The end of each calendar year always brings with it a number of "best of" lists that are published and circulated in the media and on the Internet. From "top news stories" and "most famous celebrities" to "top travel destinations" and "healthiest foods," there is no end to the desire to categorize all of the important social, political, cultural and scientific and sporting events from the past year.
Best Of lists are not without merit: they can serve as welcome brain candy, a respite from the pressures of the daily grind. While perusing several Best Of lists over the holidays, I got to thinking about creating a list of my own: my favourite books of all time. As a lifelong reader, how hard could it be to come up with at least 10 from nearly half a century of reading?
It was more difficult than I imagined. At first, I had planned to confine the list to 10, but selecting so few out of a backlog of hundreds seemed like an impossible task. So, I bumped the list to 25, although it could have been twice that number. The selection process itself was a sweetly nostalgic exercise that often recalled where, when and how I encountered a specific book. In preparing and parsing my list, I was reminded of a quote by the British author, Graham Greene: "The influence of early books is profound. So much of the future lies on the shelves: early reading has more influence on conduct than any religious teaching." (A Sort of Life, 1971).
Some of the books were chosen because they offered fictional worlds and characters that elicited a particularly strong emotion; some for the authors' skill and mastery with language; and a few were chosen for the incredible story or message that they contained, which resonated with me for long afterward.
I'm certain that some of these books might not qualify on professional critics' lists of best books ever written, but for me, each managed to say something meaningful at a time when I was ready to hear those messages, and so they got included.
So here they are, in no particular order.
1. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
2. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
3. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
5. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
6. The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
7. Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
8. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
9. Invitation To A Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov
10. The Trial, by Franz Kafka
11. Night, Elie Wiesel
12. An Answer from Limbo, by Brian Moore
13. Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
14. Ladder of Years, Anne Tyler
15. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, By Mark Twain
16. The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens
17. The Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill
18. The Naked and the Dead, by Normal Mailer
19. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
20. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, by Ernest Hemingway
21. In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
22. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
23. Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham
24. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
25. Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer