February 05, 2007

On Bettering Oneself

I used to read a book a day, and now I’ve sunk to such levels that I’m lucky if I manage a book a year. It bothers me so much that I’ve set myself the task of bridging this literary deficit as quickly as possible, starting with “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

What are the classics that you would consider unmissable reading? Are there any books that changed your life or worldview? I’m giving myself a year to get through as many suggestions as possible…

And yes Hughes, Catch 22 is on the list already.

M xxx

-

Should read:
1984 – George Orwell
A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway
A Million Little Pieces - James Fray
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis
Animal Farm – Orwell
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Between Silk and Cyanide – Leo Marks
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Coming Up For Air – George Orwell
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Don Quixote - Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell
Emma - Jane Austen
Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
Going Solo - Roald Dahl
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
His Dark Materials - Phillip Pullman
Homage To Catalonia - George Orwell
How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn
I am Legend - Richard Matheson
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell - Susanna Clarke
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
Once in a House on Fire - Andrea Ashworth
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha – Roddy Doyle
Romance Of The Three Kingdoms - Lo Kuan-Chung and C.H. Brewitt-Taylor
Sandman - Neil Gaiman
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
Tess D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Bonfire of the Vanities
– Tom Wolfe
The Count Of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe
The Forever War
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
The Kite Runner – Khaleid Hosseini
The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
The Outsider - Albert Camus
The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Transmetropolitan - Warren Ellis
War And Peace
- Leo Tolstoy
Wind Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig

Currently reading: Neither Here Nor There - Bill Bryson
& The Sound Of Laughter - Peter Kay

Have read:
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett (I fell off the waggon...)
Small Gods - Terry Pratchett (I fell off the waggon again...)
The Discworld Companion - Terry Pratchett (And again...)
Colony - Rob Grant (Screw the waggon.)
Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee
The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson




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  1. War and Peace? Although it’s long (took me about a month).

    05 Feb 2007, 19:29

  2. Orwell – Animal Farm (1984 would have been too obvious of course!)

    05 Feb 2007, 19:33

  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

    man, that caterpillar was just so damned hungry! epic.

    05 Feb 2007, 20:05

  4. If you like To Kill A Mockingbird, try I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. But remember, it’s an autobiography (took me ages to find it!)

    05 Feb 2007, 20:40

  5. Me mate said that he was influenced by The Selfish Gene, although I have to say I’ve not read it yet. It’s in the pile on the bedside table…
    On a similar non fiction level – The God Delusion made my Christmas.
    But no, I don’t want Dawkin’s love child.

    05 Feb 2007, 21:07

    • Dawkins’

    05 Feb 2007, 21:07

  6. I’m not buying The God Delusion yet because I haven’t managed to find it in paperback and the hardback edition is too expensive. If I were to recommend a book, I’d go for A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Eye opening.

    05 Feb 2007, 21:25

  7. Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks are both excellent, in my opinion.

    05 Feb 2007, 21:54

  8. Read an abridged version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

    05 Feb 2007, 22:04

  9. Chris May

    Read Hardy (far from the Madding Crowd and/or Tess, for starters) , and realise that we are nothing but toys in the hands of a capricious god; therefore there’s no point reading any more and you may as well go down the pub after all. :-)

    05 Feb 2007, 22:27

  10. Read A star called Henry by Roddy Doyle (but NOT the sequel play that thing) Mockingbird is all one word. :) I know what you mean about reading you get out of the habit. Though this summer I read Gone With The Wind, which is 1100 ish pages. Good times :)

    05 Feb 2007, 22:43

  11. Also for what its worth I spent a whole year of my sixth form studying Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Overrated is the word that comes to mind. But maybe you’ll love it. There’s an ambiguous rape scene and lots of strawberry imagery so yay for literary allusion…

    05 Feb 2007, 22:52

  12. Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha by Roddy Doyle is pretty good.
    A Million Little Pieces is good too, can’t remember who it’s by.

    05 Feb 2007, 23:45

  13. I’m currently reading a book a decade. I win.

    Or lose.

    06 Feb 2007, 00:20

  14. I used to read a book a day

    For how long did you do that? I mean, even if you just did that for four months, that’s over one hundred books. I wouldn’t worry that I wouldn’t have time to do it, more that I would not be giving each one enough time to sink in.

    06 Feb 2007, 00:25

  15. Carter

    “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the greatest book I’ve ever read. Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” will break your heart clean in two. And “American Psycho” is a right old laugh.

    06 Feb 2007, 01:48

  16. If you can cope with something less fictional read ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ by Leo Marks. It’s the story of the code war of SoE agents during WW2 and details his fight to protect the agents he provided codes for. You see the touching care for those departing and the strenuous efforts to preserve those captured. It’s not Austen, but it is revealing and poignant.

    06 Feb 2007, 06:30

  17. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It’s very long but it’s just the most fascinating and beautiful book I’ve ever read. Crime and Punishment was pretty involving as well.

    06 Feb 2007, 09:40

  18. Lucy Griffiths

    I was just about to suggest Crime and Punishment – an awesome book and if you like that go on and read Anna Karenina. I’ve got A Suitable Boy all lined up to read but I haven’t quite got round to it yet.

    Anything by Orwell – coming up for Air is very good.

    06 Feb 2007, 09:52

  19. Christopher Rossdale

    Definitely agree with Crime and Punishment, Day of the Triffids is worthwhile too

    06 Feb 2007, 12:06

  20. Nick Howes

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

    06 Feb 2007, 12:16

  21. James

    Britain, it is often said, suffers from affluenza and in terms of public life is consumed with political correctness. The funniest book I have ever read on any subject has both as its themes, though it’s set in New York in the 1980s, is Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (ignore the ridiculous film). A must read. Genius!

    If you like cricket, then the second funniest book I’ve read is Hell For Leather by Robert Winder.

    06 Feb 2007, 13:48

  22. Sharon

    I’d go for the ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ too it really made me think about what goes on in other people’s heads.

    06 Feb 2007, 14:50

  23. Thankyou for all these wonderful suggestions; it’s a lot of reading, but a year should be plenty!

    I’ve read “The Selfish Gene” and “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” not too long ago (they are both amazing) so I’m going to skip them for now, and until I can make a trip to the library I’m going to have to stick with ones I find on the bookshelves at home, which thankfully appear to be well stocked.

    James M, I was a voracious reader during primary and most of secondary school. My parents would take me to the library every 2 weeks where I was allowed to borrow 12 books at a time. These would all get finished – my parents had to keep them downstairs to stop me reading all night! And yes none were the size of “Gone With The Wind”, but 200 pages isn’t exactly trivial! Unfortunately, I now suck because I never put enough time aside, and Uni didn’t really help :S

    06 Feb 2007, 19:39

  24. Just thought of another one: The Outsider by Albert Camus. Only short, I read it in a couple of hours, but I was a little disturbed as to how much I could empathise with the narrator. Read it in the face, now.

    06 Feb 2007, 22:04

  25. Ooo yeah, that Camus one, I had to read it in French (it’s original language) – L’Etranger, for A-level. If you can speak French I would recommend reading it in French, but I’m assured that the translation is pretty good too. I agree with Gavin, it’s scary how much you feel for the narrator.

    06 Feb 2007, 22:59

  26. Mrs Dalloway. Essential reading. And despite my scepticism Emma by Jane Austen is actually really really good.

    06 Feb 2007, 23:20

  27. Two more:

    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
    or try Everything Is Illuminated by the same author.
    The first is an incredibly beautiful story linking three different lives in a family at three different times. Something similar happens in the second, but it’s a bit mad.

    The Kite Runner – Khaleid Hosseini
    (might have misspelled something here…)
    Great story set in Afghanistan. Good introduction to the culture and Taliban too.

    06 Feb 2007, 23:48

  28. Mrs Dalloway. Essential reading.

    But at the same time strangely unsatisfying unless you have someone to discuss it with in my experience.

    06 Feb 2007, 23:56

  29. You’ve got three books by George Orwell 1984, Animal Farm & Coming Up For Air.

    People read 1984 & Animal Farm and assume Orwell was right-wing.

    If you read Down & Out in London in Paris (written 1933), you realise he was very left wing, while Homage To Catalonia (1937), explains why he took such anti-Stalinist views as those expressed later in 1984 (1949) & Animal Farm (1944)

    07 Feb 2007, 11:13

  30. I haven’t read it but my friend’s dad recommended The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. He is a huge Discworlds fan so I trust his opinion :)

    07 Feb 2007, 13:51

  31. Cinnamon Whirl

    No Sci fi? and you’re a biochemist as well…. Good SF isnt so much about the setting, its about the message. Theres plenty of good stuff out there. Gollancz S.F have recently published their top 10 sci fi books of all time – look out for them in waterstones, they have single colour matt covers. My two favorites are The Forever War and I am Legend (Legend has a nice biochem bent to it as well).

    And if you are looking for something a little different? Haruki Murakami is a well known Japanese author, easily available over here, who writes very odd, whimsical tales. The best know is probably Wind up bird chronicle ; give it a try!

    07 Feb 2007, 16:02

  32. “Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger is a must, as is “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I heard about the latter via Richard and Judy, but try to put that aside and read it anyway :) It’s truly fantastic.

    Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is an absolute stormer. Allegedly written for kids but I don’t believe that for a second.

    08 Feb 2007, 13:52

  33. And I also agree with Natalie’s friend’s dad, The Time Traveller’s Wife is a great read too – stick with it, it drags a little towards the latter stages but it’s worth it :)

    08 Feb 2007, 13:54

  34. Mary

    I come from a family of avid readers so am ashamed to say that I read very little but I always think that I’d rather be out doing things rather than reading. I read “The Curious incident of the dog” on my Mum’s recommendation but was disappointed as I found it rather cold and lacking in emotion. I like to read books where the human spirit is seen to triumph over adversity and for that reason I love “Going Solo” by Roald Dahl and “Once in a House on Fire” by Andrea Ashworth.

    I’ve just started “The God Delusion” so will let you know how I get on with it.

    09 Feb 2007, 12:13

  35. chirag

    zen and the art of motocycle maintenance is my all time favorite try to find time to read it. i would happily churn of twenty other books that i think are essential but it seems you already have a long enough list

    09 Feb 2007, 21:49

  36. Gavin, I will try to read all my stuff “in the face” for I know from experience that simply lying on textbooks is (sadly) not enough.
    I think I’ve got “Homage To Catalonia” around somewhere, it can be next.
    Not a lot of sci-fi I know, but I have read more than enough Terry Prattchett in my time to compensate! That said I will definitely try to get hold of “The Time Traveller’s Wife”.
    And feel free to keep on mentioning more books; I may not get through them all but I’m sure other people will be happy for the suggestions too!

    12 Feb 2007, 00:05

  37. Michael S.

    I think these two are definately worth including on the list:

    ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway

    12 Feb 2007, 00:38

  38. Mary

    I’m quite excited by “The God Delusion”, I’m absolutely loving it. It’s full of interesting scientific facts but more importantly it’s full of optimism about the non- existence of God. I’m about a third of the way through the book and so far God has been scrutinised as something with human characteristics, it will be interesting to see if the concept of God as a “power” will be addressed later in the book.

    Best quote so far…
    “If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an under-achiever.”

    12 Feb 2007, 07:31

  39. If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an under-achiever.

    A more perfect summation of deism I cannot think of!

    12 Feb 2007, 10:34

  40. dan

    Get into Graphic Novels, and pick up some classic series like Transmetropolitan and Sandman.

    14 Feb 2007, 18:52

  41. dan

    Also play some classic games like Deus Ex, Day of The Tentacle or Civilization.

    14 Feb 2007, 18:52

  42. Nice idea Dan. I’m both a gamer and a graphic novel fan but I’ve found that by the time someone passes 21, if they’re not already into games and comics then they have a hard time understanding the appeal. Which is a real shame.

    14 Feb 2007, 23:08

  43. David Metcalfe

    The Count of Monte Cristo

    If ever a Nobel Prize for Literature was to be awarded posthumously.. it would have to go to Alexandre Dumas.

    18 Feb 2007, 15:34

  44. I’d have Don Quixote high on the list. Hundred Years Of Solitude is decent n’all. And you’ve already got Crime & Punishment and Bonfire Of The Vanities, but I second (or third, or nth) them.

    21 Feb 2007, 04:35

  45. Mark

    Hi M,

    I’ve stumbled across your blog and, more specifically, your artwork whilst in the middle of a particularly crappy transition between one side of the world and the other and, while I’ve never felt compelled to randomly write to a blog before, I felt it only fair to tell you that I think your work is great and has cheered me up no end. Thanks. I may not be a rich man but if I ever win the lottery you can have your boutique on me:-)

    If it’s not too late may I suggest ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (Richard Llewellyn) for your book list and, having seen your art, rather than Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey, I’m sure you’d enjoy ‘The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’ (Tom Wolfe) about Kesey.

    Mark (a pirate)

    21 Apr 2007, 16:13

  46. Thanks for all your comments! So far I’m covering about three books per month, not too bad considering I’m only really reading during my lunch hour at work. I’ve added the last few books everyone has mentioned to the list, looking into deus ex, starting day of the tentacle, but never really got into Civilisation – I’m more of an Age of Empires girl.
    And also thank you for your wonderful praise Mr Pirate Mark, I’m glad to hear my work cheers people up and not the opposite!
    Regards,
    The Pirate Wench xxx

    21 May 2007, 18:05

  47. Oh if you liked Colony, there’s always Incompetence – which is ok although I think he takes the idea a bit too far. And I should get a copy of Fat too (his latest, out last year – not read yet).
    Why doesn’t The Forever War have an author?

    21 May 2007, 22:48

  48. AGE OF EMPIRES!!!

    Oh my god, that game ruled my time for a good couple of years when I was younger. What a classic.

    21 May 2007, 23:27


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