Friday, April 20, 2018

Best Books Syllabus (updated)

More and more, it's becoming a struggle to find a book worth reading. The classics no longer seem relevant. Contemporary novels (half of which seem to be set among the upper-middle class in NYC and California) don't do much for me. All travel books seem wimpy and unambitious. Lately, I've had to resort to nonfiction science writing and biographies. For every book I start, three are given up by page thirty.

I'd love it if someone, whose tastes are similar to my own, would give me a syllabus of decent books to read, to save me the trouble of having to sample and discard so many. With that in mind, I've decided to list my favorite books for those of you who may also be struggling.

This list is as unpretentious as I could make it. Many books that I respect but that didn't agree with me (Joyce's Ulysses for instance), didn't make this list. The following books are simply my favorites.

Fiction 1700 - 1899

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Fiction 1900 - Present

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Poldark series by Winston Graham
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Robert Edwin Lee and Jerome Lawrence
Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
1984 by George Orwell
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Non-Fiction - Travel/Nature

Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey
501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
On Nature: Selected Essays by Edward Hoagland
A Walk across America by Peter Jenkins
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller
Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner

Non-Fiction - Philosophy

Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
A Tolerable Anarchy by Jedediah Purdy
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Abstract Wild by Jack Turner
Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

Non-Fiction - Memoir/Autobiography/Essays

The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen
The Stars, the Snow, the Fire by John Haines
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Denial by Jonathan Rauch
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Naked by David Sedaris
Essays from the Nick of Time by Mark Slouka

Non-Fiction - History
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz
The Endurance by Alfred Lansing
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Non-Fiction - Biography

Che by Jon Lee Anderson
Grant by Ron Chernow
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Days of Henry Thoreau by Walter Harding
Henry Thoreau: Life of the Mind by Robert Richardson
Saint Joan of Arc by Vita Sackville-West

Non-Fiction - Special Interest

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Suburban Nation by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk
Story by Robert McKee
The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson


Ian Large said...

“...All travel books seem wimpy and unambitious...”
The inevitable suggestion of a book that defies this trend. Sorry, I couldn’t help...

The Places in Between, Rory Stewart.

A book about walking across Afghanistan just after the Taliban fell, after completing a walk across Asia where he had needed to skip Afghanistan because of the war situation there. And in winter - reading it gave me a mild case of frostbite!
His response to what he saw on the walk was to firstly try to work in the British government aid agencies in the Middle East, then out of total frustration with the British response to the Middle East he ran for British parliament and gained a seat to try and change attitudes from within. Talk about commitment.
Also has made some documentaries for BBC TV. One on his hero, Lawrence of Arabia, the other a two-parter on the history and failures of the the British, Russian and US occupations of Afghanistan (Afghanistan The Great Game). All seem to available on YouTube, along with some of his parliamentary performances.

Ken said...

Ian--That's a good one, and definitely not wimpy. :) All due respect to Stewart, there was just something slightly cold in his delivery, keeping his book off a list of this sort.

Bec2hike said...

I have loved following your blog although I haven't any book suggestions, I'm wondering if you have any favorite blogs to share?

Ken said...

Rum--My friend's political/rural living/literature blog is the only blog I read:

Onevikinggirl said...

You already have Heyerdahl in there (I prefer Easter Island to Kon-Tiki but that is just a matter of favouring a different flavour of adventure).
Have you read Daniel Kahneman, Thinking? A concoction but it gives terms for behaviours I'm certain you also have seen around. Adam Hochschild - Kind Leopold's ghost changed me and the book To end all wars should fit you too. Possibly together with Margaret MacMillans The war that ended Peace. Jonathan Israel A revolution of the mind Radical enlighenment and the intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy I have not yet red but will do as soon as my thesis is over. Also try to find a biography over Mary Kingsley, an explorer in Africa - not wimpy at all. Fish and fetishes were her interests, good cheer was her attitude.

Will said...

Hey, I've been a follower of your blog for a while and this post intrigued me. I think there's at lest a little bit of overlap in our reading tastes - Stoner, Franzen, Stegner. These are all among my favorite books...I want to make all sorts of disclaimers about these recs but I should probably just leave them here:

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima
Oblivion by DFW (especially story #2, The Soul Is Not a Smithy)
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (reread as an adult, worth it)
The City and the City by China Mieville
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves by B.R. Myers
Ryszard Kapuscinski for non-wimpy travel writing - maybe the Emperor or Shah of Shahs to start out
The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexeivich

Paul said...

Have you gone down the David Foster Wallace rabbit hole? His book of essays “Consider the Lobster” doesn’t really fit in with your above mentioned taste, but I figured I would throw it out there. I enjoyed it much more than his first piece of his that I had I read “Broom of the System”. Also Junot Diaz always does it for me, same with Franzen who you mentioned twice. Currently reading his essay collection “How to be alone” and enjoying it.