On occasion I will post a list of books created by some unknown person on the internet—top 50 titles by British authors, mystery best sellers, greatest books of all time and more. This is often something I would place in my newsletter; because I do like lists. So how about my lists? What are my top 5 favorite books? Once I started thinking about this, I realized that my top 50 would be easier to name then my top 5. Much too restrictive. There must be 25 mystery writers that I loved every book they wrote. In terms of book titles there’s a couple hundred right there. At one time I was an avid Sci-Fi reader and became absorbed in the genre for several years. Another hundred or so. And of course, the classics are just that; classics. How do you get that down to the best 5?
Well here is my list—with the caveat that if I did this same exercise next week, it would probably be a different five.
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This would probably show up on a lot of lists of best books. I remember the first time I read these books—I did almost nothing else for days. It was an amazing experience. The world and characters created by Tolkien totally absorbed me. In many ways this was like my childhood experience of reading Classics Illustrated comic books on steroids. Even the second time I read these books, it had an overwhelming impact on me.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I had read this book before Lord of the Rings and at the time it formed a lasting impression. I was, of course, younger when I first read Lord of the Flies so I’m sure I identified with the “kids” who are the characters in the book. The book stayed on my mind for a very long time after finishing. It troubled me and took many years to fully come to grips with how it had impacted me. I always intended to read other books by Golding, but for some reason never have. Maybe I will soon—or maybe not.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read this book when I was in high school. I knew at that time that I was an anti-war person. I could understand the logic of WWII but did not understand the reason for the wars afterward. And, of course, I was looking at the draft for Vietnam, and war looked like an extreme personal threat. This book cemented my anti-war beliefs. Some of the greatest message books of all time have been satires, and this is a great one. For some time I’ve been under the impression that this was the only book he wrote–amazing that I was not aware of the others. Good example of getting something in your head and never questioning it again. He did write other books which I didn’t read–think maybe I will try one. I would guess it was hard to follow Catch 22.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This may seem like an odd choice but this book was almost impossible for me to put down. It is a historical non-fiction book about a legendary architect/designer working on huge projects of the time—world fairs. But there are other plot lines; including murder. This is a fascinating book and an amazing writing achievement. Another book falling into this same category was The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. (This book is also a top candidate for longest title ever). I almost included The Worst Hard Time as one of my top 5 favorites. It is not a joyful book but in its own way very inspiring and extremely well written.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I loved this book just like millions of other readers. It sure isn’t the greatest book every written, but for just pure entertainment this is at the top. And that is why we read most of the books we read—so it’s on my list.
Like I said at the beginning, this was hard. Coming up with hundreds of books I have loved would be easy– selecting the top 5 is a challenge. These are the ones that came to mind today and each one is highly recommended.
How about my least favorite? You know the strange thing is I usually enjoy a book even if it is not my favorite. I have always had (even before I was a writer) great respect for someone who wrote a book—and if I didn’t enjoy the book—I was still reluctant to be critical. Now there have been many I did not finish—but even with those I often thought; maybe it was my mood and I should try them again later. Actually did that on some and enjoyed the book on the second attempt.
However, there is one book I have to include as my top least favorite book of all time. The oddity Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I had read other Rand books and liked them—actually thought The Fountainhead was very good. I knew about her beliefs and lifestyle. All of which made her someone I was interested in reading. But Atlas Shrugged is the worst book I have ever read—and the damn thing goes on forever. Now maybe Ayn Rand is some kind of god for you, and being critical of her is not allowed—well, that would probably also mean you have never attempted reading this monstrosity. This book is very, very long and very, very bad—I still hold a grudge for the lost time. (I’m sure she would not have cared.)
Authors are often people who live in their own bubbles (just like most people-but authors can create their own worlds easier than most). Rand needed a close friend who could have read this thing and offered advice along the lines of cutting about 50% of what she’d written—or maybe just start over.
Being creative is hard. Often when we are at our most creative we feel like geniuses in our own bubble, and yet, the result is more akin to garbage. Living inside your head and making stuff up is creative for sure, but can be dangerous.
Have any thoughts on books you like the most or even the least leave a comment. I would enjoy hearing from you.
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