Introduction to Part Four.
Here is list number four. As time passes, I will add comments to many of the books. Tom has been the one who has prodded me to make these lists so that I will remember the important things I have learned from my lifetime of reading. Others I will leave on the list but without comment. Not all books are worth reading the first time, but you don’t know that until you read them and not all are worth reading again or talking about. I can say that about the books on my lists because I have nothing to lose or gain by speaking honestly.
If I was a radical, I guess I would choose my comments more carefully but I am not and so the truth will do and this is not Twitter or Facebook and I don’t have an audience to pander to.
Many are worthy of much discussion.
People will see things differently. That is the wonder of it all.
I am weary just making this Four-Part list and recalling something of value from the reading of each book if it is there to find. Of some books I can’t remember anything between their pages although I remember their titles and their book covers.
How did I ever read these books?
I am still asking myself that question. I do know that after I was about 40 I couldn’t have read anything without glasses. And, there are many books that I simply can’t remember any more and have thrifted away. They were primarily fiction, which I read less than I read other kinds of books.
I am so grateful that I am not just starting to read
with my list in my hand.
Many books on my lists were read as the result of lifetime goals and others are part of “small studies” I created for myself about a particular topic, much like taking a class.
I have not kept every book I have read. I have kept only those books which are unique or that I knew I would need for reference or would likely read again.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. Historical Fiction and Archaeology. Interesting and exciting. Thankfully there are explorers who aren’t afraid of spiders and snakes. Nothing would be explored if I had to do it. Nevertheless, I do find it exciting to think of finding cities in Central and South America that may have been built by the early Lamanites. So many of the descriptions that have been produced about these cities match those given about the behaviors and building style of the Lamanites (ritual sacrifice) in The Book of Mormon. Fascinating how a jungle can swallow up entire civilizations and all of their artifacts including weapons.
History: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day by Smithsonian Institution. History. Wonderful, interesting book if you like reading dictionaries, which I do. So many facts have been repeated in other books that I have read but this is a beautiful book, straight from someone’s sofa table to the thrift store and to me.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. Photography. I saw snippets on television about this man and his quest to document the lives of people in New York, much as a photo-journalist would do. This volume includes the photographs and a sentence or two about each person which he was able to extract from people who were complete strangers. It is amazing to me how much he was able to learn about individuals by persuading them pose for a picture and then talk. I still think that photographs you snatch instead of pose are the most interesting. Wouldn’t it be fun to do something like Mr. Stanton has done anywhere you live?
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. History. Non-fiction. Inspiring and interesting but wouldn’t read again.
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. Biography. My life-list of books to read has always included this one. I read parts of it as a younger person but it was only recently that I thrifted an original copy and sat down with a Coca Cola and my feet on a footstool to dive in. Such a dark and troubled man, surrounded by minions of dark and troubled men and women. I have never understood what has been written about his charisma and charm. I can barely look at the man.
Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. Historical Fiction. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. World War I. Overlaps other books I have read about various events in and during the period of time between about 1914 and 1918. It is the third book I have read by this historian. I have enjoyed each one.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. History and Biography. So very interesting to come to know Mr. Oppenheimer and his feelings about what he had created. It was a race between geniuses in many countries to see who could make a usable atomic weapon first. It haunted the rest of his life.
Tinkers by Paul Harding. Fiction. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Emotional and thoughtful, especially to those learning about their ancestors. Touching portrayal of how each generation takes its place and sees things differently. A book that Tom read also. A small book.
The Great Crash of 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith. History and Economics. Read it all with glazed eyes and an empty mind but I tried. If you want to understand The Crash and The Great Depression I recommend The Forgotten Man which is reported somewhere in one of these five lists. I read it twice and actually understood. It was written for ordinary people like me.
An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo. Non-fiction. Captivating book for children 8-12. Based on a true story which always holds more weight for me when choosing to read a book. I am not a child but I loved the story as a child would.
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough. History. Wonderful stories in the comfortable style of Mr. McCullough. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others I have read by this author but it was good. Won’t re-read it.
A Bell for Adano by John Hersey. Historical Fiction. First read this book in Sophomore English class at East High School. Tried to re-read it but could not become interested in it even though I had forgotten most of the story.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. Historical Fiction. Fictional love story set in the concentration camps of World War II. Enjoyed it but wouldn’t re-read it.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Historical Fiction. Written for the younger reader but very enjoyable for me. I have always cried for all of the beautiful horses which have been mowed down during battles of antiquity. I imagine that the horses live with much terror, pain and hardship. This book was made into a movie, which I did not see. My own imaginings about the poor animals was enough for me. Hollywood graphics would have been too much but I’ll bet the good parts were beautiful.
The Green Mile by Stephen King. Fiction. Captivating book about good and evil, about judging people, about “sensing” what is around you and about accepting miracles. I loved the book and I loved the movie which starred Tom Hanks. I especially liked the character played by Mr. Hanks. Mr. King gave him many attributes I admire like patience and fairness.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Economics and Non-Fiction. Read the book but didn’t retain very much from it. Many statistics and presumptions about why things are as they are. Many assumptions were political talking points from a liberal point of view.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Fiction. I have the advantage of reading some books that Tom has taught at various times during his teaching career. This is one of those books. It is not uncommon for Tom to insert things he has learned from the characters in the book into his conversation. Riches do not make us happy but sometimes we have to find out for ourselves. It is a small book. Time to pick it up again.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson. Non-Fiction. The story of one of the people on Schindler’s List who survived because of Oskar Schlindler’s sacrifice. It was written for readers 10-14 who have some knowledge of the Concentration Camps of World War II, Jewish Issues and Schlindler’s List. Thought-provoking, touching book which I have kept and will read again. Small book. Perfect for one sitting.
Personal History by Katharine Graham. Biography. Read it some time ago and have little memory of it. I do remember how much I admired her intelligence and business sense and also her courage. Hers were the days before all mainstream journalism was highjacked to politics.
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. African American poet.
The Collected Poems of Edgar Guest. Old-fashioned rhyming poems about the “old days”. Sometimes, when I need to feel some peace and rest I pick up this book and open it up. I am never disappointed with what is on the page where I land but I do enjoy prose far better than rigid poetical forms such as ballads and four verse rhymes over and over.
The Collected Works of Carl Sandburg. This was the first book I bought as a teenager when I started working. I don’t love all of his works but I do love most of his poems. He wrote a lengthy book-set about Abraham Lincoln which I have not read.
The Collected Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The Works of Robert Browning.
The Collected Works of Robert Burns. When his dialect is heavy, I can’t always understand his words. It takes work.
The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson. She is such an intriguing character. I love so many of her poems that I couldn’t pick a favorite if I wanted to. Once I took a picture of Clara with an Emily Dickinson book in her hand. Clara and Emily surely were friends before they came here. They remind me of each other in their intelligence and the nature of their sensitivity. She wrote one of my very favorite little poems:
“I have been out with lanterns, looking for myself.”
The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller. Theater. Tom used to teach this book and put it on in play form in his classroom as a reader’s theatre. He often quotes from it and uses things I remember reading to make his point about something in people’s natures or society. It is frightening to think that people were once so superstitious and that lives and reputations could be destroyed in the ways portrayed in the story. I love the word Crucible. It is such a perfect word for its meaning and many people have endured Crucibles in their lives. Crucible/Crucify.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Fiction. I read these books when I was a young mother. Don’t ask me why. I thought they were good studies of the difficulties encountered by some kids as they grow up. My kids read the S.E. Hinton books and maybe that is why I read them. The Outsiders was made into a popular movie.
Rumblefish by S. E. Hinton. Fiction. Same as The Outsiders.
Contact: A Novel by Carl Sagan. Science and Opinion. I have been waiting to explain my feelings about this one. Oh, to have been a fly-on-the-wall when Mr. Sagan passed from this life. He who had insisted that there was no God and no intelligent design in the Universe. He had been given such gifts of intellect and the opportunity for education and the chance to practice his craft with the best instruments and yet he failed to gain the one thing that was most important in his quest for knowledge. A testimony. Although I read this book, which was widely acclaimed, I felt sad, knowing that Mr. Sagan has missed the entire point of his life’s work if I may say so.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. Historical Fiction. I have to admit that as I came to know Mr. Tolstoy through the reading of various biographies, I liked his literature less and less. That has happened to me before. That is how I felt about this book although I enjoyed the parts that taught me about Russian culture and touched on historical points.
The Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Madison and Jay. Very challenging and very educational. What a clever way for these men, buried in their work of creating a Constitution, to prepare the American public for receiving and supporting such a document. I am astounded at the energy of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the majority of the Papers and was the leader of the exercise. I think it is easier to read the Papers one at-a-time over a period of weeks in order to enjoy the craft of the writers and the meaning of their words. They spoke differently than we do and thought more deeply about many things. I was constantly asking myself how they knew what they knew but then I knew the answer already: they were among the most inspired-from-above people who had ever lived. They were receiving help, every step of the way. Did they pray for help to speak and write as they did or was it simply given as a gift to the future of this country and its people? They obviously knew their gifts and used them for the good of all.
Our Town: A Play in Three Acts by Thornton Wilder. Theater. Long considered a classic, I first read this book in high school and saw it performed more than once in high school plays. I admit that I don’t like to read plays. I think they are boring but I can say that I did. I am fascinated by the thought of living in a “town” versus a city. Things are better known to everyone, for good or ill, and there is a more peaceful atmosphere than in a city.
The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Historical Fiction. A book for young people about our relationships with the dead and about times that were frightening for young people. A young person needs an understanding of Jews and Germany to read this book.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose. Theater. I read the book in play form when Tom was a teacher in Illinois. It was one of his most successful plays. I still remember it vividly. I also love the movie version made in black and white in which Henry Fonda is the voice of reason and the star. It is a story about judging, prejudice, impatience, personal flaws and much more. I will go so far as to say that I am mesmerized by the reading of it and the movie. Norman Rockwell painted a wonderful picture which departed from the “men” in the title, which shows a jury room with eleven men, crowded around one woman, who appears to be the hold-out on the jury. That is the picture Tom used for his program.
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate. Non-Fiction. A true story about a remarkable gorilla. For children but wonderful for grown-ups. Easy read in no time at all with a good feeling as a reward at the end.
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. Poetry. Philosophy. Struggled through it. Rather, I felt like I had been dragged along the road and thrown down a hill. People like to talk about it and refer to it but I quickly put it out of my mind and went on my way in search of a cooler place.
The Nuremberg Trials: The Nazis Brought to Justice by Alexander MacDonald. History. One of several books I read about the trials. I have also seen several made-for-TV movies about the trials which have been riveting. The trials represent one of those rare times in history where the bad guys were actually brought to justice and suffered consequences.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. Children’s Fiction. Winner of several distinctions. Touching and Beautiful. Small book to be read in one sitting. When my son-in-law’s sister died of cancer at age 31, leaving three little children behind, the children of the school made a thousand paper cranes which were displayed on a table and in tree branches brought from outside in the foyer of the church. I found that so touching and I loved the book.
100 Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Children’s Fiction. I have bought copies of this little, paperback book several times to give as gifts. It is a wonderful story with an unexpected ending and it lightened my soul. It is very small and can be read in under an hour.
The One Hundred Penny Box by Dianne Dillon. Children’s Fiction. Just as I have done with 100 Dresses, I have bought this little book as a gift. It is a touching, heartwarming, educational little book which can be read in one sitting with great satisfaction. I won’t give the story away in case you decide to read it on a rainy day.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Children’s Fiction. Yes. I read the book and it is very sweet and certainly symbolic. I am primarily drawn to the ways that various children’s illustrators have expressed the story.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Fiction. What can I say. I re-read this story last Christmas. I love it. It is such a good reminder to live our lives without regrets because the time may come when we can’t repair the wrongs we have done and then what will we do? I have seen every movie made from this book and love the older versions in black and white the best. Granted, the newer versions are more spectacular to view because of modern graphics and sound but black and white versions of anything always hold my attention because I love the craft of light and shadow.
The Prophet by Kahil Gibran. Poetry. Received this book as a gift in high school. I was pretty sappy then and I read it over and over as did most of my friends. It is a girly book of poetry.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Fiction. Read it because I thought I should and can’t remember much about it.
Pinocchio illustrated by Carlo Collodi. Children’s Fiction. I love this story because I love the thought of pretending I was a wooden doll like Pinocchio and finding that I had turned into a real girl. Silly but girly thought. I have collected several illustrated versions of Pinocchio in my Children’s Book Collection which is explained elsewhere on this website. The version by Mr. Collodi is my favorite.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Fiction. I read this romantic novel many years ago, before the movie was made from it. The story was a true, sad, unbelievable love story which made me crazy trying to keep up with all of the near-misses and heartbreaking disappointments. But, that is why we read books like this one. Thomas Hardy is quite the story teller and I have read several books by him.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. Children’s Education. Even though I am not listing very many children’s books in four of these lists, and plan to have a children’s list down the road, ( part Five ) I had to include this wonderful book. I remember when my oldest son Matthew, received this book as a gift when he was two. That was 50 years ago. We went through this book from cover to cover, over and over until even I could name all of the little people and what they were doing and he could find the page for every adventure without even trying. The book lasted through four additional children and when I began thrifting in earnest, I added a couple more copies to my collection. It is also my son Timothy’s favorite book and inspired him in his efforts as an artist and cartoonist. I have since collected as many Richard Scarry books as I can find and have them piled up on the shelf where I can see them and read them whenever I want to. I even found a plastic fire truck which the worm was driving. Inside of the truck is a little Scarry story. I didn’t know about the teeny story inside when I bought it. It took a grandchild to find it effortlessly.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. Historical Fiction. I love the stories of Mr. Dumas. I first read this because I thought that I should. I didn’t expect to enjoy it although I had been captivated by other Dumas books. My mind was often distracted by images I had seen in the various movies that had been made from the book over the years. Nevertheless, I read it. (You may have noticed that when I simply say “I read it” that is code for I am not recommending it but I may be wrong about the book as I must be if it is so widely read, loved and known . .. so don’t trust me.)
The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 by James Fenimore Cooper. Historical Fiction. Another book I felt I should read and did. Interesting and educational but more of a man/boy adventure story than a girl-book. I did love the movie made from the book and I have loved the paintings made for an illustrative version of the book by N.C. Wyeth. They were often on the pages of early versions of hard-bound books with beautiful covers.
Cicero’s Orations. Dialogues. John Adams often referred to Cicero as did other Founding Fathers and everyday voracious readers. I imagine that even today, those studying the law read Cicero and study his arguments. Mr. Adams felt that his sons were not educated unless they could translate Cicero from the Greek into English. I would feel educated if I could read it without a dictionary and understand an occasional argument. Once again, I can say that I read his dialogues. Does that make me more learned than I was before I read them? Not much.
A Plato Reader: Eight Essential Dialogues by Plato and C.D.C. Reeve. Dialogues. One little course of study that I set up for myself was to read Plato and Aristotle. Maybe in earlier times, when there was less to read, I would have rejoiced over them. Today, I read the dialogues and am glad that I did. Will I remember them to discuss them with a well-read person? NO. Will I read them again? NO. Should you read them at least once? Probably.
Nikola Tesla: Prophet of the Modern Technological Age by Michael W. Simmons. Biography. Found myself very interested in this eccentric inventor and so I read some books about him and his inventions.
Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer. Biography. Very worthwhile reading, especially when so many cars bearing his name are driving around the streets. Of course, the Tesla car has little to do with the man, except that it is electric and that is a very clever thing for Mr. Elon Musk to do to advertise and sell cars.
A Midwife’s Tale: The Journals of Martha Ballard 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. History and Autobiography. I am fascinated with early nursing, midwifery and natural healing as found in our ancestors’ lives. This book has been a keeper for me and over many years I have read it several times. It is also a look into how close people used to live to the land and how close they were to the abyss of poverty and hunger. I know that the life of Martha Ballard was normal to her, but I can’t even imagine living as she did. I was amazed by the hours she spent waiting for babies, nursing sick people, returning to deliver stubborn babies and how she learned the arts of healing with what the Lord had given her growing in the ground. This book, coupled with The Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions is an education in early America. Martha was 100 years before Patty but their lives had many similarities.
Napoleon and Josephine by Evangeline Bruce. Historical Fiction. Since anything one reads about one well-known world ruler overlaps other rulers of his or her time, I have found that I already know this-and-that about someone before reading a biography. This was an interesting couple and poor Josephine had her hands full with her husband. He was a megalomaniac and in love with himself and his dreams of conquest. When she could not produce an heir, he divorced her. It was a fascinating book. Having just re-read the Montefiore book titled The Romanovs, I was fresh in my understanding of the fight Napoleon took to Russia and how he was defeated and expelled to his island, only to re-emerge. How do these silly, little people pull off these horrible dictatorships?
Rocket Boys by Homer Hickham. Non-Fiction. Read a couple of books about Homer Hickham and how he came to study rocketry. Don’t remember much about them but Tom remembers ever detail of the rockets and the “boys”. Must be a boy thing.
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Fiction. One of the most emotional and disturbing books I have read because of the subject. It is every parent’s fear to have a child kidnapped which is exactly what happened to the heroine’s child in this book. It is the story of the family without the child and the strain it placed on everyone. I won’t give the story away because there is redemption in the story somewhere. Well written and mesmerizing. It was made into a movie staring Michelle Pfieffer which I deliberately did not go see because the reading was emotional enough.
Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Kidotter. Non-Fiction. History. This is one of the rare times that I will recommend a book. The education I received from reading this book was priceless. It covers the years of 1958-1962 in China when Mao Zedong decided to implement “The Great Leap Forward” in order to make China as strong and advanced as Britain. What Mao did was a mistake of enormous proportions which resulted in the death of at least 45 million Chinese people by starvation, state-ordered over-work and/or violence. Mao was a protégé’ of Stalin.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. History. Non-Fiction. The story of the gradual removal of the Native peoples from their lands as the United States spread across the continent. Tribe by tribe the story is told and it is heartbreaking.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Science Fiction.
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. Fiction. I read the book but can’t remember a single story. Salinger was a popular 1960s writer.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Children’s Fiction.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Fiction.
Native Son by Richard Write. Autobiography.
The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Fiction, Play.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Autobiography. A compilation of Anne Frank’s diary pages, which she kept while she and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. It is about coming-of-age and presents a first hand account about a family, trying to live through the Holocaust. I read it first at about age 12, which was the age of Anne when she wrote it. Even though I didn’t know a great deal about the Jewish issues surrounding the war, I had become aware of the televised trial of Adolph Eichmann, who was a Nazi who was responsible for much of the Jewish deaths in various camps and so I understood what Anne and her family were hiding from. I also remember the black and white movie which was made about the book.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Fiction. While I read this book as a teenager, I feel that I have read it many times more recently because it is a book that Tom taught in school and talks about. Time and again, he will find a reason to refer to the book to make a “life” point and I have benefited from his insights. Sometimes when I walk past anything I have collected, like my beautiful hutch which Tom restored, I recognize what I am seeing and feeling connected to is a “menagerie”, similar to Laura’s.
The Pearl by John Steinbeck. Fiction.
The Robe by Lloyd Douglas. Historical Fiction. This is the story of a small number of people and what happened to them as a result of touching and holding the robe that Christ wore to his crucifixion. It is a very interesting and compelling story despite the fact that I don’t believe in objects having power in and of themselves such is portrayed. I have seen the movie, made from the book, more than once during my life. It is usually shown at Easter time.
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. Fiction.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. Children’s Fiction.
Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes. Children’s Fiction. A story of a boy and the part he played in the drama that was the American Revolution. Read this as a child and also saw the movie made by Walt Disney.
Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther. Fiction.
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois. Children’s Fiction.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Historical Fiction.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Mystery.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Fiction.
Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence. Historical. The story of The Scopes Trial which was prosecuted by Clarence Darrow. It was the clash between the “creationists” and the “evolutionists” and centered around the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Historical Fiction.
The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. Fiction.
The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Fiction. Can’t imagine why I read these with such gusto but I did. I think there were seven and they presented a very stylized and compelling look at Vampires as something other than those of legend. The characters were well drawn and I have to admit that I couldn’t put each book down without picking it up again. I read them in the 1990s but over time my appetite for such things changed and I have not been interested in other book series like them. I will always associate Tom Cruise with vampires along with that of Claudia for a little “vampiress” since I saw the first of the movies made from the books. Any kind of vampire lore is so silly and I am embarrassed to say that I read these books at all.