1. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mocking Bird
If you want to understand the deep and painful racial history of America, you can do no better than read this inspiring, touching and even humorous novel. Whenever I read this story, I always try to imagine how I would have reacted to the situation going on at that time.
2. George Orwell – 1984
I’m not very politically minded, to be honest, but this book has really made me suspicious of the grip of invasive governments ever since I first came across it as a teenager. Every now and then I read it again to see how far down the murky path of Big Brother we have trodden.
3. J.R.R Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings
As a youngster, this epic journey really filled my inquisitive mind with adventure and fantasy. The collection of heroes and villains in this vast labyrinthine trilogy always gives me a thrill to think about. In my opinion, this story deserves to be read at least twice.
4. F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
For me, the 1920s Jazz Age of America is one of the most intriguing of all. The world was really changing in those days; it is hard to imagine now unless you read this wonderful book. Ultimately, it is a story about love – as so many of my favorites are.
5. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice
I fell in love with this great little novel when I was a precocious youngster, but over the years I have realized that so much of the whimsy and subtlety of the characters and their formalized actions passed me by. Only now, in my more mellow years, do I truly appreciate every little thing about this masterpiece from the golden age of the novel.
6. Anne Frank – Diary
Anne Frank was such a wonderful young lady, and her story so tragic that the diaries she wrote, while hiding from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam, are impossible to put down once you turn over that first page. I can only admire the fortitude and spirit Anne showed, and weep at the horror of a war that madly destroyed such precious angels. Whenever I read, I always remember how destructive hate is.
7. Louisa May Alcott
This is another personal favorite coming-of-age story that reminds me of the time I first read it. The four sisters’ struggles as they grow up help me measure how far I have come on my own journey too.
8. Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
Since I love books so much, this story of a world where books are banned has always struck me as very important. It helps put into focus just what the power of writing and reading really is all about. The book compares the freedom and independence that books offer in comparison to the conformity of mass media. It’s something I often try to warn my children about!
9. Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
For much of its history, the novel has been a medium where strong female characters have reveled. This was never more true than in Charlotte Bronte’s most famous story about the feisty Jane Eyre. Jane is one of my favorite literary heroines.
10. J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye
Some people actually blame this sophisticated novel for the appearance of cynical teenagers in modern society (and even much worse things!), but not me. Holden Caulfield is not an invention from thin air, but a discovery Salinger made, of the true nature of what it is like to be an adolescent in today’s mixed up world. Like all great art, this story reflects reality rather than dictates to it.
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11. E.B. White – Charlotte’s Web
This story has given me many happy hours. I think my mother first read it to me, and I have read it to many children since. Ever since I first became acquainted with this simple but profound little tale, I have always been able to express great gratitude and empathy to animals. This is something I believe I owe to this book.
12. C.S. Lewis – The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis was a most interesting gentleman, and he brought his great learning and wisdom to this terrific Narnia series for children. What a sumptuous fantasy world he wove, with so many wild creatures, and so many ideas! There has never been a more interesting wardrobe than this. I simply love reading this to kids.
13. John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath
This is another story that puts me into a period of American history I am just fascinated by: the 1930s when The Great Depression had harassed families and ruined businesses. Its clear distinction between the rich and poor still gives me pause for thought, when I think about the extent things have changed since then.
14. William Golding – Lord of the Flies
As a parent, I really adore this story. What starts off as a fun childhood fantasy, freedom from adults, soon descends into primitive mayhem and barbarism. This book is so profound it was again a story that I didn’t really grasp the implications of until many years later, when I realized how frail human nature really is.
15. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
I could have chosen any Dickens novel really, but for some reason or another this one always has me thinking very deeply. Whether it is because of the realistic love triangle, or the history of the French Revolution (which I am fascinated by) I am not sure, but it is one heck of a gripping page turner all the same.
16. William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet
The reason why this drama requires at least two readings is not due to the archaic, rhetorical, and dense language, but more to the subtle and against-the-grain thinking that Shakespeare somehow works into a conventional love-tragedy. Despite a few seeds of cynicism thrown in (especially if you remember how the same story is mocked in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) this play is full of incredibly sincere moments of deep, enduring love.
17. Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte may well have been the outstanding genius in her gifted and extraordinary literary family. In my opinion, this is the greatest Bronte novel of them all. Heathcliff is such a spellbinding, Byronic character, and Catherine such an interesting and passionate woman that few novels pack as much romantic punch as this classic.
18. Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland
It’s amazing to think that some of the greatest novels of all are actually written for children, and in spite of that they still seem to be as enjoyable for adults. It is only stories like this madcap adventure that can truly bridge any generation gap, and bring you and your younger family really close together.
19. Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Mary Shelley really amazes me. How she could write such a complex, yet exciting novel at the age of 18 is beyond me. If you have never read it, do not be put off by the Hollywood images. This really is a deep work of fiction. Legend has it that she first came up with the idea while having a ghost story competition with husband Percy Shelley and close friend Lord Byron at a mansion by Lake Geneva, Switzerland, on one dark candle-lit evening.
20. Mark Twain – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
As the original title said, this really is The Great American Novel. This story fulfills that of a forgotten promise with some fantastic and humorous adventures, a wonderful portrait of the nature of friendship and the evolution of societal changes.