Friday, January 21, 2011

Gramlich's 100 Books You Should Read: Part 4

Here's the last installment, with some commentary afterward.

81. Something by Raymond Chandler. Chandler’s and Hammett’s names are synonymous with the Private Eye Detective novel, and that genre has been hugely influential on fiction and film. I recommend The Big Sleep, Chandler’s first novel.

82. Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. First published in 1798, later republished in 1800 and again in 1802 with material added. Generally credited with ushering in the “romantic” movement in English literature. The most famous work in the collection is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge.

83. Something by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas, who died in 1870, was an early practitioner of the historical adventure novel. His stories have great zest. Best known works include The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

84. Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. This was the 19th century’s “Shogun.” A huge, sprawling novel, but a great adventure. Set in 1194, after the third crusade when many knights are returning to England and Europe. It also features Robin Hood.

85. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. A literary ghost story, and scary as hell. One of the very few books that scared me.

86. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer. The most complete and most compelling history of Hitler’s Third Reich. The rise of fascism in the 20th century put an end to a period of rationality that had been growing in England and parts of Europe. Rationality has yet to recover.

87. Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez. A beautifully written ode to the great white north, and considering how rapidly the ice is receding in the summertime it’s a world that is becoming increasingly exotic.

88. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. I’m a big fan of Abbey’s. This is his nonfiction work about living in the desert. A number of books on my list are about Earth’s wild places. I love them, and I love the loners who visit them.

89. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald. A collection of poems about life, drinking and love originally written in Persian.

90. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. I’ve read about everything Sacks has written. It’s all good. Sacks is a medical doctor with a knack for bringing out both the humanity and the fascinating aspects of patients he’s worked with. This particular book illustrates some incredible things about the brain and how it works. Or sometimes fails to work.

91. Something by Louis L’Amour, the bestselling western writer of all time. L’Amour knew how to tell a story and combined the real and mythical wests in an appealing package. However, not all L’Amour is equally characteristic of his work. I recommend such books as: To Tame a Land, The Man Called Noon, Milo Talon, Flint, Silver Canyon, or Utah Blaine. To Tame a Land is my favorite.

92. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien. A children’s or young adult story. But it’s just wonderful and so imaginative. Loved it.

93. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. One of the great children’s classics.

94. The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. Imagine little people living in your walls. Imagine that the things you misplace aren’t really misplaced. They are “borrowed” by the little people. This story ignited my imagination so much as a kid that I can’t help but include it here. I was disappointed when I grew up and found there were “sequels” I’d never known about. Sigh!

95. Something in the Romance genre. People ought to be familiar with the whole range of human literature. Every genre has strengths and weaknesses. None are worthless and something like Romance, which has survived a long time and is still a force in the marketplace, deserves to be taken seriously. I’ve read a dozen or so romance novels but don’t know enough to suggest a specific book. My favorite among the ones I’ve read was The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Definitely an historical novel as well as a romance.

96. A book’s worth of H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft wrote short stories and quite a few are really good. Others are slow for modern audiences and heavy on description. I like that myself. Whatever you read by him, make sure it includes “The Color out of Space,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and something from his “Dream story” sequence. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has been a huge influence on modern fiction and film.

97. Something by Dean Koontz. Koontz’s best work is a virtual lesson in how to write a thriller. Not all his stuff is equally good, however. Stay away from his humorous stuff, but do try something from among Midnight, Lightning, Watchers, or Phantoms.

98. Night, by Elie Wiesel. I don’t always agree with the “experts” on what folks should read, but they got this account of the Nazi Death camps right.

99. Something by Tom Robbins. I recommend Jitterbug Perfume, but others are also excellent, including another personal favorite, Still Life With Woodpecker.

100. Something completely trashy. Just because you should.

There are many other good books that didn’t make my list here, although they came close: “The Turn of the Screw,” “The Name of the Rose,” “Childhood’s End,” “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Cold in the Light,” :)

There are also many books I left off deliberately. I don’t think you need to read “On the Road,” or “The Metamorphosis,” or “Silas Marner,” or “The Catcher in the Rye.” I took the hit for you on these and I wish I had the hours back.

There are also some that might make this list, based upon their frequent recommendations on such lists, but which I’ve not read yet and can’t make a judgment: “To Kill a Mockinbird,” “Catch 22,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Someday I’ll read them and then my list may change. That’s the beauty of such a list. It is forever changing, both from experience and from changing lives and personalities.

I hope you enjoyed ‘my’ list. I won’t mind if you disagree, or if you make your own. That’s also part of the fun.


Gaston Studio said...

And a great list it is Charles. I remember reading Ivanhoe when I was a teenager and my English teacher thinking it was "too adult" for me at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and have read it several times since. Some just stay with you.

Angie said...

83. The Three Musketeers is great, although I always stutter at the chapter about Milady and the Puritan guy. It's like you've got this rollicking adventure that suddenly screeches to a halt, then creeps forward at about 2mph for a whole chapter before picking up again. It's necessary information for the reader, but it doesn't really fit the rest of the book in tone or pacing. :/

Corolary recommendation -- The Phoenix Guard by Steven Brust. This is a completely awesome pastiche of Musketeers, set in a fantasy verse that's nothing at all like Tolkien. All the major characters map directly to Dumas's characters, and the plot is similar, but what delights me every time I read this is the dialogue. It's very different, and sounds historical, in a way which doesn't mimic any actual historical English dialect, but it sounds like an alternate-universe 17th century. There are little verbal beats and fillips and idioms which stand out as different and interesting but which fit into the dialogue absolutely smoothly. Making up slang and idiom is incredibly difficult to do well, but Brust did a perfect job.

89. I read this years ago after seeing the movie Omar Khayyam. I don't know how accurate the movie is -- given the era in which it was made, I'd guess not very -- but it got me to go look for his writing, so it has some value there. :)

94. I was lucky enough as a kid to get an omnibus edition with the first three books for Christmas one year. I never knew there were more beyond that, though, until I went and checked Amazon just now. Definitely fun stuff; I'll have to get the other books.

95. Thought of tossing out some recs, but on second thought I'm leaving this alone. Romance is the single biggest genre, and it's been huge for at least forty years, with dozens of subgenres, and sub-subdivisions by tone and trope and plot device and character type. Way too much to even scratch the surface of in a comment on someone else's blog. :) I will say, though, that with a bazillion romance books out there, I expect there are at least a few that any given individual would enjoy, if you can only find them. [wry smile]


Charles Gramlich said...

Gaston, I liked Ivanhoe a lot and I always thought one of the Tarzan books in which Tarzan finds the crusader cities in Africa was influenced by Ivanahoe.

Angie, I want to read THe Phoenix guard now. Will have to have a look for it. I would have liked to have read all the Borrower books when I was a kid. I've read a couple since I've been adults and they were fun but not quite the same. Yeah, romance is an overwhelming genre to dip into. I've mostly read books by friends whose writing I trust, and have generally enjoyed those.

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I loved reading through your suggestions. I ran across The Name of the Rose just before the movie came out, and it started a deep love of well-written, well-researched historicals. Also unnerved the dickens out of me.

Ron Scheer said...

Enjoyed this. Struck by how much our reading has overlapped. Most people's recommended reading list leaves me feeling like I'm from another planet.

I've read all the ones that didn't make your list. They won't be a waste of time when you finally get to them.

A colleague here is working on Dumas and over lunch the other day increased my knowledge of the man by a factor of at least 50. Did not know that his parentage was a problem for the literary establishment in France.

DESERT SOLITAIRE is classic for me. Though Abbey neglects to mention that he wasn't in the desert alone. One of his first wives was with him.

Robbins' EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES would make my list. Some books you never forget. That has been one of mine, along with Ken Kesey's SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION.

I'm finding myself getting into "romance" in these early westerns I'm reading, and I'm coming to an understanding about its role in that genre that has surprised me. But sometime I'd like someone to explain the appeal of the mainstream writers, like Barbara Cartland.

BernardL said...

"There are also many books I left off deliberately. I don’t think you need to read “On the Road,” or “The Metamorphosis,” or “Silas Marner,” or “The Catcher in the Rye.” I took the hit for you on these and I wish I had the hours back."

Wow, do I agree with you on these. I would only add Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure' which I've mentioned to you before. It is without doubt one of the most depressing novels ever written. When I read they made a movie called 'Jude' it fit perfectly with my thoughts on what Hollywood considers good movie material. :)

Randy Johnson said...

Not a lot of these for me. Chandler of course9all of it), Dumas Sir Walter Scott, Jackson, L'Amour(another writer I suspect more pretentious readers might sniff at), some Lovecraft(not my favorite writer by any means).

I tried Rise and Fall... when much younger and found it to weighty for me then. Likely i could manage it much better these days.

I used to read Koontz before he was a thriller writer and instead an SF scribe. Liked him much beter then.

I agree how someone's list might change over the years. There are some holes in my "classic" reads as well and will probably get to them someday(maybe).

sage said...

Only seven of these that I've read and that's because I have read a romance and something trashy... Edward Abbey is a favorite and I've read almost all of his books (and it's no big surprise that today I just posted about a hike into the Grand Canyon). A Canticle for Leibowitz would make my top 100... I have spent much time with that book as there are so many levels to it.

Travis Erwin said...

"I don’t think you need to read “On the Road,” or “The Metamorphosis,” or “Silas Marner,” or “The Catcher in the Rye.” I took the hit for you on these and I wish I had the hours back."

Now you tell me.

laughingwolf said...

missed three on this list... so it's about 20 or so i've not read from your list... great suggestions, all

Charles Gramlich said...

ninthmuse, Yes, I liked The name of the rose a lot and it came very close to making my list.

Ron Scheer, my writing group has talked a lot about how certain books meet reader fantasies and how this determines their popularity. Romance meets certain fantasies for many women, although not all, and that explains their popularity. At least to our way of thinking.

BernardL, some of those, like "On the Road," had a specific appeal to a certain segment of society at a certain time. But for those of us who weren't part of that segement or grew up later they just seem a waste. I've never read Jude the Obscure, partly because I expected it to be something like you've said.

Randy Johnson, I think a list shoudl allow for some holes in the best read person. It's just the way we humans are built. I certainly have plenty in mine. I really liked Koontz's Phantoms and Midnight.

sage, Canticle is great. It touched me hugely when I first read it. LIke I say, it was a close fit.

Travis Erwin, I'm meaning my list for younger readers, man. :)

laughingwolf, I'd say that's pretty good. Definitely a well read score. :)

X. Dell said...

Hmm. I've read only seven from the last two posts.

I have read Slaughterhouse Five and To Kill a Mockingbird, and would recommend both of them too you. I have some issues with the latter, but it's still a worthy read.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, I have copies of both and will get around to reading them at some point.

Deka Black said...

And here's my last comment on this series ;)

81- nevere read The Big Sleeop, but i¡ve read Farewell, My Lovely

82-“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I always wanted to read it. But when comes to poetry i'm the king of lazyness

83-The Three Musketeers is a book full of fun and adventure.One of the best sellers in his era, i believe.

84-One of my first contacts with historical adventure.

85-I'll put in the "to search" pile

86-Jas yet to recover and still need some time in my opinion. We still have people who lived those years.

87-This is interesting to me since i was raised just next to the Pyrenees

88-desert is amazing to me, having grown in such green places.

89-Eastern poetry... Seems interesting!

90-The title is scary once you know about what's talking the writer.

91-To the TS Pile

92-Read it as a kid. Loved it.

93-never heard of it, sorry.

94-Know the existence of the book, but i never read it.

95-i will try.

96-I love HPL. That's all.

97-In fact, some Koonts books are between the ones my mother liked. (And believe me, is hard to see he rliking this kind of stuff)

98-never heard of it.. strange.

99-Not known Tom Robbins

100-Like the sports section insome newspapers. I'm horrified about how some journalists treat the language.

I enjoyed this list. And you gave me a idea for one of the blogs i'm in. Thanks!

Scott said...


This list is much better than the one that originated in england recently. Nice to see Lovecraft, Dumas, and Scott show up. I would've thrown in Rafael Sabatini as well, but maybe I'll make my own list. Good job!

Scott said...

Oh, The Phoenix Guard was a good book!

The Golden Eagle said...

Read 92, 93, and 100.

Great list!

pattinase (abbott) said...

An excellent list. You should be in charge of curricuulum for all of us.

pattinase (abbott) said...

An excellent list. You should be in charge of curriculum for all of us.

Steve Malley said...

Only one book I was really sorry to see left off: 1984 by George Orwell, or possibly Animal Farm.

Now more than ever, his work on tyrants and the culture of surveillance is crucial... :)

Barbara Martin said...

There are so many books out there now that it becomes difficult to choose new ones. Some of the old 'tired and true' are worth re-reading. It's always nice to know what others read. Thanks, Charles.

Ty Johnston said...

Again, I've read about half of this part of the list.

Charles, thanks so much for this list. It's a great list. Nice mixture of modern, ancient and classical writings.

Angie, about The Three Musketeers coming to a screeching halt at one point ... Dumas tended to do this on all of his longer literature. The Count of Monte Cristo, for example, stops mid-stream to go off for hundreds of pages in another direction before eventually get back to the main plot, though that other direction is related. The reason it's so striking for today's readers is that Dumas wasn't actually writing for a novel format, but was writing serial fiction in which readers would only get part of the story every week or so, kind of like watching a soap opera. Which, in my opinion, would actually make it MORE difficult to follow a longer story, but it seemed to work for readers of the time. Dickens wrote for much the same audience, though I don't believe his "screeching halts" were anywhere near as long or jarring as those of Dumas. A lot of mid-19th Century serials seem written in that fashion.

G said...

I saw a few movie versions of some these books, of which I thought "Charlotte's Web" was the absolute best when it came out in the 70's.

I read a book last year by Tom Robbins called "B is for Beer". It was okay, but he sort of lost me near the end when he was going into serious minutia about the art of making beer.

Not sure about something trashy, but I have started dipping into the romance genre, although some of those publishers really make me stop dead in my tracks.

Charles Gramlich said...

Deka Black, Farewell, my lovely is ‘lovely.’ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner goes quickly I think because it’s cool. The man who mistook his wife for a hat is all nonfiction. All essays about the medical world. For Koontz, I recommend always Phantoms and Midnight. Tom Robbins is just kind of zany. But cool.

Scott, Sabatini came close. I did enjoy quite a lot of his stuff. I’m gonna check out The Phoenix Guard.

The Golden Eagle,, a good start.

pattinase (abbott), wow, I guess I’ve been teaching long enough it’s starting become part of me. That’s kind of scary. :)

Steve Malley, those were numbers 30 and 31. I had to put them both on there. Orwell was the only writer with 2 specific books on my list.

Barbara Martin, it is a reader’s paradise in many ways.

Ty Johnston , Dumas’s asides always seem interesting to me anyway, though.

G, I haven’t even heard of B is for Beer. I haven’t read any Robinson in a few years. Charlotte’s web was a great fun movie. For trashy, I read “The Spider” novels. :) Or reread my own stuff.

Cloudia said...

Worthy all!

LOVE your #100 :)

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral



ivan said...

A concise and useful list of authors.

Maybe I should have had such a list, with maybe Flaubert included, when I despaired over the lack of real reading on the part of some of my college students in the past.

I even wrote about it in my Chapter in my novel, The Fire in Bradford, which I will now shamelessly unload on you in brief:

I always found myself charmed to find that in spite of possibly rococo lifestyles up there in Riveredge Park, hardly anybody in my class, largely women, had ever read real novels like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, the substance of all those adventurous, adulterous wives who think their problems will end by leaving old hubber, only to find with Chekhov, that their problems were just beginning. Or was old Mr. Chekhov just a prig and a spoilsport who knew nothing about real swingers, a Wayne Newton who in in spite of all his talk about being hip, really wasn't.... I don't know how I'd ended up at Lana's house...

Jodi MacArthur said...

I have two absolute favorite literary heroes of all time, and you name one of them here. Mrs. Frisby! It's supposed to be a kids book. WHATEVER. Its for adults too. I actually would consider that bizarro in today's society. Good stuff here. All good stuff.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, got to have my trash.

Ivan, very intersting take there. I love the word Rococo btw.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, I only read that book when I was an adult but it was still totally awesome.

jodi said...

Charles-if anyone is keeping track, my number is 30. Mostly due to required reading for classes. In an effort to be more conversational, I read many others and found myself peeling through all the works of a particular author just for the pure pleasure of it! Thanks for giving me a post inspiration!

laughingwolf said...

thx... i read all kindsa stuff, obviously ;) lol

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, there's a fair number on the list I wouldn't have read if not introduced to them in school. That's a good thing, although I was also introduced to many that weren't worth spit.

Laughingwolf, you're an eclectic reader, like me.

Travis Cody said...

This has been an excellent exercise. I've written down several of your recommendations.

Erik Donald France said...

Cheers on the list, it's all good.

Walter Scott is fun, I also liked his Waverly and other books set in and around Scotland in the mid-to-late 1700s or so. Sort of like him, some of Balzac's gazillion novels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, glad you found something useful.

Erik, indeed. Scott had a nice story telling style.

Mary Witzl said...

Great list, Charles. I've read quite a few on your list and enjoyed them, but I especially agree with your assessment of 92, 93, and 94. I was a huge Borrowers fan as a kid and read the entire series several times. I read it again as an adult and found it every bit as compelling.

The Haunting of Hill House scared the crap out of me too!

Charles Gramlich said...

Mary Witzl, I so wish I'd known of the Borrowers sequels when I was a kid.