Monthly Archives: February 2011

100 Books Everyone Should Read

Okay, since several of you asked, here’s my own personal list of 100 books everyone should read.  I submit this with much fear and trembling, knowing I have certainly inadvertently left out something truly important.  But I’m only human. . . . Anyway, before I get an avalanche of complaints,  here are the rules I set for myself: (1) These are all works of fiction, which forced me to leave out what I consider to actually be the most important works ever written, but a list of non-fiction must-reads would be too daunting a task for me to undertake.  (2) The works must be of enduring importance to history and/or culture, or have had  literary influence.  To be judged as “enduring”, the work must be at least (in my opinion) 20 to 25 years old.  This does not mean that I don’t believe that anything of importance has been written in the past quarter century.  It just means that these important works have not yet proven themselves as “enduring” by actually, well, enduring.  I just had to draw a line somewhere. (3) I am not a hypocrite:  therefore I have included works which I freely admit I have not read myself–yet!  I am aware that my own experience should not be the criteria, but have looked to wiser heads than my own for help.  And then I freely edited what the wiser heads suggested!  So–here goes, in alphabetical order by author:


1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy- Douglas Adams


2. Watership Down – Richard Adams


3. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott


4. Arabian Nights


5. Emma – Jane Austen


6. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen


7. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen


8. Beowulf


9. Collective Poems of William Blake


10. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte


11. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte


12. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan


13. Poetry of Lord Byron


14. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll


15. Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll


16. Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes


17. Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer


18. The Man Who was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton


19. Manalive – G. K. Chesterton


20. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad


21. Poems of Stephen Crane


22. Poems of e.e. cummings


23. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl


24. Divine Comedy – Dante (Yes, all three of them! I recommend the translation by Dorothy L. Sayers.)


25. Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens


26. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens


27. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens


28. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens


29. Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens


30. Poems of Emily Dickinson


31. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky


32. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle


33. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas


34. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas


35. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier


36. Mill on the Floss – George Eliot


37. Poems by T. S. Eliot


38. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald


39. Poems by Robert Frost


40. Faust – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


41. Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame


42. Lord of the Flies – William Golding


43. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy


44. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy


45. Uncle Remus Tales – Joel Chandler Harris


46. The Scarlett Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne


47. Short Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne


48. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway


49. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller


50. The Iliad – Homer


51. The Odyssey – Homer


52. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


53. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley


54. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Washington Irving


55. Ulysses – James Joyce


56. Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling


57. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee


58. Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis


59. The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis


60. Moby Dick – Herman Melville


61. The Crucible – Arthur Miller


62. Paradise Lost – John Milton


63. Winnie the Pooh – A. A. Milne


64. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery


65. Animal Farm  – George Orwell


66. 1984 – George Orwell


67. Metamorphoses – Ovid


68. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – The Pearl Poet (I recommend the translation by J. R. R. Tolkien.)


69. The Gold Bug – Edgar Allen Poe


70. Poems by Edgar Allen Poe


71. The Little Prince – Antione De Saint Exupery


72. Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger


73. Gaudy Night – Dorothy L. Sayers


74. Complete Works of Shakespeare (Including Sonnets!)


75. Frankenstein – Mary Shelly


76. Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelly


77. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck


78. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck


79. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson


80. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson


81. Dracula – Bram Stoker


82. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray


83. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien


84. The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien


85. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy


86. War and Peace  – Leo Tolstoy


87. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain


88. Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain


89. The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain


90. The Aeneid – Virgil


91. The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin


92. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells


93. Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White


94. The Book of Merlin – T. H. White


95. The Once and Future King – T. H. White


96. Our Town – Thorton Wilder


97. Poems by William Wordsworth


98. Enter Jeeves – P. G. Wodehouse


99. Jeeves in the Morning – P. G. Wodehouse


100. Germinal – Emile Zola

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Mayberry Morality

I suppose I’m not the only person my age who grew up watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and the like.  Remember the episode about Aunt Bea and the pickles?  The one in which she makes a batch of pickles so disgusting that no one can eat them; and yet everyone praised them and pretended to gobble them down, causing her to make yet another batch.  It has always stuck in my mind as an example of how evil the nicest people can be.  Aunt Bea’s beloved nephew and dearest friends consistently lied to her, encouraging her to waste her money, time, and resources producing more and more of her abominable pickles.  And then they had to engage in sneaky and deceitful behaviors in order to dispose of said pickles without having to actually eat them.  All in the name of “not hurting her feelings”.  Obviously, it hurt her feelings far more to realize how everyone had been treating her in the end.  But the Mayberry folks never seem to learn from their mistakes.  I’d estimate that more than half of the plots of this family sit-com revolved around similar lines: lies told with the best of intentions, only to backfire by the end of the half hour.  “The Andy Griffith Show” is the sit-com that struck me most as a teen struggling with moral issues, but I’m sure that most if not all TV shows use this same formula.  Why is this?  Because, I think, Americans buy into this way of thinking: it’s okay to lie if it’s for a good reason.

Now, I’m not saying that we should be heedlessly cruel with the truth, either!  One need not say, “Good grief, Aunt Bea, have you tasted these things? They taste like kerosene! What’s the matter with you, old woman?”  Tact is a skill one should learn early on.  “I’m sorry, Aunt Bea, but I just don’t care for your pickles.  They’re a bit strong for my taste.  What do you think?”  No, what I’m talking about is being caring enough to tell people the truth, instead of being cowardly liars.  It doesn’t help anyone to perpetuate a falsehood.  Truth may be embarrassing or uncomfortable, or even hurtful.  But lies are so much more so!

I can think of so many examples, but I’ll pull one out of a hat.  I was once asked to step down from a volunteer teaching position without any explanation and asked to serve refreshments instead.  Well, I was okay with that.  Maybe, I thought, there was a surplus of teachers and they wanted to give others a chance at teaching.  Maybe they really needed a snack lady.  But I soon realized that there was, in fact, a shortage of teachers, and no real need for anyone to be exclusively in charge of snacks.  I went to the head honcho to offer my services in teaching one of the teacherless classrooms.  He hemmed and hawed a bit, then finally admitted that someone had told him that I hate children and was tired of teaching, and so he thought he’d “let me off the hook”.   He hadn’t said anything because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.  Can you imagine?  If he’d only come to me and asked me about this, it could have been straightened out in a second.  But his first inclination was to lie to me rather than risk embarrassing me.

Do we teach our children to tell the truth, tactfully of course, but fearlessly?  It takes a lot more courage, sometimes, to be truthful.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether we are really lying to save someone’s feelings, or because we’re afraid of causing a row or making a scene.  Maybe we are afraid of the responsibility of being truth-sayers.  I’ve been tempted, I admit, to fudge on grading a paper just to avoid the tears and the struggle to get the child to rework a math problem or re-diagram a sentence.  But is that really serving the child?  Does it really help a child to pat him on the back and say “good work!” when you know his work is substandard?  Point out the things that are correct and praise them, of course, but don’t let poor work slide when you know the child could do better.

Are we setting a good example of truth-speaking for our kids?  Do they hear us say one thing to our friends and relatives, only to say something else behind their backs?  Do they hear empty, meaningless praise from us when they know perfectly well they don’t deserve it?  It’s a hard thing, to live in truth, especially when it seems a lie would be kinder or would prevent hurt feelings.  I’m not certain, really, that telling everything I know is necessarily a good thing.  Is keeping silent another form of lying, or is it just being tactful? I don’t know all the answers, to tell you the truth!   Just something to think about.


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