Ten Books Every Good Human Should Have on Their Shelf

booksPublished in Issue 18, Craccum Magazine 2016.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Call me cliché, but there’s a reason this novel has sold over 30 million copies worldwide: it’s really, really good. Good story, good characters, good message. Told from the perspective of six year old Scout Finch, this book will have you feeling all nostalgic for your own childhood while also get you thinking about some very real-life issues. The Museum, Library and Archives Council (MLA) in England put it at the top of their “books every adult must read before they die” list. Now, it’s a book every adult must own before they die.
Wool – Hugh Howey
The first in Howey’s Silo Series, Wool is seriously a great read. As someone who isn’t usually into science fiction novels, I can fully say that this won me over. You know a book is good when you actually look forward to going home and reading… yup, that’s right. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity survives underground in an enormous silo, the story follows a handful of characters who take a stand against the silo’s dictatorship and begin to uncover its (very grim) secrets. This is one fast-paced, can’t-put-it-down read which you will definitely not regret buying.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
How does one describe A Clockwork Orange to one who hasn’t read it? Dark? Fascinating? Genius? All of the above, I suppose. Set in dystopian England, the story follows complex teen Alex as he embarks on a stream of rather violent activities. After being sent to prison he becomes subject to an immoral form of aversion therapy in an effort to reform him. I would go so far as to call this book a masterpiece. It raises a lot of big questions about society and humanity, which makes for some darn good thinkin’. Plus, Alex narrates the story in Burgess’ invented argot, ‘Nadsat,’ which only makes things more intriguing. Moloko plus errday.
The Beautiful and the Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you call yourself a reader, there has to be at least one Fitzgerald on your shelf. Maybe you’re more of a Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night fan – that’s cool. I like The Beautiful and the Damned for its portrayal of life both before and after World War I. Fitzgerald captures the Jazz Age and sense of post-war disillusionment in New York with this complicated love story, creating a work that we can now use as a kind of historical window into the lifestyle and attitudes of the time. Not the easiest read, but a good one nonetheless.

11.22.63 – Stephen King
I would argue that King’s best works are those that stray from the horror genre he is so often categorised in: The Body, Under the Dome, Joyland and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption to name a few. 11.22.63 also sits outside of the horror genre, and it is truly great. The story follows high school teacher Jake Epping as he travels back to 1958 and works to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is gripping, funny and also incredibly tense. Like many of King’s novels, it’s a hefty volume – but don’t let that put you off – it’s very quick reading. Whether you’re a King fan or not, this book deserves a read.

Half-Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan
In late 1930s Berlin, African American jazz musicians Sid and Chip and their African-German friend Hiero are banned from playing live music by the Nazis. When war is declared they flee to Paris where Hiero, a Nazi target because of his mixed race, is arrested and presumed dead. The story, narrated by Sid in a witty African American vernacular, moves back and forth between the war years and 1992, where Sid and Chip reunite and uncover some secrets and betrayals to do with their not-so-dead friend Hiero. A unique and captivating novel that looks at things in a fresh perspective.
Tortilla Flat – John Steinbeck
What’s your favourite book? Ugh. That’s one of those annoying questions where you then have to mentally sift through everything you ever read and attempt to select one extremely notable novel. I can’t answer that question, but I can rate Tortilla Flat as a definite top five. I may be a bit Steinbeck-biased (only because everything he writes is great), but one can’t help but like his very normal writing style and the realist aspect of his stories. Tortilla Flat is one of Steinbeck’s more comic novels, focussing on a group of paisanos (countrymen) drinking wine and having a good time in the aftermath of World War I. The detail Steinbeck puts into his characters and setting are what make Tortilla Flat such an enjoyable read, a characteristic which likewise defines his many famous novels to come.
Montana 1948 – Larry Watson
Like Steinbeck, Watson has a knack for detail and places great significance on setting. Montana 1948, technically a novella rather than a novel, is your classic coming of age tale. Our narrator David Hayden looks back at his childhood in the small town of Bentrock, Montana and the events which irrevocably changed his life. David’s father Wesley is the town sheriff and his uncle Frank the doctor, so when Frank does some not-very-nice things to the local American Indian women Wesley’s response throws into question young David’s ideas of justice. There’s some serious tension in this book. Bonus: you can finish it in about two hours.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s third novel, Americanah centres around two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze. As teenagers in Lagos the two fall in love, only to be separated when Ifemelu emigrates to America after winning a university scholarship. With Nigeria under military dictatorship, Ifemelu views America as a sort of promised land – only to find herself living in a racist culture very different to her home. As an adult, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria and her relationship with Obinze, now a married father, is thrown into question. Adichie’s novel is unique and fresh, compelling and probably unlike anything else you’ve read. Give it a go.
The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Yeah, another stereotypical classic. Some people hate this book, some people love it. Regardless of what end of the stick you’re on, I think it can be agreed that this is an important book, if not an enjoyable one. Yes, Holden’s narration is unreliable and at times annoying. That’s the point. He’s a kid going through all that angst and confusion and lostness that comes with being a teen. We’re just along for the ride. So maybe it’s just me, but I find wee Holden’s disillusionment pulls at the old heartstrings just a little.

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