“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks / And all the sweet serenity of books.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges
Libraries are filled with endless possibilities. Whenever I walk into one, I wish I could read every book. Yet no matter how many books I manage to read, my list of all-time favorites has stayed pretty much the same for a while now. Here’s the list so far:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Stand by Stephen King
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Contact by Carl Sagan
Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
The Given Day: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Even though they’re fiction, I’ve learned something from all of these books. Others have been entertaining to read but it’s always a little disappointing to me if I feel like I haven’t learned anything by the end of a book, whether it’s something about a certain time period or the universe or people or even myself.
I love books that pay attention to language and the sound of language. One of the pleasures of reading is to stumble on a perfect sentence or paragraph that illuminates everything. The Grapes of Wrath and All the King’s Men are full of phrases like that. They’re masterpieces and I’m in awe of the authors every time I read those books. Cannery Row is much shorter but it’s still a masterpiece. I love the descriptions of people, from the very first paragraph on.
Maybe I’m a little obsessed with the apocalypse, but Earth Abides is a book that helped me learn more about myself. Different traditions or customs slip away in the post-apocalyptic world, and I was surprised at how upset I’d get whenever the characters let that happen. Then I’d catch myself and wonder why it was so upsetting. It made me realize how ingrained a culture can become. The Stand is also about the apocalypse but its greatness is more in the way the characters are described.
I love Contact for everything it says about the universe and people. Ireland: A Novel weaves history and myths into an already interesting story and the storyteller character is perfect. Pastwatch shows the effects history has on people while imagining a different world if only some events could be revisited and corrected. The Given Day: A Novel describes the time period after World War I so well that I felt like I lived through it with the characters. The descriptions of the Great Molasses Flood alone are worth the read.
People seem to either love or hate A Confederacy of Dunces. I thought it was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Everyone in this book is a true character and I love how they all affect each other in different ways.
What are some of your favorites and what kinds of things do you look for in a favorite book?