My Ten Great Reads

Introduction

Everyone seems to have their list of ten favorite books, so why shouldn't I inflict mine on the world? I decided not to worry overmuch about the rules of my book list, except one: there would be ten entries-- ten great reads. That way I could actually include 18 books, because apparently I like book series. I also decided not to expend any brain cells ranking them and listed them in roughly the order I read them, from teenager to the older, wiser man I am perceived to be. These books enlightened and entertained me greatly. I've read them all at least twice.

Foundation Trilogy (3 Books) by Isaac Asimov

The three books of the original trilogy are “Foundation”, “Foundation and Empire” and “Second Foundation”. It has since grown to seven volumes but it was the original three I read as a teenager that stick in my mind. It is a sprawling saga of a future human race spanning the galaxy-- quadrillions of people living on millions of planets over hundreds of years. Most science fiction then was like cowboys in space, shoot-em-ups with rockets. This was different. It had a depth to it I hadn't read before in science fiction-- not that I was that sophisticated. It wasn't just worlds warring against worlds-- there was an ebb and flow to the rise and fall of different civilizations. Economies were important (somehow, Asimov made even economics fun). It had interesting characters and ideas, the main one being phychohistory manipulating human activities with the aim of shortening the coming dark ages from 30,000 years to a millennium. There was also the mystery brought up, every now and then, about the origin of mankind. Somewhere, it was theorized, humans originated from one planet but which one was lost to history. Earth is never mentioned (until later volumes), but, for some reason, this unfulfilled tease worked. It made me think that I may be living in a civilization that could be lost to the far future. Would that mean our lives are meaningless?

The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit (4 Books) by J. R. R. Tolkien

The three books in the trilogy, to anyone who has been living under a rock, are “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”. I never thought any movie would do justice to the books, but I was wrong. On the other hand, reading the books for the first time (read The Hobbit first) is a magical experience, especially if you haven't already read any of the knock-offs that have filled the shelves for decades. I read them in the Sixties when hippies (some as dreamy and lazy as hobbits) dreamt of a magical, nobler time. There was nothing to really compare these works to at the time. Although Tolkien denied that he was trying to make a statement about his experiences in the First World War, it is hard to fathom those horrors weren't a huge influence on the wars of Middle Earth. He also denied that he was writing about the industrialization of the English countryside-- especially during the scouring of the Shire. I admit, a small part of my fascination with his work is due to the fact that I was born in Hall Green where Tolkien lived as a child, so I've also seen a little of the beauty and despoliation first-hand.

The Arms of Krupp by William Manchester

This is the history of a dynasty, a family business inextricably entwined with a country's fortunes and misfortunes. Manchester has made the rise of the Krupp family and how they became the main armorer to Germany for two World Wars a compelling read. Part of the attraction for me was reading the history of those on the “other” side of World War One and Two. The Krupps were ruthless as well as progressive. While the family accepted their exalted position as no more than their due, they introduced social welfare programs for their workers. This was a fascinating glimpse of capitalism, the armaments industry and the countries they arm. None escape guilt.

1984 by George Orwell

This well-known novel is dark and brooding, with its depressing prophecy of life under Big Brother and how nearly every individual can be broken to serve. The real problem is that it becomes more relevant as the years pass. Granted, our consumerism and manically cheerful advertisements aren't foreseen, but what's behind the mask is. Enough said. Read it and weep.

The Last Lion (2 Books) by William Manchester

These two volumes (Volume 1: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 and Volume 2: Alone, 1932-1940) cover Winston Churchill's life from birth to the start of World War II. He was a fascinating figure, whether on the world stage or laying bricks at Chartwell, his private estate. It is all too easy to think of him as a hero or, perhaps a villain, depending on your viewpoint. He was an extremely complex man who accomplished more than most men in history-- and who suffered defeats that would have driven lesser men from public life. William Manchester has been criticized for his “pedestrian” biographies, perhaps almost pandering to the masses. Whatever. I found them eminently readable and full of interesting information. Manchester died before he could completely finish the third and final volume, but Paul Reid is working on it and it may be published soon.

Books of Blood (3 Books) By Clive Barker

I'd never read horror like the stories in the American editions of Barker's short stories. You try making a string of knots terrifying-- it ain't easy. Every story was like nothing I'd read before. They aren't all great; some are even so-so, and perhaps, after the real and imagined horrors of the past quarter century, perhaps some of the zing has faded. But I've savored every story at least three times. You have to wonder what fevered imagination could conceive such things. Reading Clive Barker is a whole 'nother thang than seeing the movies. On a side note, I've always felt a kinship with Mr. Barker because we are the same age and were born less than 90 miles apart (he in Liverpool, me in Birmingham). I sometimes think it unfair that he went on to fame and fortune... but my mind just doesn't work that way. On a related note, see Notes From a Small Island below.

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Another Clive Barker work, one of his first full-length novels. Once again, unimaginable goings-on-- this time a carpet that provides a way into a fantastic world. The world of the Fugue and the life and death struggles of different races spills over into the ordinary British countryside. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastic serve to amplify the horrors and evils Clive has summoned onto these pages. Like his other early works, it's also a pleasure to just read his poetic prose.

Imajica by Clive Barker

Imajica is the most sweeping, fantastic, dark epic I've ever read. This is a long, long story of over 800 pages about the five dominions (parallel worlds) which were all connected once until Earth, one of the dominions, was separated from the other four. Imajica is about the reconciliation of Earth with the others. There is plenty going on here and lots of memorable characters-- characters only Barker could come up with, like Pie-oh-Pah, a being of both sexes and neither, John Furie Zacharias, also known as Gentle, an amnesiac and central to the story. There are fantastic lands, peoples and customs. There is God and everything between. Nothing is sacred. I must admit, the middle is a bit slow, but part of the reason is because you're exhausted. Be warned, this is not for the sexually squeamish and it's not for those who are sensitive about their religion-- whichever that religion is.

Children of Men by P.D. James

The book is so much better than the movie. In the near future, children stop being born around the world and civilization, after 20 years, is near collapse. In Britain, the Warden, reigns supreme. A cousin of his, Theo, is approached to talk to the Warden about various reforms and Theo reluctantly gets involved in the various intrigues and rebellions and anarchy threatening to boil over into absolute chaos. This is very well-written and a departure for Ms. James, who is well-known for her mysteries. It is a dark, dystopian novel and a great read if you like that kind of stuff.

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

This is about the funniest book I've ever read. American author Bill Bryson writes about the British and nails it. From his American viewpoint of these strange people, their quirks, mannerisms, history and institutions are held up and magnified into heroic proportions and I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. But in doing so, he cleverly exposes the hilarity of Americans' bewildered notions of civilization. Though funny, it's not mean and it is obvious Mr. Bryson has more than a soft spot for his subjects. As a matter of fact, the British have declared that Notes From a Small Island best sums up British identity and the state of the nation. The last I heard, he was Chancellor of Durham University. Not bad for an Iowa boy. Which leads me to a this: you see, Bill Bryson stole my life. We are the same age. I live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; he lived in Des Moines, Iowa. I landed in England in June 1973; he landed on the English shore in May 1973. I had a fantastic six months there before I returned to Iowa; he had and is having a fantastic life and is a renowned author and scholar. I wanted to write, but he stole my life.

Finis

So there's my list. Apparently, I'm into dark fiction and history with some comic relief, all with strong British overtones. Huh.


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Comments 19 comments

Esmeowl12 profile image

Esmeowl12 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

The only ones I've read (and read, and read again) are the Lord of the Rings books. Can't get enough of them or the movies. I've added Bill Bryson's book to my "to read" list. Sounds good. Thanks for sharing.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for the comment. I hope you get as many chuckles as I have!


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

I have read half of the books listed but there are a few that look like they would be good too. The Krupp one I will go for first I think. Thanks for sharing.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for the comment, Molometer. Yes, I learned a lot about countries, companies and war from The Arms of Krupp. I hope you enjoy it.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Great list. I love the Foundation Trilogy, a;though I didn't discover it until I was in my thirties (I also like Asimov's non-fiction science works). I tried Tolkein several times in my twenties, but it seemed my husband was a Tolkein fan and I was a C.S. Lewis fan (Space Trilogy and others) - we took comfort in the fact that they knew each other.

Orwell of course is an essential for anyone in the boomer generation. I haven't read the work on Krupp, but it sounds fascinating and I really should as I am a professor of history and my specialty is 20th century Europe/Germany/Holocaust. I have done a little bit if reading about Churchill, but never tackled The Last Lion. I should.

I am not familiar with Clive Barker's work and because I do like "dark dystopian stuff" I think I will like Children of Men. Notes from a Small Island sounds great.

I can never decide on just ten books or even just ten authors, but I will reccomend three authors for your consideration: Stephen Jay Gould - scientist who can write for non-scientists - he published about 15 books so if you find you like him you have much to look forward to; Oliver Sachs -noted neurologist and author - the movie Awakenings was based on his life; and Martin Cruz Smith who has a series of novels about a Soviet militia officer who is actually a good guy, solves many interesting crimes, and is always in trouble with the KGB.

Sorry for the book. Have a great Christmas.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for the great comment, ph-- full of good stuff. I found Manchester very readable, but I'm just a history buff. I read Gorky Park-- was that by Cruz? I'll have to check his other stuff. Regards.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Yes, Gorky Park was the first in his series about the detective, whose name escapes me right now. It was also made into a film with William Hurt. You might have ssenn that. Hope you are having a good Christmas.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

And a merry Christmas to you, ph. Yes, I saw the movie and thought it was pretty good. Gorky Park was unique because it was written when the Soviet Union was still a farily closed society so it was all the more interesting. Somehow it fell off my radar screen, so I will definitely check out his other works.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

the only one of these I've read is 1984... and I enjoyed it. I own the hobbit and lord of the rings trilogy and loved the films, just haven't got around to reading them. generally, sci fi and fantasy aren't my fave things to read... unless it's Richard Matheson.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for the comment, PDXKaraokeGuy. I never thought they'd ever be able to make even a decent movie about any of Tolkien's books. They tried for decades until Peter Jackson came along and blew us all away.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I've only read a third of this list, and agree with your assessment. I'll need to read the rest of your recommendations to decide what they are. Voting this Up and Useful.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thank you for the comment, alocsin, and for the vote up.


ib radmasters profile image

ib radmasters 4 years ago from Southern California

I cannot imagine the worlds of Imajica.

We have trouble living in a single world, I can't imagine it being better.

Interesting selections.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

id, thanks for commenting. Yes, if we imagine other worlds, wouldn't it be disheartening if ours was as good as it gets? We can only hope for better and do our tiny part to make it so.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

I love to read people's lists of books. I've read some of these, but I've never read any Clive Barker. The Bill Bryson book sounds like one I would really enjoy. I've added it to me list. Thanks for sharing.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Deborah. Glad you enjoyed the list. Warning: if Clive Barker is not your cup of tea, he will definitely NOT be your cup of tea. The book by Bill Bryson appeals to a broad range of people. This fellow Iowan went on to become (among other things) the Chancellor at Durham University in England and has been awarded the OBE - Order of the British Empire- for his contribution to literature. "Notes From a Small Kingdom" is a must read for any American going to the UK.


mtariqsattar profile image

mtariqsattar 13 months ago from Karachi

Hi David, let me candidly say that I am not qualified to talk about those books other than the book written by George Orwell. It is a great novel, something that is hugely compelling when it comes to totalitarian tendencies of the regimes of the world. The author in my viewpoint successfully harbingers such an era of human civilization where surveillance of almost every human being on earth can not be a problem at all, coupled with peeking in his mind literally and know what he is up to?

I love this Orwellian novel.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 13 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Muhammad, I agree. There has been a long-standing debate as to whether we live in a world as portrayed in Orwell's 1984 (constant and invasive surveillance) or in a world as portrayed in Huxley's Brave New World (civilized sheep controlled by entertainment and drugs). I fear we live in both, but under the veneer of the Brave New World lies the reality of 1984. Thanks for reading and commenting.


mtariqsattar profile image

mtariqsattar 13 months ago from Karachi

Hi, David, well my name is 'Tariq', and I have been adding Muhammad with my name since the childhood, just needed to clarify that.

Yes David, you are right we live some where between these two extremes and you have aptly concluded that this so called 'Brave New World' is underpinned by Orwellian dystopian world. I do think that we are sick and things are wrong with us - this sickness needs to cleansed from our mind, body and soul.

I do feel that we should get as much time as possible for ourselves as to why we really are here, for our loved ones, who always need us and need our company. This can be done by occasional staying away from modern gadgets; perhaps, it would be better to alter the values that we so need to be at peace with ourselves and with our neighbors and society at large.

Thanks!

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