When I was in junior high, the book that got passed around furtively under desks was The Catcher in the Rye. Teachers would confiscate it if they found it; it was considered unsuitable. (And that blood-red cover made it hard to hide!) You can bet that everybody from my ninth-grade class still remembers Catcher, though they’ve probably forgotten all about Billy Budd, Foretopman—the book we were supposed to be reading.

But the beauty of reading—one of the beauties, anyway—is that you get to decide for yourself what you like. You don’t have to listen to teachers or critics or anybody else. Nick Hornby puts it this way in his introduction to Housekeeping vs. the Dirt: “Read anything, as long as you can’t wait to pick it up again.”

Amen to that.

So this isn’t a list of Great Books, or 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die, or Classics of World Literature. It’s just an opportunity for me to talk about the books and authors that I really really love, and to tell you briefly why they resonate with me or make me laugh or take my breath away.

A little girl once wrote in her book report, “This book told me more about penguins than I wanted to know.” With the penguins in mind, I’ve purposely kept my opinions short.

Happy reading!

—Dhyan Raufa