My Top Ten Favorite Books: Darlene Campos

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

I read this book for the first time when I was about 13 years old. It’s about an immigrant family and all the hardships they experience as they create their new lives in America. It’s sad. This book made me weep for the characters. They’re a family trying to make ends meet yet it seems like the whole world is against them. I honestly wonder why we don’t have a movie version of this book. There was one made a long time, in silent movie form, but it has since been lost through history. It needs a movie soon.

I heard about this book for a few years, but I didn’t read it until I was in college. It was recommended to me by my creative writing professor and I’m so glad she took the time to recommend it. Just like ‘The Jungle,’ it’s a sad book. The family struggles with money and Arnold, the main character, knows there is something better for him. Despite everything, Arnold makes it through. While this book is very sad in certain parts, it’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Alexie can make you cry in one chapter and have you laughing until your belly hurts in the next.

Exile by Padraic O’Conaire

This is another book I read in college and it was an assigned reading for my Irish Literature class. I had never heard of this writer nor had I heard of this book. This is one of the best adventures stories I’ve ever encountered. Each page was gripping – I could not put the book down for any reason at all. I wish ‘Exile’ had more publicity because it’s just that good. This book needs a movie, too.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Unlike the books I mentioned above, this is a memoir, so it’s nonfiction. I just read it last year after years of wanting to read it. I found a copy at a used book sale for just 75 cents. This is one of the most compelling life stories I’ve ever read, right after Frank McCourt’s ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ I found myself cheering and crying for Walls and her family, even for her parents who are not your average parents at all. I could feel myself right in the story with Walls, as if I was a guest in her life and she was personally showing me around. It only took me two days to read this book and I’m so happy I did.

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

One of my favorite movies is ‘Big Fish.’ I saw it in the movie theater a few days after it came out and I was blown away by how beautiful the story was. Edward Bloom’s life is riveting both on the big screen and in the book. The book has more fantasy elements than the movie. I am NOT a fantasy literature fan, but this book somehow grabbed me right away. If Daniel Wallace made a fan of someone who hates fantasy books, you know this is good.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

R.J. Palacio’s ‘Wonder’ is a children’s novel, but I believe everyone, including adults, should take the time to read it. Auggie Pullman is your average kid – he loves Star Wars, he goes to school, he wants to make friends, and he loves his pet dog. The only thing that makes Auggie different from his peers is his rare medical facial deformity condition, yet the bullies around school focus on this one thing about him. They don’t see his humor, his kind heart, or his intelligence – just that his face looks different. The feature film comes out later this year and I hope it stays true to the book. It’s a huge lesson everyone needs to learn.

Maus (I & II) by Art Spiegelman

I’m a history buff, especially when it comes to World War II history. My brother recommended I read this book because it wasn’t like other history books – it was a true story told in graphic novel form. The ‘Maus’ series surrounds the lives of Spiegelman’s parents, mostly his father. Spiegelman listened to his father tell his story of being forced into a ghetto by the Nazis and then being taken to Auschwitz where death is always hanging by the door. The drawings are simple black and white graphics, but this is more than sufficient since the story is hard to put down.

If Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust, I wonder what else she would’ve written. I visited the Secret Annex years ago, which is where Frank hid for about two years. Can you imagine hiding in fear in such a small place for such a long time? Frank’s diary isn’t just any diary – it’s a piece of history which has taught the world what happens when hate takes over love. Frank wanted to be a professional writer after the war. Even though she died so young, she left her mark on the world as a writer, just how she planned. This book, like ‘Wonder,’ is one every person needs to read.

Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers. He was so talented and a big shot in his time. When I visited San Antonio last December, I found out he’d stayed in the hotel I booked. I immediately found the room’s location and snapped a picture. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ has some of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever read – they make Hallmark cards look like a pile of crap. Wilde was a prolific writer. He only lived to be 46 years old, yet he made the most of these years with all of his works.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

This book was part of a summer reading list when I was in middle school. As much as I loved to read when I was younger, I hated assigned readings - I think it’s part of my ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude. Anyway, this book was on the list and it was one of the shorter ones, so I picked it. I got so into the book that I read it in a day and a half. The imagery was rich, the story was interesting, and the characters felt so real, it was as if I knew them personally. This is a beautiful book and I’m thankful it was an assigned reading or else I may have never discovered it on my own.