Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Books of 2016

            As 2016 rolls to a close I am proud to say that I may have read more books this year than I have ever read in any other year of my life. With 85 novels read in 2016, I have had the opportunity to vastly expand my literary horizon in a celebration of good books. This post is lengthy, but I am considering it as more of a possible place for book recommendations. With each book that I have read this year, I have included a brief summary and literary critique.

            Similar to last year, my quest for good literature has led to reading three novels at a time in a cyclic fashion. One novel, a contemporary classic, always comes from the Modern Library (ML) editors’ choice of 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. A second novel is usually a piece of classical literature that I have not read preferably pre-20th century. The third novel is my free-for-all choice. Usually I go with something that is a lighter read, but sometimes I look for contemporary novels that are publicly and critically acclaimed.  Sally and I also took to reading a number of plays this year off of a list titled “Goodreads Top 100 Stage Plays of All Time” (GR). Reading a play out loud with a loved one is a lot of fun.

            Before we move to the actual list of novels for this year, I would like to share with you my top ten reads of 2016. If you go no further, I ask that you please consider these as indispensable works of literary fiction. I am a lover of great writing, stories, characters, etc. These Top 10 Reads are each amazing in their own unique way and are chosen as works of unforgettable literary art.
1.      All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
2.      One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garbriel Garcia Marquez
3.      To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
4.      The Sun also Rises by Earnest Hemingway  
5.      Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
6.      Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
7.      The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
8.      The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
9.      The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
10.  Native Son by Richard Wright

Books of 2016
1)      I, Claudius by Robert Graves, 1934, ML #14—This was an adventurous historical fiction that takes place in the during the rule of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligous in ancient Rome. It is written as an autobiography from the perspective of Claudius a crippled invalid who remains in the background while everyone… and I mean everyone… else kills each other off for the throne. It is a great story filled with drama, murder, comedic scenes, and the power of the Roman Empire. I really enjoyed this read. 

2)      One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garbriel Garcia Marquez, 1967—Originally written in Spanish this novel is an incredible tale of a family who over more than a hundred years founded a town, waged civil wars, and watched the passage of time. It is a tale of life; full of love and death. One of the unique charms of this novel is the subtle hints of magic within all of its stories. It reads like tall tales that have been passed down over time, and is beautiful in its prose, symbolism, and passion.

3)      Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1937—Steinbeck remains one of my favorite American authors and this novella is another testament to his writing powers. As Fitzgerald captures the wealthy, so Steinbeck is a master of capturing the working man. I also find myself deeply enjoying his dialogue and almost poetic awareness of nature. The novel is a short, easy, powerful, read that I recommend to anyone. 

4)      To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, 1927, ML #15—This novel is delightful, and provides some of the most in depth views of relationships in a family that I have read. Woolf masterfully uses stream of consciousness to transcend this novel to a work of art that not only vividly explains the characters thoughts, but also their motivations and inner reflections. If you are interested in breaking ground into this modern style put down Ulysses and pick up this novel instead.  

5)      When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells, 1899—This novel is bordering on terrible. It is the story of a man that falls into a sleeping trance for 200 years only to find that when he awakes he is the owner of half the world, because his inheritance became a corporation. The novel is racist, patronizingly sexist, and poorly written. Wells imagines a world what is vastly different form the one we are now in, and demonstrates how quickly a sci-fi novel can fall from grace if the predictions of the future are entirely inaccurate and unscientific. I think the thing that bothered me the most is that he had access to enough science in 1899 to have imagined something a little closer to reality; Jules Verne certainly did. Time Machine is still a good read by Wells, but avoids this one.

6)      Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 1877—This is a beautifully written classic in a realist style. The New York Times declared this book the best ever written in 2007. The writing is incredible, and the story is interesting albeit slow. I hesitate to recommend this book to anyone that is not interested in reading classical literature. It is a very long book that may not be appreciated by the casual reader.  Published serially in 8 parts the novel tells the story of love, betrayal, marriage, birth, and perhaps captures the essence of life. Tolstoy is a master narrator capable of fully explaining the motives and desires of his characters in ways that are subtle and profound. Simply wonderful.  

7)      The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, 1940, ML #17—The major themes of this novel include a young girl growing up too quickly, death, a black man facing adversity, and the loneliness of a deaf man who has no one to sign to. It is a beautiful portrayal of 1930’s South that exposes the horrors of racism, and also the difficulties of the depression. I believe that this novel may have been an inspiration for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. McCullers novel is for adults, but there are many similarities. Overall this was a good read.

8)      The Princess Bride by William Goldman, 1973—Goldman does something in this novel that I have never seen before. He writes the book as if he is abridging another novel to add credibility to his story. Everything in the novel from the author’s introduction to the commentary throughout is a work of fiction that makes this novel delightfully original. Now to the question of whether this book is better than the movie. Honestly I’m not sure. The movie has become such a classic for my generation and is in many ways superior to the novel, but creative genius lies with the book.  

9)      “The April Witch” by Ray Bradbury, 1952—I hesitate to include this short story because it took maybe 15 minutes to read, but it is included on a list of books to read before you are 30. It is a nice story about a witch with strange out-of-body power looking for love.

10)   Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov,1955, ML #4—Humbert Humbert a lecherous pedophile wheedles his way into the life of a 12 year old girl. This is the some of what I knew about Lolita prior to reading it. One of my greatest fears regarding this book was if it would fall into the classification of a novel that is too damaging in its empathy. Do we need to sympathize with a man that rapes a 12 year old girl? Would this novel become a “Bible” to pedophiles everywhere? For these reasons I put off reading it for a while even though it was rated 4th on the Modern Library list. Now, I understand fully the beauty of this novel. It is a work of art that demonstrates mastery of the English language. The story is written in such a way that while there is the occasional erotic scene it is not pornographic. It does not sympathize with Humbert. The reader finds that one can never really forget what is happening: that this is a shadow of love and an abuse of power. Subtle language in the narrative continues to wake one up to the comic tragedy of the story. I warn you that this is not a novel to be read lightly and many my never feel that they can or desire to see the mind of Humbert Humbert. Allow me to finish with the opening line, Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

11)  The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter by Ambrose Bierce, 1892—This is an interesting tale where we must question the motives of the monk who becomes obsessed with a young women. Worth reading, although not Bierce’s best. Interesting fact about Bierce at the age of 71 he mysteriously disappeared while touring Civil War battlefields. His final written letter closes, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”

12)  Foundation by Isaac Asimov, 1951—This is the first novel of the Foundation series which is arguably one of the greatest sci-fi series ever written. In this novel, psychohistorists have developed a way to predict the future based on statistics of populations. The leading theorist realizes the Galactic Empire will fall and establishes a Foundation at the edge of the galaxy to preserve science. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys sci-fi novels. It is a very well thought out story written by a man with a PhD in biochemistry and an understanding of science. The novel is written through a collection of stories that spread across several hundred years of Foundation history.

13)  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, 1952, ML #19—An incredibly profound and eye-opening novel that tells the tale of a young black man who concludes that he is invisible because of his social identity. His journey to this philosophical conclusion is filled with pain, misunderstanding, and unusual adventures.

14)  Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant, 1885—This novel was published in English with the sub-title “The History of a Scoundrel.” It tells the story of a man who climbs the social and financial ladder by relying on his good looks and using wealthy women. Maupassant uses this anti-hero to lament on the irony of inequality of the sexes. It’s a good read. I prefer Maupassant’s collections of short stories which are also remarkable.

15)  The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1977—Published posthumously this novel tells the history of Middle Earth from the time of creation to the War of the Rings. It is a dense beautiful work of art. Tolkien writes in a style that reads like a legend as he recounts the tales of the creators, the Valar, and the Elves (the Eldar.) The first half of the book is slow, dense, but still unbelievably epic. The second half is even better. Some of the tales of heroism against the forces of darkness are truly awe-inspiring. Tolkien is a master creator of a universe that leaves no questions unanswered. However this novel is not for the first-time Tolkien reader, it takes a fan to truly appreciate the details of this work. I would advise reading The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings first.

16)  Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara, 1934, ML #22—A novel that captures the social life of upper and middle class America in a small town in the 1920’s. The reader follows the downfall of Julian English as he tears apart his life one thread at a time. Despite this, the novel is light and sometimes humorous. O’Hara openly discusses the sexual culture that is present at the time; one that is double-standard and destructive.

17)  Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov, 1952—In the second novel of the Foundation series, the Galactic Empire is finally at an end, yet the Foundation faces a threat of such magnitude that its science might not be enough.

18)  Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1925—This story was published in 1998, but originally told to Tolkien’s children. One of his boys lost a particularly favored toy dog at the beach, so Tolkien invented an entire story to explain the disappearance. This short read, tells the tale of a dog that is turned by an annoyed wizard into a small toy, and then travels to the moon and the bottom of the sea in hopes of regaining his shape. It is a delightful tale with the light easy humor that Tolkien infuses The Hobbit with.

19)  Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1949—This short comedic story tells the tale of an ignorant yet brave farmer who through sheer luck overcomes a giant, a dragon, and a king. The story was originally published separately, but now is part of a collection in the book Tales from a Perilous Realm.

20)  Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, 1959, ML #21—A rich man tries to find meaning to life by traveling to the untamed African wilds. The book details his comic and philosophical adventures as he jumps from a bad situation to a worse one. While this was a good read, I don’t recommend spending time on it unless you are interested in critically acclaimed modern fiction.

21)  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, 1940—This war novel beautifully captures a story of a dynamiter who is working with guerilla forces behind enemy lines in the Spanish Civil War. I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it. Hemingway creates an amazingly real cast of characters and wonderfully depicts the view point of a foreigner attempting to work well with locals. Sure, it being Hemingway, there are traces of sexism and masochism, but overall a great read. Definitely in the top ten of this year!

22)  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943—This magnificent, short, must-read novella is filled with wisdom and allegory. It is one of those books that children will love and adults appreciate for a lifetime. A magical little price from a very small planet travels through the stars in search of knowledge.

23)  The Adventures of Tom Bombadil by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1962—This short collection of poems was written with the appearance of hobbit authorship. Like the Lord of the Rings Tolkien attributes these poems to the writings of Bilbo and Sam. The collection is a fun read, which children might enjoy too. One downside is that it still does not really explain the mysterious persona of Tom Bombadil who remains one of my favorite characters in Tolkien literature.

24)  Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov, 1953—The third novel of the Foundation Series, in this book the foundation realizes that there may be a second secret foundation of psychologist who are shaping the events of the galaxy.

25)  Winesburg, Ohio by Sherman Anderson, 1919, ML #24—This collection of short stories focuses on a protagonist as he comes of age and embraces his role in life. Anderson expertly captures characters who are just trying to understand their social role in a small town in the beginning of the 20th century. Anderson is said to have been an inspiration in style and storytelling for great authors like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner.  With descriptions that are beautiful and metaphorical this novel is well worth the read.

26)  Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, 1962—This novel tells the story of two boys plagued by an evil carnival that haunts an American small town. Bradbury’s prose while unique is sometimes difficult follow because of an exaggerated attempt to turn a scene into a semi-poetic narrative. The novels themes consist of childhood vs. adulthood and good vs. evil. Its climatic sequence seemed to be lacking in logic. Overall, while a neat unique read, this was not a great read, nor one that I really recommend unless you already enjoy Bradbury’s style.

27)  Smith of Wootton Majer by J.R.R. Tolkein, 1967—This short novella was beautiful and transcendent. I am a huge fan of Tolkein’s prose and story-telling narrative. In this story we follow a magical star across generations as it allows the bearer to travel to Faery. It is simply told yet elegant. Defiantly my favorite of the short Tolkien stories I have been reading. 

28)  Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1945—This short allegorical fiction is about a man who creates a painting in a world where art is not valued. Later his work is recreated into real life. The story is interesting. My first interpretation was a satire on communism, but then the story moves into a religious allegory of life, death, purgatory, and paradise. Tolkien has written that the story is autobiographically allegorical regarding his creative process. Further similarities can be seen in his writing of The Silmarillion where the dwarfs are accepted by the creator as the Niggle’s tree is accepted. The short Tolkien works I have been reading can all be found in the novel Tales of a Perilous Realm.

29)  The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, 2002—This novel describes a family’s grief over the death of a murdered daughter from the perspective of the deceased daughter.  It is a relatively easy read that has the potential to be a real tearjerker in places. While I thought the narrative perspective was unique, I do not hold this novel to be a brilliant piece of writing. I found the story a little inconclusive and anti-climactic. However, it is a fun read that can be light and enjoyable.

30)  Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, 1945—A humorous novel where a group of men try repeatedly to throw a party for the “Doc” whom they all admire. The novel expertly captures comradery and contentment with life even when your material possessions are limited. Steinbeck’s creative narrative tells the story while skipping to other interesting events that happen on the Row. In the midst of the wonderful description of characters, Steinbeck captures nature and life in the shallows of the ocean with details that are beautiful and vivid. The novel lacks the tragic depth of other works centered around the Great Depression, but illustrates how life can still be wonderful in poverty. It is a comedic must read, if you are a lover of Steinbeck’s work as I am.

31)  Passage to India by E.M. Forster, 1924, ML #25—This was a great read as a PCV. It captures the dynamic of imperialism which creates an environment that is just waiting to fall apart. The story is told through the eyes of an Indian who loses faith in the British and a British man who leaves his fellows to stand with the locals over an issue that threatens to destroy the peace of a city. As a PCV one sees viewpoints that are damaging to integration with the local culture, and also characters who push for unity. One complaint of this read is that the ending is a little anticlimactic and with a regression of character development. Still it is well worth the read.

32)  Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian, 1972—This is the second book of the Aubrey-Maturin series. The series is a historical nautical fiction written during the time of Napoleon and is the inspiration for the movie Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. This second novel was a really great read. Jack Aubrey who is still a young captain is struggling to make Post and gain job security. The novel details a variety of adventures and expertly captures some amazing sea battles. While I enjoy this series immensely, I do feel that O’Brian relies too heavily on dialogue to convey the plot in a manner that can be confusing at times. There are also some unresolved aspects of the narrative that seem strange. Still if you enjoy historical fiction this may be the best British nautical fiction series ever written.

33)  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, 1963—This beloved young adult science fantasy novel is a must read for everyone. Meg travels on a journey through the cosmos with the help of her younger genius brother, her potential boyfriend, and celestial beings on a quest to find her long lost father.  As the journey through space time develops it becomes apparent that there is a great evil that must be dealt with. The novel is a short easy read, albeit sappy and overly coincidental in places, but if you didn’t read this as a child, I strongly suggest reading it now.

34)  The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532—This short novel is a sort of “how to” guide to running a kingdom. It is rather revolutionary and details how to successfully control the nobility and the populace. One thing that makes it unique for its time period is the constant iteration that if a prince fails to please the common man, then it becomes very difficult to maintain control of the kingdom. Overall the novel is enjoyable and enlightening especially since this is an election year for our country. Who do we what to be our prince? Will he/she display the proper judgement in running our country? As I read this I found myself wondering how many historical leaders used this as a guide.

35)  The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, 1983—this exciting novel is set in a monastery in 13th century Italy. A series of murders are plaguing the monks, who must rely on a man of trained intellect to help them. Above it all is the labyrinth library that contains many secrets.  The novel was originally written in Italian, but the translation is still wonderful. Eco manages to tell an exciting story while explain the politics and agendas of the Catholic Church at that time. I don’t recommend this to everyone because it is rather dense in parts.

36)  Scarlet Sails by Alexander Grin, 1923—This is a delightful short novel that captures the magic of love through a believable fairy tale. I highly recommend this to everyone. Well worth the read. Because it was originally written in Russian, the title could also be interpreted as Crimson Sails.

37)  The Wings of the Dove by Henry James, 1902, ML #26—This novel tells the story of a wealthy American heiress who is terminally ill. The novel covers the last year of her life and conveys the story of those around her who are her friends for motives either sincere or selfish. The heiress is related to a dove upon whose wings others are seeking fortune. While it is easy to see from a critical standpoint why the novel is in the Modern Library Top 100 list, it is dense with a difficult writing style and not for the casual reader. I enjoyed the novel, but James spends so much time explaining every nuance and emotion of a dialogue that it can be downright exasperating to read sometimes. Unless you are working through this list as I am, I do not recommend this novel.

38)  Native Son by Richard Wright, 1940, ML #20—Bigger Thomas is young black man who through a series of circumstances ends up murdering a white women. Native Son expertly captures the social influences that lead to this tragedy while telling the story in a manner that light and riveting. Wright creates a character that one doesn’t always like, yet sympathizes with. I was a little wary of reading this novel, because I had tackled Invisible Man earlier in the year and was tired of 20th century black/white issues. However, Native Son brings race issues to the present in a way that is subtle and profound. Wright also elaborates on societal fear of communism in 1940 and a friendship that could exist between oppressed groups.  I highly recommend this novel.

39)  The Vicomte de Bradelonne by Alexander Dumas, 1847-1850—This novel marks the first quarter of the final novel in the d’Artagnan saga which begins with The Three Musketeers and ends with The Man in the Iron Mask. Ten years have passed since the last novel. D’Artagnan at age 50 is frustrated with his service to the young king and decides to leave to seek his fortune elsewhere. In a plot that is entirely Dumas, d’Artagnan plays the key role in reinstating the English king to his throne. While the novel by itself is not as good as 20 Years Later, taken as the first of four it is remarkable with all of the humor, adventure, drama, and intrigue of a Dumas novel. Dumas stays true to his characters throughout their lives weaving personalities that the reader rejoices in finding again and again. Surprisingly, Athos son, the Vicomte, makes only a small appearance in this novel. 

40)  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957—I worked on reading this massive novel for several months and possible 50 hours of read time. The novel is placed high on reader’s choice list, so it seemed like something worth reading. Overall I did not like this novel and would never recommend anyone else to read it, but let me start with the good things. Rand creates a world that illustrates to the reader how important capitalism is versus socialism. In places, Rand demonstrates great creative description of environment and events. She also offers compelling philosophical arguments for her view of life and the importance of people who desire to achieve everything they want. Now for why no one should read this novel. 1. It is enormously long with pages and pages of unnecessary dialogue, and sometimes reads incredibly slowly. At one point a character presents a monologue that is almost a hundred pages long detailing the philosophical arguments that have already been hit upon again and again. In short the book could be fourth of its size. 2. Rand creates a world that is incredibly in favor of her heroes. Everyone on the right side of the central issue is intelligent and everyone on the wrong side is grossly negligent and ignorant. It is poor creativity that is akin to assuming that all republicans or democrats are idiots. 3. Virtually all of the main characters speak with one voice which is college educated, philosophical. There is no difference in dialogue to the point that it doesn’t matter who is speaking, because they all sound the same, demonstrating the poor writing of the author. 4. I don’t know who messed with Ayn Rand, but her view on sexual relationships is incredibly chauvinistic. She creates a wonderfully strong female character that is figuratively brought to her knees in the bed room. The characters first relationship as a teenager seems to imply that the intimacy was beyond consent and that he would do whatever he wanted to her. So as a whole, while there are many people that love this novel, I did not.  I can understand and sympathize with her central arguments, but the presentation is sloppy at best.

41)  Tender is the Night by Scott Fitzgerald, 1934, ML #28—Another beautiful work of art by this beloved American author. Tender is the Night tells of the rise and fall of a marriage that is impacted by infidelity, psychosis, and alcoholism. The story is told in a light artistic style that unveils profound depth to the reader. Tender is the Night is singularly important to Fitzgerald, because it seems to parallel his own marriage in which his wife was institutionalized for schizophrenia.

42)  M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman, 2007—This collection of short stories captures the simple magical essences that Gaiman author of Stardust is a master of. Some of Gaiman’s work is for adults, but this collection is full of great stories that children can love too. I highly recommend any work by Gaiman as a simple magical escape from reality with riveting stories and masterful prose.

43)  Trigger Warnings by Neil Gaiman, 2015—Wow! This author has been one of my best finds during Peace Corps service. He is amazingly versatile as a writer. This novel is a collection of short stories that are magical, mysterious, and sometimes scary. Great Read!

44)  American Gods by Neil Gaiman, 2001—This novel is widely regarded as one of Gaiman’s best works. It tells the story of old gods battling the new gods of technology, while still maintaining and capturing the life of mid-west America. This thrilling novel is legendary, graphic, and beautiful. It is a light must read for anyone looking for a book that will take them on an adventure in a way that only literature can.

45)  Ten Years Later by Alexander Dumas, 1847-1850—This is the second novel of a four novel set that concludes the third installment of the d’Artagnan Romances. While I enjoyed this novel, it lacked a lot of excitement and adventure that its predecessors are so abundantly filled with. I think this is because it is like reading the second quarter of a massive novel. Most of the plot in this 65 chapter installment was focused on creating the relationships that will cause problems in the next two books. The last half of the novel involved a garden party where the aristocrats of 17th century France spent their time plotting and falling in love. If there is one novel to skip in the epic 6 volume d’Artagnan  set, this would be it, still as an avid fan of Dumas, I believe everything in this novel will be important in the later books. 

46)  The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, 1915, ML #30—An American couple becomes entangled with an English couple in a story that details tragedy and fall from grace through affairs and suicide. The novel is told through flashbacks that in each consecutive circle reveal more of the plot. Ford uses a narrator that is unreliable in his lack of emotional response to the demise of those around him creating an interesting double plot: that which the narrator accounts and that of a sociopath that the reader is left to guess at. The story is unique and the book is written very well.

47)  Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett, 1987—In a world where only men can be wizards a young girl must fight against the nonsensical glass ceiling to achieve what she wants. Pratchett is an incredibly funny ride with humorous circumstances and dialogue that are a joy to read.

48)  Hell House by Richard Matheson, 1971—From the author of I am Legend, a team of parapsychology investigators enter the renowned Belasco House to determine the origins of its haunting. The book is gory, disturbing, and graphic, but helped fill my desire to read a horror novel. If you like scary books and have exhausted Stephen King as I have, check this one out.

49)  Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, 1973—When Lester Ballard is evicted from his home he retreats into the woods of the Appalachia and descends into madness through murder and necrophilia. McCarthy’s prose is unique and detailed in a way that provides perfectly clear images to the narrative. I suggest this short novel if you have a taste for the macabre. If not you should check out some of his other less controversial works like The Road or No Country for Old Men

50)  A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, 1934, ML #34—The wife of a wealthy estate owner decides to leave him for a petty lover. When faced with the destruction of his marriage and the loss of his only son, Tony Last embarks on an adventure into the Amazon. Waugh demonstrates an extremely capable hand in the art of dialogue which throughout the novel is at times funny and tragic by masterfully giving his characters lines that are astoundingly meaningful at just the appropriate moment. This novel was a joy to read, and very hard to put down in the last 40%.

51)  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, 1898—A governess to two beautiful children becomes terrified for their safety when they seem to become the interest of two sinister ghost. James has a unique prose that gives this Gothic tale an ample amount of self-reflection and ambiguity. James purposely makes it difficult for the reader to determine reality from madness. If you are a lover of other classic horrors like Frankenstein or Dracula, then this shorter novel may be right up your alley.

52)  The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde, 1895, GR#3—This delightful, satirical play tells a comedic tale of love. The humor and wit of the play pokes fun at turn-of-the-century Victorian social traditions with delightful Shakespearean comedy full of misunderstandings where the end result can only be marriage.

53)  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, 2000—When an unreliable narrator discovers a manuscript in a recently deceased man’s apartment, he finds himself compelled to complete the work leading to a second narrative regarding a house that seems to contain a labyrinth of endless corridors leading to emptiness, claustrophobia, and the horrors of self-reflection. Danielewski creates a novel that is stylistically unique with hundreds of footnotes and creative fount in an attempt to leave a sort of realistic credibility to the narratives. This style of fiction leaves the reader second guessing the authenticity of the fictional work similar to the effect a person has watching The Blair Witch Project. I found the systematic analysis of the Navidson Records in the novel to be too much. I was often annoyed at the time the author spent scientifically describing an “echo” while the reader must wait for the story to continue. The story seemed to climax early in the novel and then anti-climax later leading to just a really long ending. The novel is a one-of-a-kind in stylistic prose, but I still found myself wishing the book would end during the last half. Worth reading from an artistic standpoint, not so much from an enjoyment standpoint.  

54)  Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, 1953, GR#4—In a play that Beckett describes as a tragicomedy two old men wait for a man that will never come. While the play lacks long narratives and monologues there is something disturbing about its simple depths. All of the characters seem to be senile in some way. As two characters debate the merit of hanging themselves, Beckett displays his masterful understanding of “gallows” humor.

55)  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, 2016—Spoiler Alert! While it may be worthwhile to see this play for the visual effects, in all other aspects it is terrible. Rowling throws away the opportunity to continue the Potter story, by allowing this article of fan fiction to make its appearance. The dialogue is terrible in its attempts to channel the movies rather than the novels. Harry’s lines are written with built in pauses that seem more like Danial Radcliff than the Potter of the books. There is also a huge lack of original material. The play utilizes magic that has been seen before and reaches an extreme cop-out though the use of a “time-turner” that is hidden in the Ministry of Magic in book shelf that some kids can get to using a polyjuice potion… What? The Ministry, hasn’t figured out polyjuice yet!?! The play also has a mind boggling number of scene changes and complicated sets that if not done correctly would be miserable for the audience. Finally, it is obvious that the authors went out of their way to create emotionally “sensational” scenes between father and son, friends, and any other recognizable character from the franchise. The “feel good” moments are vomit inducing. The absolute best being when adult Harry, through a series of time traveling paradoxes, must watch Voldemort kill his parents again, but its okay because he’s got his lovable friends to support him. As someone who appreciates the book series as a cultural phenomenon of our generation, I am disappointed that Rowling didn’t try harder. The whole thing from a story standpoint feels unenthusiastically impartial to creativity.  

56)  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, 1966 GR#9—This play would be a real delight to see in theater with a good cast. The writing is amazing with an innovative plot that focuses on these two characters as they navigate the dangerous terrain of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The central theme of the play is the absurdity of life and the overwhelming presence of death with a poetic end in which Ros and Guil realize their end is upon them. A really neat aspect of this play is how it seamlessly wove in dialogue and scenes from Hamlet; switching flawlessly to Shakespeare styling of speaking. This transition was difficult to read, but I think it would be beautiful on the stage. 

57)  Death of a Salesman by Arthur Millar, 1949, GR#10—A Salesman is forced to confront the realities of a world that does not spin the way he thought it did and the lose the American Dream that not everyone can achieve. This play has won a number of awards and is well deserving of them. Millar masterfully weaves a tragedy that utilizes all of the nuances of spoken word. Really, really well done.  

58)  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, 1947, GR#11—A play that masterfully captures some of the more difficult aspects of life including domestic abuse, mental health, sexual inequality, and poverty. Williams presents us with a play that has become an American icon. Not my favorite, but still well worth the read.

59)  The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, 1926, ML#45—Hemingway’s first novel is often considered one of his best because of its influence in the area of modernist literature. It is a tale of love that can never be consummated. In this novel Hemingway also creates a 20th century women that exhibits behaviors that illustrate the changes of the time through her multiple divorces and freedom of love. As the reader, I found myself considering this to be in some ways a novel of sexual equality, but the unique aspect of Hemingway is that it can also be interpreted as a novel of masochism. Plot aside, the beauty of Hemingway’s storytelling lies in his intricate description of living in a foreign country, of nature, and the nuances of four cultures colliding in this novel. I loved his chapters on a fishing trip in Spain, because I felt that I was there. One can tell that Hemingway is not a writer who is imagining his stories, rather he writes as one who has seen and done all that is within the novel. The raw authenticity is wonderful. If you have never read a Hemingway novel before, I would recommend For Whom the Bell Tolls. This later novel lacks many of the quirks of writing that are present in The Sun Also Rises, and is easier on the reader.

60)  Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King) by Sophocles, 429 B.C., GR#15—The first of the three “Theban” plays by Sophocles has played an interesting role in our history. Oedipus in an attempt to escape a prophecy that states he will kill his father and marry his mother, flees to a neighboring kingdom where he realizes years later that he still ended up killing his father and conceiving children with his mother. The play deals with the sometimes cruel twist of fate and questions the opportunity of free will. Sigmund Freud later based an entire psychological theory of development on the desires that coincide with Oedipus’ tragedy. Modern translations have done a great job of making the lines of these plays lyrical and understandable. I recommend this play if you are interested in Greek writings, plays, or want to understand the story that pops up in numerous cultural references.

61)    A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, 1879, GR#13—When Nora in a moment of desperation signs an illegal loan in an attempt to save her husband who, when confronted with the deed, caste her aside only to forgive her at the moment safety arrives, she is forced to confront the unreality of the life and marriage she has been living. Ibsen, in a masterful play that is delightful to read, viciously attacks 18th century marriage culture and the harsh realities of a woman in a man’s world. Well worth the read. 

62)   Louise de la Vallière by Alexander Dumas, 1850—This is the third novel of the enormous Vicomte de Bragelonne saga that concludes the d’Artagnan romances. Similarly to the second novel Ten Years Later this novel deals heavily with the improper relationship between Mademoiselle Valliere and the King. While the novel is necessary to the story line it did drag for a while in the middle. I really enjoyed it, but I think I’m a solid Dumas fan. Dumas is a master of creating complicated plots and portraying dramatic dialogue in a manner that leaves a devout (and you have to be devout to finish one of these lengthy novels) reader interested and wanting more. I highly recommend the first two novels of this series, but The Vicomte de Bragelonne is really for dedicated fans.

63)  Kraken by China Mieville, 2010—This modern fantasy deals with a squid cult, the end of the world, and the stereotypical un-invested hero that is pulled along a wild ride. The author was recommended to me as a possible substitute for Neil Gaiman, but Mieville lacks the magical prose that Gaiman does so easily. The story was choppy, written poorly, and often large aspects of plot were unexplained. At this point, I would say that Mieville is an acquired taste that I don’t have, and would not recommend the book.

64)  “That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner, 1931—An interesting short story in which Faulkner details the events of a washerwomen who is terrified of her husband. The story is narrated from the perspective of Quentin who is one of the view points in The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner’s true genius is his ability to capture character perspective in writing and this story is an example of that. In it we see the simplicity of a child’s understanding or lack of understanding as adult conversations go over his head. It is deep and thought provoking, but I think I enjoyed it more because I had already read The Sound and the Fury and was accustomed to the characters and family dynamic.

65)  Good Omens: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, 1990—This was a delightful funny novel about the apocalypse in a way that only Gaiman and Pratchett could do. I highly recommend this light humorous read!!!

66)  All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, 1946, ML#36—This masterful peace of art dramatically details the political life of a ruthless governor of a southern state as he rises and falls from power, but the story is not just about this governor, but also about all of the people around them and the impact of choices in life. The central character, a man who works closely with the governor, is repeatedly and painfully reminded that being a bystander is not always an option.  The novel is beautiful. The imagery and prose that Warren demonstrates is breathtaking, and the dialogue is downright riveting in places. Each chapter is a work of art that flows to climax before leading gracefully to the next. This novel was profoundly good, and truly a joy to read. It may possibly be the best read of the year for me.

67)  The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, 1927, ML#37—When Brother Juniper witnesses a tragedy where five people fall to their death, he decides to intimately discover the lives they have led to answer the question of fate; its preordination and mortality. Wilder leads us through three narratives that tell the life story of characters who the reader knows will die while capturing some of the essence of Peru and Spanish life. The stories are unique tales that roll against the reader like a tide where death is almost an afterthought. I found myself wondering how Wilder achieved a writing prose that is poetically similar to Garbriel Garcia Marquez. Is it that writing a romantic fiction of historical Spanish culture that leads to these long, graceful narratives? Whatever the case, I highly recommend this short read and quest into the meaning of death.

68)  Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, 1913, GR#14—This classic play is the inspiration of the movie My Fair Lady, in which the iconic Professor Higgins raises the croaky Eliza Doolittle into a life of a gentlewomen. The play is well written with great characters who stay true to their innate psychology. Shaw refreshingly refuses to give his characters picturesque “happy end” and sticks to the reality of relationships that are complex. I honestly think I like the play better for its unconventional ending that Shaw continued to defend into old age.

69)   Deliverance by James Dickey, 1970, ML#42—Four men take a journey through a wild undeveloped section of river where they are forced to survive in ways they never anticipated. So often when authors produce books with great writing they are force to sacrifice some of the speed and excitement that is present in books with less artistic value. This novel is different. The writing is amazing bordering on pastoral in places with touches of philosophical insight, and the story is riveting. Once I reached the 30% mark it was almost impossible to set this novel down. Great read!

70)  Banquet of the Damned by Adam Nevill, 2004—Two musicians travel to a quaint Scottish town to get a fresh start. They quickly find their world in chaos when they are forced to confront a monstrosity of the supernatural. The novel was worth reading from a strict enjoyment perspective; however you can tell that this is the authors first novel. There are many places were Nevill’s choice of words or dialogue distracts the reader from the story, and areas where the story lacks conviction. I recommend this novel if you enjoy the genre of horror.

71)  The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas, 1850—This novel concludes the d’Artagnan Romances a journey that I embarked on last year with The Three Musketeers. In this novel, Aramis attempts the most daring political maneuver that the Musketeers have yet faced. Dumas artistically embellishes a real life mystery of a prisoner who is forced to were an iron mask so that his identity is unknown. In the novel, this prisoner is the identical twin of the king. Dumas follows the complete lives of his characters. In the first novel, we are confronted with youth, daring, and pure luck. In the second novel, Twenty Years After, our beloved heroes are older and wiser in the ways of the world. They embark on political intrigue with finesse and brilliance. In the last four novels, we are confronted with an extremely long plot that spans over 250 chapters in which we realize that with age come changes. The world the Musketeers rattled in their youth is different and less forgiving on old adventurers. Dumas excellently tackles and reveals the challenges that a hero must face in growing old.  For the casual reader, I do not recommend these last four novels, instead I highly recommend the first two of this series. If after reading these, you find yourself wanting to follow the beloved heroes to the end, as I did, then these last four are for you. It has really been a pleasure to read all of these novels, to immerse oneself into the literature, and to emerge with the passing of a lifetime.

72)   Assorted Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1839-1882—Collections include Voices in the Night, Ballads and Other Poems, Poems on Slavery, The Belfry of Burges and Other Poems… Longfellow is a masterful American poet with an easy to follow meter and a style that is focused on elements of nature. I highly recommend the epic poem titled The Song of Hiawatha. In a dark time in American history with slavery and persecution of Native Americans, Longfellow is a crusader for human rights and the epic song of Hiawatha tries to capture the essence and legends of a culture that was forcefully eradicated. He is a true American treasure.

73)  The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, 1904, GR#21—A delightful play by a talented writer that deals with a Russian family coming to grips with poverty. 

74)  The Marquis of O- by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808—When a noblewomen finds herself pregnant she is forced to put an ad in the newspaper, because she has no memory of conceiving the child. The story is wonderfully told in a prose that is unique and defined bringing forth the issue of forced seduction or rape in a society where to save face it is important for the Marquis to marry her rapist. Great short read for the classical reader.

75)  Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, 1963—A dark comedy where an author writing a book about the father of the Atomic Bomb finds himself on an adventure that delves into mankind’s ability to annihilate itself. Vonnegut has a unique writing style that is fast paced and humorous. This novel is definitely worth the read, but needs to be taken lightly.

76)  The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, 1948, ML#40—A beautiful written novel about British foreign service during WWII. In it, Greene analyzes the basis of love in a character that is driven by pity for the women that he is involved with. It is a deeply moving novel that captures the colonial life of British occupied Kenya while investigating the human aspect of a sometimes difficult life. I really enjoyed this novel, it was well worth the read from a deep and moving aspect.

77)  Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, 2006—For all those who love great writing and great literature this is a thought provoking read that celebrates both and attempts to bring readers into a greater appreciation of the art of writing.

78)  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 2008—A toddler narrowly escapes a murderer and is given sanctity in a graveyard where the inhabitants of various levels of decease are eager to give him a healthy albeit different childhood. It is a wonderfully delightful novel that was winner of the 2008 Newberry award. While it is geared more in the realm of young adult fiction, I had no problem becoming enthralled in a novel that demonstrates the mysteries and adventures of a magical childhood with the simple, yet elegant prose of which Gaiman is a master.

79)  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, 1962, ML#65—In this novel readers are taken on a wild ride into the darker parts of s futuristic society where the narrator is a delinquent youth hell bent on pursuing whatever passions come to mind. The novel takes a philosophical turn in the realm of forced behaviorism and violence. Burgess infiltrates the novel with a slang that is sophisticated and brings a lighter stance to the violence that is occurring. The reader may not understand the slang words, but soon finds oneself following the story easily. Burgess also somehow creates a sympathetic character out of a narcissistic monster. For pure ingenuity and creativity this novel is a great read, however I don’t recommend this novel for everyone. If you are fan of books like Slaughterhouse Five or 1984 this book is worth the read.

80)  Loving by Henry Green, 1945, ML#89—With the ravishes of the second World War plaguing the world, Green creates a masterfully delightful novel that follows the tale of servants in an old Irish castle. Greens novel feels like a snapshot of a world of service that is slowly becoming obsolete. The absolute finesse of this novel lies in its astounding dialogue that captures life and weaves delicate threads of a simple, yet complex story. Green expertly uses dialogue to convey often multiple messages to the careful reader. An example is when; Mrs. Tennent slips and calls the new butler by his old name. With the use of one well-placed word the reader understands instantly that Mrs. Tennent is frustrated with her butler, that she harbors possible feelings of regret, and passively chooses to express her displeasure with him. This is a wonderful piece of writing that is not overly challenging. I highly recommend it to anyone.

81)  Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, 1811—Anyone who has read some of Jane Austen’s other works will recognize in this novel its mastery of character and witty dialogue. However, this novel does lack some of the raw drama that is found in Pride and Prejudice. Naturally the plot of Sense and Sensibility centers on a couple of sisters’ journey to successful marriages involving all the complexities of Victorian courting, and the fallacy of man to lead on the gentler sex. One of the central themes of the novel is an attack by the author on secret engagements that can only lead to trouble. Overall a great read, but if you are new to Austen, I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice instead.  

82)  A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, 2003—This was a fun, informative read that discussed the history of natural science and explained general scientific discoveries in an easy to understand manner. Bryson is remarkable witty, so there were many moments where I was chuckling out loud at the humor of his writing. Underneath all of the information and humor is a cautionary tale of our planet’s fragile systems and humans destructive powers. Bryson is also the author of A Walk in the Woods, a novel of two inexperienced hikers tackling the Appellation Trail.

83)  World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden, 2006—What can I say… I miss playing WOW, these novels provide the fantasy backstory. The Warcraft novels embody many elements of classic fantasy with dramatic scenes and classic acts of heroism. Worth reading if you are a fan of WOW, but otherwise… no.

84)  World of Warcraft: The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb, 2002—Continues the chronological story from Rise of the Horde, however this novel is a little better of a read. I recommend it to fantasy enthusiast. It has likable characters with an interesting narrative. A young mage enters into an apprenticeship with a powerful wizard, but as he develops his skills he realizes things are not as clear as they should be…

85)  World of Warcraft: Tides of Darkness by Aaron Rosenberg, 2007—The story continues. The Alliance forms and the Horde must be defeated. This novel is really just for fans. One interesting thing about the Warcraft books is that they all seem to maintain similar prose, characters, and story-lines even though they are written from various authors.

I hope this has been informative. If I have persuaded just one person to pick up a book via this lengthy post, then it is worth it. I am always excited about book recommendations, so please let me know if you have a favorite to share!!!


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