Books to read before you die. Or sooner, really.
I was checking out my local independent bookstore recently for Christmas gifts when my daughter made a comment about a certain ‘classic’ novel she had yet to finish. No surprise, it has fairly dense writing and the subject matter isn’t exactly easy. On my drive home, it occurred to me that there are a lot of books that may or may not have earned the designation of classic, but certainly are on my list of suggestions for people to read. Or give as gifts. Here are a few suggestions from my decidedly feminist, animal-loving, poetically leaning bookshelves:
Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. I love this book. I first read it as a high school sophomore and it was an instant favorite. Great YA novel but the themes are mature enough for adults too.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Told from the point of view of Enzo, the family dog, this is a heart-wrenching tale that should not be missed. Enzo has a uniquely canine sensibility as well as a keen sense of humor and his love for his family is evident on every page. If you have dog people on your holiday gift list, they’ll love this book.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s language is the reason this book makes my list. Yes, this is a compelling story of the Jazz Age between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, full of obsession and ambition, but it’s also an inventive and interesting narrative. Plus, actress Sigourney Weaver got her name from Daisy’s aunt in this novel.
The Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey. Full disclosure: I am a huge McCaffrey fan and own nearly all of her books, but Crystal Singer was my first encounter with her creatively different sci fi. The main character of this novel fails her final exam in music and instead of settling for life in the choir of major musical performances, she meets an intriguing stranger and heads out with him to the myth-shrouded world of Ballybran to work as a crystal singer. This is the first in a series of three and I loved all the books, but this one stands alone and is the best.
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. I first read this in high school as well and it instantly clicked with me. Martian Michael Valentine visits Earth and while he learns about our culture, he teaches us about his.
Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. The very proper girls’ school I attended did not ask us to read this novel as one of the hundreds they recommended. Yet somehow I found it and devoured it. Although there are no true ‘heroes’ in the novel and Thackeray has a profoundly dark view of humankind, this novel sparkles with intelligence, observations on humankind and history.
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin. In college, I went through a period where I read every utopian and dystopian novel I could. This is one of the best. LeGuin develops an entire culture/world where all the pieces fit together and work and yet her outlook is so revolutionary, it really made me think. I also loved her book The Left Hand of Darkness, set in the same world.
Dune, by Frank Herbert. I adore this novel. It was one of my first experiences with sci fi and I was instantly hooked. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It is amazing. And don’t watch any of the movies they’ve made based on the series – none of them are worth the time. I’ve read most of this series, including the novels by Herbert’s son Brian and his co-writer Kevin J. Anderson. These two add to the genius of the Dune universe, giving us hundreds of years of backstory and much more.
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
East of the Sun, West of the Moon, compiled by Sir George Webbe Dasent. A classic translation of Norwegian folk tales
What are you reading this holiday season? What books are you giving?