Pride and Prejudice is the Jane Austen story everyone is “supposed” to love the most, but I just happen to be partial to Sense and Sensibility, the story of sisters who have recently lost their father as well as their fortune, and are simply trying to make their lovelorn way in the world. Austen’s stories are character-driven rather than plot-driven (always a better choice, IMO), and these characters are some of my favorites.
Weird, long, and wonderful, this is the story of King Arthur and how he came to rule Camelot. The first of the book’s four parts is whimsical and funny, and it’s what the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone was based on. It begins to take a more serious turn after that, and by the end it is full of philosophy and politics, so much so that you begin to forget you’re reading fantasy and not history.
One of the most influential books I have ever read in my entire life, Thomas Sowell helped create a framework for my understanding of politics that has been enormously helpful. Reader beware: the book is looooong and often very dry. Worth every head-scratch, in my opinion, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. (P.S. Sowell himself leans right politically, especially regarding economics, but this book is meant to be informative rather than persuasive.)
Part memoir, part writing how-to, this book by Stephen King has rightfully earned a place on the shelf of any writer (or lover of books). The book is full of practical, easy-to-implement advice, as well as many stories that helped me understand who King is and what motivates him to write the kinds of stories he does. This book is on my "needs to be re-read" short list.
I’ve loved these books since my dad read them to me as a kid. The heroism, the endurance, the selflessness, and the otherworldliness of these stories all continue to captivate me any time I return to them. If you’re nervous about reading these (because they’re long), I give you permission to skim the descriptions of the landscape. And the snippets of Middle Earth history. And the songs. (...a collective gasp of horror is heard from true Tolkien aficionados around the world...)
One of the most charming narrator voices I’ve ever read, and I’m not someone who usually cares for diary-style writing. Written in the 1940's, this book was out of print for awhile but is fortunately back again, with all of its quirky whimsy. (PSA: Ignore the terrible cover on most modern copies. And there's a movie out there which is...not great),
This book is elegant and refined and proper and it made me laugh so hard I cried. The world has an abundance of P.G. Wodehouse books in it; this just happens to be the one I started with, and it’s a solid winner. Near-constant ridiculousness and humor, for those who have a taste for dry British wit.
I’m bending the rules a bit here but I can’t pin down one book, so I’m basically recommending all of them in one go. No other author has been more influential in how I think about life and writing and faith than Lewis has. To suggest just a few, I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia more times than I can count (The Silver Chair and The Last Battle are my particular favorites), I love The Great Divorce, and I like The Screwtape Letters. I frequently re-read portions of The Four Loves, and Mere Christianity is, of course, a classic. I haven't read everything by Lewis, but everything I've read I've liked.
I love this book, and am always moved to tears by this true account of a Dutch family who worked for the Underground during World War II, until their arrest. I am inspired by their story to be brave in the face of evil, to love others selflessly, to suffer well, to trust God, and to forgive. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful.
I’ve spent the last several years wrestling through some ideas that have become increasingly pervasive in the modern American church, and this book helped set in order some of my thoughts on those things. Key topics include the loaded buzzwords missio dei, kingdom, and shalom. If you’re a church-going person, this book is worth the read.
One of my all-time faves. As a fan, I feel I’m obligated to insist that you start at the very beginning, but realistically, you should probably start in season 2. Given how whacked out and angry everybody is about politics these days, I often find myself wishing that our elected officials were a whole lot more like this crew. Watch it while you’re sorting laundry, or when you’ve stayed home sick, or to escape the insanity of real life. It’s always a mood-booster.
A frequent go-to for when I need a pick-me-up. Steve Carrell owned his character like nobody else (no offense, Ricky Gervais), and the chemistry between the rest of the cast is unmatched.
Well-scripted, witty, entertaining, and full of charm. Another great ensemble cast, with plenty of mystery and humor to go around.
Not to be watched if language bothers you (and probably you should close your eyes for some brief nudity in the first episode), but this show is quick and witty and wonderful. I love Midge. I love her parents. I love Susie. I especially love the dialogue. Fun fact: it’s made by Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame.
Not done with this one yet, but a friend recently recommended it and I have been fully captivated by the quirky cast and the gorgeous setting of Corfu, Greece. It’s a show to get whisked away by.
My go-to answer when someone asks my favorite movie. The cast, the music, the humor, the juxtaposition of the grandfather and grandson against the events of the book, all of it is brilliant and fabulous. William Goldman wrote the book, and he wrote the script for the movie as well, so it’s infused with all the same charm. (P.S. Read the book too.)
As I said in the book section, I know Pride & Prejudice is the Jane Austen story we’re all “supposed” to love the most (and don’t get me wrong -- the book and the A&E presentation of that one are both great), but Ang Lee’s beautiful adaptation of Sense and Sensibility takes the cake for me. Gorgeous cinematography and lovely music, a well-crafted script, and excellent performances by all the actors. Watch it and then memorize Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare, just for funsies.
I can’t pick one. And there’s not room here to say why I love them so much. We sometimes watch the whole trilogy on New Year’s Eve, and this last time around, even my husband cried. That’s how good these are.
Quirky, sad, and charming. Ryan Gosling is stellar as the odd, troubled Lars, and I love the supporting cast so much. Good if you like character-driven stories with a little psycho-analysis thrown in for good measure.
A madcap, over-the-top, definitely R cop comedy set in a small village in England where crime rates are extraordinarily low and “accident” rates are equally high. The dialogue in this one is perfection, as is the attention to detail, which is why it’s on this list, and why I’ve watched it more times than I care to count.
I could have put several M. Night Shyamalan movies on this list, but Unbreakable is one of the best AND one of the most underrated. This movie's got a slow burn with a satisfying payoff at the end. And, as always in M. Night movies, the thriller factor is strong but the relationships are what ultimately take center stage. For the slightly-squeamish out there, this one isn't as scary as some of his others, although there are several unsettling scenes.
This isn’t just one of my favorite Christmas movies, it’s one of my favorite movies, period. Forget what you think you know about Muppet movies and get ready for this incredibly charming musical. Michael Caine plays Scrooge, and while all of the Muppet humor is still fully present, there is a strangely wonderful level of loveliness to this one too. I usually cry when I watch it.
One thing this series has going for it is that it just. keeps. getting. better. I love them all but this one holds a special place in my heart, both because of how it pays homage to the first one and because of the bittersweet way it deals with the realties of growing up. There are plenty of kid movies that I eventually get sick of, but that's never happened with this one.
Movie buffs say that the sequel, The Dark Knight, is the height of movie-making sublimity, but I prefer BB. I’m a sucker for origin stories, and this one does an awesome job of making the viewer feel invested in the character of Bruce Wayne. Add to that the themes of overcoming fear, accepting your purpose in life, and the age-old struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, and you’ve got yourself a brooding winner.
Lady Jane Grey -- a highly intelligent young noblewoman in the 1500s -- found herself married to a stranger and then forced onto the throne as the reluctant Queen of England for a mere nine days before being deposed by her cousin, (Bloody) Mary. The movie takes some liberties, of course, but it tells a poignant story about the interesting and ultimately tragic events of Jane’s short-lived reign. (Parents’ beware some brief nudity.)