The Top 10

Having waded through the book journal for the A to Z list, time for the top 10, even though my list probably isn’t as important as other lists of favorite books. As I indicated, some books on this list weren’t on the A to Z list because of that list’s limitation of one book per letter. The top 10 are listed in alphabetical order and I would bet one or more might change if I made the list next week or next month.

1984, George Orwell — There may not have been many classics on my A to Z list but there was little doubt this one would end up here. Not only is this a standard setter for dystopian novels, there aren’t a lot of novels whose title and terms (“Big Brother”, “newspeak”) are ubiquitous worldwide some 50 years after being published.

Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler – To a certain extent, this novel is Orwell writing during the heart of the Cold War. Its examination of Stalinist purges, the self- and reevaluation of a longtime party leader and its stark imagery make it an incomparable political novel. While the end of the Cold War tends to date the book a bit today, its lessons are timeless and it will always be a masterpiece from my standpoint.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson — I don’t know that I can say much more than I did in my review almost two years ago. As I said then, Robinson’s deliberate pace leads to our enjoyment as she “cultivates a literary garden she spent much time preparing.” One of the few Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction that I truly liked loved.

Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris — Simply one of the most cogent and concise indictments of the role and effect of religion in modern society and life.

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey — While I don’t know if this is considered fiction or nonfiction today, I still stand by the fact this book ranks near the top, if not the very top, of any list of books I considered “unputdownable.”

Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, Hugh Prather — Perhaps it is ironic to have this book on the same list with Letter to a Christian Nation given it is written by a Methodist minister and his collection of thoughts and observations are often spiritual in nature. But you don’t have to agree with everything to recognize the value of some things. Besides, if it helps you learn something about yourself, who cares where it comes from?

Saturday, Ian McEwan — I know some people didn’t like it or don’t think this was McEwan at its best. And I really don’t care whether it is indicative of a post-9/11 genre in fiction or what it may say about post-9/11 life. The main character’s thoughts on music and life with a parent with Alzheimer’s are just one indication of what a masterful novel this is.

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell — Other than Orwell, this is the only SF work on the list. Considering how many SF classics I’ve read and that my library is packed with books by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and every Hugo Award winning novel, that perhaps says more than anything could about how much I love this book.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien — There have been and undoubtedly will continue to be dozens of books, both fiction and nonfiction, looking at the Vietnam War. I sincerely doubt that any will ever compare with O’Brien’s collection of short stories from the viewpoint of the men who fought in that war.

A World Lit Only by Fire, William Manchester — When people think of the Middle Ages it often tends to be with images of knights, damsels in distress and the plague. In an almost brilliantly concise and readable way, Manchester shows the average reader what that time period really was like and its role in the overall history of humanity.

I’m not quite sure what anyone else will derive about me or my tastes from this and the A to Z lists. From my standpoint, I think it reinforces what I’ve long thought. My reading tastes tend to be just a tad bit eclectic.

Perfectionism is a slow death.

Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself

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