Recently there have been various challenges between friends on social media. The famous “ice bucket” challenge in August and September sought to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Scelorisis (ALS), or commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Although there were critics that said too much water was being wasted, the net effect was that the public became more aware of this devastating illness, and millions of dollars were raised for further research into treatment and a cure for ALS. If you have ever cared for someone with this condition, you will know that this is great news.
One of the other different challenges involves people asking friends to list some (top 10?) most influential books in their lives. This can be very revealing and kind of helps to see some of the thought processes that a person has gone through in their personal lives bringing them to where they are today.
This is not a response to any challenge, but I want to list some of the fiction works that I have enjoyed over the last several months and few years. Some I have read in print, but many I have listened to in audio format with excellent narrators while working out or out running many miles. Even fiction writing has a tendency to help frame one’s mindset and paradigm of the world, and that has been the case with me as well. So, for what it is worth, here are some works of fiction that I have enjoyed and would recommend to anyone looking for great reading experiences. There is no particular order of ranking of these books as they appear below.
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tart: If you love art and old furniture restoration, this will be an especially good book to read. Some have noted a similarity to the story line in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. I can see where this can be true, but the setting is modern USA, and the story line and character development is excellent…the audio version had an excellent narrator.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak: Many have seen the movie (I have not), but the book is a piece of literary fiction that moves one deeply. Set in Nazi Germany during WWII, a story of a family and an orphan girl who struggle to survive and help a helpless Jewish man. Somewhat dark at times, but the story has the potential to move your soul in the right direction…in my opinion.
“The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy: This is an older book and, again a movie has been made from the story (I have not seen this movie either). Great character development that centers around a very dysfunctional family from the South, and does an excellent job of showing the deep flaws of each of us as we live out this journey of humanity. And yet, through the brokenness of the world and the flaws in each of us, there is beauty and something of grandeur to behold.
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini: This, in my opinion, is great literary fiction. It probes deep into our hearts for who we are, not for who we think we should be, and finds many questions. All questions don’t have answers, however. If you have any link to Afghanistan, or to that part of the world or its culture, this is a good book to read.
“Breakfast with Buddha” by Roland Merullo ….and the follow up sequel “Lunch with Buddha”: A story of a successful, upper middle class professional and his family who are touched by crisis. Laughing at times and crying at others is what I would expect the response to reading these two books. These really helped me to break out in my thinking about many of the assumed dogmas that I have held on to in my life.
“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts: This book is so awesomely good that I read the print version one time and listened (over 43 hours!) to the audio version a couple of years later!! The story is about a man who escapes prison in Australia and is on the run living in Bombay , India. Greatly entertaining while weaving different philosophical views of life into the storyline. Highly recommended!
“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel: The movie (yes, I saw this one!) did a fairly good representation of the book, however, the character and story development was much more thorough in the book. No need to give a summary since everyone has heard about this movie.
“Slumdog Millionaire” by Vikas Swarup: Again, the movie is well known, so no need to give a summary statement. Great book….audio narration was superb!
“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen: This is the story of an elderly gentleman in a nursing home as he recalls his life as a veterinarian for a circus. It is told in the first person, but two voices…that of the young man, and that of the old man in the nursing home. This touched a tender spot in my heart since I had seen both my mother and father live for years in a nursing home at the end of their lives.
“11-22-63” by Stephen King: Well know author, who takes on a slightly different story line. Greatly to be enjoyed by anyone who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. How life has changed. The twist of the story involves time travel and what would it mean if one could change one of the most devastating assassinations of the 20th century?
“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter: Just a beautiful story of life in coastal Italy where love was found and then lost. The character development by Jess Walter is stunning and a thing of beauty.
“A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving: This is a classic and should be read by everybody! At first I thought it was a bit slow starting out, but following these characters through their lives was enchanting and very impressionable.
“The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young: Not much needs to be said about this book. Many have weighed in with praise and deep seated scorn. I found it to be refreshing and insightful to the nature of God and how we live in relationship with a Deity of pure love.
“The Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End” by Ken Follet: If you have ever wondered about how life was back in England and Europe in the 9th and 10th Centuries…and how those huge gothic cathedrals got built without the aid of modern technology, this book is very insightful. Follet follows families and individuals through the perils and drudgery of life back then, with a spellbinding storyline that is sure to keep you reading.
The Century Trilogy by Ken Follet: “Fall of Giants”, “Winter of the World” and “Edge of Eternity”.In this trilogy, Follet starts off in book 1 around the year 1916, and begins to follow a few families in different parts of the world: Great Britain, Germany, Russia, USA. The story line incorporates excellent historical facts of the events that have made the 20th century so significant. In each successive book, the children, grandchildren etc. of the original families remain the main characters. Throughout the span of nearly 100 years, not only is there a spell binding story told, but a lot of history to be learned. The final book: “Edge of Eternity” has only recently come out, so I am still not finished with it yet, but I am already captivated by it!
“The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance” by Brandon Sanderson: These books are the beginning of an epic fantasy series called The Stormlight Archive. I know that not everyone enjoys this genre, but I found the story and character development to be insightful and greatly enjoyable.
“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd: Literary fiction in the setting of the South in the 1960s. This is a beautiful story of a girl who runs away from an abusive father and finds a refuge and home in the home of three African American sisters. There are themes of prejudice, guilt, shame and love woven throughout this charming story.
Lest I go on endlessly, I will list some honorable mention books and authors without commentary except to say here that I found, even these books to be highly entertaining, enjoyable and containing nuggets of wisdom and insight.
Let me list some by Author’s name first:
James Lee Burke: “Wayfaring Stranger”, “Feast Day of Fools”, “Rain Gods”, and “Lay Down my Sword and Shield” . Okay, one more comment…Burke probably has more insight into the dark side of human nature and the evils of society than most of us do. And he is able to express this in his writings so vividly. Great author.
Stieg Larsson: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played with Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest.”
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games Trilogy: “The Hunger Games”, “Catching Fire”, and “Mocking Jay”.
Cormac McCarthy: “No Country for Old Men”
Nelson DeMille: “Plum Island”, “The Gold Coast”, and “The Gate House”.
Dan Brown: “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code”
John Lescroart: “A Plague of Secrets”
Steve Berry: “The Paris Vendetta”
Sue Grafton: “V is for Vengence”
Jo Nesbo (translated by Don Bartlett): “The Leopard”
Wm. Paul Young: “Cross Roads”
Jason Matthews: “Red Sparrow”
Michael Connelly: “The Poet”
So that pretty much covers it for now…If you want more information on any of these books feel free to contact me!
I hope to do a Reading List: Non-Fiction sometime in the near future.