Thursday, January 25, 2018

My Favorite Books


My list of all time favorite books is below. I shared some of my thoughts on what went into this list here. This is a relatively short list. For every book on this list there are also many near misses. I have listed the below books in alphabetical order as I do not necessarily rank any one above any other one. I should note that I am using the term “book” loosely as I am going to include plays, novellas, etc. in my list. 

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – I love Trollope. Several of his books are “near misses” and come close to being included in the list. For me, this particular novel represents a perfect combination of the author’s keen observations on people and his subtle but very effective humor. 

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker - I make reference to this book all the time. This is the author’s argument that over the course of history, violence has been declining and that the world is getting better in a lot of ways. This book want a long way to helping me organize my understanding of history, psychology, human rights, etc. It helped me to understand the world. 

The Plague by Albert Camus – I tend to like existentialist novels. This one is my favorite. The narrative is essentially a search for life’s meaning in a world of suffering. Helping others and alleviating suffering is presented as the answer. The book contains lots of interesting philosophy as well as meditations upon Christianity. These are all things that I love in a book. 

The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan – This is a philosophy book that argues that reason and science are vital to humanity’s well being. It also examines rational thinking in detail. The work is full of valuable insight and wisdom. Sagan is clear about his views and what he agrees with and what he disagrees with. However, unlike more recent works by more  controversial and outspoken atheists  such as Richard Dawkins, Sagan takes a much less antagonistic attitude towards religion and towards those who disagree with him. This is another book that helped me to understand the world. 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - The film Blade Runner is based on this book. However, though I think that the movie brilliant in its own right, it is a very different work and not something to compare to the novel. The theme of good verses evil is explored here a unique, profound and moving way. The novel is also full of other important and interesting observations about humanity and technology. The characters and the plot are also fascinating. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - I think that this work touches upon the duality between the masculine and the feminine in an aesthetically marvelous way. The story and the characters are sublime. The book packs an enormous emotional impact for me. 

Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare - This may be the most pleasant great work of literature ever written. It includes a wonderful story, wonderful characters, and imparts a wonderful atmosphere both when reading and or watching a performance. It includes all this while saying something important about the human condition. 

A Passage To India by E.M. Foster – Folks talk about how this book examines colonialism and the interaction of cultures in brilliant way. I agree that it does these things. I also think that the metaphysical and existentialist meditations in this novel are magnificent. All this combined with a great story and great characters make this one of my favorites. 

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence – I think that this is a brilliant story. I find that the portrayal of the book’s protagonist, Ursula Brangwen, to be one of the greatest character descriptions in literature. Her rebellion against convention and the constraints of society is portrayed in a very unique way. She is a magnificent literary creation whose inner transformation is a wonder to read about. The way in which Lawrence unifies Ursula’s journey of self - discovery with his philosophy is near perfect. 

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – This novel is many things, but one aspect of this book that attracts me a lot is the theme of an individual’s search for balance. This book passage that involves an attempted suicide that brings tears to my eyes every time that I read it. This is a marvelous story. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – I first read this book when I was in my early teens. At the time I found a lot to relate to in the book’s young protagonists. Now I am only a few years younger then Charles Halloway, the adult protagonist in the book. This all ties together in a special way for me, as book’s themes are closely intertwined with aging. The combination of these elements, and others, make this book very special for me.

51 comments:

Kathy's Corner said...

Great list Brian, I'm thinking about my own favorite books and I wish I had more that I could say were life changing for me. My favorites though did cause me to develop wider interests Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment an interest in Russian literature Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights I have developed an interest in Victorian novels and particularly life as lived in the Nortn of England. I think that's great that books like Siddartha, the Plague and Carl Sagan continue to speak to you. I'm going to put them on my list because I value your judgement.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. I would love to know what you thought if you read those books. They mean a lot to me, some of that is for reasons that others may or may not share.

R.T. said...

I think I’ve just found my must read list for 2018. Thanks, Brian. I trust your judgment and discernment, and I look forward to 2018.

Mudpuddle said...

i've read 8 of these and tend to agree with your estimate, especially as regards P.K. Dick and Carl Sagan... Lawrence has put me off because of his extended wordiness, but maybe i'll give this a try... anything by Bradbury is worth reading imo, and Siddhartha started me on a road that has enriched my life immeasurably... tx for the selection and the effort involved...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tim. If you read any of these books I would love to know what you thought of them.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Muddpuddle - It sounds as if we really have similar tastes. With that, I like Lawrence's prose style.

Laurie Welch said...

I didn't know Carl Sagan wrote anything else besides Cosmos, so this one really interests me. He is SO in the category of those-who-died-too-soon :(

Also, the DH Lawrence looks really good.

A wonderful, thoughtful list, Brian.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,
I've read a few of these, and I consider these classics favorites of mine as well. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is new to me. I've recently heard of the author in relation to United States of Japan, but not the book you mention. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your list and the reasons why you chose these particular books. Terrific post!

Sharon Wilfong said...

What a great list, Brian! I have read some of the books on your list and I'd like to read the others. I think I may start with the Phillip K. Dick one. I'm kind of on a SciFi kick right now.

I have never read anything by Herman Hesse; I'm not sure if I want to, but I would be interested in reading your reviews on this author.

Take care!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon.

Philip K. Dick wrote strange but fun books. Science fiction is really a wonderful genre.

Hesse's books tend to be short and easy to read so they are acceptable. He explored a lot of themes relating to both Christianity as well as Buddhism so I think that you might find him interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Laurie.

Sagan wrote a lot of books. I have read most of them over the years. I think that they are all worth it. He wrote one novel, Contact, which I think is fantastic too. I so wish that he were alive today.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko, Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite science fiction authors. His books are so unique that they are hard to describe.

Unruly Reader said...

Something Wicked -- wow, what a book! I read it for the first time nearly a decade ago, and it still haunts my thoughts (in a good and thought-provoking way).

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Unruly. It was decades between my reads of the book and yet vivid images of passages stayed with me.

Stefanie said...

I love hearing about anyone's favorite books! It is also definitely a revolving sort of thing, as in 10 years or even 5 I am cure you list will look different. Midsummer Night's Dream is a delightful play, that's for sure! I have seen a number of productions and enjoyed every one of them. I've been meaning to read the Philip K. Dick book for ages but have yet to manage it. I am glad it is not really like Blade Runner.

CyberKitten said...

A great list: You've definitely turned me on to Trollope and I hope to pick up at least one of his books in Feb (planned book day on Valentine's!).

The Pinker book keeps showing up on my radar and although I'm highly sceptical of his conclusions maybe I should just read the thing to find out if I actually agree with him or not!

So far I much prefer Camus the philosopher to Camus the author. Although I do have more of his novels to work through.

I like Sagan very much and read The Dragons of Eden back in 2009. I should really read this soon.....

I read Androids years ago - way back in my youth. I've read almost everything PKD wrote and enjoyed immensely having my brain and my imagination stretched.

I enjoyed Jane Eyre much more than I expected. It is indeed a great book.

I am a huge fan of Shakespeare having seen many of his movie adaptations and even one of his stage plays [grin]. A true genius.

Again I've enjoyed many of Foster's movie adaptations but have yet to read any of his books. I need to address that shortfall. Thanks for the prompt.

I have some Lawrence & Hesse coming up soon but neither of those listed.

I read some Bradbury in my youth and always enjoyed his well crafted novels and short stories some of which have stayed with me for decades hidden away in the corners of my mind. I have several more in my various TBR piles.

Stephen said...

Your list is a lot more varied than "best of" lists tend to be!

James said...

Great list! I've read more than half of those books and would probably include Jane Eyre and The Plague on my own all-time list. Your choices are eclectic and demonstrate the wide range of your reading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - I also love to read the book lists of others. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is so very different from Blade Runner. I have heard fans of the film have express bewilderment when reading the book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Cyber Kitten - Of course I love them all. I found A Passage to India so different from other Foster books that I could imagine like it and not liking the others or visa versa.


Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - I think that my tastes tend to hit an an odd nix of categories, classics, science fiction and "big picture books" bout the state of the Universe or at least of humanity.

Whispering Gums said...

Great list Brian. I love that you love The plague. I've read all of Camus, but I love this one - it gets at the heart of humanity. I remember loving A passage to India when I read it, and went on to read a few more of his books. It's been in my mind to re-read it again one day to see what I would think now.

DH Lawrence though, I'm not so sure about. I really enjoyed reading him at school and university, but I don't feel the urge to read him again - except perhaps Kangaroo, which I haven't read.

And Shakespeare. I think I'd have to say Macbeth.

As for my favourite books, I'd find that really hard but it would have Austen in there, and Rohinton Mistry's A fine balance. It would probably also have Wharton's House of mirth - though if I were limited to 10, hmmm ...

Emma (Book Around the Corner) said...

Great list, Brian.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James - I do tend to read an somewhat odd mix of books :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Whispering Gums.

Macbeth and a few works like House of Mirth came close to making this list. I have Macbeth on my "best list". However, works with predominantly dark themes just did not make the all time "favorites". When i think about it now, that is one of the things that differentiated the two lists.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Emma.

thecuecard said...

I have read 4 on your list: Jane Eyre, The Rainbow, Passage to India and Siddhartha so I am pleased they made your list! And I agree they are great books. I wouldn't mind rereading them as it's been a long while since I read them in my student days. Great post Brian. Food for thought.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan. Great books really do lend themselves to rereading.

HKatz said...

I don't think I've even heard of The Rainbow, but your description has made me add it to my to-read list. I also really want to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep... I recently read a shorter work by the author called The Golden Man which was both disturbing and funny.

Whispering Gums said...

That's interesting Brian --- dark themes are probably the ones that would make my best list!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I have read a few Lawrence books, The Rainbow is my favorite.

Funny and disturbing is s good way to describe a lot of Philp K. Dick's works.

Brian Joseph said...

Oddly enough I love to read dark works. Yet many fall just short of all
time favorites.

The Bookworm said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading your list and the reasons why you love these books. I've added Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to my to read list.
I have had Jane Eyre on my shelves for too long waiting to be read. I won't watch any film adaptations because I want to read it first.
Enjoy your Sunday!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - If you read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I would love to knoe what you think.

I also try not to watch a film until I have read the book.

JaneGS said...

I always have a hard time with favorites because my favorites are fairly fluid, but it comes down to what I reread--those have to be the favorites, by definition.

I should probably reread The Rainbow--I remember liking but not loving it, but that was a long, long time ago. Jane Eyre is definitely a favorite.

I love the premise of Better Angels of Our Nature - I like the optimism of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - Any favorite list that I had before was not really coherently formed. I would guess that my list may be fluid going forward.

One thing about Pinker's optimism, it is based upon data and reason. He makes a convincing case.

baili said...

Magnificent list Brain!
thank you for this treasure as i consider you as good guide to show what to try next

i found "plague" most appealing!
passage to india is wonderful book and i am glad that i have read it though worth to be repeated

i am honestly glad you shared your favs with us

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili - Those were indeed great books. They are worth rereading.

Maria Behar said...

This is a nice list, indeed, Brian! I have read only three of these books: "Jane Eyre", which, as you know, is my favorite all-time classic, "Siddhartha", and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (I read this last one in high school, but want to re-read it).

I've been curious about "Barchester Towers" ever since I read your excellent commentary on it. The other books on your list I want to read are "The Better Angels of Our Nature", "The Demon Haunted World" (both sound fascinating), and "A Passage to India". I'm especially interested in the Sagan book precisely because you have pointed out that he's not as belligerently antagonistic toward theism as Dawkins is. (However, I might be willing to read a Dawkins work, but only borrowed from -- and speedily returned to -- the library.)

As for "The Plague"....maybe. Since you've stated that it contains philosophical musings, as well as commentary on Christianity, I might be willing to read it. Another library candidate!

In regards to "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", I might never read it. As you know, I've seen the movie "Blade Runner", and didn't like it at all. It's much too pessimistic. Ironically, this movie is a cult classic. But well, who knows? Maybe I could borrow this one from the library, as well.....

Another one I doubt I'll ever read is "Something Wicked This Way Comes". Although Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, I am uncomfortable with the undercurrent of horror in his works. I do admire him, though, because of the inventiveness of his imagination, as well as his beautifully flowing prose. But just the title of this book scares, to be honest!

I LOVE what you have to say about "Jane Eyre". You know, I had never thought of this before, but you're so right that this novel contrasts the masculine and the feminine in a brilliant manner! Of course, there are many other aspects to this novel, as we both know, but this point you're making is definitely right on target! Carl Jung would refer

Thanks for sharing your interesting list!! Have a good one! <3 :)


Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Though I thought that Barchester Towers was better, as a completest I think you would really like the first book in the series, The Warden. I think that you would like that book's protagonist.

Sagan was so positive. He seemed to like communicating with people with different viewpoints. His temperament seemed the opposite of Dawkins in a lot of ways.

The commentary on Christianity in the Plague is interesting. Camus was an atheist. He also believed that helping others was what gave life meaning. He saw Christians as fellow travelers who shared his values in this regard.

Blade Runner was dark. Though bad things happen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, its message was ultimately very positive.

It is hard to describe the horror on Something Wicked this Way Comes. It is in no way graphic. But there are some really bad people and creatures about and there is a sense of dread about. In the end However, the book had a very positive message.

Have a great week!

Maria Behar said...

I just came back to read your reply to my comment, as well as to re-read my own comment first. (I always do this when I comment on other blogs. I guess I'm a little obsessive....lol.) Anyway....I noticed that I never finished my previous comment. I was in a hurry to get to work. So the full last sentence should read thus: "Carl Jung would refer to these opposites as male and female archetypes, which he called the 'anima' (the inner feminine in a man) and the animus (the inner masculine in a woman)." And I would like to add that he (Jung) really should have read this novel. I do remember seeing a comment about Heathcliff being Emily Bronte's animus in a book edited by Jung. The comment was from one of Jung's followers, and the book is titled "Man and His Symbols".

Hope you have a great week, too!! :) :) :)

Caroline said...

If been looking forward to finally reading your list. I like it very much. E.M Foster is one of my favourite authors but I haven’t read A Passage to India because I wanted to keep for later. I also love D.H.Lawrence. The Plague is my favourite Camus. I like that you included nonfiction. I’ve read Something Wicked ages ago and should really reread it. Thanks for sharing your list. I always find it is such a treat to see what others love.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Caroline. I think that you will like A Passage to India if you like other Foster books. In many ways it is similar to the other books that I have read by him but different in other ways.

I also love to read other people's book lists.

Carol said...

I really enjoy reading other people’s ‘favourites’ as it gives a glimpse into their personality. You gave some diverse books there!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - I also like reading other people's favorite lists.

Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks said...

I really did love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep :) and Jane Eyre has got to be one of my all time favorites. You have wonderful tastes, Brian!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Elvina. Jane Eyre is so beloved by so many people.

So many books, so little time said...

I think the only one I have read is Jane Eyre, but it was years ago, maybe time for a re read Brian. I will look up one or two others you mentioned :D xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - I think that a book Jane Eyre really leads itself to rereading.

Sheree Strange said...

Ooooh, what an interesting list!! There's quite a few here that I've never read, so I'll take your recommendations on board ;) I was really happy to see Jane Eyre on here (I've read it recently for my blog, review coming soon), it's now one of my all-time favourites. I really do need to get around to reading A Midsummer Night's Dream at some point, thanks for the reminder!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharee - I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on Jane Eyre. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is fairly short. Hopefully you will get the chance to squeeze it in.