Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gramlich's 100 Books You Should Read: Part 2

Here's part 2 of my list. Please note, the numbers assigned to these books do not indicate a rank ordering on my part. In other words, I'm not saying that number 1 is necessairly a more imporant read than number 50.

21. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Primarily meant for nonfiction writers but in reality the best book for writers ever. An excellent book to read for anyone who has to write as part of their career.

22. Watchmen, by Alan Moore. Graphic novels should be represented on any list of this sort because they’re becoming so big a part of our culture. This one is probably the best one yet written. It’s my favorite at least.

23. The Epic of Gilgamesh. One of the oldest examples of literature in the world. And not a bad story.

24. Beowulf. The great Anglo-Saxon poem cycle. One of the most enduring heroic myths of Europe.

25. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. Heart rending. It definitely changed my view of the world and of American History. I love America, but our history is not one of white clothed innocence. We need to know it.

26. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, edited by Robert Silverberg. The single greatest collection of SF short stories ever. Not a clunker in the bunch and there are some of the most powerful tales of any kind I’ve ever read, such as “Flowers for Algernon,” “Nightfall,” “The Nine Billion Names of God,” and “The Cold Equations.”

27. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Sometimes the folks who anoint the classics get it right. A real window into human behavior. I put this one into the horror genre.

28. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I find this novel flawed but it is nonetheless powerful and has influenced many later works of literature and film, most notably Apocalypse Now. One day I’m going to write my own version.

29. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. A tale of genetic manipulation that should be a warning for people today.

30. 1984, by George Orwell. The world of 1984 came early behind the Iron Curtain and it will certainly come again. Elements are with us now, in America, in China and North Korea, in many other places.

31. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Orwell is the only writer on my list with two books but I just couldn’t figure a way around it. A morality tale for us all.

32. Walden Two, by B. F. Skinner. Not content with rewriting the field of psychology with such works as Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner wrote this novel laying out his idea of a utopian society in which every behavior is controlled by appropriate reinforcement. Many find it horrifying; that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

33. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The classic adventure novel that has fired the imaginations of generations of young readers, including me.

34. At least some Jules Verne. Verne, in France, was one of the first science fiction writers and his work is seminal. He wrote a lot of books but I’d recommend Journey to the Center of the Earth or Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.

35. At least some H. G. Wells. Wells was Verne’s counterpart in English and I generally prefer his work to Verne’s, although only slightly. He also wrote many great books but I’d recommend The Island of Dr. Moreau, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, or The Invisible Man.

36. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub. The scariest book I’ve ever read. I wish I could write this kind of complex book and make it work like Straub did. He’s one writer whose talent makes me jealous.

37. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Too charming not to include. My son’s favorite book as a child, and my favorite to read to him.

38. Dante’s Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. I’ve seen Hell done better but this version has much to recommend it. Hugely influential.

39. Something by Stephen King. King is a juggernaut, hugely influential on other writers and on TV and film. I’m not a huge King fan but everyone should know a bit about him. I’d recommend Misery, The Shining, or Salem’s Lot.

40. A book’s length of O. Henry. Considering today’s flash fiction explosion, you’d think O. Henry would be cited more often. His pieces are masterpieces of the concise. “The Gift of the Magi” is most famous but most of his stories are worthwhile.

41. Something by Rudyard Kipling. The Jungle Book is well worth the read and Kipling’s best known work. I’d personally recommend his poetry the most.

42. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Probably the single biggest influence on modern fantasy literature. A great story. A modern myth.

43. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I’m not Twain’s biggest fan but this is a really good book. If you only read one Twain, I’d give this one the edge over The Adventures of Tom Sawyer because it’s more culturally relevant. Both are good adventures.

44. At least something by Sigmund Freud. Freud wasn’t a psychologist and couldn’t be called a scientist. He actually delayed the development of psychology as a science. However, his work has been hugely influential on our culture and entertainment. I’d recommend Civilization and Its Discontents, or The Future of an Illusion. Both have interesting things to say about the battle between the individual and society.

45. Native Son, by Richard Wright. Bigger Thomas is born poor, born black, born in the inner city, and born for jail, or so it seems in this tremendous novel. The great thing about this work is that it doesn’t turn Bigger into a hero; it doesn’t mythologize him. It puts his character into a realistic context that introduced many readers to the forces that have shaped our inner cities and the lives of the African Americans who live there.

46. Something by James Baldwin. Baldwin was one of America’s best literary writers, writing fiction and nonfiction with equal ease. I like his fiction a bit more. In fiction, Go Tell it on the Mountain (novel), or Going to Meet the Man (short stories) are his best known and well worth the read. I have a slight preference for a little novel called Giovanni’s Room. In nonfiction, Notes of a Native Son, (essays) is the way to go. I hesitate to say it because it shouldn’t make any difference, but one reason I find Baldwin’s work fascinating is because he comes from such a different background from me. Baldwin was both African American, and gay.

47. Cultural Literacy, by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.. This book is subtitled: What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch thinks he knows everything that you should know. In many cases he was right, or so it seemed to me. In other cases he was full of it. It was fun making that determination.

48. Something by William Faulkner. I don’t like Faulkner’s novel length works, although some of his short stories are pretty good. But there’s no denying his influence on American literature and culture. I’d recommend nothing of novel length by Faulkner really, but I forced my way through The Sound and the Fury and perhaps you should too.

49. Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’d recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude, but most of Marquez’s work illustrates the field of magical realism and it’s worth becoming acquainted with.

50. The Prince, by Machiavelli. The single best guide for tyrants and those who would resist them ever written.


ivan said...

Beware of educating a buffoon from the wrong side of the tracks, but
when I first came upon The Epic of Gilgemesh, I was especially taken by the clay tablet scene of Enkidu, the hairy Wild Man, friend of Gilgemesh, who was introduced to oral sex by a courtesan whom Gilgemesh had provided to calm the wild man down.
Hey, better than a tranquillizer!

I know, I know, I focussed on the wrong part of that clay tablet story. Loss. Alienation. Heartbreak.
But to me, it was almost porn at about 5,000 B.C.
I would have gone. :)

Golden Eagle said...

I've read 24, 27, 33, 34, 35, 37, and 42. I'll have to check out the others.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've read about half of those.

Travis Erwin said...

I've read 6 of these and I completely agree with you on Faulkner. I'm more of a Hemingway man.

Cloudia said...

This is an amazingly apt list. What should be read by intergalactic scholars!
A bit tough on Freud. So easy to forget how groundbreaking he was, and too easy to feel safely superior at this end of history. But history has no end, and I hope the future is kind to our "breakthroughs."

Excellent as usual, Charles. You are indeed a teacher of us all.

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral


Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, it probably was the porn of the time.

Golden Eagle, I figured that if general readers haven't read quite a few books on one of these lists is must mean the list is wrong.

Alex, cool.

Travis ERwin, me too. Most definitely.

Cloudia, I feel free to criticize Freud since he was impinging himself in my scholarly area. He was definitely influential, though not always in a positive way.

sage said...

I like your list because I've read a lot more of them! 21 of these I've read cover-to-over, and only unfamiliar with 4 of them. I like it when you say something by a particular author. Often on these lists, I find that the works by the like of Baldwin or Faulkner are not the ones recommended.

Angie said...

On the Inferno, I recommend John Ciardi's translation. It's actually in poetic form, so you get a feel of the original, and the notes are great.


Evan Lewis said...

I scored 14. This is a tougher batch than the first list.

David Cranmer said...

I tend to prefer Verne over H.G. by the same slim margin you mentioned. Both are very worthy, of course.

Unknown said...

I will be trying out The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One. That should be interesting.

Many of the others I have read or attempted to and then given up as a bad job.

BernardL said...

Ghost Story was one of the best horror novels ever. I don't think Straub ever equaled the complex characterization moments in that book.

Ty said...

Another great list. I've read about 75 percent of them, with "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in my TBR pile now.

I've also got Machiavelli's "The Art of War" in my TBR pile, and am looking forward to that one.

As for Dante, he's one of those writers people seem to love or hate. I enjoy his writing immensely, though I generally prefer Milton (but I'm biased, I suppose, since I consider "Paradise Lost" one of mankind's greatest works of literature).

X. Dell said...

I've read exactly ten of the books on your previous list, and fourteen on this one (I'm not counting Gilgamesh, since I've only read excerpts--then again, I don't know if I should count Lord of the Rings because I was assigned the book in high school, and would most likely not have read it otherwise).

While I would agree with most of your description of these books, I have a bit of an issue with The Prince. Yes, tyrants have been inspired towards evil after reading him, but Machiavelli's focus isn't really on "taking control of the state by crime [e.g., conspiracy, coup de tat]," but what would make for a stable state if the Italian states insisted upon such foolishness as the monarchy. Machiavelli's intent behind The Prince becomes clearer when also reading his ten discourse on Titus Livy.

(He thinks about deleting that previous paragraph, but decides to let it stay where it is:-)

Steve Malley said...

WOW, totally with you so far!

Baldwin: Giovanni's Room is my favorite too!

Kipling: I love the espionage novel The Great Game, and he wrote one called The Light That Failed that horrified me so bad I still haven't finished it. Can't bear to pick it back up!

And Freud: Odd and interesting and wrong as he may have been, it's hard to overlook The Interpretation of Dreams in terms of influence on our culture.

But then, you might have to throw in books about astrology or something... :-j

Randy Johnson said...

I've read more of this grouping than the first. 1984 happens to be a favorite. Early King was the best, though he rebounded somewhat with UNDER THE DOME.

LORD OF THE RINGS(and THE HOBBIT) are among the few books I've read more than twice(and not a lot twice). GHOST STORY is the only Straub that I like(though I haven't read all).

Verne, Wells, required reading by anybody that likes SF, though younger readers may be put off by the slower pace.

FINN, along with TOM SAWYER, are my favorites by Twain.

TREASURE ISLAND I loved as a kid. Been about that long since I read it.

As a North Carolina boy, I would be remiss in not reading O Henry. And since I live only forty miles from his home town...

Gabby said...

I think I've read very little on this list. Although, I actually attempted to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish. Oh, wow! I mean, I can read Spanish, but apparently my vocab level is not at his (nor even close!_. Next time I try, I shall read it in English.

laughingwolf said...

i missed about 10 or 12 of these, but may have to find em at some point....

Erik Donald France said...

In the words of Iggy Pop: "Approval, approval."

... via Tuco and Blondie think bubbles, 'I dig!'

Erik Donald France said...

p.s. excellent list, indeed.

Lisa said...

I remember reading the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was little and wondered why the grammar was all wrong.

The list is a little above me but I am learning. Thank you.

Aimlesswriter said...

Oooo, now I want to go to Amazon and buy something.
Of Mice and Men is one of my favs even though I cried at the end.
The Stand by Stephen King. The Dome was also one of his best.
Great list, Charles!

ArtSparker said...

I must say I love your reviewing style. In particular, the reviews of The Inferno and the Sound and the Fury, with their qualifiers, are standouts. I'll admit, I think I've read that famous Faulkner story in 11th grade English only - would you say your struggle to get through The Sound and The Fury was character-developing? My character could probably use developing. I've read that Freud's writing is both more poetic and more sensible in the original German- the translator tried to make it more scientific-sounding in English. The Mist will always be the ultimate Stephen King Story, the collision of the quotidian and the fantastic.

Charles Gramlich said...

sage, I think if a list has too many books that good readers haven’t read then the list is wrong.

Angie, I’ll check that one out. That’s not the one I read.

Evan Lewis, I just put ‘em down as they occurred to me so the first ones were the easiest to come up with, and then it got harder.

Deka Black, The Watchmen is what got me back into reading comics/graphic novels after many many years away. My list is of course heavily weighted toward English books and authors. I know I’m missing a lot of excellent stuff written in other languages. I read translations when I can but I’m certainly missing out on many good things. Yes, Straub wrote a couple of things with King. Have you tried reading Kipling’s poetry? Some of it is just outstanding to me. Thanks for your detailed commentary. I appreciate it.

David Cranmer, it’s been longer since I’ve read Verne. I should go back and reread.

Carole, I just love that collection. Such incredible stories. I’m pretty stubborn about reading once I start something. I’ll usually finish even if I have to force my way through it.

BernardL, I think you’re right. I tried to read Shadowland right after Ghost story and couldn’t make it through it. I’ve read a fair amount of his later work but none of it has been as amazing as Ghost story.

Ty Johnston, I liked 100 years. It was somewhat slow but still enjoyable. Great prose. Paradise lost is on my TBR pile, but down a ways.

X. Dell, I always felt Machiavelli’s commentary was a bit tongue in cheek. It seemed clear he meant to speak about how to avoid tyranny. I probably didn’t convey that in my comments about it.

Steve Malley, oooh, I want to read “The Light that Failed.” I haven’t, though I’ve read a fair amount of Kipling. Freud, by being wrong about a fair amount of things did cause research to be done and he did ignite a lot of interest in psychology. It’s just that Freudizing stuff is so incredibly easy, and yet not very helpful.

Randy Johnson, that’s cool you live so close to O Henry’s home. 1984 is really a great book. As for King, I agree in general. The Shining and Salem’s Lot were very good. I also loved Misery.
Gabby, there’s just some really transcendent writing in 100 years. I found it a bit of a tough go at times but still very interesting.

laughingwolf, but I bet you know some stuff about most of them, except maybe Baldwin or writers like that.

Erik Donald France, thankee. What an ego I have to even make such a list eh? But I’m not shy that way. :)

Ocean Girl, Tom Sawyer was what I read first and I thought it was a really good adventure. Then came Huck Finn and it was cool adventure and something more.

Aimless Writer, I’m gonna have to read King’s “Dome.” It’s so BIGGG though.

ArtSparker, The mist is my favorite King, I think, although it’s hard to chose against Misery. I think I learned quite a lot by reading Faulkner, at least about what would not work for me as a writer.

Scott said...


Interesting list so far...can't wait to see the rest of it.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I've read 21 out of the 30 for this second installment. Some of em I really like, such as Twain, O. Henry, Verne, Wells, Stevenson, Kipling, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and even King but as much as I love graphic novels I just didn't care for Watchmen~because I didn't like any of the characters, I didn't/couldn't really root for any of them and the end seemed kinda weak to me too.

Deka Black said...

nah, thanks to you forthe list. I have too much free time at the moment, i fear, so is no big deal.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scott, glad you are enjoying.

David J. West, I don't know about liking the characters in Watchmen, although I kind liked the owl. But I found them intriguing, especially Rorschach, and I was fascinated at his ability to pull off subthemes in a graphic book.

Deka Black, free time is very good.

laughingwolf said...

actually, baldwin i've read, and enjoyed... like you say, a master

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, cool. I might have thought he was mostly heard of in the US south but guess I'm mistaken.

Lana Gramlich said...

Enjoying your list, baby. :)

j said...

I remember reading Lord of the Flies in fifth grade. It was intense but I really liked it. Reading the book almost felt naughty, if that makes any sense. I guess after a steady literary diet of Nancy Drew books, that was a bit more... shocking?

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, thankee sweets.

Jennifer, I know what you mean. There's a big attraction to that kind of feeling for folks, especially young folks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am happy I have read most of this excellent list.

Spy Scribbler said...

I'm really enjoying this list. You know, I'm torn between going back and revisiting some stuff I've already read and reading new stuff. Reading old stuff makes me feel guilty, because I'm aware of a limited number of books I can read for the rest of my life, you know? I won't be able to get to all the books I want to read!

Rick said...

Crap, do you know how long my reading list from you is? I go away on sabbatical and come back and now you have 100 more books I should read. Mr. Gramlich, you are a tough taskmaster!

Charles Gramlich said...

pattinase, glad you are enjoying.

Natasha Fondren, I know what you mean. It's tough to think I've got so many good books left to read and not nearly enough time.

Rick, I'm sure you've read a fair number of these, my friend. and I know you'll like the final one on my list. I know you'll have that covered because you've read something by me. :)

Travis Cody said...

I definitely prefer your list of 100 to some of those I've seen. Not only do you recommend, but you have something to say about the flavor or each work and why you think it's relevant.

I think that approach is more likely to entice a reader to a particular book or author than making the title of such lists "The 100 Books Every Person MUST Read to Be Considered Well Read".

Anyway, I can report that I've read several from this 20 and have written down several that I'm interested in getting to know.

Tyhitia Green said...

I'm liking your list, Charles. Some I've read, some I haven't. It's awesome to get another perspective on 100 Books to read. ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, that's one reason I say "should" too. I think well read persons may not necessarily have read all 100, but they have read a good sample and have their own lists as well.

Tyhitia Green, I've been wanting to do this awhile. I actually took a couple of months setting this list up.

sage said...

I looked back at this list and had skimmed over what you said about Baldwin as I've read several of his books. I agree with you on Giovanni's Room--and actually have a tale I wrote about that book and lending it to a black scoutmaster/pentecostal preacher. Here is the link to the story:

Ron Scheer said...

I tried reading Faulkner a couple years back and realized that you have to understand so much about the racial dynamics of the South to begin to get what's going on beneath that deluge of words. After maybe 20-30 slowly read and reread pages, I remember thinking, "I get it," and then never picked up the book again.

Charles Gramlich said...

sage, I'll check out the link. I like Baldwin a lot.

Ron Scheer, it's also only certain areas of the south, Mississippi, Lousiana, parts of Southern Arkansas in particular. I wasn't from any of those areas.