Ten Books to Read Before you Die

AOL recently suggested Ten Books to Read Before You Die

I’ve listed them here along with AOL’s comments, then posted some of my suggestions and comments below.  It’s not that I believe I am as smart or as literate as AOL’s marketing team, I just possess a different sensibility about the books I think are important.

AOL’s list:

1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind sold 50,000 copies on its first day, and two million after a year. Even though it is 1,037 pages long, readers all over the world snatched up the book. In 1937 it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Mitchell prided herself on the historical accuracy of her work. Gone with the Wind is a sweeping account of how the Civil War tore apart an entire way of life, and Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most enduring characters in American fiction.

2. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein – Lord of the Rings is regarded by many to be the most important and influential work of fantasy of the 20th century. It generated the fantasy novel industry practically single-handedly, inspiring a multitude of novels concerning elves and dwarves on quests to conquer ultimate evil despite overwhelming odds. Although intended to be published as a single volume, its division into a trilogy created the iconic format for epic fantasy literature.

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – Follow Harry Potter from his first days at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, through his many adventures with Hermione and Ron, to his confrontations with rival Draco Malfoy and the dreaded Professor Snape. From a dangerous descent into the Chamber of Secrets to the Triwizard Tournament to the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, each adventure is more riveting and exhilarating than its predecessor.

4. The Stand by Stephen King – In 1978, Stephen King published The Stand , the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. It depicts his apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil. It is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic. Those reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

5. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Robert Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci — clues visible for all to see — yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. The Da Vinci Code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightning-paced, intelligent thriller…utterly unpredictable right up to its stunning conclusion.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird is about the crisis of human behavior and conscience arising from the racism and prejudice that exist in the small Southern town during the Depression. Scout Finch tells the story of her father’s defense of Tom Robinson, a young black man who is being tried for the rape of a white woman. Harper Lee’s only novel, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, is a much-beloved tale of growing up, as well as an exploration of heroism confronted with bigotry.

7. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown – When a canister of anti-matter is stolen from a Swiss research facility, Robert Langdon is called in to investigate. A Harvard professor, Langdon is an expert on the ancient, quasi-scientific, and widely feared organization know as the Illuminati, who may or may not be wrapped up in the mystery. Angels and Demons preceeds The Da Vinci Code.

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – Rand’s 1200-page novel Atlas Shrugged is a hymn of praise to the concept of rugged individualism, personified in John Galt. This polemic for Rand’s philosophy of “rational self-interest” has been a steady seller since it was published in 1957.

9. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – J. D. Salinger’s famous and enduring chronicle of Holden Caulfield’s journey from innocence to experience is the quintessential coming-of-age novel. Salinger’s 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye was a bestseller and became an immediate cult favorite, but it has also, over the years, been subject to criticism and even censorship because of its liberal use of profanity, its frank conversations about sex, and its generally irreverent view of the adult world.

10. The Holy Bible – The most popular and best-selling book of all time is the Holy Bible . No book has had more influence on the world. Its pages tell the story of the creation, fall, and redeption of mankind and the coming of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The Bible contains epic stories of history, heroism, and hope.

My list:

1. The Bible – Tenth on AOL’s list?  That seems like an AOL nod to the religious right after listing Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code.  Since “no book has had more influence on the world,” shouldn’t it be listed first?  Whatever.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I’m a broken record when advocating for this book.  There is no character in literature more compelling than Owen Meany.  How can you go wrong with a book that begins, “I AM DOOMED to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – AOL’s description doesn’t do it justice, but mine likely wouldn’t either.  Just read the book.

4. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein – Good choice.  I’d suggest The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis for those who would rather stay above ground.  Tolkein and Lewis were friends and engaged in a friendly competition of storytelling, so I don’t see why their books can’t stand alongside each other on a shelf (or in our hands).

5. Watchers by Dean Koontz – Although The Stand is a good one, I tend to prefer Koontz over King – although King is a GREAT writer.  Just my preference, I’m willing to be friends with King fans (I liked IT, the Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption).  Watchers gave rise to Fear Nothing and Seize the Night (with Chris Snow and friends) and caused me to want to befriend a dog named Einstein.  I also give a HUGE nod to the Odd Thomas series by Koontz.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – How could Dickens be left from the list?  Great Expectations is richly descriptive about life in Victorian England.  A historical treat about the illusions of life.  A nod also to A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist.  Just read something by Dickens at least once in your lifetime, even if it is the ever popular A Christmas Carol.

7. What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza – An interesting read for Christians and Atheists alike.  It is a reluctant look at Christianity with equal skepticism toward atheism.  A fascinating read.

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A frightening look at a society we seem determined to emulate.  A nod also to The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

9. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Although I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, I prefer Ralph, Piggy, and the Savages and their loss of innocence while developing their own sense of self and society.

10. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – An excellent look at the colonization of Africa through the eyes of a tribal chief.

11. Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  An amazing tale of courage… with a twist.

I realize I have listed 11 rather than 10 and that a couple of these are not on my personal top 10, but these are the books that (I think) are more than a guilty pleasure.

I have nothing against Harry Potter, Dan Brown, or Ayn Rand (I realize I’m wandering between a fictional character and a couple of authors), I’ve just never read them and so don’t feel comfortable suggesting them to anyone else.  They are on my TBR list, I just haven’t made it to them yet – I have found other material more compelling at the moment.  Perhaps after reading them I’ll add them to a must read list.

23 responses to “Ten Books to Read Before you Die

  1. We have very different lists. I would list:

    Homer: The Iliad
    Homer: The Odyssey
    Plato: The Republic
    Cervantes: Don Quixote
    Dante: The Divine Comedy
    Stendahl: The Red and the Black
    Tolstoi: War and Peace
    Flaubert: Madame Bovary
    Darwin: Origin of Species
    Mark Twain: The Education of Huckleberry Finn

  2. Pingback: Ten books to read « Later On

  3. I like your list … while we haven’t done our own list at our blog, many of your choices are among our favorites. I was particularly impressed by your inclusion of Watchers by Dean Koontz, which is a book that never fails to make me cry. (That’s a good thing.)

    Have you read Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones? I suspect you may enjoy it, especially since you listed Great Expectations on your top 10.

  4. I would never attempt such a list. Here is a comment on The Illiad that you will appreciate.

    ti[NYT Magazine, 2/16/97, Classics Revival article


    qt:….Chesterton wrote that for expressing the depths of the human spirit, the last man alive could do no better than “to quote the ‘Illiad’ and die.”

  5. LeisureGuy – thank you for a wonderful list.

    Ann – I like the site you and Michael have created. I particularly appreciate your encouragement of mom and pop bookstores (at least that’s what I call them). My favorite closed a while back and I’m having trouble finding a new favorite.

    Bob, thank you for a great and thoughtful article. It’s nice to read something in the media that isn’t written for an eighth grader. I enjoy Chesterton and loved the quote.

  6. A great profile of Chesterton in last week’s New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik IIRC. Not on-line, though—too bad.

  7. I remember reading some Koontz a looong time ago; in two different books the plot twists hinged on a hermaphadite (sp?). I just never found him believable. King, on the other hand, creates characters so rich that the reader leaves the story feeling like the protagonist is a good friend, and secondly, his stories are so scary, yet somehow plausible.

    I really like your list! Salinger, Martel, Irving– good stuff. I’m really into Philip K. Dick right now. I’ll subscribe and check in with you.

    Live long and Prosper,

    The Red Shirt Guy

  8. Leisure Guy – Thank you for the tip. I was able to find the abstract on line: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_gopnik
    Here are a couple of responses to the article by the Chesterton Society: http://americanchestertonsociety.blogspot.com/2008/07/new-yorker-article.html
    and the Catholic Herald: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/articles/a0000326.shtml
    I have never read either publication, but found them while searching for information on the Gopnik article. Again, thank you.

    Red Shirt Guy – I agree that King is a great writer. Try Watchers or Odd Thomas if you are willing to give Koontz another try.

    Thanks for the response.

  9. If the Bible’s on there, I’d include any collection of Greek myths worth the pages they’re printed on.

    Good thought, thanks. Roman myths are good too, just different versions of the Greek’s.

  10. Your top 3 books are spot on! I was never expecting A Prayer for Owen Meany to be so amazing when I cracked it open. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

    I miss Owen Meany.

  11. I like your top 11 much better – how can 2 dan brown books possibly be in a list like that? I would replace Things Fall Apart with What is the What (about the one of the Lost Boys of Sudan), but I haven’t read Things yet…

    Good book, but you should read Thing Fall Apart for the historical (fiction) context.

  12. Ooh, I love a good book list! I still have managed to read all of Lord of the Rings yet. Which is saying something cos I read anything and everything. It just hasn’t grabbed me.

    I LOVED Life of Pi. Other favourites include:
    Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
    His Dark Materials Trilogy – Phillip Pullman – absolutely brilliant – the thinking teen’s Harry Potter
    Arrival – Shaun Tan – the most beautiful, evocative and poignant picture book – must have/read/look(??) for all!

    And that was my 2 cents!

    I am really enjoying your blog so far. I like the more mature perspective 😉

    I’m getting old, but not that mature…
    I love book lists too (and reading the books on them).
    Thanks for the visit and comment.

  13. I can’t believe there are two Dan Brown books. I mean I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, but top ten? Really?
    Owen Meany is on my shelf, begging to be read.

    Heed the call…

  14. A prayer for owen meany was indeed one of the best i’ve ever read. i read it again immediately after finishing it.

    Wonderful. My favorite book. I’m glad you like it. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

  15. hey, thanks…working on a “to read” list for the summer. this helped tremendously. came up on my google search.

    Thanks for checking in and for commenting. I’m glad the list is helpful. I love to read.

  16. AOL’s list was based on a 2008 Harris poll on American’s favorite books. The pretty much copied it from there. The interesting thing is that on the Harris poll, the Bible was the first book listed and they listed it last here (I personally think the bible is literary garbage, but that’s just me).
    Anyway, shout out to the heathens at AOL!!!

  17. My list of books people should read before they die are only 4. those are the books i think have influenced me the most. There are great books i’m sure will come in to my list in the future but for now these are the sure things.

    1. East of eden
    2. All quite on the western front
    3. Ishmael
    4. Grapes of wrath

    Great list. I like them too.

  18. I dont have a top ten yet but I am working on it, the Good Earth by Pearl Buck is one book that burst my bubble so I would definitely include that. Always wanted to pick up Owen Meany and now I will make a point to do so.


    Well then, turn about is fair… I’ll have to read Good Earth. Thanks for the tip.

  19. Hey there,
    I came across your blog about fifteen minutes ago. I was searching for a ‘top ten books to read,’ found this, and started exploring your site. I am currently a college student and getting ready to graduate in about a year. Because of this, I have been trying to find ways to know how I am going to form and shape my life. In the time that I explored your site, I took away some inspiration about bits and pieces of how I do want my life to be, so,
    Thank you for that.
    I will continue to follow your blog because I truly feel you have a lot of interesting ideas (not to mention, great taste in books!).

    Best wishes.

    Thanks for the visit. I haven’t been particularly diligent about updating this blog lately, but hope to do better soon. I appreciate your comments.

  20. I just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and would easily place it on my top ten list. I am looking for a new book to read and will seek A Prayer for Owen Meany after reading your blog since so many people said that they liked it. Thanks…

    Thanks for the tip and thanks for the visit and comment. My son (15) is currently reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and loving it.

  21. I love your list and agree with it.The only one I haven’t read from your list is A prayer for Owen Meany.Maybe someday….

    Owen Meany is a great character and a great book. Thanks for the visit.

  22. Salinger rightly deserves it. I couldn’t stop thinking about Holden Caulfield, but Potter and two of Brown’s. Don’t think so, and Lord of the rings too?

  23. Pingback: Fictional works of non-fiction – Yes it does make sense. « notsodistantfriend

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