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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