Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gramlich's 100 Books You Should Read: Part 1

I often have strong disagreements with those 100 books everyone ought to read lists. For one, they’re generally very narrow and limiting. There is a huge wealth of literature out there, and an educated individual knows about breadth as well as depth. An educated person doesn’t just read literary novels, or just nonfiction. Second, some entries in such lists seem rather extreme. I don’t think you necessarily need to read everything Shakespeare wrote, for example. I think there are a lot of authors people need to be familiar with, but a specific book by them might not be required. Third, the world has changed and continues to change. There are books that once were critical for an educated person to know about, but maybe that’s no longer true. Forth, there are books that get chosen for such lists because they've been anointed by some “expert” along the way and no one is willing to really say the truth, which is that they suck. All of this is by way of saying that I’ve made my own list and annotated it. And now I’m going to blog it. The list is pretty long so it’ll take several days to get it all in. I make my start today. Feel free to disagree or argue. That’s one thing that makes these lists fun.

1. The Bible. Whether you believe in it or not, there is no arguing with the cultural importance and influence of this book.

2. The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin. Probably the most important scientific book ever written. Profoundly influential in every aspect of the modern world.

3. The Koran. Included for the same reasons I included the Bible.

4. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Twenty years ago I’d not have hesitated to include this. It’s importance seems to have faded a bit, but I’m keeping it for now.

5. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Considering my love of books, I sort of have to include what is typically recognized as one of the very first modern novels. Sections of it are incredibly boring, but it has also widely influenced modern fiction all the way from Ray Bradbury to Star Trek.

6. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. I’m not sure anyone has ever seen nature more clearly or appreciated it more. I love this work.

7. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Perhaps the most enduring classic the SF world has ever produced, or perhaps ever will. It rocks!

8. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. A major influence on both science fiction and horror, and just a damn good novel with a lot of important themes running through it.

9. At least some Shakespeare. I don’t think one needs to read everything Shakespeare ever did, but his plays have been so influential on modern literature, theater and movies that I think everyone ought to have some exposure, particularly to plays like “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Macbeth.”

10. The Odyssey, by Homer. Great adventure novel. Highly imaginative. One of the roots of fantasy fiction. I love this one too.

11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Not the first vampire novel but certainly the most influential one.

12. A book’s worth of Edgar Allan Poe, including his poetry. Many “100 books to read” lists “short” the short story writer. I’m not going to do that. In many genres the short story has been as important or more important than the novel. Poe is the grandfather of the detective story and a huge influence on the horror genre. I especially recommend such stories as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” One can hardly go wrong with Poe.

13. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Hugely influential, and fun. Probably the best known ghost story of all time.

14. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The prototypical Sword & Planet novel, a big influence on fantasy fiction and on the field known as Space Opera. One of the best sheer adventure novels ever.

15. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s best tale, although some of his short stories are outstanding as well. Pretty much any Hemingway would be good, except for The Torrents of Spring, which is horrible and not Hemingwayesque at all.

16. At least something by John Steinbeck. I recommend, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, or Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck is sometimes a bit pretentious but he really understood the human condition and the world of the rural poor.

17. Something by Dr. Seuss. Seuss is an icon, the most important children’s author ever, I would argue. I’d recommend The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Oh the Places You’ll Go, although I also have a fondness for Green Eggs and Ham and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

18. A book’s worth of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m not a huge fan but Holmes is iconic and these stories have been hugely influential. My favorite is probably “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

19. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Almost all Bradbury is worthwhile but this one is probably the most politically and culturally relevant.

20. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. Best book I’ve ever read. Luminescent prose. No book has ever affected me more.
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41 comments:

Angie said...

I've actually read at least some of most of these, which is pretty good. :) I've read some of the Koran, but not all of it. And I studied The Communist Manifesto in history, but we didn't read the whole thing. I've buzzed around the Bible, both casually and from a historical perspective, enough that I've probably read all the OT if you add it all up, and most of the NT. Never just sat down and read the whole thing, though.

I agree about sampling Shakespeare and Poe and Steinbeck and such. [nod] People who are really into an author can do the completist thing, but I don't think you need to in order to count yourself an educated, well-read person.

Also agree about short story writers in general. Novels get most of the attention, even today, but there's some awesome stuff in shorts.

And Seuss, yes! :) I think those count as short stories, but however you file it, there's great stuff in there.

Dune is awesome, and no need to read the sequels. Herbert didn't want to write them -- when Dune started selling gangbusters, his publisher pressured him to produce sequels of what was meant to be a stand-alone, or so I've heard. I believe it, because his reluctance shows in the later books. :/

I'll admit I've never touched Moby Dick and have no current plans to change that. [hides under keyboard] Maybe some day.

I've actually never heard of The Snow Leopard; I'll check it out.

Angie

David J. West said...

I have read most if not all of these (a bit of the Koran, Origin of Species and Communist Manifesto) except Snow Leopard. Still need to track that down.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I wish I could read Arabic. In English, the Koran has a lot of redundancy, but I hear in Arabic it's very beautiful.

David, I'm not sure anyone outside of science needs to read all of the Origin of the Species but I actually found it a pretty easy and enjoyable read.

ArtSparker said...

I like that Edgar Rice Burroughs is mingling with Herman Melville on your list.

Two books that I think everyone should read are Young Torless by Robert Musil and The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. The first reveals the emotional roots of fascism, the second calls for paying attention, really paying attention, to our lives.

Ty Johnston said...

Great list so far. Looking forward to the rest of them.

I've read nearly all of the 20 listed. No real nitpicks. There are a few I don't care for (I still don't get why Dune has the following it does, though it's not an awful novel by any means), but I recognize their importance to literature.

Charles Gramlich said...

Artsparker, haven't read either. I'll have to check them out.

Ty, I actually liked Dune very much when I read it. I appreciate the amazing imagination in it as well.

Deka Black said...

Totally agree with the disliking of "To read lists". And abutr the list you've made...

1-Yeah. As a kid, the priest who teached in the school makes us read the book teaching us about the most adventurous parts (as akid i liked above all Samson and the daniel part. Is like a superhero tale)

2-Imprtant indeed!

3-I always wanted toread it. But in arabic!

4-I had a teacher who was member of the CP here in Spain. Fun teacher

5-I must confess is a very boring book to me, sorry :(

6-Never read it. Is about a Utopia or something like that, right?

7-True indeed. But for Herbert's sake... Don't read the prequels!!!

8-For some reason, this book makes me think about my girlfriend.

9-Today, is "high culture". Back in his days... was very very popular. Very ironic ;)

10-I like tis. But i hate the characters og Achilles. He seems so... arrogant.

11-yeah, is good. but i like more Carmilla. More sensual to me ;)

12-“The Cask of Amontillado,” my first and still my favorite tale of Poe. And i tied once to learn The Raven... in english. Nevermore :P (sorry for the bad joke).

13-I LOVE the versions of A Christmas Carol

14-What can i say? I would like have Tax Tharkas as friend.

15-Never read Hemingway. I'm sick? ;)

16-Never read Steinbeck, sorry :(

17-I'm not sure if Dr. Seuss waspulished in Spain...

18-Mine... is one about messages writed with Stick men.

19-Is a very scary book. very.

20-never heard of it i fear :(

the walking man said...

14,18,20 I have not read.

But the Dickens, A Christmas Carol you are right is probably his most well known and for it's time a good ghost story but I think to get a feel for him you really need to read his other works to find his formula.

Especially his novels that started out as serials. Published weekly or monthly over the course of a year or so. Still one of my favorite writers.


Also not just the Koran but at least a little touch of the Gita's and the words of Siddharta. Just to round out the knowing that with little exception (The New Testament being the largest variant) say pretty much the same things about living and life.

ivan said...

Agree with your entire suggested list.
Intrigued by your sentence, "Fourth, there are books that get chosen for such lists because they'e been annointed by some “expert” along the way and no one is willing to really say the truth, which is that they suck."

To do an abrupt segue, does this ever apply to Canadian films! Overseas, we are known as "Sick Canada" because of our our films, money for these forcibly extracted from us taxpayers.

Latest masterpice was called "Young People F*cking"-something I really would like to see becaue of my hankering for carnal sights, but high art?
As for Canadian literature what I have to say would be dangerous for an author eternus famishus- famishus, but you only need to ask your wife Lana, a Canadian who will tell you straight out which Canadian books could be sponsored by Hoover or Electrolux or Commodore vacuum cleaners.

One standout was "Barney's Version" an excellent novel made into a film which deservedly just won the Golden Globes...But that film was not made in Canada.

Myself, I've been a fan of Mordecai Richler for years, ever since he helped to put John Braine's excellent novel to film in that great BBC version of "Room at the Top"--Lord, could I identify with that film and later TV series as a young man on the make in Toronto!
Come to think of it, Mordecai Richler, as his London laurels began to tarnish a bit, used to teach creative writng at a local university.
Heh. That is the one thing I had in common with the great man.
As for the talent,well, shucks.

Gaston Studio said...

I've read most of these and loved each one. Been trying to purchase The Grapes of Wrath to read again but have found it banned. Horrible!

sage said...

I like your rational for the list... I've read 14 of these and now all the authors except Frank Herman. Maybe I should add Dune to my list.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Thanks for posting your list. Interesting thoughts and I look forward to more.

David Cranmer said...

Many fine suggestions and my list of the top twenty would include many you have here.

nothing profound said...

I realize you're just beginning your list, so these may eventually be on it. But I'd add:

Leaves of Grass-Walt Whitman
Tao-Teh-Ching-Lao-Tzu
Essays-Montaigne
Middlemarch-George Eliot
Colossus of Maroussi-Henry Miller

G said...

Lets see what I can come up with for comments:

1) Read some back when I was a lad, but now use it for research purposes.

2) no.

3) no.

4) no.

5) tried, but failed.

6-8) no.

9) bits, pieces and parts.

10) tried, but failed.

11) no.

12) bits, pieces and parts.

13) corrupted by the movies, thus had no interest in the book.

14-16) no.

17) all the time. :D

18) Quite a bit. even found some written by Laurie King.

19) tried but failed.

20) no.

laughingwolf said...

yup, have read all, at some point...

awaiting the rest....

Charles Gramlich said...

Deka Black, there are indeed some good adventure stories in the Bible too, and some great characters. Moby Dick is pretty boring I would agree. It took me two years to get through it. Walden Two, by Skinner, is about a utopian society, Walden by Thoreau is about living in the woods. I bet you’d like “The Old Man and the Sea,” and it’s not one of those longggg works.

Mark, I’m probably barely over the limit on Holmes too. I’ve read about a book’s worth but there’s plenty I haven’t read. I like Dickens’ short stories pretty well. You’ll see some other spiritual type books coming up later in my list.

Ivan, I believe it’s absolutely true of films too. And paintings. There’s a lot of that anointing going on. I will list something erotic on my list later on.


Gaston Studio, banned? Really? I didn’t know that. It does have some sexual imagery but nothing that you’d think would get a work banned.

sage, To me, Dune has a lot of serious and literary elements to it in addition to being a good adventure. His projects of religion into the future are particularly interesting.

Paul R. McNamee, 80 more to go!


David Cranmer, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of them in order because I don’t know how to do that with so many good books, but it would be interesting to see what order folks would assign them to.

nothing profound, a couple of these will indeed appear. I’ve never read Middlemarch. I should get to that soon.


G, I came close to failing on both the Koran and Moby Dick, but I’m a stubborn SOB when I get something into my head.


laughingwolf, just another 80 to go.

AvDB said...

I've read parts of the bible. I'm actually well-versed in the Book of Job, oddly enough. I've yet to read the Koran, though.

I, too, am a fan of Hound of the Baskervilles. I remember seeing the old Basil Rathbone movie version when I was in fifth grade and just loving it. I asked for the stories for Christmas and plowed through them in a week.

Steinbeck's The Red Pony completely messed me up when I read it in middle school. I still can't shake some of the imagery.

Fahrenheit 451 is also a favorite of mine.

jodi said...

Charles, I'm happy to see that you included the good Dr. Suess in your collection. Now, Heff can actually say he read something on the list!!!

BernardL said...

That's a better list than the ones I've seen for sure.

Deka Black said...

i will search the hemingway story .. in english, of course ;)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Great idea, Charles - looking forward to part 2.

Heather said...

Well, I've got Dr. Seuss covered! I haven't read the bible for years and as I'm not a religious person I don't even have one in the house. But I agree in it's historical significance and religious stories always get my mind churning. Other than that, I'm ashamed to say the only other ones I've read was a bit of Shakespeare and Poe back in high school. I look forward to the rest of your list!

Carole said...

Like some of the others I've never heard of The Snow Leopard. I will have to check it out.

I think you have a great list. Will look forward to the next installment.

Charles Gramlich said...

AvDB, The Red Pony was very good, and Cannery Row and Of Mice and men. All worthwhile reads.

jodi, lol. Yes, Dr. Seuss well deserves to be on this list.

BernardL, thankee man.

Deka Black, there are still quite a few copies of that one available I imagine.

Don, glad you are enjoying.

Heather, I've actually been rereading a lot of the Bible for a book I'm working on now and there is some intersting stuff.

Carole, I no longer remember how I stumbled upon the Snow Leopard but I'm glad I did.

Randy Johnson said...

A good beginning. I find no argument about not getting to all of a writer's work. It's virtually impossible to read everything by some writers and then have to miss something else.

Dune might be my favorite SF novel(the others much less so). The Old Man and The Sea, yes, is my favorite Hemingway(never been as enamored of him as some). On Shakespeare, I've enjoyed all the usual suspects and never touched the others(as you say, it's not necessary).

I suspect our crowd on the 'net might be the only ones that would include Burroughs("Burroughs!" sniffs the literary fans). Iwould include Tarzan on the list(I suspect you might somewhere down the line).

Dracula and Frankenstein almost certainly. The importance of both can't be understated. Same for Fahrenheit 451.

I've heard you speak of The Snow Leopard more than once.I really need to find that one.

Looking forward to the rest.

Randy Johnson said...

Hell, I forgot Poe. I honed a lot of my reading chops on his short stories.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Look forward to the rest of this list. I've already read most Conan Doyle and Dracula and Moby Dick too.

Oscar said...

I hope to run across God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell as more of the list is disclosed.

Travis Cody said...

I don't think I've been steered wrong once by following your lead where a book is concerned. I'll likely skip 1, 3, and 4 because I simply do not have the patience.

This is a good beginning to your 100. I like the idea of "something by". I agree that it may not be necessary to read every work by a particular writer. But familiarity is a good thing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy Johnson, I imagine you're right that ERB will get sniffed at by some. I think if you argue for huge influence though you can hardly forget the guy. And yeah, don't think you need to read every word of someone's work to get the basics.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin, I'm glad I finished Moby Dick, although it was not an easy read.

Oscar, you know, I have not read that, although I have it. I'm sure there are quite a few books that might have vied for positions on my list if I had read them. We all have weak spots, I imagine.

Travis Cody, thanks. Yeah, and I never see the "something by" on other lists. It seems like all or none too often.

Evan Lewis said...

Great list. I can check off 14 so far.

Charles Gramlich said...

Evan, I dreamt I was watching a movie last night in which you were listed as an actor. A western movie on top of that. I think the movie might have been made by Ron Scheer.

Gabby said...

I've actually read some of these (and some are on my to-read list), but I had to comment particularly about Frankenstein. I read it in college, in a British Fiction class. It was the first time I had ever actually read it and the discussions that we had in class were truly amazing. I agree with the mention of all the themes running through it (in addition to some symbolism as well). Always a book I recommend! (This is a fun list! ^_^)

Ocean Girl said...

I left a message here thanking you for the list but can't find it. Anyway, want you to know that I am learning of good books list from you.

jennifer said...

I LOVE that you included Dr. Seuss. His books were entertaining to read as an adult to my child and memorable for children that were read to. WE particularly enjoyed Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? although we read several Dr. Seuss books repeatedly.

I agree with reading religious books of other faiths, even though I haven't done it myself. I still haven't made it all the way through the my religion's book, the Bible (there are some Old Testament books that I haven't read yet), so of course, the others will have to wait.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first part of your list!

Charles Gramlich said...

Gabby, I can't remember when I first read Frankenstein. Pretty young, and much earlier than I read Dracula. It's definitly a great story.

Ocean Girl, glad you are enjoying. Thanks for visiting.

jennifer, Dr. Seuss rules.!

Jodi MacArthur said...

boy am I behind on blogs! I think you have a fantastic list here. And unsurprisingly, many of your choices are mine too. ;-) You know, I havent studied the Koran, but would absolutely love too. But trying to translate from the actual language into our language. Phew! Years of study. But it would be worth it. I would love to do this with 1001 Nights (Arabian Nights) manuscript. That book absolutely fascinates me and seems to be as old as time itself. ;-) One of my favorite studies have been translating the bible from greek and latin with all the different, oh what do you call thems... lexicons? I can't remember the names. I have all these books on root words and translations. I think the bible, whether people hold it as up as the actual word of god or not, to be full truth and humanity. It is a shame that it is mistreated and made fun of in our culture.

ps. I finished your book. It has evoked so many different thoughts that seem to shoot in different directions! I need to write them all down before I forget them all. I'll be working on a book review for you as time and brain clarity allows. ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, I agree about the Bible. One doesn't have to take it literally to find things of interest. Following it literally seems dangerous to me, but then I'd say that was about true of any written work.

Barbara Martin said...

Most I've read and would like to re-enjoy again, like Fahrenheir 451.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barbara, I occassionally reread something but there are so many books I 'want' to read that I don't often go back to something I have read.