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Things To Read Before You Croak

Updated on August 28, 2015

1) The Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy

I wrote a post about Ivan earlier this summer (#shameless plug), but I just can’t say enough good things about him. This novella explores the idea of a life entirely defined by society’s agenda, and Tolstoy paints a pretty scary and depressing picture--particularly because we can see within Ivan’s life traces of our own.

Ivan's life is a vapid series of mere distraction; sound familiar? Living this kind of life is so easy, especially nowadays with all the social media and flashing screens. We become consumed with the lives of others and never think of important things...such as the fact that we will, without any doubt, die one day.

What will we think of then? Did you live as you ought?

I'd really recommend reading this bad boy regularly, like once a year at the very least; it’s a fantastic reminder of mortality and how we should always have the reality of death before us.

AKA "A Guide to Telling People How to SHOVE IT"
AKA "A Guide to Telling People How to SHOVE IT"

2) The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery

What? Isn’t that the Anne of Green Gables lady? Why, yes. Yes, it is. This is one of her more obscure books, which is a real shame, because it’s a great read for twenty-somethings who are trying to find their way in the world. It tells the story of a woman who has let others run her entire life and in the end she finally decides to reclaim it. It’s a great story about freedom and, of course, it has the usual Montgomery sense of wonder. It also points out that an existence that other people have designed for you isn’t worth having at all.

Life is short; reclaim it while you still can. And read this book while you're at it!

3) The Motivation Manifesto, Brendon Burchard

Speaking of reclaiming one’s agenda—enter Brendon! Guys, I have a confession to make: I have a big, fat, creepy crush on this guy. Never mind the fact that I’ve never met him before; the internet allows me to stalk from afar. I don’t know if it’s his contagious and energetic personality, goofy grin, inexplicable love of collared shirts, or lovely, manly eyes. All I know is that this newest book of his has increased the flames of my already somewhat unbalanced adoration.

Don’t think it’s one of those feel-good motivation books, the ones that tell you that you are perfect and like a freaking snowflake. Nope. The Motivation Manifesto is the fire beneath your lazy ass.

We all have a tendency to settle, particularly when it comes to chasing our dreams. We’re immediately told that so many of our aspirations are unrealistic—“yeah, but nobody makes it doing that,” “that seems like a lot of work,’’ etc.—and so we give up before we barely even start. We settle for that easy job with the good pay because that’s all that we think we can get.

Brendon provides a fascinating account of the great power of our minds and how we can actually make anything happen with enough dedication and hard work. So reclaim your agenda, as Brendon would say. Pick up this book. And all his books. And like everything he ever posts on the internet. Ever.

What's that? You think that's a depressing topic? You're right, I"ll work on making damnation more optimistic.
What's that? You think that's a depressing topic? You're right, I"ll work on making damnation more optimistic.

4) The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

I seriously considered just putting "C.S. Lewis" for this heading and telling you to read everything he ever wrote. But then I figured I should narrow it down, so I’ve picked a book that blends fiction with theology—two genres that Lewis dabbled in with equal genius.

This book is told in a series of letters from an experienced demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood. These hellish epistles are filled with all sorts of advice for Wormwood on how to best damn his “patient." It provides a variety of tips that are guaranteed to make the man lose his soul and ultimately wind up in hell with the rest of them.

This provides frightening insight into the spiritual realm, highlighting the trickery of the devil and how he slowly and patiently chips away at man's morality. Creepy, witty, and memorable, it gives readers a nice sampling of the real Lewis flavor, and should be given a glance at least once before you kick the bucket.

Hey girl. I'm here to give you REALISM
Hey girl. I'm here to give you REALISM

5) Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Another scary book because it portrays the dangers of another very typical human problem: over- romanticizing. The protagonist, Emma, literally builds herself a fake world, fed by her expectations in books, and the result is destruction and despair. For women who like to be wooed and treated like queens (so basically all of us), this book is particularly frightening; it shows all the things that could go wrong with feeding unrealistic romantic expectations.

This is an especially good read for teenage girls out there, who may have the idea that romance consists of sparkling men or brutes who beat you. Flaubert rips off the frills and exposes the real danger of this, showing us the naked horror of sentimentalism unchecked.

6) Animal Farm, George Orwell

Orwell is one of the most unnervingly prophetic authors I've ever read, and his Animal Farm is no exception. It's built around the idea that we are all equal until the government starts deciding we’re not, and lays out the tactics they might use to go about manipulating us into social slavery. It begins with capitalism and ends with brutal communism--a scary thought for us Americans, and one we ought to consider carefully. A great political statement and also a chilling reminder of our own times, where big wigs in D.C. just can’t seem to keep their nose out of our business and their hands out of our pockets.

I'm not bacon, but you are. Now jump in that frying pan, fat boy.
I'm not bacon, but you are. Now jump in that frying pan, fat boy.

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