In January of 2003, I made a New Year?s resolution. I decided I was going to spend less time reading about current events and more time reading classic literature. I had been through a classic literature kick about nineteen years earlier, which focused on classic English novels (by Dickens and Hardy), Russian novels (by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy), and American novels (by Faulkner and Hemingway). This time I decided I was going to adopt a reading list that would force me to read some authors I hadn?t yet read. I also wanted to spend more time on ?modern? classics.
I came upon such a list one evening in Barnes and Noble while I was perusing the Spark Notes (much like the old Cliff?s Notes I used in high school) for War and Peace. In the back of the notes, I found a list of all 160 books and plays for which Spark Note summaries are provided. That became my new reading list. Fortunately, I had already read 45 of the books on the list. Sixteen months later, I have now managed to run that number up to 137. I thought I would take a break from my summer reading to recommend some of my favorites from that list. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
1984. I know that just about everyone reading this list had to read Orwell in high school. For me, that was over twenty years ago. Because I work at a public university, I am reminded of Orwell on a daily basis. The Office of Campus Diversity reminds me of Orwell?s ?Ministry of Peace? which, in Orwell?s words, ?concerned itself with war.? This book is more relevant today than ever. Even those who have read it should take the time to read it again.
Anna Karenina. Thinking about committing adultery? Think again. This book is the ultimate tragic novel. It illustrates the consequences that bad choices have upon those who make them. It also shows how those choices affect innocent parties. Our country needs to examine the important moral lessons of this book more than ever. Although about 900 pages long, I read this book in eight days. I simply could not put it down. In my opinion, it is Tolstoy?s greatest work. Here?s my favorite quote: ?in former days the free-thinker was a man who had been brought up in ideas of religion, law, and morality, and only through conflict and struggle came to free-thought; but now there has sprung up a new type of born free-thinkers who grow up without even having heard of principles of morality or of religion, of the existence of authorities, who grow up directly in ideas of negation in everything, that is to say, savages.? That was written in 1877. It could just as well have been written today.
And Then There Were None. I read this book in one afternoon last summer in St. Lucia. The island setting was appropriate. I?m also glad I finished this murder mystery by sundown. If you have never read Agatha Christie, this is the place to start.
Anthem. Many consider the loss of individuality (in favor of collectivism) to be one of ?our? greatest concerns in the 21st Century. So it was when Ayn Rand wrote this short novel. For those who think she took a page from Orwell, check the date of its original publication. Rand outdoes Orwell in less than 100 pages. ?We? think it?s a terrific little novel.
As You Like It. My high school English teacher made me read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo & Juliet my senior year. Unfortunately, she never told me that Shakespeare was this much fun. Of course, I wouldn?t have listened if she did (I flunked English four years in a row in high school). I had to mention that before one of my readers reminded me.
The Bean Trees. Some might wonder why a conservative columnist would recommend a novel about a single mother raising a child by herself. I really wasn?t thinking about Murphy Brown when I read this one. I was thinking more about all of the great relationships in this entertaining novel. I was also trying to remember when I had ever encountered a character as funny as ?Taylor? Greer. I?m still trying to figure that one out.
The Brothers Karamazov. I read this novel for the first time at age 19. I read it again 19 years later. This may be the greatest novel ever written. Its themes are timeless. From the ?Grant Inquisitor? to Father Zossima?s ?Of hell and hell fire, a mystic reflection? this is profound reading. Not a bad little murder mystery either.
The Chosen. This is one of the greatest stories of friendship ever written. When I read this book, I was also reminded of the role that chance plays in all of our lives. This book has not received the acclaim that it deserves.
Cold Sassy Tree. If you like Southern humor, this one was written for you. The author, Olive Ann Burns, is not quite as funny as my friend Celia Rivenbark (author of We?re Just Like You, Only Prettier). Perhaps that is because Burns touches on some very serious subjects, particularly in the book?s final chapters. Burns reminds me more of UNC-Wilmington professor Clyde Edgerton. Like Edgerton?s classic Raney, the book is not only good for laughs but appropriate for a sociology class. It is simply delightful reading from the first page to the last.
The Count of Monte Cristo. This is the longest ?page turner? I have ever read. Its unforgettable lead character is almost as intriguing as the complex themes of revenge and forgiveness that run through this great novel. This book inspired me to read The Three Musketeers shortly thereafter. While also a page turner, the Musketeers could not quite match the Count, in my opinion. Dumas moved far up my list of all-time favorite writers after I tackled these two classics last winter. I will certainly be reading both of these novels again.
Crime and Punishment. This is another one I read at age 19 and re-read at 38. Raskolnikov?s behavior contradicts much of what we know about human behavior in general; particularly the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Nonetheless, it is realism that strikes me as this novel?s greatest strength. Dostoevsky wrote this novel in a way that made me believe that I was there in the room with the main character during his greatest time of suffering. The book?s closing pages dealing with the relationship between the young murderer and the prostitute, Sonia, are among the greatest pages in the annals of literature. This tale of fall and redemption captures the essence of the human experience like no novel written before or since.
Robinson Crusoe. This is a much more serious novel than I remembered reading as a child. Crusoe?s independence and self-reliance make him an unforgettable hero. The religious themes of repentance and perseverance resonated more for me on the second reading. Like Crime and Punishment, the ordeal of the lead character is so vividly portrayed that it is difficult to climb out of this novel after only a few minutes of reading. Like the main character, the reader can achieve a good measure of self-awareness by spending time with this great novel.
Although that only covers the A, B, and C section of my list, I can see I am running out of space. My next book review will be back to politics as usual. Look for ?More Lott, Less Moore? in a few weeks. Until then, pick up a great work of classic literature and enjoy the reading. You know, like the kind they used to assign in college when English professors taught English instead of homosexuality and feminism.
Mike Adams (www.DrAdams.org), author of ?Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel,? is a member of the National Rifle Association. He often boasts that he is a better shot than Ted Nugent, in the hopes that the Motor City Madman will invite him hunting some day. Occasionally his by-lines have nothing to do with the subject matter of his columns.