. I read for insights, escape into a world that’s not mine and sometimes to learn.
    If I think of my favorite books, like you – I have a few but yes, every time this question comes up I think of ‘Letter from Peking’. This one is my Pearl Buck and I have read the book thrice but can’t stop mentioning this. There is pain and a new definition of love that I am attracted to with this book.
    My other favorites are The Good Earth, Norwegian Wood, Lean In, Not without my Daughter, When Breath becomes air, and I an go on, Damyanti! 🙂
    I will bookmark this post to add more books to my TBR list.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I read The Good Earth as a teen, can’t remember much of it any more. The others you mentioned are on my radar, and I shall add them to my TBR.

  18. Lata Sunil

    True. That is the reason, I generally do not put in all negatives in a book review in case I do not like it. After all, what I do not like, someone else may like it. It is more important to read.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Yes, tastes are quite subjective. This is why I’ve given up doing book reviews.

  19. ianscyberspace

    It’s impossible for me to choose only one book out of all I’ve read over the years, but there is one of them I could mention “Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, St Martin’s Press New York.”

  20. Louise Allan

    Oh gosh, I could never narrow it down! Having said that, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto comes to mind and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Of more recent books I’ve read, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose would be in this group, too. What a great post! 🙂

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Thanks for bringing The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose to my attention. I’ve read and loved the other two, but hadn’t heard of this one. This is what I get out of this post– fantastic book recommendations!

  21. Kishor Kr

    I’m not sure if it’s even possible to name a single book to such question. However, I can always tell some of the books that I enjoyed the most. The Hobbit and LOTR series by Tolkein, A song of Ice and Fire by GRR Martin, The Notebook and A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks, Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and many others.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Have read all of them, and The Alchemist by Coelho is his only book I like. Martin and Tolkien are both wonderful authors and have given me countless hours of escape!

  22. pia jingco

    For a looong time it was Wuthering Heights… until I finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude. WOW. Best novel (for now), and maybe best last line EVER.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Both were my faves at different points of time in my life! Tolkien became an obsession for a while.

  23. arlene

    This is lovely. I have so many favorite and I consider them the best books I ever read. Some are contemporary books, some are bestsellers and are literary pieces I’ve read long ago. I love reading just for the joy of it

  24. Dan Antion

    My favorite book changes all the time, but I was glad to see a couple by Kurt Vonnegut as well as Fahrenheit 451on that list. I have read a lot of books on that list and plenty that aren’t on it that I like better.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Lists are so subjective. Vonnegut was a huge fave at one point of time in my life.

  25. DJ Cockburn

    Today, it would be a toss-up between ‘The Quiet American’ and ‘The Comedians’, both by Graham Greene. I think the best piece of prose I’ve ever read has to be ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Hemingway, though it doesn’t quite have the complexity I’d look for in an all time favourite.

    Ask me on a different day and I’ll give a different answer.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Old Man and The Sea is a fave of mine, too. As is Graham Greene, and nearly all his books. SO hard to choose just one.

  26. cindy212

    My favorite (and punishing) is Crime and Punishment. A difficult book to read, I had to put it down every now and again. Miss one word and you’re lost. But characterization is everything. One of the best (and again, punishing) crime fiction to date. You know the characters involved, and the motivation for the crime. You feel his angst, you understand why he would commit murder. Of course, by the end of the first section you want him to get it over with, and only to find that the deed has been done. The contrast in his family with faith, and his loss seem to lead to his downfall. But the love of this character–we begin to live that life with him. You don’t often in modern novels find an antagonist so relatable. I have other favorites but this is a work that leads one to ‘how to build characters that are 3D.’ I could never write one THAT LONG, but the antagonist must be worthy. Actually here he is the protag with what journey he finally takes, but you get my meaning.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I totally admire your patience in reading it, and finishing it. I tried more than once, and failed.

  27. marthaspencil

    Instead of “best book,” I like categories like “books I wish I’d written” (Weekend in Dinlock; Golden Days; Your Blue-Eyed Boy) and “most loved childhood book” (Cradle of the Deep) and “books that stayed with me” (USA; Grapes of Wrath; Wuthering Heights; Jane Eyre). I won’t be so indelicate as to mention “bathroom books,” but there’s a category. Thanks for asking the question, I like reading others’ comments.

  28. CrimsonCorundum

    I could never pick just one favorite book and even if I could pick my top twenty or fifty books or whatever, they would probably change over time. I can name my favorite genres but one single book? Never.

  29. Durga Prasad Dash

    Thus Spake Zarathustra, The Prophet (Kahlil Zibran), Bhagavat Gita, Kumar Sambhava, Yoga Sutras, Wisdom for the New Millenium (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), Alice in Wonderland, A Brief History of Time – to name a few

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Wonderful list. Of these, I’ve read The Prophet (Kahlil Zibran), Alice in Wonderland, A Brief History of Time. Am reading My Gita by Patnaik now.

  30. atlasmv

    Atlas Shrugged would be #1. Rand was so prescient as to what would happen if we lost our objectivity.
    Gone With The Wind #2 – Mitchell really captured how the South was vilified and how our understanding of the Confederacy, to this day, is completely wrong. The victors get to write (or re-write) history.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I don’t like Rand now, but that’s possibly because she either made (or identified?) selfishness as the leading principle of our times. I read Gone with the Wind as a teen, and don’t think was able to appreciate the political background. Not being American, for me it was just an exotic backdrop for the story.

      Both are very imapctful books, though, and I did like Rand as a teen.

  31. Jessica M Tuckerman, MA

    So many amazing books, but I’d have to say
    Harry Potter (obviously) – it’s why I’m a reader.
    Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – latin culture AND lgbt MC
    Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – cinematic writing
    Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson – ADORABLE

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Those sound like wonderful choices– and yes, Harry Potter made readers out of so many people.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I checked it out– the life of man who becomes a Trappist Monk. Added it to my TBR list.

  32. thewriteedge

    Someone asked in a FB post recently what everyone’s favorite books were. Of course, there are some amazing ones out there (_All the Light We Cannot See_ is definitely on that list!) but I listed five that were instrumental in my life for one reason or another:

    1. _The Far Pavilions_ by M.M. Kaye
    2. _Interpreter of Maladies_ by Jhumpa Lahiri
    3. _Doomsday Book_ by Connie Willis
    4. _Life of Pi_ by Yann Martel
    5. The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson

    These books made a heart-deep impact on me for their research, their stories, their culture, and so many other things. I’m constantly recommending books for a variety of reasons, but if someone were to ask what books made the biggest impression on me in my life these would be it. :>

  33. arealwookie

    Jonathan Livingston Seagull – a book I read as a young lad. That story stirred my imagination in a way that led me to be a life long reader.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I read it as a young girl, too. It made quite the impression. Loved the illustrations as well.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      I read the Age of Reason a long time ago. Perhaps it is time to dig it out again.

  34. cathum

    Like you, I’m not sure I could settle for one and feel it was ‘for ever.’
    At one time, I would have said without hesitation, Wuthering Heights. Although I’m still in awe of the power and style, and it remains in my top-ten, it’s not in first place at the moment. That might change, and I would always want to have a copy to return to.
    But, ‘best novel ever’ is such a tall order, I don’t know that I want one. I prefer the flexibility of having a long list of shifting favourites.

    • Damyanti Biswas

      Oh I loved Wuthering Heights, too. I had a crush on Heathcliff for the longest time, till, well, till I grew up and discovered he isn’t really all that ideal.

      I too much prefer ‘the flexibility of having a long list of shifting favourites’.

  35. mott342

    My “best” book (like yours) changes often, but the one that never leaves the top 2 is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I think it may be the perfect novel–it has everything and is presented in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever encountered.

    Great post! 🙂

    • Damyanti Biswas

      That’s one of my top faves too, and for the reasons you’ve listed here.

      Thanks for visiting me– please make it easy to return your comments, your gravatar led me to an error page and I had to google you, find you on twitter, and reach your blog 🙂