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10 Authors on the Best Books They’ve Ever Received

There’s no question that getting a book as a present is great no matter what the title or when it happens. But what about those books that we’re given that are so special they alter the course of our lives in some way or change the way we think about the world? We spoke with some of our favorite authors about the book they received that has given them the most joy over the years.

  1. 1
    Letting Go Book Cover Picture
    Letting Go Book Cover Picture

    Letting Go

    by Philip Roth

    “My dad gave me the novel Letting Go by Philip Roth. Dad read very little fiction—only one book of fiction a year. He was a political scientist, and he read dozens and dozens of non-fiction, academic books every year. But he always became enthusiastic about his one, annual book of fiction, which he would then recommend to everyone. He loved Roth. I like the novel, because it is Roth’s second—and unfamous—book; the writing shows his earnestness. He was looking for his voice then. I love the early novels of writers, for that same reason.” —Josh Barkan, author of Mexico

    Letting Go Book Cover Picture
    Letting Go Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $17.00

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  2. 2
    Fear of Flying Book Cover Picture
    Fear of Flying Book Cover Picture

    Fear of Flying

    by Erica Jong

    “Knowing it is my favorite book, for my 34th birthday, a boyfriend once gave me a signed first edition of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.  Having always read tattered paperback versions, I had no idea the original was adorned with a spectacularly ornate cover that’s evocative of a Hieronymus Bosch.  I’m not a big collector of anything but no matter how often I pare down my belongings, I never get rid of this.  (Even though the boyfriend was long-ago lost to history, his accompanying birthday card remains tucked inside the book.)” —Lisa Napoli, author of Ray & Joan

    Fear of Flying Book Cover Picture
    Fear of Flying Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

    Also available from:

  3. 3
    When Breath Becomes Air Book Cover Picture
    When Breath Becomes Air Book Cover Picture

    When Breath Becomes Air

    by Paul Kalanithi

    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi’s brave memoir chronicles in exquisite prose his brave battle with terminal illness, but rather than verge into depressing territory, it is a triumphant and inspiring read.  His words make one rethink our perception of time—to not only imagine what we might achieve in the future, but to cherish the beauty that surrounds us in the present.” —Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours

    When Breath Becomes Air Book Cover Picture
    When Breath Becomes Air Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $26.00

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  4. 4
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Book Cover Picture
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Book Cover Picture

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

    by Mark Twain

    “On my eighth birthday my mother gave me a hardcover copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The inscription read: ‘Here is the brother you said you wanted.’ I was having trouble in school—particularly reading—and a psychologist had recently tested me and informed my mother and the school that I was, in the parlance of the day, ‘retarded.’ My mother steadfastly refused to accept this, saying, ‘You just haven’t found anything you care enough about to read.’ It turned out I was dyslexic and perhaps mildly autistic. It took me months, and when I was done, I could read, and I had indeed been given a brother—two, in fact, and I have visited with them every year since my eighth birthday.” —James Anderson, author of The Never Open-Desert Diner

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Book Cover Picture
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $9.00

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  5. 5
    In the Heart of the Sea Book Cover Picture
    In the Heart of the Sea Book Cover Picture

    In the Heart of the Sea

    by Nathaniel Philbrick

    “Many years ago I was boarding a plane to Las Vegas, planning on doing two things I really enjoyed: gambling and reviewing All-You–Can-Eat buffets (I was young. Thankfully, I got both habits out of my system.). Also boarding was a large passenger sneezing and wheezing. Here was someone who desperately needed a bowl of chicken soup and a flight refund. While he squeezed his way down the aisle looking for his seat, everyone on the plane was thinking the same thing I was—I hope he doesn’t sit next to me. As he settled in next to me, I imagined the worst. Needless to say, by the end of the flight, we not only became friends who still keep in touch twenty years later, but he recommended a book which changed my life. During the flight, he sold me on In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.

    I asked my mom for this book for Christmas and as my Vegas friend promised, the book was extraordinary. So much so, it convinced me to write my own. Up until that point, I wrote comedy pieces and columns in publications but never anything long-form. Speed up to today—20 years later—In the Heart of the Sea has been adapted into a movie and now that I’ve finished my current project (Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores), I plan to publish that illustrated novel inspired by my favorite book. Called The Sea Below Us, it’s a black comedy about the missing Sir John Franklin. I sent a manuscript to Nathaniel Philbrick—whom I have also met and kept in touch with over the years—and thanked him for the inspiration his book provided. He loved the manuscript.” —Bob Eckstein, author of Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores

    In the Heart of the Sea Book Cover Picture
    In the Heart of the Sea Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

    Also available from:

  6. 6
    Little Women Book Cover Picture
    Little Women Book Cover Picture

    Little Women

    by Louisa May Alcott

    “My grandmother was a complicated woman—angry, loving, gossipy, and vibrant. She lived a country’s length away from me, and we were never close, even though I was named after her. The truth is, her mercurial moods scared me a little. One Christmas morning when I was 10 or so, I unwrapped a heavy package and discovered a beautiful hardcover book complete with illustrations: Little Women. On the inside was my grandmother’s inscription in handwriting as bold as she was: ‘For Sarah, with love.’ I devoured the book that day, then read it again and again. When I was immersed in its pages, I felt more connected to my grandmother than I ever had before; it was as if she truly saw me as the shy, book-loving girl I was, instead of the confident, outspoken one she perhaps wanted me to be. My grandmother died long ago, but I still have the worn, beloved copy of the novel she gave me, with her faded handwriting gracing the opening page. I cherish it still.” —Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Perfect Neighbors

    Little Women Book Cover Picture
    Little Women Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $30.00

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  7. 7
    Charlotte's Web Book Cover Picture
    Charlotte's Web Book Cover Picture

    Charlotte’s Web

    by E. B. White

    “When I was a kid, my step-dad, who raised me, used to buy me books as Christmas gifts. He was an intellectual from another era, and believed that some kind of moral salvation lay in a combination of books, public education, and paying as much taxes as you could. When I was in sixth grade, he bought me the trilogy of children’s books by E.B. White, which included Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little. The same year, I got a satin comforter from my mom, and I remember lying in my antique brass bed, propped up on those luxurious new pillows, and going on the wild rides of these stories; it seems like I didn’t leave my bed until I’d finished all three. I’d always liked to read, but it was the experience of binging on those three children’s books that really showed me what reading did to me, and for me—the way reading made me feel calm and inspired before I knew what those words meant—and that I was, in my heart, a reader, which really, then, was the beginning of it all, since writers are just readers who need a job.” —Carolynn Carreño, co-author of A Good Bake

    Charlotte's Web Book Cover Picture
    Charlotte's Web Book Cover Picture

    CD
    $27.00

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  8. 8
    The Phantom Tollbooth Book Cover Picture
    The Phantom Tollbooth Book Cover Picture

    The Phantom Tollbooth

    by Norton Juster

    “In fifth grade, I received The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and spent the next three days wrapped up in the pages, unable to put it down. It was the first book that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go. When I was a fifth grade teacher, I would read it aloud to my students every year and watch as the story of Milo and the mysterious Tollbooth grabbed them the way it grabbed me when I was that age. I still have that same weather-worn copy on my book shelf and look forward to the day I can hand it off to my son.” —Katie Ganshert, author of Life After

    The Phantom Tollbooth Book Cover Picture
    The Phantom Tollbooth Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $8.99

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  9. 9
    The Heart of the Matter Book Cover Picture
    The Heart of the Matter Book Cover Picture

    The Heart of the Matter

    by Graham Greene

    “I’m not sure it was a present but it was certainly given to me, and it’s had a lasting impact on my writing life. It was Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. I was around 14, we were up on Cape Cod for a few weeks over the summer, and a librarian at this tiny library saw me rummaging through the paperback bin. She had seen what I had been reading and she reached in and took out the Greene. And then she said, ‘Keep it, if you like it.’ I still have it. It has a rubber band around the cover.” —Jonathan Rabb, author of Among the Living

    The Heart of the Matter Book Cover Picture
    The Heart of the Matter Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

    Also available from:

  10. 10
    Diet for a Small Planet (Revised and Updated) Book Cover Picture
    Diet for a Small Planet (Revised and Updated) Book Cover Picture

    Diet for a Small Planet (Revised and Updated)

    by Frances Moore Lappé

    “I moved off-campus after my sophomore year in college and had to feed myself. My quasi-hippie roommate gave me a copy of Francis Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet, permanently changing how I thought about food and introducing selfish, cloistered little me to the notion of social responsibility. I became a vegetarian, learned to bake bread, and started a garden. My daughters’ friends used to call me Mrs. Nutritious—or Martha—and I loved it. Now, if I’m not writing, I’m either growing plants or cooking them. That slim volume revolutionized my life.” —Sonja Yoerg, author of All The Best People

    Diet for a Small Planet (Revised and Updated) Book Cover Picture
    Diet for a Small Planet (Revised and Updated) Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

    Also available from:

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