Top 10 Books Everyone Should Read
By Editorial Staff
Contributed by Cassie O’Shea, Catalogs.com Top 10 Guru
As with every art form, literary merit is highly subjective.
It is rather difficult to compile a list ranking works without omitting worthy pieces, and it is even more difficult to agree on the candidates.
With that in mind, this is not a list of the best, greatest, or most important books. Rather, it is a list of books that should be read by every living person in order to enrich their experience of life, provoke greater understanding of human nature, and encourage a healthy discourse about the state of mankind.
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10. Modern masterpieces
Many academics agree that Ulysses is one of the greatest books ever written in the English language. In fact, the Modern Library ranks it first on its 100 Best Novels list ranking the greatest English-language novels of the 20th Century. However, one could argue whether it was actually written in English! James Joyce employs a wide range of literary styles in this text, and seems to invent his own language quite often, which is one of the joys, and frustrations, of reading Ulysses. This enormous book covers only one day in the life of one man, but it inspires and astounds with its ability to fit so much more within its pages. Much like techniques used in another must-read novel that takes place on a single day, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Joyce employs a stream-of-consciousness style to bring to life the exact thoughts of his characters, in all their rambling glory.
No book list would be complete without a work by Charles Dickens. One of the greatest wordsmiths that ever lived, Dickens has continued to be wildly popular for his clever sense of humor, pinpoint characterizations, and morally explorative plotlines. Great Expectations is no exception, bustling with memorable characters such as the orphan Pip, the stunning Estella, and the deeply disturbing Miss Havisham. The spinster lives sequestered within her ramshackle mansion surrounded by a decaying garden, desperately clinging to a wedding day that never happened. The image of her aged form haunting her own home in her decrepit wedding dress and fawning over her rotting wedding cake is Dickens at his creepiest.
8. Anything by Austen
Another author that must be included on every book list is Jane Austen. Her most popular book, and arguably her best, is Pride and Prejudice. Even though it was published in 1813, Austen’s wry sarcasm, arch tone, and strong female characters make it just as appropriate to modern times as it was in its own era. One could possibly blame Austen for Hollywood’s creation of the romantic comedy. Certainly, many films today employ her formula involving two lovers starting off on the wrong foot, suffering through a series of misunderstandings and mishaps, but eventually discovering their true love for each other.
7. The Great American Novel
Many a retiree can be heard to say that they are going to take their newfound freedom write the “The Great American Novel.” However, this has already been done many times over! Many would agree that this title is currently held by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby. In fact, the Modern Library has named it second on their 100 Best Novels list. Following the rise and fall of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, the book encapsulates the glamour and underlying desperation of the 1920s in America. It also expounds on the theme of the American dream, with all of its promise and dangers. Another author who has made it on many lists discussing the great American novel is John Steinbeck. While many choose The Grapes of Wrath for its searing portrayal of the suffering of farm laborers during the Great Depression, his more ambitious novel, East of Eden, tackles a wider range of issues. It also includes one of the most chilling female characters ever written, the gruesomely inhuman, but believable, Cathy Ames.
6. Magical realism
Everyone should experience at least one book that employs magical realism in order to expand their consciousness and inspire their imagination. That, after all, is one of the joys of fiction – it is made up! So why not make it utterly fantastic by weaving in beautifully surreal and haunting elements within the context of a realistic story? One of the most beloved books of this nature is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Covering the lives of several generations within one family, the Spanish language book still impresses in its English translation. Another book that holds up wonderfully in translation is a delightfully bizarre and enchantingly mysterious book called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, written by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
5. Journey into other cultures
Another pleasure of reading is being able to delve into the daily lives and experiences of people from cultures entirely different from one’s own. Literature can bring the reader into worlds they would never be able to access in real life. Several amazing books in this category do this in memorable ways. Salman Rushdie’s famous and incredibly ambitious Midnight’s Children is one of the best. Covering India’s transitional period from British rule, Midnight’s Children pulls out all the stops in order to create a moving portrayal. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa are also beautifully written and emotionally powerful books set in India.
4. The literature of slavery
Lauded as the defining novel about slavery in America, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the most acute and disturbing portrayals of the hardships inflicted upon African Americans during this time. Utilizing a bit of magic realism and a matter-of-fact prose style, Morrison weaves a tale that doesn’t flinch from presenting the full extent of mankind’s capacity for suffering. Another gripping and heartbreaking presentation of the tremendous anguish experienced by many under slavery and its aftermath is told by Zora Neale Hurston in her book Their Eyes Were Watching God.
3. Chilling war stories
Exploring the inherent contradictions involved in warfare and the blindness of bureaucracy, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is one of the best satires ever written about any subject. The fact that the cutting wit and searing ridicule of this novel is welded against the very somber and serious subject of modern war makes it even more revolutionary. On the other end of the spectrum, Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, which details his guilt over surviving the Holocaust, is perhaps one of the most harrowing first-hand accounts of the atrocities committed during World War II and the irrevocable damage they inflicted upon mankind’s image of itself and God.
2. The Russians
One of the most memorable characters in all of literature has to be the villain Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Chilling because he bears many traits familiar in modern society, including selfishness, pride, and lazy morality, Raskolnikov’s act of murder and his attempts to justify it to himself are part of a complex psychological exploration of human nature developed over the course of this remarkable novel. Not to be outdone by their countryman, authors Leo Tolstoy and the modern master Vladimir Nabokov also create incredibly vivid characters that the reader can easily identify with (even if they don’t want to!) while exploring more psychological and philosophical issues in War and Peace and Lolita.
1. Creepy visions of our future
George Orwell’s 1984 is one of the books most cited, especially in recent years, for its eerily accurate portrayal of the way governments seem to be headed. Orwell created the idea of a government acting as “Big Brother,” ruling as a dictatorship without the people being aware of their state through constant manipulation. It was terrifying when it came out in 1949 and even more haunting now when current events seem to follow a strikingly similar path to many of the themes in the book. Of course, there are also the chilling A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and the inventively prophetic A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, for readers who would like to question everything and sleep a little less soundly at night.
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