This was on one hand a really fun list to make as I had to think of the books that I thought were must-read material and on the other hand a really hard one to compile as I have read a lot of really great books!
Eventually I went with ones that I felt added to the reading experience in some way or were important life experiences for me.
Hopefully you guys will enjoy my choices and feel free to share your own must-reads in the comments 🙂
1. Watership Down by Richard Adams
It won’t be a surprise to regular readers that I think everyone should read this book, because I’ve certainly raved about it enough! The reason this is the first book I think everyone should read at least once isn’t just because Its one of my favourites, the story is classic or I have read it 4 or 5 times already (although those are all good reasons to recommend it!). The reason its a must-read is that although it is a seemingly simple children’s tale about rabbits, it actually is quite a complex examination of society in general. It explores family and community bonds; societal structure from its starting point to more complex societies and even fascism; and important issues that arise in society such as power, security, organisation of a vast number of individuals, governing, language and even war. It even introduces such concepts as immigration, mental illness and the cycle of life and death to children. And since I have read it as an adult and as a child I can vouch for it as a satisfying read at any age 🙂
2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
This is another one I read as a child and then again as an adult (there is a few of those on this list!) and although I did understand some of its significant themes as a 12 year-old I understood the deeper layers of meaning when I was older. The Giver is a classic children’s book that I think should still be in primary school curriculum as it gives kids some real perspective on the freedom they take for granted. Especially in this age of technology where it is so easy for kids to find out info on almost any subject at the strike of a keyboard, the press of a button and the swipe of a finger, a book like this where the characters are so sheltered and controlled and one boy learns all the world have to offer, is such a gift. When I reread this book not that long ago the themes hit me a lot harder and I felt quite ill in certain parts. It really is like 1984 for kids and just like 1984 it is a chilling look at what society could become and so in my opinion is a must-read.
3. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
This wonderful book was the inspiration for reality TV, in particular the Big Brother concept that has incarnations all over the globe, but in this case the imitation doesn’t do the original justice. If Big Brother had been true to Orwell’s bleak and claustrophobic vision of the future it would not have been legal or ethical for it to be televised – I’m shocked at what they get away with on reality TV as it is! Even ‘tho Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty Four over sixty years ago (in 1948) and the year it was meant to be set in is now over twenty years past, it is still a scary glimpse into where society is heading, and to some extent where we are now. The world has become a much more monitored place in those sixty odd years, what with CCTV in virtually all public places; telephones being taped for illegal activity; and personal details being freely accessible online. This book is a huge eye-opener, especially to young-adults and is a fantastically gripping read.
4. Mister God This is Anna by Fynn
This will not come as a surprise to regular readers as I’m a bit of a cheerleader for this beautiful little novel (as seen in ALL these posts :P) The reason this is a must-read in my opinion is it is filled to the brim with philosophical tidbits that will really exercise your mind and make you think beyond your sphere of understanding. And the philosophies aren’t purely religious or spiritual but are a blend of religion/spirituality and science/mathematics which examine huge ideas such as the meaning of life; why the world works like it does and other mysteries that only a child would question. But the main reason I would recommend it is that it ignites that childlike curiosity in you and makes you ask that big question: why? Which I think people are afraid to do after a certain age.
5. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
This is a book I would mainly recommend to women, or men who aren’t too squeamish about menstruation (Period/”That time of the month”/Aunt Irma :P) as with a title like The Red Tent you can probably gather that it will be mentioned a fair bit. For those that can get beyond the fact of biblical age women congregating in a tent for a few days every month, as well as some fairly graphic ancient midwifery, this book is a really interesting look at the background of key bible characters such as Jacob, but also highlights lesser characters such as his daughter Dinah and the traditions of the time. It is also a fine example of possible alternative endings to bible stories, which pop up in literature a lot. While having a knowledge of bible stories or actually reading the Bible would help with understanding what is behind this story and many other allusions in literature I personally can’t tell you all to read The Bible as I have never gotten through the whole thing, and I’m Pagan so quite a bit of it makes me uncomfortable, but as a book it is the biggest influence to modern literature (followed closely by the works of Shakespeare, which I have also left out as I haven’t read all of his plays, just a selection of ones that I came across :)).
6. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
This one may be a surprise to you all as it is not a grand piece of literature, but it is one of the most inspirational books that I’ve ever read and a perfect send-off gift to kids/young adults/adults entering a new phase of their lives such as a graduation. It promotes a “The World is Your Oyster!” mentality for any individual who has started a new path in life with Dr Seuss’ catchy whimsical rhymes enthusiastically announcing all the wonders the world can offer while not hiding the darker times in life.
7. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
I was given this by a friend of the family who insisted I had to read it and without her and this book (as well as other contributing factors) I wouldn’t have struggled through a difficult time in my life as quickly as I did. The book explores a few key spiritual and philosophical ideas that have been ingrained in the religious and mythological ideals of many civilisations for generations. While it is obvious that the book was written to illustrate these key ideals and so the plot isn’t that strong on its own (kind of like Dan Browns books but in a different way) It is a much more palatable format to learn about these ideas then in a classic New Age or Self Help book. While I didn’t agree with every aspect of the ideals, there is some sound concepts there that make a lot of philosophical, spiritual, psychological and even scientific sense. I wouldn’t recommend it to strict sceptics (except those rare ones that really want to open their minds to new things) but I would to anyone that has even the slightest interest in ancient beliefs and self-improvement. The book has been expanded into a series with two sequels published a while back ( The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision (1996) and The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight (1999)) and a third (The Twelfth Insight: The Hour of Decision) released this year, but I haven’t read any of those as I was quite content with the general idea I received in the original (especially as I was already somewhat aware of the ideas from my love of mythology and world religions).
8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I have talked about this wonderful book in the past and I will probably talk about it again in the future as It has made an impact on me both times I’ve read it (at school and a couple of years ago). I think this is a must-read especially for intelligent literary types who may take basic abilities such as being able to read, write and understand the world around them for granted, or may act superior because of their intelligence. The protagonist of Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gorden puts a lot of this in perspective as we follow him from blissful ignorance through frustration, elation and finally depression at the world at large and helplessness as he reverts back to his original IQ. It is a heartbreaking and insightful book that is timeless and also warns us against the ramifications of “playing God” with scientific developments. Overall a pivotal read that I would recommend to anyone.
9. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
This is another influential childhood read of mine that won’t come as a surprise to regular readers (past posts mentioning it can be found here). This is a great little book that makes you think about what you would do in survival situation, no matter what your age, but I think it’s a must-read especially for pre-teens that are wrapped up in all the conveniences of the modern world. Theres no use for an iPod, a Smartphone, Facebook or video games when you’re stuck in the Canadian wilderness with no food or shelter and I think kids these days need to get some perspective on what life use to be like before technology and learn about the basic skills people need to survive. I know that makes me sound like a nana (kids these days with their rock and roll music!) but it is important and in this book (and the sequels to a lesser extent) the message is hidden in a really entertaining adventure story so kids won’t feel like its being forced down their throats. I’ve read it at several points over my 25 years and I can say it still is the same great read (if a little quicker :P) at 20-odd as it was at 12 🙂
10. Mythology/Fables/Fairy Tales by Various
(namely Greek Mythology, Aesop’s Fables, Brothers Grimm)
This is not so much a book as a general recommendation of mine to read mythology, fables and fairy tales from all over the world as they are the basis of so many literary ideas. Every story is a retelling of an old one (at least in part) and the oldest archetypal stories and plot devices come from ancient Mythology, fables and fairy stories from the basics of good vs evil to ideas on creation and the underworld to morals and thinly veiled life lessons. I have loved Mythology, fables and fairy tales as long as I can remember and I am instantly drawn to any book that is a re-imagining of a classic tale. To narrow it down I have highlighted Greek Mythology, Aesop’s Fables and fairy tales by the Brother’s Grimm as these are the ones I have seen referenced the most.
Greek Mythology has always fascinated me because the Gods were described as flawed and often cruel characters with a complicated and convoluted family hierarchy and an endless stream of fantastical beasts and events. Other Mythology that I think is really interesting and has been referenced in literature is Norse, Celtic, Native American, Eastern (especially from Japan and India) and Eastern European but I would encourage anyone to look into Mythology from all over the world as it is an insight into another culture and the similarities between different Gods and creation myths really shows how a culture is affected by many others and the parallels that occur between very different races.
I love a good fable because they are the essence of a good story: clear, simple characters and settings that are usually symbols for more thorough concepts; a clear beginning, middle and end; and a moral to tie it all together. My mum introduced me to Aesop’s fables and other fables from the Middle Ages very early on, integrated with classic fairy tales and I loved them so much that I use to come up with my own that mum dutifully transcribed while I provided the scribbled illustrations. Fables along with mythological stories perfectly illustrate how storytelling began: simple tales that people used to explain the world around them and why things were they way they were, that could easily be passed down from generation to generation and I think us modern readers need to be reminded of the origins of stories sometimes.
Fairy tales are the next progression of Mythology and fables, and in turn they have created some of the most recognizable archetypal characters and plot devices in the literary landscape. The Grimm Brothers (Jacob and Wilheim) were the creative minds behind classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin (one of my personal favourites) and were responsible for taking them from folklore and popularising them all over the world. There is a immense collection of other fantastic fairy tales out there, but the Brother’s Grimm collected some of the greatest (and often the scariest and downright distressing) folklore stories out there that are now a huge part of popular culture.
So there you go Bookbaggers – a nice full list of recommendations from me to you 🙂 Hopefully there’s something in there for everyone for a bit of holiday reading.
In the new year I will take a break from themed Top 10s to do my top reads of 2011 as well as some book awards that I always do so that should be fun, and then the next one will be Top 10 “Classics” and Top 10 Classics I Want to Read as that received the next highest number of votes 🙂
Happy Reading and I hope you all had a wonderful festive season and have an excellent 2012 to come!