As a teacher, I am constantly asked what books I recommend. I’ve read hundreds of books over the years and I’m pretty good at suggesting the right book for the right person. However, you’re reading my website right now and I don’t know who you are. I can’t recommend. Instead, I’m going to tell you what my favorite books are with a brief description of each plot. If it seems like your type of reading, give it a try. Be sure to e-mail me afterward with your interpretation. I love taking new perspectives on old titles. Plus it gives me an excuse to read them again J. These are the Fabulous Four:

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is hands-down my favorite author. The first book of hers that I read was Jacob’s Room during my senior year of college. I loved it so much that by the end of that semester I found time to read Orlando, The Waves and To the Lighthouse outside of class. By the end of graduate school I had finished her entire repertoire. To the Lighthouse was always my favorite, though. It is divided into three sections. In the first, Mrs. Ramsay’s husband, children (especially her youngest son James) and dinner guests all vie for her sympathy. The second section races through the next ten years in only a few pages. During that time, Mrs. Ramsay passes away. In the third section, Mr. Ramsay, his youngest daughter Cam, and James all return to the site of the dinner party in the beginning. They are hopelessly miserable without the affections of Mrs. Ramsay. Although the reader may not realize it, much of this section is dedicated to Cam’s future role as a woman. Will she choose to break the cycle and become independent, or will she be held to the same standard as giver of infinite sympathy as her mother?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is arguably the finest piece of British literature and one of the fundamental pieces of women’s literature. The book was written by Charlotte Bronte, but earlier publications used the pseudonym Currer Bell as these were the days when there was still a lot of sexism and skepticism toward women writers. It’s hard to explain what Jane Eyre is about without spoiling the plot so if you already plan to read it someday you might want to skip to my next recommendation. Jane is an orphan living with her aunt and she is treated very poorly. She eventually leaves to attend a school for girls. Years later, she encounters Edward Rochester and falls in love with him soon after. Much of the middle chapters of the book are dedicated to their feelings for one another while Jane spends the later chapters with some long-lost cousins who she meets by fate. I read the novel during my sophomore year of college and it soon became one of my favorite books of all time!

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

It’s tough for me to pick a favorite Toni Morrison book, but I find there is much more appreciation for Beloved so I’m going to suggest The Bluest Eye. The book follows Pecola Breedlove through physical, emotional and sexual trauma from her parents, classmates and neighbors. The book, published in 1970, explores the subject of race unlike any had before. To Pecola, her black skin is only a signifier that she is ugly and inferior. I grew up in a town that was 98% Caucasian. Having little experience with race and racial issues, when I read The Bluest Eye during my freshman year at college I cried during every sitting. The Bluest Eye is incredibly powerful, but it is loaded with mature (though important, real-world) themes.

Whirligig by Paul Fleischman

The reason I first came to Seattle was because I was on a road trip with my friends visiting the four corners of the U.S. We actually got the idea from a young adult novel called Whirligig by Paul Fleischman. We all read the book for a summer project. We chose it because it was short, but we soon learned that it wasn’t the size of the book that matters but the content. Whirligig is one of my all-time favorite books and I frequently assign it to my classes. It is the newest book on this list (published 1998) but also the one I read first.

Plot Summary: Brent is drunk, depressed and underage. He decides he’s going to end it all and take his own life. However, when he gets behind the wheel of his car, he kills someone else by accident. Instead of pressing charges, the mother of the girl he killed by mistake only wants him to travel to the four corners of the United States and construct a whirligig in her memory. The novel follows Brent as he travels by bus to Weeksboro, Miami, Bellevue (right near Seattle) and San Diego. Along the way we take a glimpse into Brent’s head and meet some people influenced by the whirligigs.