At the 6 month point, I posted a list of my top 10 favorite books of 2014. Now that the year is drawing to a close, I think it’s a good idea to jump on the Top Ten Tuesday bandwagon and post an updated list. So here it is:
1) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
This work blew my mind. In addition to the general review linked above, I also wrote three reflection posts on the book (here, here, and here). I now consider Moby-Dick as my second favorite book of all time. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is still #1. Some people are hesitant to name books they think everyone should read. I am, however, unashamed to admit that I think every person (at least every American) should read Moby-Dick at least once in his/her lifetime. Read it at your own leisure. I suspect that those who were forced to read it for school didn’t enjoy it. Binge reading Moby-Dick is not a good idea.
2) The Hobbit + The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
These are almost unanimously considered some of the greatest fantasy works of all time. However, I struggled for years to appreciate The Lord of the Rings. People often ask in the blogging world whether rereading a work you didn’t enjoy the first time is a good idea. My answer is yes! If you have only seen the movies, do yourself a favor and read the books. No film can ever do justice to the beautiful prose and dialogue in this trilogy. I am now a fantasy snob. If it is not beautifully written, I just can’t get into it. I expect every fantasy book to read like The Lord of the Rings :D.
A spoiler-free review of The Fellowship of the Ring is here.
3) Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
This is a beautifully-constructed work. Willa Cather creates some very memorable but human characters. All people (including religious leaders) are more than their flaws. Fathers Vaillant and Latour learn much about love, generosity, and courage through their work in the mission lands of the American Southwest.
4) Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw
Is Joan of Arc a saint, traitor, or heretic? Written four years after her canonization, Saint Joan revisits the events that led up to the execution of the maiden of Orleans. The words of Luke 11:47-51 come to mind: “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of you fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.” I have since read a good portion of the well-chronicled trial of Joan of Arc. It is so hard to read because Joan couldn’t say anything to defend herself. Her accusers decided beforehand that she was a heretic and she couldn’t do anything to defend herself. She is rehabilitated after her death, but isn’t that too late? In Saint Joan, Shaw has a lot to say to those who simply dismiss Bishop Cauchon and the Inquisitor as exceptionally bad individuals. How would we treat Joan today?
5) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This work is notoriously hard to read but very rewarding. Mrs. Dalloway is purely a character study. The work asks (among other questions):”What binds people together?” and “To what degree can one know and understand another person?”
6) Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
This is not just a character study, but also a study of the generation gap in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Fathers and Sons is the first Russian work I’ve ever read and I’m dying to read other books by Russian authors. No matter what you may feel about Bazarov the nihilist, you’ve got to admit that he is a compelling character.
7) The Call of the Wild by Jack London
This is not just a book about sled dogs but about the humans who employ them. The line that divides the tame from the wild is not always clear.
8) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
This was the biggest surprise of the year. I did not expect to enjoy Anne of Green Gables. I expected Anne Shirley to be Pollyanna-esque, but she is one of the most relatable female characters in all of literature. From page one, I was hooked.
9) Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Dickens does two things really well in this work: 1) He avoids going on random tangents, and 2) His male and female characters are more than mere caricatures. I love Dickens, but I know the common objections to his works. If his other novels have disappointed you, try Hard Times. You will be pleasantly surprised.
10) Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain-Fournier
This work has a fairy-tale like vibe to it. Augustin Meaulnes’ coming-of-age story is in sharp contrast to the pastoral (verging on the romantic) setting of the novel.