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.
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.
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.