Meaningful Books and Great Authors


A university colleague asked me, and many other friends, to list ten books which had meant a great deal to us, stayed with us, and to do it quickly. I tried to cooperate, I really did, but what came flooding into my mind were for the most part, not single books, but authors who had been my intellectual, artistic, and spiritual companions for many years, in some cases for decades. In no particular order, here are the authors and books which came to mind.

I should say before I move on that both my love of, and breadth in, reading are the result of being raised by two consummate readers: my mother, Betty Jo Baker Ast, and my father, Jacek Stanislaus Zhiemowit Ast.

Between the two of them our house, our apartment, our suitcases were always filled with, books on history, literature, science, art and artists, geography, government, poetry, military affairs, pottery, sociology, religion, nature, psychology, travel, grammar, spirituality, myths, fables, linguistics, social studies, etymology, technology, economics, astronomy ... and did I mention novels?

I have a lengthy "gratitude list" of things my parents were responsible for and near the top of the list is my deep and abiding love for language and ideas. This hub is for Betty and Jacek.


Potok, Lewis, Rilke, Asimov, Brooks

Chaim Potok -- Jewish Rabbi and author -- The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s Story of the Jews, The Book of Lights, Davita’s Harp.

C. S. Lewis -- Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, A Grief Observed, The Chronicles of Narnia, Surprised by Joy, Till We Have Faces, The Allegory of Love, The Abolition of Man, The Dark Tower, The Four Loves, Weight of Glory, Words to Live By, The Great Divorce, The Joyful Christian, Letters to Malcolm, Mere Christianilty, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters

Rainer Maria Rilke -- German / Russian poetry, The Book of Hours, Letters to a Young Poet, The Book of Images, New Poems, Sonnets to Orpheus

Isaac Asimov -- Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, and 463 additional books and innumerable essays on science, society, science fiction, etc.

David Brooks -- On Paradise Drive, BOBOS in Paradise, The Social Animal, New York Times Columnist


Sachs, Gladwell, Frankl, Smith, Alcott

Oliver Sachs -- Migraine, Awakenings, A Leg to Stand On, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf, The Island of the Colorblind, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood, Oaxaca Journal, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, The Mind's Eye, Hallucinations

Malcolm Gladwell -- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Outliers: The Story of Success, The Tippping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of Battling Giants

Victor Frankl -- Man's Search for Meaning, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, Recollections

Martin Cruz Smith -- Stallion Gate, Gorky Park, Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, December 6, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, Tatiana

Louisa May Alcott -- Almost Everything


These are all marvelous authors, artists working in the medium of language, but they also, in quite different ways, and perhaps without explicitly intending to, all write from a moral, philosophical, or spiritual stance.

Without being narrow or judgmental, they understand, and in the case of fiction, their characters understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

They grasp the importance of living out of a moral, philosophical, or spiritual set of values, rather than living with no goal other than personal power and pleasure. This I find immensely admirable, challenging, and valuable. Selah.


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Your Comments are Always Welcome 42 comments

jhamann profile image

jhamann 3 years ago from Reno NV

Thanks for fitting in Isaac Asimov, "The Foundation" series is incredible. Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen" is on my top five best reads of my lifetime so far. Jamie

Rosie writes profile image

Rosie writes 3 years ago from Virginia

This is a fabulous hub. I am excited to read the books on your list! I am ashamed to say I have not ready most of them. Thanks for providing a list worth keeping.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

What an exhausting undertaking, making a list of great writers. I wouldn't even know where to start, but I know I found the love of writing from their words. Thank you for sharing your list with us.

blessings my friend


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Jaimie - Another Foundation series lover -- it is indeed incredible and his straight "science for the common people" books are pretty good too. :) The Chosen is an amazing work. I think I must have read it five times in the last twenty five years. I like the sequel, The Promise, a great deal too. Potok was amazing. I was genuinely sad and felt a loss when he passed away in 2002. To good authors and good books. :)

shanmarie profile image

shanmarie 3 years ago from Texas

When I was in third grade, my teacher read The Chronicles of Narnia to us from start to finish. Between each book, we would also watch the movies to them. Of course, those films did not have the special effects that the recent ones utilize. Also, Louisa May Alcott was one of my favorite authors growing up. Interesting hub, thanks.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you Rosie. They are some wonderful books on the list, but no need to be ashamed at all. I imagine there would be many books that I had not read on anyone's list. There is never enough time is there. :) Have a wonderful Christmas. Maybe we will both do some reading. :) Theresa

Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 3 years ago from Maui and Arizona

What a tribute to your parents. You really have been blessed to have had the encouragement and example from your mother and father in the importance of reading.

Louisa May Alcott, Victor Frankl and C.S. Lewis are among my favorites, too. Now you've given me some additional authors to look at. Thanks for this, phdast7.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

It wasn't so hard Bill, because my friend said to think quickly of ten books that meant something to us, had impacted our lives. And she said not to try and make the list about the "best" or "greatest" books. That freed me to think about books that I have gone back to over and over and authors that I returned to again and again. A list of "greatest" literature might have looked quite different. :) And that would take several hours, if not days, of thinking. :) Theresa

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sheilamyers 3 years ago

I, like Rosie, have read very few of the books in your list. And like you, I don't think I could list only ten. I've read so many books which have had some influence on me, inspired me, etc. Listing just a few of those would be like asking me to list my top so many favorites of all time. Either list would have to broken down into fiction and non-fiction and then further by subject or genre. To me, any book is a great book and offers something special for me if it's well-written and moves me in some way. There are just too many to list.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

Always looking for new books to read . We must have similar interests. Many of these authors are definitely favorites. Voted up, interesting, and useful.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi shanmarie - You had a wonderful third grade teacher! What a wonderful experience that must have been. I was first introduced to a couple of C.S Lewis more serious works on Christianity in my late tens and then the next thing I read in my mid twenties was the space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) and it blew me away. The righteous morality, the imagery, the metaphors; it was an extended Christian parable retold as science fiction/fantasy. I must have read it seven or eight times by now. Ms. Alcott has certainly stood the test of time, several decades by now. :) Have a Blessed Christmas and New Year. Theresa

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

No fair! I've not the time to stop and read! (Neat challenge from your colleague, though.)

I was recently discussing Lewis' Space Trilogy with friends who had not read the three books. How to describe it?! My point in mentioning it in the conversation had to do with how his writing shows us what a visionary he was.. I would love to be able to speak with someone who read it when he first published it who was the age I am now. How would their history have caused them to respond? More interestingly, how could he have written about technology that way…

What wonderful parents you must have had--thank you for acknowledging them here.

Oh yes, pinning to my Writing:... board. (Reading well is one of the best ways to learn to write, don't you think?)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello Pamela - I was very blessed to have two such avid readers as parents, and even more parents who talked with me about what they read and what it meant and so forth. I am glad we had three great authors in common. You are so very welcome. Sometime soon you ought to post your own list of 10 or 15. It is always interesting to see what people have read. :) Have a blessed Christmas. :) Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Rosie - To my mind, that is what is good about lists. You learn about books you might never have encountered otherwise. Like you when I think of the books I love or that have meant something to me, I start categorizing and cross-referencing and soon I realize that my list will be 75+ books long.

What saved me is that my colleague said to respond quickly, and not think too long. These were books that meant SOMETHING TO ME, NOT THE BEST OR GREATEST PIECES OF LITERATURE EVER!. [As you can see I watch my hands while typing - not the screen. Apologies.] Si, I quickly thought of ten authors who have meant a lot to me --- filling in their books came later. :) But as you point out, a listing process can be just overwhelming. Hope your December is going well. Theresa

D. Schultz 3 years ago

Delighted to see Martin Cruz Smith's name among all those glittering writers.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

You and me both, tireless, a good new author, especially one who has written a lot, is a wonderful thing to stumble across. And if they have written several books, likely most of them are available used, for next to nothing in price. Its like Christmas coming twice in one week. :) Neat to know someone with similar reading interests. Thanks for the comments and the votes. Have a Blessed Christmas! Theresa

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

What's So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancy

Magic Hour, Susan Isaacs

The Virgin's Lover, Philippa Gregory

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay

The Freedom of Obedience, Martha Thatcher

Winds of War, Herman Wouk

The Man From St. Petersburg, Ken Follett

Quickly, I had to rack my brain, but now that I'm on a tear, I could easily list 10 more! If you stop and think too much, you'll edit your list to come across as a more impressive reader. But listing the first ones that come to mind reveals not who we'd like to think we are intellectually, but who we probably really are - scary!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi RT - It was a neat challenge. I do have a little time for reading because I am between semesters. I am reading the last book by Chaim Potok that I have never read. Lewis was a visionary and unless you have read those books, people see him as many things, but they likely miss the visionary, futurist side of his writing and thought. How marvelous it would have been to speak to someone who was fifty when the Trilogy was fiest published.

I did have wonderful parents...they are both gone now, but their influence lives on through me, my siblings, and my children.

Thank you for Pinning. I could not agree more....reading well is essential to good writing. :) Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hey D. Happy to know that there other people who appreciate his work like I do. I think the Arkady Renko series is good literature and history and world politics and great suspense all rolled into one. :) Hard to beat. :)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

thanks for sharing this collection of meaningful reads.. I admit I have read many of them but it was awhile ago a revisit is due.. I mean if security lets me back into the library..:)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

You are more than welcome Frank. Let's hope library security will let you back in. :) I will protest no your behalf if they don't. :)

Interesting how seldom anyone mentions the pleasures, the deep satisfaction, the learning that can and does occur with re-reading, and then reading again. A really well-written book is not spoiled for me because I know the ending. The journey, the words along the way, the ideas they spark inside of me...those are all worth the second or thord or....reading.

Christmas Blessings! Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Great List, Kathleen. And I think it odes matter if you do it quickly. It produces a much different and probably more truly reflective (of who we really are and what we care about and believe in) list than one we would produce after pondering and re-thinking and making numerous secondary judgments. Theresa

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Yes, the more I look at my instant list, the more I'm amazed at the ones I left off. Did you know that Stephen King reads as much as he writes? Telling.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Kathleen - It is an interesting and rather revealing experiment. You might also want to start over and ignore individual titles and list the ten authors who work / works have had the greatest impact on you or meant the most to you. I need to redo it at some point and list individual titles, like The Green Kingdom by Rachel Maddux.....

And I did not know that about Stephen King, but it certainly makes sense.

Writer Fox profile image

Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

Like many of the other comments, I was deeply moved by Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen.' There are so many fine authors and books which have enriched my life, I would have trouble naming a Top Ten! I really enjoyed looking at your choices, here. Voted up and shared.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Writer Fox - Choosing is always the hard part. If I combined all the many "TEN" lists I have made over the years, I would probably have a hundred authors, each of them very good. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing. Blessings in the new year. Theresa

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

Awesome list. My love for reading developed long after I had left home. But since then, I have read far and wide. Where would we be with out all of these marvelous authors?

KrisL profile image

KrisL 3 years ago from S. Florida

Like you, I'd have an easier time listing authors than books . . . and our lists would overlap. I think I'd have Ursula K. LeGuin in my SF corner instead of Asimov, although he's great.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I'm sure everyone could add to your wonderful list. You certainly opened up a delightful can of worms for us to explore!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you cam. :) Like you, I can't imagine a world without libraries and homes full of marvelous books by wonderful authors. :)

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Kris - I am sure our lists would overlap. :) Don't know why I never read anything by LeGuin - I guess my tried and true response would be that I often read everything there is by an author because I know what I am getting, instead of skipping around. Maybe when things are slower this summer I can pick up one of her books. Thanks for reading and commenting. Theresa

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hello Mary - Books and lists are just wonderful aren't they? I don't think we can ever have too many good books. Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope all is well. Theresa

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

For all of us that write, it would not surprise me that we have all read at least one book by these authors. Nice job on your well-rounded works.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Just got back yesterday from a three day history conference. Lots of interesting presentations. So nice to find your comment. I can't imagine a life devoid of books and great literature, commentary and poetry. I bet you are right. Probably most of us have read at least one book by the illustrious ten. :) Hope all is well with you. Blessings. Theresa

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Theresa: great list of authors and their books. Some I have not heard of before and must check them out. Most on the authors on your list I have heard of and have read at least one of their books. I love David Brooks, too, and usually read his column in the NYTimes and listen to him on PBS Newshour on Fridays. These authors have all written thought-provoking books essays etc. I so enjoyed reading this!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Good evening suzette. I was pretty sure that quite a few of my fellow hubbers would be familiar with some of these authors, and of course you were. I am not at all surprised; I knew you were well read. :) Isn't David Brooks great. I so enjoy his essays and his books. I need to start listening to him on Fridays on PBS. Glad you enjoyed this, it was a pleasure for me to write. Hope all things are well with you. Blessings! Theresa

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 2 years ago

Theresa , Only one thing wrong here YOUR BOOK ! Are there more by the way ......YOURS ! , seriously your book is one of the best that I've ever read , and I have some real fictional favs! Come on girl give yourself some credit ! Well deserved too!....Ed

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi Ed - What lovely comments. Truthfully, I never thought about it when I was putting the hub together. :) For the past three months I have been working on a book of poetry, that also includes art and photographs by and of my family. I hope to have that up on Amazon sometime in June, but it is a very different sort of work of course. Next I am planning to edit my Polish grandmother's poetry and then do an art book of her poems and paintings and my grandfather's sculpture. They were extremely gifted. As a favor please, when you have a few moments, please go on Amazon and write a review for Confronting. I would really appreciate it. Thanks! Theresa

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 2 years ago from Tampa Bay

Very nice list of authors, Theresa. I've read a number of these authors, but some of them I have not read before. Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet is one of my most beloved books. If I had to list a few off the top of my head, I would include Honore de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Henry James, Tracy Chavalier, Elie Wiesel, Carl Sagan. I'll have to look into a few that I have not read. :)

Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

Theresa your students are fortunate indeed, if you are creating for them the enthusiasm for reading and self-educating which your parents endowed you with. Prior to going to prep school I was given a list of suggested reading to do before classes in the fall. I was thankful for that list, and now I am thankful for yours. My library card will get warmer.

I've collected books worth reading "someday" and thought I would read them all "when I retire." I must follow Stephen King's example and squeeze good reading from your list, in between my country bumpkin efforts at writing here. God bless.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Hi rebekah - I love Rilke's poetry, but his letters have always struck a chord in my heart. Of the six you mentioned, I definitely appreciate Dumas, Wiesel, and Sagan. It is interesting to see how our reading overlaps (and doesn't) with other people who are also well read. Too, too many good books to read and never enough time. Thanks for taking time to read and to comment. :) Blessings.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 19 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Demas - How did I wander off for 8 months and neglect to respond to your generous comments.? I am so sorry. I hope I am encouraging my students to move out of their comfort zone and see what wonderful authors and books are out there waiting for us. :) Like you, I have big piles of books for my retirement years and little piles of books that I am working on now. :) Blessings!

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