Wed. December 19
Books to Read by Christmas 2013
Compiling lists of books you think people should read, movies you think they should watch, albums you think they should listen to, or places you think they should eat is a fairly subjective process. No matter what you include some busybody on the Internet will chime in with a “I can’t believe you forgot to include . . .” remark and completely miss the point: this is my list (said with Clint Eastwood’s gruff voice in Gran Torino).
I love to read. Always have. Reading has always been a big part of my life and, in my opinion, it doesn’t really count unless you’re doing it for yourself. That is when real education of the mind–real engagement with compelling material deep in your soul–can take place in a meaningful ways.
Here is a list of twelve (or thirteen, if you want to be technical) works of fiction (in no particular order) that rank among my favorites and that I am convinced you should read in 2013. I’ve listed one per month because I can already hear the excuses creeping up in the back of your heads as you try to convince yourselves that you’re “too busy” to read anything other than the 14,000 vapid Facebook updates and Tweets you daily consume about your friend’s baby who had a “snuggly, wuggly” look on their face that morning, or your buddy’s penetrating analysis of last night’s tough loss (“Those refs sucked, bro!”).
January – The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A fascinating character study of someone trapped in habitual sin. Old Fyodor wrote this short novel about a young man addicted to gambling while under the duress of having to make enough money to pay off debt collectors who were ready to throw him in prison for delinquent sums he accrued due to his addiction to gambling. Need I say more?
February – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
From one Russian who lived before the terror of Bolshevism and communism to another who experienced the full weight of the revolution’s tyranny, Solzhenitsyn’s stories–both fiction and nonfiction (The Gulag Archipelago)–are among some of the most important of the twentieth century. Illuminating a dark chapter in Russian history, One Day in the Life of Ivan D is “both a graphic picture of work camp life and a moving tribute to man’s will to prevail over relentless dehumanization.”
As the first two installments of Lewis’s “Space Trilogy,” these stories demand to be told/read together. But don’t start to panic: they’re both short and easily digested over the course of a month. They follow the adventures of Dr. Elwin Ransom, a British professor of Philology circa 1940 who travels to Mars in the first book and Venus in the second. Ransom learns that we are not alone in the universe, and that the cosmic forces of good and evil have a very particular interest in the deeds of men and beasts. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, these are two of the most interesting stories you’ll ever come across.
April – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Before the Political Correctness Police ban it, read this greatest of all American novels for the first or fiftieth time. It never gets old. The unique story-telling ability of Twain is on full display in his masterpiece. I try to visit the Mississippi Valley via the pages of Huck Finn once a year.
May – The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton is my guy. I found him while on a search during college for who it was that influenced C. S. Lewis. I’ve never looked back. Thursday‘s plot revolves around a group of anarchists who are involved in the planning and execution of violent assassinations of European leaders and the undercover detectives dispatched to infiltrate and cripple the heinous organization. You’ll have fun with this one.
June – No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
You’ve seen (or at least heard of) the movie, now here’s the book that inspired the Cohen brothers to create their Oscar-winning film. The story involves the lives of three men–an average Joe, a dutiful old police officer, and a deranged contract killer–whose lives come crashing up against one another after a drug deal in the Texas wilderness goes awry. It’s violent and gritty, but thought-provoking and entertaining. I absolutely loved the film and thoroughly enjoyed the book.
July – The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Definitely the longest of any of my selections, Fountainhead is, in my opinion, much better (and shorter) than Rand’s more famous work Atlas Shrugged. As a religious conservative, there is plenty that I disagree with in Ms. Rand’s objectivism, but the tale of architect Howard Roark’s stand against conformity and egalitarianism is compelling, and her dissection of the defects inherent to centralized power is penetrating. Let Atlas shrug and come have your Randian thirst quenched by the fountain.
August – Moby Dick (or The Whale) by Herman Melville
Everyone knows the story of Moby Dick and Captain Ahab, right? But how many of you actually read this book in school? I mean really read it, not just “My teacher assigned it and I had Sparknotes.” It’s considered a classic for a reason: it’s awesome. Equally awesome is the 1956 film adaption starring Gregory Peck as Ahab (which you can watch for free on YouTube right here). What more do you need than this description of the book: “Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs and their places in the universe.”
September – 1984 George Orwell
I’d wager that all of you have heard and used the term “Orwellian” before, but I’m convinced that it’s full weight and meaning is lost on many folks. So read 1984 and absorb the exciting story of a totalitarian government hell-bent on retaining control of a world that to the modern reader’s mind no longer seems worth controlling. Soak it in. Don’t make Big Brother send jack-booted members of The Party to your home. Oh, and the book’s title was inspired by Orwell’s love of G. K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill. So it’s got that going for it as well.
October – We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Even though I currently reside in Los Angeles, because I’m from Chicago and I associate October with gloomy, overcast skies and the realization that a long winter stares me square in the face, I decided to end the year with a few books some might consider “downers.” I prefer to think of them as substantive and thought-provoking. We, like 1984, is a dystopian novel based full of more secret police and futuristic societies that is based largely on the author’s personal experiences during the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. My friend and fellow AEI blogger Jacque Otto reminded me that this one existed last spring and I’m so glad she did. Now you’ll be glad she did as well!
November – That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
This is the novel that I would write had it not already been written (and had I been born with even just half the intellect and storytelling ability as Clive Staples Lewis). It completes Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and I separated it from the first two books because although it carries themes and character arcs set in motion during those first two stories to their fantastic completion, one need not read all three in a row to make sense of the story. A supra-governmental agency called N.I.C.E is steadily taking control over the political, economic, and cultural soul of Great Britain in the 1940’s. The only thing standing in their way is a merry band of utterly ordinary, but supremely brave conscientious objectors who reject the brand of “progress” N.I.C.E. and its nefarious cohorts are pursuing. The early pages might seem slow, but believe me: the action picks up and is well worth the character development Lewis insists upon at the start.
December – The Count of Monte Cristo By Alexandre Dumas
The whole “wisdom of the ages” thing is very important to me, and this book has it in spades. Monte Cristo is an emotional tale of revenge gone awry and the great struggle between forgiveness and bitterness that we all feel at certain points, and to varying degrees, in our lives. Or as Wikipedia describes it: “An adventure story primarily concerned with themes of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy and forgiveness, it focuses on a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune and sets about getting revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. However, his plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty.” A great way to end your 2013!
So that’s it–that’s my list. Many of these books can be found for free online by simply Googling them, and if you’re especially lazy and cheap (like me), you can always check out what free audio books Librivox.org might have in its sizable catalog. Don’t worry: audio books count!
Don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter (@rjmoeller) if you decide to undertake even just one of the works listed above and want someone to banter with about what you find in their pages.