Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gramlich's 100 Books You Should Read: Part 3

Here's my third installment of the list. Just one more to go.

51. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. Animals have been used many times to illustrate human heroism and human villainy. It’s never been done better.

52. Something by Jack London. People talk most about Call of the Wild and White Fang, but the best thing London did were his short stories, like “To Build a Fire” and “A Piece of Steak.”

53. Plutarch’s Lives, by Plutarch. Louis L’Amour introduced me to this book and it’s definitely worth reading, particularly as an introduction to historical literature and biography.

54. Something by Dashiell Hammett. One of the first noir writers. Many folks recommend The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man. Both are worthwhile, but I actually like Red Harvest the best.

55. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. The best introduction to our planet, solar system, and universe I’ve ever read. An excellent source of information about science, and full of Sagan’s sense of wonder, which I found contagious.

56. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I felt I should include at least one modern poetry collection, and Thomas is my favorite poet and the one who has most influenced me. His influence has extended much further than that, though

57. Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer. With one exception, this book is a relentless expose on pseudoscience and superstition. A very good lesson in rational thinking.

58. The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs. Besides being pretty funny, this book really examines the difficulties one stumbles upon in trying to live a religious life based on the Bible. It shows very clearly that an absolutely literal interpretation of the Bible is neither possible nor desirable.

59. Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. One of the funniest and most endearing books I’ve ever read. I was assigned this book and griped around for a week about being ‘told’ what to read. But from the first page I was hooked and roaring with laughter. Mowat’s sensitivities for wild creatures is inspiring.

60. Something by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley is probably our greatest naturalist since Thoreau. All his nature essays are outstanding. I recommend his collection called The Night Country most, but The Immense Journey is also awesome.

61. The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom. An indictment on higher education in America, and the problems he pointed out in 1987 are still with us today. In fact, they’re growing worse.

62. House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday. One of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, second only to The Snow Leopard. A novel about a Native American character by a Native American author.

63. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. To my chagrin, I’ve never read this. Considering that it’s generally judged one of the cornerstones of modern western literature I think I better get to it. I think we all should.

64. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Love this book. Perhaps the archetypal story of marooning, and quite a few books and films have taken their cue from it, including a decent SF film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

65. The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Very old stories, from the 14th century, written in a form of English very different from our modern tongue. Thus, they are difficult to understand and there is a voluminous concordance that usually goes with it to explain meanings and differences. I’ve never read all of it but have read a number of selections. Shows how much English has changed.

66. Something by Nathanial Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables are his best known and I liked both, but I prefer his short stories. An important American writer.

67. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison. A collection of Science fiction stories from 1967. It broke emphatically with the prototypical SF story and introduced the “New Wave” of SF, which dominated for the next few decades. New Wave put far less emphasis on technological advancement and exploration and adventure, and far more on social and political issues. Although the stories in this collection are awesome, the New Wave also produced some stinkers in my opinion. However, any modern SF writer from the literary side of the field owes a debt to Dangerous Visions.

68. The Virginian, by Owen Wister. This work, published in 1902, is considered the first “Wild West” novel It generally created the cowboy hero stereotype. A bit slow for modern readers, at times, it’s a set of loosely connected stories without a main plot. It’s really a character study of the “Virginian,” but it’s enjoyable, if leisurely. I thought about putting Shane, by Jack Schaefer, here. It’s more of a prototypical western, but it saw print in 1949.

69. Something by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is my favorite modern literary writer. He creates compelling characters and still tells a great story. My favorite by him is The Road, and it’s one of his most approachable books, but I also liked All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men.

70. Something about Robin Hood. This is actually more about the character than a specific book. Everyone ought to know Robin Hood’s story. It’s been hugely influential in our culture, all the way to Star Trek.

71. Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant. One of the most influential philosophical texts of all time. A difficult read but it really does all make sense once you work your way through it.

72. Something about King Arthur. Like with Robin Hood, everyone should have some familiarity with King Arthur, which is probably the single most influential legend in Western Civilization. There are numerous books about Arthur. I’ve read quite a few, and you probably have too. Most canonical might be T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I’ve actually not read.

73. At least something from Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil are his best known works. I’ve read a fair amount about Nietzsche’s beliefs but have not read any book length materials actually by him. I need to correct that and will do so in the new year.

74. The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell. I’ve not read Campbell’s highly influential work because, from everything I’ve heard, I just don’t buy it. However, I of all people should know that what people say about a work and what the work itself says can be two separate things. I intend to get to this in the new year and figure most everyone ought to know something about it.

75. At least something from the greats of Russian Literature. That is Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and/or Anton Chekhov. From these writers, I’ve only read short stories. Nothing so far has made much impression on me, but I do want to try a novel by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, particularly War and Peace or Crime and Punishment. I’ve downloaded War and Peace to my Kindle but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to begin.

76. At least something from James Joyce. I’ve only read Joyce’s short work and it sucks. I have his most famous work, Ulysses, but have not the courage to confront that battle at the moment. I thought long and hard about including this. Joyce may have once been relevant but is he still? Maybe there’s a benefit to suffering through such a work, though, and if I have to then so do you.

77. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. Wilde has a sense of wry humor with an edge of cynicism that resonates with me. I don’t know why, since I have nothing else in common with him. Yet, his work is always a delight. This is his only published novel. More’s the pity.

78. A book’s worth of Robert E. Howard. Howard wrote mostly short stories, but few writers in history could throw readers more headlong into adventure. I’d suggest The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1: Crimson Shadows, from Del Rey, which includes many of his best pieces and gives a good sample of his work.

79. The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson. Fantasy has never been done better, and I include The Lord of the Rings in that judgment.

80. Something from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. There are 7 volumes in the series and I think once you read one you’ll want to read all. I did. This remains the only series, ever, that I read entirely back to back, without taking a break between books. The first couple are clearly for younger readers but by three the series really hits its stride. That one is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.


nephite blood spartan heart said...

I got 23 this time. I'm reading The Thin Man right now, but have herad great things about Red Harvest-I'll have to track down a copy.
My Mom read Never Cry Wolf to me when I was 6 or 7 because I was fascinated with wolves.
Cormac McCarthy is a favorite-I'd recommend you check out Blood Meridian.
I also think Joyce sucks (least what I've read of his)

Evan Lewis said...

This list started out with some real toughies, but I rallied and came out with 15. When you're done I'll have to make a list of the leftovers and tack it on the fridge.

Angie said...

52. "To Build a Fire" is excellent -- short and harsh.

65. We watched a video about the history of English language and dialects in a Brit Lit class in college, and it had a section on Canterbury Tales. One interesting thing I remember is that as of Chaucer's day, English spelling actually made sense. Caveat that spelling wasn't standardized until much later, but double letters actually meant holding the sound twice as long, and letters that are silent now were voiced. (Yes, including the "e" at the end of words like "bake" and "like", and weird "gh" combinations.) Pronunciation changed over the centuries, but a lot of the old spelling conventions hung on. English spelling still sucks, but somehow it helps to know that it did make sense at one point. :)

67. Funny story -- I've never been into Western fiction, and only peripherally into the movies and such, so color me ignorant on that subject, and much moreso as a teenager. So I was reading Dangerous Visions back in the 70s and came across a Philip Jose Farmer story called "Riders of the Purple Wage," which is a social engineering story about welfare, IIRC. Some years later I ran across a fantasy story, also by Farmer, called "Spiders of the Purple Mage," and I thought, Hey, haha, inside joke! A few years after that, I was browsing a drugstore bookrack and came across Riders of the Purple Sage, and sweartagod my first thought was, Whoa, this Zane Grey guy must be a major Farmer fan! [hiding under keyboard]

76. The novels suck just as much. I was supposed to read Portrait of the Artist in high school and could not get through it. I think I bailed out somewhere around Chapter Four. I listened to class discussions well enough to fake the essay exam and get a B without having to subject my bleeding eyeballs to any more of Joyce's prose, go me.


the walking man said...

I didn't hit very many on this list. I must have been going to gently into that long good night.

Instead of "Crime and Punishment" (snooze fest for me)try the less popular "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky or the 12 chairs by Chekhov if you haven't read that yet. Pretty different showing of the Russian soul than whet we Americans perceive it to be.

Chaucer I like best un-abridged.

There were only a couple of more of this portion of the list that I have read.

Randy Johnson said...

Toughest list yet. I can only claim fourteen, though I do own a copy of THE ROAD.

BernardL said...

The lesson not to build a fire under a snow laden tree bough has stuck with me ever since reading London's story. Although it has been over four decades, I remember wishing for a happy ending and being haunted for days with the fire builder's fate.

laughingwolf said...

missed five here...

campbell is my all-time fave mythologist

if you get a chance, look into the website, 'mythinglinks', by kathleen jenks, she's superb

tons of info from around the world!

also a friend of mine on facebook....

AvDB said...

The Once and Future King is one of those key books that inspired me to write. Another good King Arthur book is the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Hate every other book she's written, but that one remains a desert island book for me--even after something like ten reads.

The Canterbury Tales were a fun read, once I got past the Middle English.

Gabby said...

Sadly, on this list, I have only read (that I remember) the Harry Potter series. Oh, no, wait, I did read many of the Canterbury Tales in college. I read them in my Medieval Literature class which I took for fun. Yes, for fun. I needed a higher level elective. THAT was the one I chose. It was a great class! ^_^

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, I've read Blood Meridian, and thought the writing was simply outstanding but the story didn't much engage me. I still read paragraphs from it once in a while for the flow of the prose.

Evan Lewis, cool. I thought some of these might be pretty esoteric.

Angie, it took great bravery to admit your "riders of the Purple sage," mishap. I well remember Farmer's stories too. Dangerous visions is an important work itself.

Mark, the Russians scare me, but I'm girding my loins for battle.

Randy, I think you'd like the Road, and it's really a short book and pretty fast read. It may have had particular relevance to me as a father.

Bernardl, I read just this last year a story by Louis L'Amour that was clearly modeled on "To Build a Fire," but had a happy ending.

Laughingwolf, I know I really need to make an effort to learn more about Campbell's stuff.

AvDB, I'm going to get to the Once and Future King pretty soon too, not at once, but not too far in the future.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gabby, you must have been posting just as I was. I still haven't read all the Canterbury tales myself.

sage said...

I've only read 10 of these... I'm now slipping and there are some gaps here that I need to fix! "The House Made of Dawn" goes on my TBR list.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Not too much on the list for me. I have read smattering of certain authors during college, but nothing extensive (e.g.; James Joyce.)

For Hawthorne shorts, I still vividly remember "Young Goodman Brown". (maybe because there was a short film to go along with it.)

I think some of these will get on my reading list - this year or next.

ArtSparker said...

Hawthorne is a funny one- There is something about his stories inparticular that are sort of comic bookish, I think because his characters are meant to represent qualities so they don't come across as human beings.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sage, House made of dawn is really a transcendent story, I think. I was hooked first by the great prose but the story also caught me.

Paul, I hope some other folks will make such lists. that way I'll get some good suggestions. I've already gotten some.

Artsparker, I hadn't really thought of that but you're right.

Virginia Lady said...

Cool set of lists. Read some, some are on my to-be-read pile, some I just can't get started on (James Campbell comes to mind), and some I haven't considered, so thanks for the list!

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Charles, thanks for your comment on Golden Eagles blog about my character.

I like your list. I've read all of Harry Potter. One interesting thing you may or may not know about King Arthur. My mother used to tell us that during WWII, the people of Britain believed that Churchill was Arthur returned to them in time of need. I made a similar legend for my fantasy novel that I'm currently promoting.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Golden Eagle said...

I read 55, 80, and several books on King Arthur.

Deka Black said...

well.. here i go with the 3th chapter of this serial (sounds very Doctor Who-like: The 100 Books")

51-never read it. But i've heard is a great book. And to be honest, i like stories starring animal characters (or ar least. humanoids. ¿Have you read "¿The Dead Lady of Clown Town?"

52-I've only read a Jack london story. I don't remeber the title, but have to do soemthing with a worldwide plague, (my memory is not very good at this moment)

53-Plutarch... Until i started ti studi Ancient History in the school i believed Plutarch was a dog. :P

54-Agree with you.His short stories are wonderful. But Red Harvest is truly great. Is fun see this book so praised by people who at the same time despise pulp.

55-Ok, never read it. Please, let me write my last will

56-Never heard of it, sorry. Poetry is a pending matter to me.

57-What exception, if i can ask?

58-A book i want to read. This kind of subject is better if talked about it in a fun way. life is too serious already ;)

59-Is aadventure book?

60-Another unknown to me. You are making me realize how many things i don't know! ;)

61-Problems with education ae present always. here in Spain you should see us... sad indeed, here and there :(

62-never heard of ot, sorry

63-In fact i read it whe i was only 15 years old. In ancient castilian, of course. I ended pity poor Don Quixote. heonly wanted to do good :(

64-readed as a kid. Joked plenty of times with calling "Tuesday" the servant of Mr. Crusoe.

65-My girriend read it as part oh her studies. She said: "Ancient english is fun!"

66-I know only the name of the authir :(

67-Alwas heard of the new wave, but i never had a clear idea bout what kind of writers are part of it. Only is disliked by many.

68-i recall a TV series by the same name... ¿is related?

69-Oh,No Country for Old men!

70-Robin Hood. Good choice. but i liked always more fray Tuck as a kid.

71-I must confess: Thanks to a very boring teacher, i don't want to read kant. Ever.

72-Agree. now i want to see Hood and King Arthur together!

73-Same as kant. My philoshper teacher was boring. He even can kill stones boring it.

74-I always mistake this writer for another campbell.

75-Ishard toread war and peace. More pages and will be a weapon.

76-XDDD Sorry for the laughs, But yes, from every indivual i kow who read this works, the answer is always the same: "Joyce sucks"

77-This book hae a very scary meaning.

78-Maybe i can sound exagerated, but i totally believe Robert E. Howard is in the Top 10 of best writers/storytellers of American and world literature. Yes, i like it. A lot.

79-I have this book! As a gift in fact!

80-i have readed all of them. The latest is a bit slow, but is the most scary, and frightening story in many parts u can read in many aspects.

Charles Gramlich said...

Virginia Lady, I'm hesitent about Campbell's stuff. so much of the stuff supposedly based on it has been rather silly. But I should find out what it's all about.

N. R. Williams , thanks for visiting. I did not know that about Churchill. That's actually very interesting.

The Golden Eagle, I've done a fair number of King arthur type books too.

Deka Black, One of Shermer's comments about racism was actually an unproven assertion that other evidence indicates isn't true. So in that case I think he was believing a weird thing himself. Never cry wolf is actually a nonfiction book, somewhat of a social study of wolves but with a lot of great stuff in it. I definitley disklike some of the new wave, but more that came after this. This really broke some new ground. Yep, there was a Virginian series, but it was somewhat before my time. Critique of pure reason was tough to get through. Yessss, Howard rocks, and so does Rowling.

Angie said...

I didn't care for all the New Wave stuff either, but it jolted SF out of a very clunky, pulpish rut. Before the New Wave, way too much SF was essentially a showcase for someone's neato-keen thought experiment, or explication of some wow-cool scientific phenomenon. Or just a set-up for more and bigger spaceships/planets/stars/galaxies to be blown up. Characterization was flat and crackly for the most part, and even plot could be hard to find.

New Wave as a whole was a bit too literary-artistique for my taste, but what followed after the wave died down was more likely to have interesting science and three-dimensional characters and decent plotlines.

That said, some New Wave was pretty awesome. I was a huge Ellison fan as a teenager, and Dangerous Visions has a lot of excellent stories in it. (Them, actually -- Again Dangerous Visions, the second volume, was good as well.) "A Toy for Juliet" gave me the shivers, and "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister" definitely broke barriers. And those are just a couple of stories I remember by name, out of an antho I haven't read in almost thirty years.


Steve Malley said...

Dammit, you've got me wondering what Weird THings' single exception is! :)

Ron Scheer said...

I've been out of the loop for a couple days, so I'm backing into this list for now. NEVER CRY WOLF was made into a great film with Charles Martin Smith.

Thanks for mentioning Loren Eiseley. He had a sense of time that made the Ice Age seem like it happened only last week - some of his otherwise scientific observations could make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. I had a similar feeling when I watched Werner Herzog's ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORD.

I always enjoy hearing Thomas read his Christmas story. You need a good translation for DON QUIXOTE. Nietzsche you have to read with a commentary because it's easy to misunderstand him. I recently discovered Howard's westerns. What a comic imagination...

Thanks. This was like wandering along the shelves of a good bookstore.

Scott said...


I was wondering when Robert E. Howard would show up! Your list continues to be interesting...can't wait to see the rest.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really appreciate your "something by" selections. It acknowledges that different readers will appreciate different novels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I agree, new wave was needed, but like so many such revolutions for a while it became TOO dominate and some of the good stuff from the old days were lost. Eventually though the results were good for SF. I liked Ellison a lot too, and I have DV 2, which is also a very good collection as you indicate.

Steve Malley, it had to do with him going for something that was politically correct about racism/sexism rather than something supported by data.

Ron Scheer, glad you enjoyed. Howard was certainly a very versatile author. And I really admire everything Eiseley has done.

Scott, you knew he'd be there, man. Had to be.

pattinase, I definitely think so.

Cloudia said...

Lucky the students exposed to you, Charles!

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral



Ty said...

I've read about half of the material listed here.

As I was reading , some of my thoughts:

Watership Down: Awesome, awesome story. I've read this novel at least a half dozen times over the years, and hope to read it again. It is a modern Odyssey, in my opinion, and one of many reasons I have pet house rabbits today.

Joyce ... hmm ... I like Joyce, though I admit he is a difficult read. Is he relevant today? Mostly, probably not. His stream-of-consciousness writing has gone out of style with the possible exception of some true literary types. He has helped me to frame ideas on how to tell some of my ideas for literary stories.

Cormac ... well, here I have to disagree, though admittedly I've only read The Road. I did not hate The Road, but I found it overly simplistic and mostly pointless, with the exception of the ending, which was still disappointing to me. It could have been told just as well, if not more strongly, in 10,000 words. Just my opinion.

Tolstoy ... I love War and Peace, but I'll never read it again. Just too darn long and too darn heavy on my mind, and there's so much going on with Tolstoy's writing that it's almost impossible to keep up with his sub-texts and themes unless one has a truly strong background in classical literature, theology, Russian history, the French Revolution, the Napoleanic wars, etc. I knew enough to muddle through, and the footnotes helped.

Bob Howard ... yes, definitely. The man could write. I've always felt kind of bad that he's known best for his Conan tales when he has written so much more and was moving away from fantasy toward the last year or two of his career and was leaning toward historical writing. A major loss to literature, in my opinion. And I want to add, there's nothing wrong with his Conan stories or other S&S tales; those are great, but I always feel he deserves more credit for his non-fantastical works.

the walking man said...

Charles I was in my early teens when I first read Chekov. And Dostoevsky for the first time in my early 20's. I think for entertainment of reading the Russians and other Eastern European authors you just have to immerse yourself in the language and find an edition that was translated well.

My only real criticism of them is that they are definitely more wordy than Western Authors, probably drove Hemingway mad.

Solzhenitsyn got away from that verbose style. Try "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" A 24 hour fictionalized account of a gulag prisoner. A short novella.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, lol. They may not think so.

Ty Johnston, The Road is definitely Cormac's simplest book, by far. It might not have touched me so strongly without the very close relationship I have with my own son. I think that really impacted me as much as anything. I'm going to get to War and Peace before long. I like Howard's historical tales best, like in Sowers of the Thunder. His fantasy was a big influence on me of course.

Mark, thanks for the heads up on solzhentizen. I'll definitely have a look for that one. Sounds like I could handle it.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Watership Down. YES. Robinson Cruesoe~ Man, oh, man. I've read so many times. That book is priceless. I love it. Again. Lots of good choices here.

jodi said...

Charles' this list thong is so cool, although I don't see u posting it as a contest-as many seem to think it is. I'm reserving comment till the end!

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, Watership Down just really stays with you for sure.

Jodi, no, not meant as a contest. Just my opinion. Glad you are enjoying.

Travis Cody said...

I've actually started War and Peace several times. It's so very weighty. I always feel it's a "have to", and that colors my judgment of it so that when it gets difficult, I set it aside.

Same with Ulysses. I actually did finish that book. The funny thing is that I can't remember any of it. So I wonder now if that answers the question of relevance?

Mary Witzl said...

I came out with a dozen here unless I can count the Russian classics as more than one. I went through a period in my youth when all I wanted to read was Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov.

I can't remember the title, but I read one of Farley Mowat's books -- one where he traveled up to Newfoundland with a friend -- and I've never laughed so hard. And I love Oscar Wilde.

Merisi said...

thank you for taking the time to enrich us all with your very insightful and eclectic list! While I have read most books of the first part of the series, the rest includes many books I have not read, including quite a few that I would have never even heard about.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, sometimes when I read a book just because I think I should I don't really engage emotionally and remember very little of it after. Some day I will try Ulysses.

Mary Witzl, wow, I am very impressed that you 'only' wanted to read the Russian greats. :) Mowat has several pretty funny ones.

Merisi, I actually hope others will do such a list so I can find some books I need too. As if I 'need' any more around my house.