6. The Brothers Karamazov by Frodor Dotoevesky:
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia. Dostoyevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which is also the main setting of the novel. Since its publication, it has been acclaimed all over the world by thinkers as diverse as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Cormac McCarthy and Kurt Vonnegut as one of the supreme achievements in literature.
Why you should read it: My discovery of The Brothers Karamazov came my freshman year of college, when we read excised "The Grand Inquisitor" portion of it as part of our readings. That section and that section alone was so powerful, so moving, so profoundly true that I kid you not started tearing up during the professor's lecture. In a lecture hall of 200. I was so inspired that I immediately ran out (and I do mean this very nearly litterally) and bought the book from the college bookstore. Kurt Vonnegut once said that everything you need to know about life can be found within the pages of this book - and, quite possibly, this was true in a pre-space age world - but it is the most profound, all-encompasing book I've ever read. And wholeheartedly Russian.
"Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love."
"I think the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness."
"What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people."
7. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr:
Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.
Why you should read it: I have read this book once a year since high school. It's short enough to be accessible, but so utterly profound that it's startling in it's simplicity - between it and The Brothers Karamazov you can learn everything you need to know about the world. And, if you need any more convincing, it's old-school SyFy at it's very best.
"All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies."
"She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind."
8. The Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood:
The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura's story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.
Why you should read it: Most people reccomend The Handmaid's Tale when discussing Margret Atwood, but I prefer The Blind Assasin. It could be that, in my senior year of HS when I discovered it, I was in the right place for this novel. It could be that I see far, far too much of my sister in Laura and someday believe I'll be greeted with similar news. It could be because it is, again, a deeply human novel. Meaningfulness and Meaninglessness side by side, from birth thru life to the moment you die.
“I’ve looked back over what I’ve set down so far, and it seems inadequate. Perhaps there is too much frivolity in it, or too many things that might be taken for frivolity. A lot of clothes, the styles and colours outmoded now, shed butterflies’ wings. A lot of dinners, not always very good ones. Breakfasts, picnics, ocean voyages, costume balls, newspapers, boating on the river. Such items do not assort very well with tragedy. But in life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge.”
9. "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman:
One of Walt Whitman's most loved and greatest poems, "Song of Myself" is an optimistic and inspirational look at the world. Originally published as part of "Leaves of Grass" in 1855, "Song of Myself" is as accessible and important today as when it was first written. Read "Song of Myself" and enjoy a true poetic masterpiece.
Why you should read it: Only day two and I'm breaking the rules already. But, for all "Song of Myself" is a poem and not a book, it's long enough to coount, so I include it. My love affair with it began my sophomore year, when we had to read selections of it for English class. It is a deeply American poem, but it is also a very human poem, the kind of which could not have been written before Whitman's time. The link goes to the complete text.
“What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children? They are alive and well somewhere, the smallest sprout shows there is really no death, and if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, and ceas'd the moment life appear'd. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, and to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
10. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss:
Long before saving the earth became a global concern, Dr. Seuss, speaking through his character the Lorax, warned against mindless progress and the danger it posed to the earth's natural beauty.
Why you should read it: After so many dark, heavy, deep books I thought I should share a favourite of my childhood. Forget the notions of enviromentalism and capitolism and greed and personal responsibility in this book, it is just a wonderful children's book. So much so it's one of the few kid's books I still have sitting on my shelves (or, would be, if almost all my worldly pocessions weren't in two boxes in my parents attic; one and a half of them are dedicated to books). There is no excuse for not reading it.
"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”