The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain
Maybe it's my Southern origins that put this classic at the top of my list—or maybe it's a combination of the book's humor, pathos and sense of adventure. Twain was a gutsy, brilliant writer who understood not only the way different people from different walks of life spoke but, more important, how they behaved and felt. Although his language was plain and his writing simple, he dealt with a number of complex issues. Slavery, for example. He allowed readers—with his gentle guidance—to draw their own moral conclusions based on the nuances of the relationship between the characters. Huck's dilemma of whether to turn in his friend Jim may have been one of my first literary lessons on "doing the right thing."