Every reader has their own list of "the best books ever", but I like to think that these lists are always in flux-- that we amend and add to them as we grow and read more. So I ask all of you to have open minds, and to give these books a fighting chance of getting on your lists (if they aren't there already). The best books affect us deeply, and make life more meaningful.
One of my all-time favourite books, OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck, is truly a story that everyone should read at least once. It's not a long one either, but the simple charm and humanity with which it is told makes it impossible to put down.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA is another timeless classic! Ernest Hemingway employs such a minimalist language in the telling of this story that the insights to be gleaned are as clear as the sky above the old man's head. Do not dismiss this short novel as a mere literary footnote... read it, and marvel at the resilience and tenacity of the human condition.
I first read DEATH OF A SALESMAN back in high school, and it left a permanent mark on my literary sensibilities. Arthur Miller created such a touching and pathetic character in Willy Loman, one in whom we come to both relate and pity, that you can't help but root for him. If you haven't already, you need to read this play!
You may not have heard of Richard Bachman... but the name Stephen King should ring a bell. A friend of mine let me borrow their copy of THE BACHMAN BOOKS, four stories written pseudonymously by Mr. King, and HOLY SHIT-- it was like a revelation. All four of the stories are worth reading, but one in particular-- a story called THE LONG WALK-- has stuck with me all these years. I won't say anything else about it... just that you need to read it!
While I'm on the subject of Stephen King, I should recommend MISERY. Although I've enjoyed many of his books, Misery is the one that perfectly translates a feeling of terror and hopelessness to the reader. It is such a tense story, and Annie Wilkes is one of the most terrifying characters in the history of literature. A masterful piece of suspense with a plot that inches forward like an idling freight train. Read it... right this instant!
THE CHRYSALIDS is another book from my school curriculum. And thank God! A sort of post-apocalyptic tale, it is not something I would've otherwise picked up. But John Wyndham's imaginative plot had me hooked. David and Rosalind have a secret, but they must either keep it a secret or withdraw completely from their village and escape to the Badlands-- where all the impurities are forgotten. How will it end? Read it and find out.
In much the same way, Jack London's THE STAR ROVER caught me completely by surprise. I read it as part of a research project for school, and I found myself lost in the fascinating narrative. Darrell Standing is a prisoner at San Quentin who, despite his tightly-cinched straight jacket, manages to transcend his torture and travel back to experience his previous lives. Trust me... you will not be able to put it down!
NIGHT, by Eli Wiesel, is the first part of what has come to be known as THE NIGHT TRILOGY. While all three of them are certainly worth a read, the first one is truly a literary achievement. In it, Wiesel recounts his time in a Nazi concentration camp. Such hope and honesty in the face of a seemingly hopeless circumstance. Do yourself a favour and keep this gem on your bookshelf indefinitely!
THE TRIAL AND DEATH OF SOCRATES is, in my opinion, the greatest of all Plato's works. It is a collection of four dialogues-- "Euthyphro", "Apology", "Crito" and "Phaedo"-- and it follows Socrates through his trial and eventual execution by the State of Athens. In true philosophical style, Plato examines value and logic and knowledge. "The unexamined life," as Socrates famously notes, "is not worth living." So basically: if you don't read this book, you should just go ahead and kill yourself. That's what he's saying, right?
There have been plenty of books written about the craft of writing, but none as apt and honest as ON WRITING by Stephen King. If I wasn't already on the road to being a writer, this book did the trick. From one of the most prolific and successful writers of all time comes an intimate look into the mind of a writer.
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to work in the writing field-- whether it's as a writer, editor, proofreader or publisher. Are there other style guides out there? Yeah, of course... but William Strunk's smart and succinct guide to proper grammar and punctuation distils the pertinent stuff into an accessible handbook. So put it in your toolbox!
While I'm on the subject of writing... if you're a writer too, and you plan on writing and publishing a book, then Joanna Penn has written a book that you must read. HOW TO MARKET A BOOK is a comprehensive look at the modern world of publishing and marketing and, although I haven't published a book yet, I've read this book twice-- and I feel much better equipped to do it properly when I get there.
Will Durant is one of the greatest historians the world has ever seen. He had a way of presenting complex ideas and time periods in the most accessible and entertaining way. THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY is a perfect example of that. From Plato to Spinoza, to Santayana and Dewey... Durant tells a complete history of Western philosophy for the layperson-- for you and I. And it is a wonderful read!
ZEN AND THE BIRDS OF APPETITE is another philosophical book, but of a starkly different category. Thomas Merton, in a collection of essays from later in life, examines his own discovery of Zen and its relationship with the Western idea of faith and religion. A truly remarkable read, and one that will undoubtedly expand your intellectual and spiritual sensibilities.
A more recent find for me, and one that has had a profound effect on my concept of finances and wealth, THE WEALTHY BARBER is a book that I believe should be a part of every high school curriculum. David Chilton-- best known for his recent appearances on "The Dragon's Den", Canada's answer to "Shark Tank"-- wrote this common-sense financial planning primer in the style of an ordinary narrative. And, while it is a great story, the tips and strategies offered by his barber character are revelations for any financial novice who reads it. So do it, and live a more comfortable life as a result.
THE EASY WAY TO STOP SMOKING sounds like a piece of shitty, government-sponsored copywriting, doesn't it? It really is a horribly platitudinous title, I admit. But this book, written by a man named Allen Carr, really is the most effective smoking cessation strategy I have ever stumbled upon. It's a no-nonsense approach to the smoker's dilemma, and it will dispel the notion that you need to smoke cigarettes. So if you are a smoker, read it and stop smoking (the easy way).