I remember my last three years of high school receiving a reading list from which we chose fictional works for the purpose of studying and writing book reports as a means to take our learning from beyond those textbooks we would read. I'm sure most of us have been tasked with the job of writing at least one book report in our careers and many of us had written several before school was completed. I know with Mr. Harkins we had to read at least four or five books in his class, one for each marking period practically.
Besides the books we were "forced" to read, I loved reading for the sake of reading. Mrs. Rakos whom I miss to this day encouraged us to read from the moment we met her in first grade until we graduated. Her daughter Becky was a classmate of mine and I think we were fortunate that her mom was able to move through school with us until we graduated. For most of my school years, she was the librarian and she got to know most of us very well. I worked for her in the middle school and the high school as a library assistant so I had free reign to reading whichever books I wanted and was allowed to borrow more than she typically allowed. I have always been grateful for that. Writing about Jules Verne last week led me to think about what my favorite books to read have been, and I would like to list some for you along with why they stand out in my mind. These are in no particular order, but feel free to let me know what yours are and what you think about this list. Some are short stories, but all are significant to me.
Following last week's column, I would definitely have to list "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea", "Mysterious Island", "Master of the World", "Robur the Conqueror" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" on my list. I will forego my reasons which I covered last week.
On the theme of science fiction, Verne's counterpart H.G. Wells would definitely be on my required reading list. Wells, the other "Father of Science Fiction" wrote some excellent contemporary works and I would recommend "The Invisible Man" which is a bit harder to read, but once it is underway I found it a compelling book about how a special ability creates power and then compromises its bearer's integrity. "The Time Machine" is a wonderful journey into a doctor's ability to manipulate time and learn about our past and future only to learn what is most important in life. It is a wonderful adventure. Of course no reading list would be complete without Wells' "War of the Worlds" which has been made into at least two feature films and a classic radio play that frightened the United States courtesy of another Welles on Halloween in 1938.
On the American front, Ray Bradbury who passed away last year was another author who I enjoyed reading. Most students have read "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles", but one of the novels I most enjoyed was "Something Wicked This Way Comes". It's the story of a carnival that comes to town led by the mysterious Mr. Dark. Dark has a tattooed body and as we soon learn the tattoos represent the souls of those to whom Mr. Dark allowed to live out a secret fantasy in exchange for their eternal servitude to the carnival. When people begin to disappear, the story's young hero William Halloway and his father Charles learn how to battle Mr. Dark and destroy the carnival. One of the most powerful scenes is the confrontation between the elder Mr. Halloway and Dark.
Shifting gears I think George Orwell should be another must-read especially with the current state of affairs. "1984" and "Animal Farm" are direct political statements on our society and its culture even though both books were written in the first half of the twentieth century. I have reread "Animal Farm" on more than one occasion and am fascinated with its important themes The book is a direct examination of the rise of communism in Russia and its personalities through the eyes of the farm animals. It is a masterful story that perfectly outlines the hypocrisy of communism and its inevitable failure. "1984" is the story of the rise of a totalitarian society in which the media is a propaganda arm of the government, everyone is taxed, spies abound and rebels to the government are captured and "reprogrammed". Amazingly while Orwell predicted this in 1949, fifty years later our society is closer to his vision than we could have ever imagined.
"The Hobbit" by JRR Tolkien and most recently brought to the big screen is another novel I would highly recommend reading although from what I remember it took some patience. I will admit that I have not read the "Lord of the Rings", but this first volume was entertaining to me. Tolkien created a whole universe to write about, the world of Middle Earth and his literature all describes and defines it.
Another novel on my list of must-reads is Johann David Wyss' "Swiss Family Robinson". This classic was made into at least two movies and two television series over the years. This was a classic adventure novel and one of the favorite stories. A family onboard a ship is stranded on an island and it is a gripping tale of survival and battling the odds while trying to stay alive until they are rescued. It's an amazing adventure and one that I enjoyed even until today.
Those are some of the authors I enjoyed. How many are your favorites? And if not these folks, who would be on your "list"?
Til next time…