My Indie-Visible soul sister, author Stephanie Naman, has tagged me to nominate five books for the Alternative Booker Award, for which she has been nominated  (! To qualify for the ABA, a book must have given me hours of pleasure and be one I’d recommend to my friends.

I’m reserving separate space for books of the middle-school years that qualify for the ABA, because they’d fill three blog posts. Today, I’m listing one book from my childhood and four from adult reading years. Read them and weep! And Christina Mercer, Chelsea Starling, and Kat Wilder, how about nominating five of your own?

Five of my favorite books seem to be about journeys.

Text and illustrations by Mariana


My mother used to take my siblings and me to the Sheffield Village Public Library every week to pick out our reads for the coming days. Every few months, I’d bring home Hotspur, the story of a toy horse who leaves the shop to see the world. Little Hotspur’s chutzpah convinced me that all things are possible—he dreams of joining a carousel, and by the gods and goddesses he gives it his all. First published in 1952, and long since out of print, Hotspur is a book I’ve never forgotten nor seen since those days in Sheffield Village. I don’t have a picture of the cover—yet—but I’ve just ordered a first edition from Abe Books, and when it comes I’ll add the real cover graphic (if it has one!) to this post.

A River Runs through It
By Norman Maclean


This tale of a fly-fishing family in love with the Big Blackfoot River in Montana and the passages they endure captured my heart in the 1970s. First I read about its release in Esquire magazine in the public library in Grants Pass, Oregon, then I immediately checked it out and and gobbled it up. Even then I was writing the first character sketches for Junction, Utah, and it occurred to me that Maclean had succeeded in doing what I aspired to do—write a great American story.  I’d already decided to include two brothers in mine, and of course so did Maclean. A book composed entirely of intelligent sentences and pure love of a time and place.

Cold Mountain
By Charles Frazier


Long before there was the over-the-top movie adaptation (which does, nonetheless, have one of the best goodbye kisses every filmed), there was Charles Frazier’s beautiful, moody tale of a soldier going home. Traveling with Inman on the backroads through a war-torn South feels like taking a real-time, epic journey all your own. Some readers have told me they couldn’t read farther than the first pages of this book—I couldn’t stop reading from the first line. Every fall, just as I watch The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis to celebrate another year’s passing, I pick up Cold Mountain to re-enter that blue, hilly world.

Animal Dreams
By Barbara Kingsolver


My awesome sister, Jennifer, has stood in line to get me signed first editions of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels since she lived near the fabulous author in Tucson in the 1980s. Although The Bean Trees takes a classic road trip and could possibly qualify for my journeys nominees, my favorite Kingsolver is Animal Dreams. A disenfranchised heroine, a town in trouble, a meant-to-be love interest, a coming of age—what’s not to love? When I wrote Junction, I knew it would have these elements, too, and a heroine who searches for herself away from home. Any time I got a bit stuck in my novel writing, I pulled Dreams off the shelf and read the inscription my sister patiently waited to get: “Dear Rebecca, I used to be a scientific writer who dreamed of writing novels. Good luck, courage, and sweet dreams.—Barbara Kingsolver.” If you want to have a good life, you’ve got to have good dreams.

Moby Dick
By Herman Melville


The ocean-bound inspiration for my essay collection on rivers, Reading Water. Thank you, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, for assigning Moby Dick in American Romantic Literature at Mills College, 1993—otherwise it’s unlikely I would have read it with such deep understanding. It’s a story wherein a big fish leads a boatload of men to their doom, but not before the author has lovingly described every piece of the boat, every role of the ship’s mates, every cell of the whale, every social issue of the time (through metaphor). A fully realized, moving book, one I will always have on my shelf.


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