What Should I Read?

A couple weeks ago, I received this note from one of my students:

Professor, I mentioned the idea of getting your recommendation for five of your favorite books that I need to read before I die. I know you are most likely slammed with reading and grading so take your time, but let me know when you can so I can get to work as soon as possible while I still have time over break. Thanks so much.

Five favorite books. Books that he needs to read. Books that he shouldn’t miss before he dies. Books he can start working on right now, over break. I totally failed to answer his question. But here is what I said:

Great question, Scott. There are lots of great books, of course, and it seems to me that which ones are indispensable depends a lot on the person. And probably the season of your life: there are books that aren’t necessarily great, but I read them at just the right time and they made all the difference.

One of the books that really rocked my world is Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I don’t know that it would impact most folks like it impacted me. It took a lot of stuff I knew and made it seem very specific and practical. Another author that I think about nearly every day is Malcolm Gladwell, especially his book Outliers. I’m about half way through his latest book, David and Goliath, and it’s amazing. Not a classic, but it makes so much sense of so many things I’ve wonder about. These books have changed the trajectory of my life and continue to influence my thinking constantly.

I love everything written by Henri Nouwen, especially The Wounded Healer and Can You Drink the Cup? And C. S. Lewis, of course: the second half of Mere Christianity, and the essays in Weight of Glory in particular.

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is on my list, for a lot of reasons. It is saturated with goodness, in fact, it is almost a parable of what it means to live well. It also shows the beauty of language and the power of human imagination, better than any other artifact I know.

There is not much fiction on my list. I read very little fiction, really. But there are some novels that I’m crazy about: Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Card’s Ender’s Game. And kid’s books, too, especially The Little Prince, Where the Wild Things AreLittle House on the Prairie.

And then there are favorite plays: Sophocles’ Antigone, and the musical Les Miserables.

And poems: William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins.

Some critics say that if you want to know everything about this life, you should read Shakespeare, and if you want to know everything about the next life, you should read Dante. It’s hard to argue with that.

 What are five books you should read before you die? I don’t know the answer to that. But I’d say this: keep reading, keep asking for recommendations, keep enjoying what you read, keep returning to and re-reading and re-rereading he books you really like. And this: make sure you don’t limit yourself to one genre, time period, place, or intended audience.

And when you have a minute, write me back and tell me what you’ve read, and what you think of it.

with all good wishes,

Dr. Glyer

There are lots of problems with a note like that, of course. For me, the biggest one is that the minute I push SEND, a dozen other book titles come flying into my head and I can’t believe I didn’t list them instead. 





2 thoughts on “What Should I Read?”

  1. Gwendolyn Starks

    Hello, Diana,

    I have crossed paths with your writing in my study of Dorothy L Sayers for my PhD. Thank you so very much!

    I agree that there are so many books and too little time.

    I will add to your list for Children and teens:

    EB Nesbit: The Treasure Seekers, 5 Children and It, and The Railway Children
    Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden and A Little Princess
    Enid Blyton: Too Many books to name by her
    R L Green: A Cavalcade of Dragons
    CS Lewis: Narnia Chronicles
    Tolkein: The Hobbit
    Rick Riordan: Greek, Roman and Egyptian Myth based Novels
    Mary E Pearson: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
    LM Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon
    Louisa May Alcott: Eight Cousins, and the 4 books of The Little Women series

    Picture Books:
    The Big Big Sea
    I Love You The Purplest
    Farmer Will
    The Polar Express
    Guess How Much I Love You
    Illustrator: Nick Butterworth’s Percy’s Park books
    And anything illustrated by Canadian Barbara Reid

    For my 5 fiction books:
    Sayers: The Nine Tailors or Gaudy Night (A toss-up)
    Louise Penny: A Beautiful Mystery
    Dickens: Nicholas Nickleby
    Bronte: Jane Eyre
    Pearson: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

    5 Non-Fiction
    Eugene Peterson: The Message
    GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy
    Madeline L’Engle: Walking On Water
    Julia Cameron: The Artists Way
    Robin Sharma: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

    I look forward to reading more of your blog

    Dr. Gwendolyn Starks (just got the Dr. even though I am an old lady!)

  2. For me, I am just finding your website through the wonderful Lancia Smith’s site. You are right, it is far too difficult to post just five favorite fiction books, but here are five from me. Ones I feel that must be read during one’s life:

    The Chronicles of Narnia (choosing one, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)

    Little Women (combined with Good Wives)

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

    The complete plays of Shakespeare

    To Kill A Mockingbird

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