Thusly this list came to be: Ten Great Books Everyone Should Read
And, almost more importantly, why.
In the category of Non-Fiction:
§ Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. As a Christian (and I would recommend this book to people who are not Christians, as well) it was very intriguing to read a book that takes Christianity and goes through it using logic to conclusion; it is very Aristotelian / Socratic to me, the way Lewis moved from step to step, going through the ideas, facts, and beliefs that make up the Christian faith. Knowing that Lewis was also coming from a non-Christian background (he was actually quite the critic, once upon a time) it was incredible to see him take a belief system he used to look at in skepticism and work it from the ground up. A great read for all who want to learn more about Christianity.
§ All Creatures Great and Small and companion books by James Herriot. You can smell the sheep. Herriot’s descriptions of being a vet in the back country of farmland England are hilarious, detailed, and compelling, revealing not only a unique picture into vet life in the 20th century but also the rustic environment of English farms and their occupants (both furry and not). It doesn’t feel like non-fiction. It feels like sitting next to your favorite uncle and hearing his anecdotes about all the mischief he got into.
In the category of Adult Fiction/Fantasy:
§ The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The father of modern fantasy as we know it, Tolkien spent decades crafting The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a have-to-read on any book-lover’s list. Not only does Tolkien weave a tale of high fantasy that is compelling and filled with human decision and relation, sword and sorcery, dark lords and elves and little folk, but he also forces you to use your imagination while reading it. He employs a very complex form of writing that is both detailed and sparse—you’ll have to put your visualizing hat on for this one, folks. Imagine this trilogy like a dark chocolate torte with a shot of espresso, and you’ll be close to the mark.
§ Yukon Writings by Jack London. I was thatkid who carried around my father’s leather-bound copy of the Complete Works of Jack London at the age of 10, and the Yukon Writings were by far my favorite. Spanning from the ice-encrusted wilds of wolfdom to the dangerous and intense world of dog-sledding, London was certainly a huge influence on my craving imagination. He has an evocative way of writing that makes you feel the cold. A great tale to read curled up next to a fire with a hot cup of your favorite toddy.
§ Outlander and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, usually, but this series was obsessing. A romantic comedic fantastical time-travel wild ride, Outlander takes a post WWII nurse and flings her back into 18th century Scotland where she is faced with all the complications and dangers of that war-torn time. This is a book that makes you learn something about culture and history without knowing it. And you’ll love it, too.
In the category of Science Fiction:
§ Young Miles and the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is the science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction (and for people who love science fiction, you won’t be able to put them down!). Bujold is the ultimate master at character description and development, weaving seamless heroes and villains who are so real they could jump off the page with their blasters and space ships and land in your living room. The main character, Miles Vorkosigan, is the ultimate in charismatic, loose cannon miscreants who is just genius enough not to get himself killed ten times over. The ultimate space saga.
§ I, Robot and the Robot series by Isaac Asimov. We used to read these stories as campfire tales while buried deep in the mountains, far away from all technology and thoughts of futuristic robotics. It’s nothing like the movie, folks, and that’s in favor of the book. Isaac Asimov is one of the king’s of science fiction, and his Robot stories (including his mysteries with the detectives Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw) are a pillar of the science world. Hilarious and adventurous with a hefty ladling of sarcasm and irony.
§ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. LeGuin is the only writer I know to seamlessly (and I do mean seamlessly) combine fantasy and science fiction into once genre. And while The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction novel, the essences of deep myth and lore round out the edges into a single pearl of storytelling. Genly Ai is an ambassador on the planet Winter, a sphere locked in an ice age and inhabited by a race that is both male and female at the same time. The struggles to interact with such a people (when the King becomes pregnant, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore) and the political intrigue form a social, scientific, mythological race for survival that takes Ai across the tundra and back again.
In the category of Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy:
§ Beauty by Robin McKinley. This book is my favorite version of Beauty and the Beast that I have ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. McKinley is a chef with words and descriptions, and her characters are likable, lovable, hilarious, heart-wrenching, and relatable. You get to know the beast as much as you get to know Beauty, and with each page you’ll find yourself rooting for them as they struggle to understand their curse.
§ Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. You may have seen the movie by Miyazaki that is based off of this book, and as a die-hard fan of Miyazaki’s work I can confidently say that the book is way better. Which means it’s plain fantastic. Full of slightly ironic comedy and enchantment, this is a high-urban fantasy mix full of wizards and witches and talking fireplaces.
§ Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce. What do you get when you put the Trickster god in the same room as the daughter of the realm’s spymaster? You get this book, is what you get. Pierce will make you want to put on your gloves and take up the intelligencing business yourself as she transports you from palaces to slaveships to tropical islands where intrigue and plots will challenge all of Aly’s skills at sneaking, networking, and puzzling to good use. Plus a handsome, endearing crow-man named Nawat who wants to give Aly ants as a courtship present. Enough said.
In the category of Honorable Mentions (because when I say ten I can’t just pick ten):
§ Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip, for making me read this book every single year at wintertime and for descriptions so delicious you could eat them.
§ Double Exposure by Piers Anthony, for an amusing flip-of-the-coin genre twist between science fiction and fantasy where high fantastical witchcraft and wizardry lies side by side in cross-dimensional travel with robots and stun guns.
§ Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, for introducing me to a new fairy tale and for weaving characters who sucked me in so deeply I was groaning and cheering almost immediately.
§ Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, for an end you’ll never see coming where child-geniuses battle it out in anti-gravity war rooms as the destruction of humanity looms.
§ Dune by Frank Herbert, for another mix of myth and hard science fiction and political intrigue on a desert planet where the spice rules and enormous worms travel beneath the sand.
§ The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, for the best interstellar story about a cross-universal empire and the political upheaval that spans lightyears.
And if all that isn’t enough for you, here’s a list of 100 MORE books you can add to your pile of Have-To-Read-Sometime-In-My-Life.
Because we’re readers. And readers need lists of books. It’s like a hit list.
Er, sort of. We’ll call it a bucket list instead. A book bucket list. A booket list.
I’m stopping now.