Friday, February 1, 2008

20 Great books to get you Reading

Showing our kids that reading is important starts with them seeing us reading. They need to see that reading is an engaging and thought-provoking activity. If you're not a reader, it's probably not your fault. You've never been exposed to the right things in school. If you say you don't like reading, well, you're wrong. There are enough books out there on enough subjects to keep anyone enraptured. Here are some fiction books that can get you started on the path to reading. Or, if you already read, consider adding these to your library.

1. Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked this way Comes. Through the central characters of Will Halloway and his shadow Jim Nightshade, Bradbury paints a picture of innocence and the fearful desires of the human heart. Bradbury not only deals with question of time and our place in it, but he does it through our relationships to each other. His characters are fascinating and relatable.

2. Castaneda, Carlos. Journey to Itxlan: The Lessons of don Juan. Carlos Castaneda retells his fascinating tutelage under the shaman don Juan. Castaneda explores the possibility that before our very eyes exists infinite realities that we can access. By stripping away the one thing that we feel as truth—our senses—of their power, he opens up endless possibilities in storytelling.

3. Dick, Phillip K. The Man in the High Castle. Dick shows us, instead of a speculative future, a speculative past. The fascinating idea of a world where the allies lost World War II is actually overshadowed by the development of the characters. Characters, we learn, are the basis for good fiction, regardless of how good an idea is.

4. Hawking, Stephen W. A Brief History of Time. Hawking discusses current theories of Time and Space. The accomplished physicist makes the scientific mysteries of the world relatable to the layman. Understanding Time through the scientists’ eyes opens door for the speculative fiction writer.

5. Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. Smith, an Earthling brought up by Martians, struggles to find his place in the world of his brethren that he finds to be shortsighted and petty. This science fiction classic shows explored reoccurring motifs in science, law, and religion. Human kind is exposed in this novel through the eyes of an outsider.

6. Hesse, Hermann. The Glass Bead Game. Magister Ludi, the master of the Glass Bead Game, is questioning his faith in the establishment. This novel explores a complex synthesis of aesthetics and philosophy through a religious ceremony called the Glass Bead Game. The notion that art, religion, science, and music can all relate is made accessible to the reader.

7. Hesse, Hermann. Narcissus and Goldmund. Hesse explores the duality of human nature in this beautiful book. What path works for one to enlightenment won’t necessarily work for another. While one character seeks the divine through worship, another strikes out through art, sex, and murder. There are descriptions of art that leave the reader breathless.

8. Le Carre, John. The Spy who came in from the Cold. This is often called the best spy novel ever written. A retired spy is forced back into service, trying to weed out a double agent in cold war Berlin. Chief among this book’s accomplishments is the complex question of moral ambiguity. Who or what is “good” and is there a line where that becomes “bad?” Characters much choose between the standard, or their own moral universe.

9. Lightman, Alan. Einstein’s Dreams. This is a short novel that has dozens of vignettes that explore different possibilities of the function of Time. It is best read after along with Hawking’s Brief History of Time to understand the physical context for the vignettes.

10. Lindsay, David. A Voyage to Arcturus. This is a classic novel of speculative fiction. Maskull trades his life on Earth for a few precious hours on the planet of Tormance in an effort to find the answer to a question that he can’t quite annunciate. It explores the soul’s journey through this earth, by taking it to the unlikely place of a distant planet. We are exposed to different kinds of perception that affect our values.

11. Maguire, Gregory. Wicked This story tells of the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It paints a sympathetic picture of the woman and the troubles that her life was filled with. In the end, she is neither demonized nor is she sanctified, but we have a very real and tangible character that makes us view The Wizard of Oz in a totally new light.

12. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Collected Stories. Marquez makes the fantastic believable in his short stories. His has a gift for making the reader suspend disbelief long enough to accept the incredible elements of his stories. In his story, The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, he succeeds in making the reader feel pity and remorse for what appears to be a fallen angel, disregarding the natural tendency to be overcome by curiosity alone.

13. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Go ahead. Give it a try. It’s maybe the best book of all time.

14. Mishima, Yukio. The Sea of Fertility Cycle. Mishima’s self-proclaimed masterpiece that explores Japan’s schizophrenic identity, stuck between Westernization and the samurai ideals. These four books show the development of character over a long period of time. Through this time, we are exposed to many different sides of character, revealing the depths of human psychology.

15. Niffenegger, Audrey. The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is a very non-traditional love story about a man who is unstuck in time. The man moves back and forth in time, meeting himself and his future wife in a non-linier reality. It is thrilling, sad, and wonderful.

16. Palahniuk, Chuck. Lullaby. A non-traditional horror story about a bed time song that kills indiscriminately. Mixed in with the thrilling plot is biting and constant social commentary that is worth the read by itself.

17. Robbins, Tom. Jitterbug Perfume. This epic story follows Alobar, the world’s first individually minded person through a quest for mortality. Along the way, he meets gods, scientists, and makes an amazing bottle of perfume. Tom Robbins does for smells what few authors can do for visuals: he paints them vividly. He does this against the backdrop of mythology, science, and religion. The characters also have a very complex relationship to time, finding ways to survive indefinitely.

18. Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. This engaging story is told from a very unique perspective. It is written in first-person omniscient; the narrator is a disembodied victim of a murder who is able to see all at once. It is done very successfully. The story is about a family dealing with tremendous loss instead of being preoccupied with crime and punishment.

19. Twain, Mark. Life on the Mississippi. Mark Twain gives us a slice of what America was like in his day and time. Not exactly a memoir, not exactly fiction, and not really travel writing, Twain is an observer of human kind of the highest skill.

20. Vonnegut, Kurt. The Cat’s Cradle. We follow a reporter as he uncovers a conspiracy involving a doomsday weapon with limitless destructive powers. The weapon has the ability to freeze all liquid on Earth without lowering the temperature. Vonnegut takes a cynical view of the end of the world. The doomsday weapon, Ice-Nine, is a perfect example of a speculative fiction device; while it is totally impossible, it is made to be very plausible.

Naturally, there are many more out there. Check out this blog for some good recommendations that might speak to you.


Anonymous said...

Funny thing... my husband would probably consider himself "not a reader" but I beg to differ. He reads techie blogs all the time and has a collection of O'Riley tech books that he glues his nose to if he isn't on the computer. I have heard him say something to the effect of 'when I was a kid books weren't important because I could just see a movie and understand it better' ok.. fine, he doesn't like storybooks - but it is still reading if you are reading manuals. haha.

Christina said...

If you're reading all that Marquez, you should also add Love In A Time Of Cholera. Sure, I read it because it was in the movie Serendipity, but then I realized, ohhhh, Serendipity was based on the book.