What’s a book everyone should read at least once in their lives?
By - bugtanks33d
ANNOUNCEMENT FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE READING THIS THREAD:
MANY OF THE BOOKS MENTIONED HERE ARE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AND IN AUDIO BOOK FORM. GO THROUGH YOUTUBE/RANDOMHOUSE/AUDIBLE/OVERDRIVE FOR ALL THE CLASSICAL GOODNESS YOU WANT.
It almost totally eliminates the financial/time commitment that many will cite for not picking them up. I listen to books on double speed all the damn time. I am working my way through "A Tale of Two Cities" now.
There are tons and tons of free ebooks available online, a huge variety of stuff. Even free audiobooks.
These lists are from [Project Gutenberg](http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?sort_order=downloads) which is a great source for free ebooks in the public domain on a wide variety of topics. If you want other stuff check out r/FreeEBOOKS :)
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Man's search for meaning - Viktor Frankl
When I was 17, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for the first time. My boss, from a fast food joint called Harvey's (it's Canadian, great food, 20 years later I still run into her outside of the restaurant!) got my call saying I'd need a couple weeks off, and I trusted her enough to tell her where I was.
Half hour later she shows up with 2 books, that being 1 of them. I read it that night. I still have it. It is a great book, it really helped. I read it a few times over my 3 week stay, and I had brought a lot of books and we had a library. It was just good, and inspiring.
She also gave everyone gift cards to the restaurant. She was great. She visited a few times. Thank you,Anne.
That is a really good boss you had there. I wish there were more Anne’s out there!
My first thought when I saw the question. Really nothing else has come to mind and I've read a lot of "important" books.
I mean, what does it mean to say *everyone should* read a book? It has to be a book that will improve anyone's life. Since everyone is almost guaranteed to suffer greatly, it makes sense that a book that explores how to be in hell and still find something to live for would meet that criterion.
I was trying to say something about the book but you just described it perfectly. Nothing to add here.
The Phantom Tollbooth
I love "Point of View" where they are in mid-air and as they grow older their feet touch the ground. That means their point of view never changed as they get older. Unlike silly Milo who as he grows "up" his point of view is constantly changing.
In the last few years I've used that snippet with people that seem to grow down, instead of growing up as they get older. I've had a few that actually get the point.
Senses Taker: _"I'm the Senses Taker, and I must have some information before I take your senses."_
I was just old enough to get the senses/census pun, and the list of hilarious questions that followed. But then...
_"I warned you; I warned you I was the Senses Taker. I help people find what they're **not** looking for, hear what they're **not** listening for, run after what they're **not** chasing, and smell what isn't even there. And, furthermore, I'll steal your sense of purpose, take your sense of duty, destroy your sense of proportion -- and, but for one thing, you'd be helpless yet."_
_"What's that?" asked Milo fearfully._
_"As long as you have the sound of laughter, I cannot take your sense of humor. And with it, you have nothing to fear from me."_
Reading that exchange was a formative experience for a boy of... nine? I think I was?
I’ve thought about reading this again - first time was in elementary school!
Maybe one of my favorite literary moments…
Milo: “Many of the things I’m supposed to know seem so useless that I can’t see the purpose of learning them at all.”
Princess of Sweet Rhyme: “...what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”
Hey, thanks so much for this quote. I love Phantom Tollbooth but didn't remember this one. It comforts me, and will stick with me for a while.
Thanks, and thanks to Norton J, RIP.
I was going to say this. Great philosophy book disguised as a children's book.
Yes, absolutely. I'm 50 now, but attribute this book to my open-minded approach to life. So much in this book is ideal to help children set up their brain to ask questions all the time. Great stuff.
This is one that's certainly tied to a special place in my heart for being one of the first pieces of fiction that wasn't a simpler thing designed to develop reading skills (like, "I am checking this book out because I think the story might be fun"). Good metaphor practice: the edition in our library had a two-page drawing of all the monsters in the Mountains of Ignorance, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to understand their "secret" meanings. It was definitely a mark of an inexperienced human that the "Threadbare Excuse" didn't click for me the way it would much later in life (and "Terrible Trivium" as a play on "trivia" went right over my head).
Also - I never knew there was an animated version of this book (and a few snippets make it look like peak Chuck Jones, so I'm in). I remember seeing the intro on television, and the live action bit turned me off so fast, I didn't get past the kid driving into the toolbooth. I need to watch this.
As I think about it, this seems like something that would shine as a Tim Burton production.
Surprised I haven't seen it here already so I'll add it... The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. In Slaughterhouse 5 Vonnegut said it could teach everything that we needed to know about life, except that wasn't enough anymore...
Edit: brother's to brothers
You can download [The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky](https://www.reddit.com/r/FreeEBOOKS/comments/nvyrgd/the_brothers_karamazov_by_fyodor_dostoyevsky/) for free from Project Gutenberg.
If the only thing that book did was make you marvel at how people centuries and oceans removed from you in time and place, could experience the exact same emotions about life as you did, it would be worth the read. There's so much more to it, but Dostoyevsky had such a knack for digging deep into universal human experience. And it's just a hell of a good story too.
Johnny’s Got His Gun. It’s so intense, but it’s so good.
Metallica’s song One is based off this book. Guy has his arms and legs blown off, goes blind and deaf, and is left to live like that. I only read it once, but it’s forever engrained into my memory. It hits you like a freight train.
I read it in high school. It got my attention that a nurse jerked him off. His penis was his only surviving appendage
Yes, but it’s worth noting he didn’t want it to happen.
Minor (?) spoilers ahead so if you plan on reading skip this comment if you want, I don’t think it’s too bad.
But throughout the novel Joe struggles to communicate with his nurses and it culminates in one point in this really awkward and uncomfortable scene where the nurse thinks he’s asking to be jerked off. She’s wrong, and it sort of feels torturous. It’s a very sad scene because Joe realizes they think he’s nothing but an animal at this point and has no needs above basic physical ones. Not to mention this whole time he’s been trying to communicate to the nurses that he *is* mentally functional, and he thought he finally got through to them only to be unwillingly touched. Even worse, though he’s initially disgusted by the act he can’t really fight off his natural bodily responses to it.
It’s a very odd/disturbing scene, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. And I agree with the OC of this thread, it’s a novel that will stick with you for a long time and even give you a newfound appreciation for life. I couldn’t sleep for a night after I finished my first read through.
>they think he’s nothing but an animal at this point
Yes but I recall sometime later another nurse comes in and writes either "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year" on his chest and he is elated because up until that point, he has had no idea what time of year it was. Bear in mind that I read this book almost 40 years ago.
I honestly can’t recall if it’s the same nurse or whether it was merry Christmas/happy new year but that is one of the few “happy” moments in the novel. I guess if it is the same nurse after the fact then they still could’ve thought he was capable of thinking/feeling, not sure cause I haven’t read it in a while either?
Edit but not really edit because I haven’t published the comment and do not yet know how to edit on this app (ALSO SORT OF MAJOR SPOILERS):
>!It’s merry Christmas and it’s the final nurse who writes it. The one that figures out Joe’s code in the end and get him his “help” he’s been wanting, so not the same nurse.!<
New edit: I’ve learned to edit and now feel stupid for not knowing how to edit.
I checked a message and came back to this thread thinking I was still on the one about the very hungry Caterpillar and I was VERY confused by your comment
The hungry caterpillar ate it.
The title makes so much more sense now.
For the Metallica song, too
Assigned reading in middle school where the teacher had to explain that part.... probably not the best age to have read that book as you can’t really appreciate certain themes that young
Yikes! We read this in HS…I think senior year.
Very good book, cool video, weird movie
The movie baffled me the first time I saw it.
The author Dalton Trumbo was in the Communist watch list and was blacklisted for this work and others. He had to screen write pseudonyms because of it. The anti war message was not well received by Washington.
Yes! I was gonna comment with this book but wanted to see if anyone had already put it. It’s a great read and I have had to stop myself reading it several times because of how intense it gets. It really makes you think about life, war, and so many other things. It really messes with your mind. I believe all public officials should read the book as well.
Darkness, Imprisoning me
All that I see, absolute horror
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell
Landmine, has taken my sight
taken my speech, taken my hearing
taken my arms, taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in Hell.
NO NO NO NO
OH PLEASE GOD HELP ME!!!!
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
I never knew there was worse things than dying
And the band played Waltzing Matilda...
DARKNESS IMPRISONING ME
All Quiet on the Western Front.
Everyone should have to reckon with the reality of what war actually means.
I had almost forgotten what a spectacular book this was. Dug out some quotes...
*But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?*
*We're no longer young men. We've lost any desire to conquer the world. We are refugees. We are fleeing from ourselves. From our lives. We were eighteen years old, and we had just begun to love the world and to love being in it; but we had to shoot at it. The first shell to land went straight for our hearts. We've been cut off from real action, from getting on, from progress. We don't believe in those things any more; we believe in the war.*
The book is filled with these types of quotes. The prologue had such an impact on me that I memorized it. It feels like poetry to me.
I just wrote the same before I read your comment. This book blew my mind (especially as a German myself) and it shows the absurdity of war so damn well.
I should reread it but I’m almost afraid to. It was really a very brutal experience.
I would also say the other books by Remarque are also worth a read. Especially ‘the road back’ which is the sequel to all quiet on the western front. It deals with the boys left behind and them trying to learn what life outside of war is. I found is just as if not more powerful than the first.
Night, by Elie Wiezel. It is absolutely heartwrecking , and I hated every moment of reading it, which is exactly the effect it is supposed to have.
Came here looking for this one. I had to read it back in highschool and it blew me away how moved I was by it. Stories like his need to be remembered for all time, no matter how hard it is to get through (emotionally-speaking; it's actually quite an easy and short read). I'm so grateful that my English teacher assigned it.
One of the few things I remember from taking German in high school, our teacher read it
(Can't remember details, but her grandmother was in Germany at the time, and she told us how she had something like 13+ kids)
We had a significant amount of Holocaust literature included in our curriculum, from 3rd grade with Terrible Things by Eve Bunting, 5th grade Night with Elie Wiesel, 6th grade Waiting for Anya. I’m grateful to have had these stories of courage and injustice imprinted on me from a young age by these authors and educators
The Westing Game
Love love love this book! No one has ever heard of it when I mention it!
A Librarian here, such a terrific book. I have gotten so many kids to read it by hooking them with the fact that the reader can play the game and has all of the clues. And good luck as it is fiendishly clever.
I was volunteering in the local library when a substitute teacher came in with what she thought was an impossible problem. She was so embarrassed to not know the name or author of a book she was reading aloud to a class while she was subbing for an English teacher. She asked if I knew book about a murder in a condo setting. She couldn’t get it out of her mind and had to find out how it ended. The Westing game came immediately to mind. I had read it in the ‘80’s in like 8th grade.
That was it.
Read this book in 5th grade, loved it. Constantly kept guessing
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
Such a great book.
>And now,' said the unknown, 'farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been heaven's substitute to recompense the good - now the god of vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!
Oh my god yes. I love this book for being the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the classics world. It is lengthy but has revenge, treasure, plots and schemes and drugs. There is nothing stuffy about this classic.
It disappoints me it and Dumas are almost never covered in American classrooms either. This is the kind of thing you could get the kids to read and find interesting, especially once you tell them this. I read it in my senior year of high school and definitely was
One of the most exciting books I couldn’t put down despite its length.
I love The Count of Monte Cristo, I'm shocked it's so high though just because no one else I know has read it except the others I went to high school with.
My teacher explained the moral as "*the happiness one is capable of can only be measured by the sadness one endures.*"
So like, if '0' is neither happy nor sad, if you only ever experience a sadness that is (-1) then you can never be happier than (+1). If a serious trauma happens on your life that's (-10), then it's possible to feel happiness that's (+10).
And that got me thru so many heart breaks and disappointments in my life, I don't even know how I'd have done it otherwise.
It was ruined for me because I had to read it for my French class back in high school *in* French so no one knew what was going on since our teacher was super cool but kind of bad at teaching
I have spent so much time with him in prison in my childhood.
My absolute favourite read through every stage in life.
Agreed. Also, it being written by the 'other side' (am British) means now I can't watch regular war films without considering the complex and tragic story of the 'baddie' who just got killed.
I once talked to a bookstore clerk in Britain who said that *Das Boot* (the film, he hadn't read the book) had done the same for him.
I recommend Iron Coffins. You won’t be disappointed.
If you aren't already middle aged and love reading books about submarines, this'll start that.
Is this where I admit in public how many Clive Cussler books I have?
They had us read this in middle school (I live in germany) and that shit scarred me. Made us watch the movie too. I think this book is as close as one can get to knowing what war is really like without actually having to go to war.
My uncle was in Vietnam and he does not talk about it. I know it was not a nice time for him over there. But he did once tell me the book "the thirteenth valley" was the closest book he ever read that told the story.
I later told him I thought the book was incredibly boring for almost three entire read, with only very small portions of extreme extreme violence and depravity and anything resembling "war".
He told me that's exactly what it was like.
My dad was in the Vietnam War too when he was just 17. He never talked about it, but he most definitely had PTSD from it. It wasn't until after he died that my uncle gave me a couple of katanas/machetes that he said were the swords of the first man my dad killed. I didn't even know they used swords in the war, must have been a villager? Anyways, it shocked the fuck out of me. My dad was a weapon collector and he displayed all his unique weapons in his office. But those swords, he had them hidden away my whole life and only told my uncle about them.
My grandfather was in Vietnam. He never told me, my sister, or my brother that he was even in the military. We found out when my dad got standard 13 fold flag
I knew my grandfather served in WWII. I knew he fought up through Italy, but that was it because he never said anything about it. Not me or my Dad or anyone in the family.
It was at his funeral when I found out why. One of the other veterans that spoke at the service told us that Pop's unit had a 95% mortality rate, and he came home without a scratch. He had an extreme case of survivors guilt his entire life. I just can't imagine carrying that burden while trying to live a normal life.
I remember my gramps telling my uncle and my mom his war stories, one of them about him getting his leg amputated in the field. His unit had liberated Dachau, and then was somewhere on the Rhine fighting either paratroopers or Panzergrenadiers. Ended up coming under heavy mortar fire. Gramps noticed the gentleman operating “the big guns” (im assuming he meant a stationary MG) had been killed and crawled his way over to get on the gun. At some point mortar falls near him, shrapnel ends up in his leg (we still have the shrapnel) and he gets taken by the medics.
Said he could hear his leg hit the pan. Ends up in a backline hospital for recovery, and the General or Colonel (whomever would be handing out Purple hearts), was making the rounds, and one of the guys spat in the generals face and threw the medal at him.
Another of his roommates lost an eye to a grenade, and had taken his glass eye out and left it on the table. Gramps goes to reach for his smokes in the middle of the night and grabs onto the dudes glass eye.
Had to piece together more of his story via unit citations and history books.
The fighting in Italy was bad, really bad. Close quarters, room to room fighting for a lot of it.
The Giver- that book made my 9-10 year old mind really think about what was important in society. It was the first time the idea of “good” things having a negative consequence was presented to me. I think what makes it work is that we are learning how this whole society really works along side a character who has lived in it his whole life. As the facade of the utopian society begins to fall away to show devastating consequences of the “perfect life and society” the reader not only feels their shock but the main character’s shock.
This was a book I read in school 4 times- once in 5th grade and once in 10th for English and then in both high school and college sociology classes. This book written for 9-13 year olds made for great discussions.
Fun fact, The Giver was written by a woman who was from a military family going to department of defense schools, but she was on these bases during the Cold War. The theme of the book itself is very anti-communist because of her early life environment
Matilda or Witches by Roald Dahl
BFG is a good one too
>”I is not understanding human beans at all,” the BFG said. “You is a human bean and you is saying it is grizzling and horrigust for giants to be eating human beans. Right or left?”
>”Right,” Sophie said.
>”But human beans is squishing *each other* all the time,” the BFG said. “They is shootling guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”
My third grade teacher read this to us, and I've been calling us "human beans" for two decades since. I fucking love this book, and almost everything else by Dahl, too. He had such a way of speaking to children with respect through his works. He and Beverly Cleary (particularly with *Dear Mr Henshaw* and *Strider*) were very important to me, growing up. I look forward to reading so many of their stories to my child(ren).
As a kid who had trouble pronouncing and spelling the BFG gave me great relief. Here was a published author writing a character that was highly knowledgeable, he could not spell or speak well. It gave me so much confidence to be and do my best and not be ashamed.
Everytime I try to read BFG I always end up reading it as big fucking giant, and I just want my brain to not be an idiot anymore.
Or the twits, gosh I loved that book when I was a kid.
I've tried reading it, but I stopped somewhere because at some point I felt like I was going insane, but not really, but possibly, or maybe not.
The fact that you realized you were going insane means you are sane. And now I'm increasing it to 55 missions.
I have started this book 4 separate times and I just can’t get through the first several chapters. It’s so confusing. I think I’m just too stupid to read it, honestly
Ah, please don't be hard on yourself. Pretty much everyone feels like that starting Catch-22. The story is told as though the reader already knows everything, but doesn't reveal key peices of info until much much later. Once I finally figured that out I thought it added to helping me undestand the disorienting and infuriating life of Yossarian.
The latest tv adaptation is a great linear retelling. You could start there, then try reading it again.
Or not. Life is too short to read things you don't enjoy.
Is it one worth sticking with? It's my brother's favourite book and he gave me a copy for my birthday a few years ago. I've quite a few times and found it very difficult each time. It's still on my shelf, taunting me!! Something about it keeps drawing me to pick it up time and time again, even though I never get very far before I get completely overwhelmed and confused and give up again. Now I've read this post, I'll probably pick it up for my bi-annual 4 chapters, haha!
Edit: thanks all, looks like I'm giving it another whirl and this time I'm determined to get to the end!
It is incredibly confusing until the end when it all suddenly makes sense. My favourite book I think.
I don't think I've ever read a book that had me laughing as hard as Catch-22.
Catch-22 is hilarious until its suddenly... super not hilarious.
That book was the first to ever make me laugh out loud. Also, had one of my fav scenes ever. When Yossarian is freaking out that they're trying to kill him and the officers are like who's trying to kill you? And he says the enemy. And they say, yeah but they're trying to kill everyone. And he retorts with the line, "What difference does that make?" Brilliant.
War and Peace.
I love that book. There are no villains. Just people with good and bad in them - like all of us.
I think sometimes that almost everyone I have ever met has been like one of the characters in War and Peace.
One wonders if it would’ve been nearly as successful under it’s original title “War: What is it Good For?”
It was actually his mistress that urged him to call it *War and Peace*
The Grapes of Wrath and/or Of Mice and Men. Both are heartbreaking, but not for the sake of being heartbreaking - instead they provide a glimpse of how freaking hard life can be, but also how beautiful it can be.
> How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.
This quote still gives me shivers whenever I read it. It should be required reading for anywhere that workers rights are being eroded (so, everywhere really)
I didn't truly understand that line until I was grown, with 3 kids to feed, going hungry some days when shit was at its hardest just so my boys could eat. Begging friends and family for gas to look for jobs and to see if the foodbank 45 minutes from here had anything, and the relief that came when they did.
And I am so very happy now that we're ok. I never want my kids to know how desperate Mom was ever again. My husband could keep a poker face on his anxiety during those hard years, but I never could. I wear my emotions on my sleeve.
This was us as well and we came through but I really feel for the kids who go to bed hungry knowing that as a child is terrible.
Honestly anything Steinbeck. My favorite author by far. His talent of telling underdogstories where good and bad, right and wrong aren't clear are just my cuppa tea.
East of Eden is great too if you like Steinbeck! The size of the book can be intimidating but I found it read quickly.
Cannery Row and the one whose title I can't remember, about the bums drinking each others wine to protect each other from the evil of drink. Brilliant, short, and proper Steinbeck prose. Love ot
This was my answer too. “Thou Mayest” truer words, man…
I love that other people are as obsessed with this line as me. Absolutely adore East of Eden
For me it was, “And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”
Super late to the party, but The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde! His plays are great too if you're looking for less serious and lighter reads
Damn I had to go way too far down to find this one.
Flower's for Algernon
Just came here to say that I also have phenylketonuria, the same disability that Charlie Gordon has in the book, which is one of the many reasons why it is one of my favorite reads. It is incredible how far medicine has come in just a few decades. When the book was written in the 60’s, Charlie’s prognosis was pretty typical for the time. Over the years, treatments, medication, and understanding of the condition have allowed me, and many others, to lead a completely normal life (albeit with some tweaks). I was lucky to be born at a pretty good time (1995) which was precisely when treatment of phenylketonuria was perfected. As a result my brain didn’t suffer any developmental damage like Charlie’s did in the book, to a pretty incredible extent - I just finished a master’s degree and am applying to law school. It’s pretty wild to think that even if I were born ~10 years earlier, I would very likely not be in the same place I’m in today. What was considered science fiction just 60 years ago is now reality for the few thousand people born with phenylketonuria every year!
That’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing.
well now i know why diet coke has the warning about phenylalanine
I love that book.
:( I don't feel like crying please
All I wanted was a book about bunnies.
Don't ever watch the cartoon movie if you don't want nightmares
Also don't watch Plague Dogs. It's the same author and same director.
easily in my top five favorite books of all time. the chracters are so rich and the various layers of commentary on mankind while keeping true to the nature of rabbits is just so far beyond any other anthropomorphic work i've ever read
The Stranger by Albert Camus
I was gonna say the myth of sisyphus.
I re-read The Plague during the first lockdown, and it was so accurate it was scary. How people don't really care at first, find it a bit of a peculiar situation, then start to deny, and then panic and fall in despair. Some want to escape from the very beginning, some turn to religion... It has a quite optimistic view on human nature, especially with the main character, that just tries to get his job done, cause that's all he can do. Definitely a must read now.
I remember absolutely hating the stranger and existentialism in general in high school. Maybe now that I’m older I’ll view the book differently
I actually had the opposite experience when I was forced to read it in high school. I found the absurdist viewpoint to be an interesting angle to view things from, especially in its clash with modern values/norms.
The Princess Bride. My friends and I read this in high school in 1977. Everyone had a favorite part - literally something for everyone. When the movie came out I was happy, and I love it too, but the book has so much more!
For the love of God, though, if you're going to read it you should try and get your hands on the original Morgenstern. Goldman's version is *OK*, I guess, but there's just so much he misses out that it's barely worth the effort.
I see this sentiment a lot, and while I agree that Goldman editorialises *waaaay* too much, reading Morgenstern damn near requires you to have a degree in Florin's history to understand all the subtext and parody going on.
Yeah, Morgenstern is better, but you've really got to work for it.
Wait, Florin is a real place?
I feel the same about Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s interpretation is pretty good but you really want to get your hands on the Red Book of Westmarch
Your comment made me get the joke about Morganstern lol. Thanks!
You guys are making me lol on the train in front of a bunch of strangers.
Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's just for any age.
*The Martian Chronicles* by R. Bradbury. A cycle of short stories which is accessible, adventurous and humanizing.
Not a particular novel, but an author: Kurt Vonnegut. He has a way of stating truths about humanity in a way that is so direct and beautifully simple.
EDIT: WOW! Thank you all for the awards and the personal connections to an author who has been so special to me. For those asking where to start, here are some ideas.
The short story Harrison Bergeron is a great start and wouldn’t require committing to an entire book. I do think it is less humorous than most of his other work, but I love it in a different way (as do my students because I teach it every year).
Others have referenced a talk that he gave about the shape of stories. That video really helps viewers get acquainted with Vonnegut, his insight, and his delivery.
As far as books go, my favorites are Cat’s Cradle, Sirens of Titan, and Bluebeard. I also love Slaughterhouse Five and will end with my favorite passage from it. The main character has become “unstuck in time” and therefore perceives things out of traditional chronological order.
“He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighters planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments forms some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all of humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.”
None of this managed to capture his sense of humor that I so adore, but I don’t know that I could ever do it justice. If your interest is piqued, consider picking up a book and getting to know one of my favorite people who I’ve never met!
Where Vonnegut really shines is using absurdity and science fiction to make a point about humanity. Like "It's about Martians invading earth but it's really about whether we can truly have free will" or "This novel full of words like Granfalloon and Wampeter is actually about humanity first coming to terms with the possibility of nuclear armageddon after the Cuban Missile Crisis."
I appreciate that you just suggested Vonnegut instead of a specific book. I think you have to consume his work that way. I usually tell people to read Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater before reading Slaughterhouse-Five. Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions are also great reads too.
I picked up Player Piano at a used book store one day, knowing that Vonnegut was a revered author but having no familiarity with his work. I haven't read any others at this time (don't read much these days) but man that was an incredible book.
Player Piano was amazing. Really sticks with you. Kurt Vonnegut has a way of doing that. Cat’s Cradle was the first book I fell in love with. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s by far my favorite of all his works. There is an invented religion that is quintessential Vonnegut. It’s silly and consequential all at the same time. I can’t recommend it enough.
For me it was Slaughterhouse 5. You can read interviews with him where he describes his experiences that led to his writing the book. He says the editors wanted him to write the protaganist as a John Wayne type and that was when he decided on it being a anti-war novel.
That was my introduction to him. In high school it was on the summer reading list for the English course the next year and it's the only one that I can remember even being on it. It was on the syllabus in a college course I later took and it was great going back to it with a few more years of life under my belt.
So it goes.
Fact, Slaughterhouse 5 single handedly change my views on mortality
"The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever."
My favorite line has always been “The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.”
Frankenstein. It’s a classic for a reason & no movie adaptation has ever really done it justice.
I read it my sophomore year of high school along with another set of books in small groups where we each had to read one of the three books given and lead discussions for our teammates and do other stuff I don’t remember. Anyway, I got “stuck” with Frankenstein (I believe I was absent the day we chose). Completely lucked out, that book kicks ass.
The book feels like a tragedy but the movies are trying for horror.
I read Frankenstein last year and was absolutely stunned by it. As you say, no movie comes even close to the book. It's gothic and cozy to read but just so impactful and ahead of It's time. How Shelley wrote it at 17 is beyond me.
I don’t understand why they don’t make a solid movie that is true to the original. Hollywood sucks I guess.
Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky.
Probably my favorite, I also loved the Idiot and Brothers Karamazov
Agreed. Dostoyevsky had an incredible insight into the human soul, and C&P in particular will stick with you for a long time.
May sound weird but I really enjoyed "The Last Unicorn" by Peter S Beagle.
I just commented this book as well. It is absolutely magical, and really stands apart from other fantasy literature.
My God, I have never heard of anyone mentioning this book or the movie! Wow. Anytime I brought it up my friends would have no clue. I didn’t think it was THAT obscure. Found the movie on VHS as a kid in the weird corner store movie rental section. Hooked. Looking back on it, why the hell was I allowed to watch that? It’s terrifying for a child.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Brave New World
Has my favourite line of any book ever:
>"Consider the horse."
>They considered it.
While being somewhat absurd, it's also an unironically beautiful piece of prose.
Ol god don't remind me.
*“Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east...”*
I understood what was going on when we read that but some of the students didn't understand so the teacher dangled a Santa doll by a string and the kids who didn't get it went ohhhhhh and then got really quiet.
The "ending" still terrifies me to these days, when I think we could actually become emotionally detached from others like them.
A Drivers Education manual. Use your blinkers Megan!!!!
Strongbad23? How do you drive with boxing gloves on?
Does he yell “IT’S OVER” every time he hits a squirrel?
excuse me Strongbad23, i actually DO use my blinkers
(unlike anyone else in Dallas…)
I salute you for it. You’re a good Megan.
They just ran out of blinker fluid.
And then there were none by Agatha Christie.
A quick and mind stimulating read that will keep you engaged throughout.
Treasure Island, still holds up and is very fun
I’m reading this now after loving Muppet’s Treasure Island and Treasure Planet so much since I was a kid. The book is so good!
I was stupid in my youth and I wound up in jail my senior year of high school. One of my teachers came to see me and gave me a copy of that book, I still have it. Mr. Simpson was a God damn saint.
Thats the one where the Karate Kid dies right?
Stay gold, Mister Miyagi.
Sweep the leg, Johnny!
E: I'm not sure if this ruins it or not... but Ralph Macchio played Johnny Cade in The Outsiders, so in some way hes sweeping his own leg. Broken leg in one and dead in the other sheesh Ralph. Anyway I just wanted to let everyone know I was carrying on the crossover from above.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle
Edit: well this blew up. Thanks for all the awards kind strangers. I know this book isn't like the other great novels listed, but it definitely brings me back to when I was a kid and my parents read it to me.
This book tells the story of every attempt i have at dieting. By saturday, i eat like absolute shit, then have 1 green leaf on sunday to make it right again.
Most people knock this one out pretty early on
It's important to knock out a good one early on. Really sets you up
True, but it is a good book for what it is. I am really looking forward to reading it to my kids one day.
May he rest in peace
The Hobbit. It's just such a nice book.
If you haven't read this yet and start, a word of advice... if it starts to drag, hold out for Gandalf to come back. Everything always picks up when Gandalf comes back.
I read this with my 7 year old recently and she thought it was just funny shit that Gandalf would disappear anytime something difficult happened, and then he'd show up and clean up the mess. She was genuinely surprised with the spiders in Kirkwood though because she kept expecting him to show up.
It really does, I love him
My dad always told us that it was really important to read "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie before we turn 18 years old.
I am 29 and I have still not read it btw.
But my Dad says it's good.
Ask open ended questions.
Be interested in learning about the other person.
Use people names when talking to them.
It's been a long time but I think there was also something about:
"There is no limit to how successful you can be if you are willing to publicly give someone else credit for your win. "
Even shorter summary: try to make people feel important and you'll be rewarded for it
Someone summarized not this book, but their philosophy as a leader to me thus:
"No one will remember what you said to them, but everyone will remember how you made them feel when you meet them."
It totally worked for them, but I can't say that I have tried hard.
I listened to Carnegie's book about 5 years ago and read it this year (didn't finish it, just noticed I needed it to be more present in my head) and it works wonders. A simple example: I started writing down the names of customer service people at places I frequent and lower level administrative people at companies I work with. I also try to make small talk and find something out about them. Their initiative to be helpful saw a night and day difference when I went from "just another guy" to "the guy that knows my name and that I love rottweilers". It's made interactions more enjoyable for everyone involved
The last part is very similar to a Harry Truman quote. Something like "It's amazing what you can achieve when you don't mind who gets the credit"
Was going to say this. The main part that stuck out to me was when Carnegie talks about a how a friend had kicked him under the table when he'd started to argue over who wrote a particular play even though it was very clear the other guy was wrong. The lesson of not arguing with people over things that really don't matter has stuck with me ever since. Don't really remember anything else, but that one bit has been useful enough (mainly to not argue with people that say dumb things on Facebook).
It's a great book about how to communicate and what to focus on in interactions.
I read it too late, too but I think if you read it in a young age it could actually help you shape your life better.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Adams has one of the "unique" voices in writing. Almost no one writes like him.
You really need to get yourself some Terry Pratchet. If you haven't already, the discworld series is gonna leave you in stitches
"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't"
Describing something perfectly while not describing them at all. Brilliant.
"You'd better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It's unpleasantly like being drunk.''
"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?''
"You ask a glass of water.''