Books On Your “Must Read” List?

by Venomous Kate

This summer the Big-Eyed Boy, whom I ordinarily spend my days homeschooling, will be attending summer day camp where he’ll get to socialize with other kids his age, go on some remarkable field trips and basically have a blast. That means I’m going to have the entire day to myself, all day long, every day for the first time in eight long years.

I’d thought at first to use that time doing projects around the house: de-cluttering closets, painting a few rooms, shampooing carpets, maybe even replacing the tile in our kitchen. Then I realized I have the Venomous Hubby for those things and, well, I’d probably resent spending the entire summer doing basically the same things I do throughout the rest of the year.

Of course, I still plan on doing some productive work — I have a few clients I’m designing websites for and plan to finish writing that novel of mine finally. But I also plan to spend some guilt-free time every day reading, and not that standard summertime fluff stuff, either. I want to broaden my mind and my self-education.

So, Venomites, what books are on your list of books a well-read, learned person should read at least once in their lifetime? Are there any books — besides the Bible, which I read daily already — that have so profoundly influenced your mind and personality that you wouldn’t have been the same person had you not read them?

Share in the comments, and feel free to explain how the book affected you. I’ll use your suggestions to put together a Sumer Must-Read List for the Well-Read Venomite on June 1.

41 Comments to “Books On Your “Must Read” List?”

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Best book EVER. Close second: Jane Eyre.

  2. I’m sort of a history geek. Right now I’m reading The Class of 1846 (the West Point class), and am about to begin re-reading From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life , by Jacques Barzun.

    Don’t let the multi-phrase title or the 800 page length put you off. You won’t need a dictionary to read it. All the references are organized neatly at the back, no multi-page, essay length footnotes.

    You’ll come away with a better understanding of the flow of history and appreciation of those who were along for the ride.

    Donna B.s last blog post..Illness As Punishment

  3. I realize that it’s uber geeky and nerdy, but… Dune. Not the umpteen jillion follow ups, but the original. Sure, it’s sci-fi that’s a bit more than a fantastical romp.

    Dune was the first novel that I read that interwove reality, and a lot of it, into a complex story line that required thought. It wove together, literally, millenia. It demonstrated the vastness of time and the universe and the almost insignificant role that we as individuals play… and then still showed how one person can still make a difference. Good and evil, liberal versus conservative, corporate versus sovereign, and plans within plans.

    Also, Green Eggs and Ham. It’s really all you ever need to know about change management.

    Jeffs last blog post..Your Wild Side Is Weak

  4. –“Lamb” by Christopher Moore (its presumption is that the Biblical narrative is true) – for when you’re feeling down.
    — Anything by P. G. Wodehouse – for the language.
    — “” Tolkein, Lewis, etc.
    — let me think about it . . .

  5. Start at the beginning: Plato (Republic) and Aristotle (The Politics and Nicomachean Ethics). Puts a helluva lot of the last 5 centuries into perspective.

  6. First, if you haven’t read all of Heinlein, I envy you. Some of his later stuff is a bit stale, but even there, he is an excellent writer. If you haven’t read “If This Goes On”, I’d start there.

    And, while this is pablum, I’d read John D. MacDonald’s “Pale Gray for Guilt”, and anything else by Macdonald you haven’t read.

    After enjoying Heinlein and MacDonald, I’d recommend Ibm Warraq’s “Why I am not a Muslim.” This is an important book which all Americans (and, may I say, Westerners) should read.

    Of course, there are few books that I actually buy, rather than borrow from the library (probably the only government benefit I get.) But I do buy anything new by David Weber.

  7. Sorry I read fluff and sex… What can I say…it’s entertaining… I have been reading more classics you know the ones we should have read in English class and instead bought the cliff notes. I do enjoy Jane Austen fluff of a different period. I recently tried reading Cyrino De Bergeac (sp-3) had to put it down though I will give that one a go at a later date. I have to say the books that I enjoyed most were the C.S. Lewis books of Narnia, I read them as a kid and really enjoyed them. They are great for reading with your kids if you can get them to sit still long enough, until recently this has been almost impossible with my son, unless he is sick of course.
    I do read a lot of cookbooks. Hubby hates the trip back from Hong Kong back into China because the suit case weighs twice as much as it did when we left, because of all the cookbooks I bring back with me. Of course the ones I like are always quite big and heavy. However he does reap the benefits of having a lovely wife who cooks him wonderful food.;)

  8. Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    Danas last blog post..Homeschool graduate running for CT legislature

  9. Some recommendations from a Classics major:

    If you haven’t read Homer’s Iliad and/or Odyssey at some point in your life, you really should. But that’s pretty baseline, so maybe you have. (If you haven’t, go for the Lattimore or Fagles translations, and avoid Stanley Lombardo’s new translation at all costs.)

    If you want some Plato that’s shorter than the Republic, the Symposium is very readable, and is actually just plain fun. It also has some very famous moments.

    From Greek tragedy, I’d say Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, and Euripides’ Bacchae (which is pretty much my favorite play ever written–I’ll be doing my senior thesis on it come fall). That would hit the highlights from the three great tragedians.

    As for comedy, either Aristophanes’ Clouds, or his Birds. (Clouds has a depiction of Socrates that was highly influential back in his day, and Birds is just a work of art.) But if you read any Aristophanes, make sure you get a recent translation–anything by Jeffrey Henderson is good. The older translations try to tidy up his jokes, which kind of ruins the experience, in my opinion.

    The prologue to Livy’s history of Rome pretty much changed my life, no joke. The entire work is massive, but the prologue was the bit that struck me the most (I was reading it back as a junior in high school). It has some thoughts about the nature of the study of history, and reading it was what made me decide I wanted to study the past.

    And, um, just to throw in something modern, Lewis’s Till We Have Faces was my favorite book for years, and his Surprised By Joy moved me greatly.

    Emma M.s last blog post..The Box O’ Warm, and why it makes me happy.

  10. VK, as I mentioned before – MUST READ the TWILIGHT SERIES!!! I have hooked countless people on them already, including my oldest, and now they can’t put them down. They were borrowing my copies but I read the books over and over again so I had to put a stop to that and tell them to go to the bookstore to buy their own copies!! The fourth book comes out in August and the movie comes out 12-12-08 ( It is definitely summer reading – or winter reading, autumn reading, spring reading, reading for when you are mad at your DH for not being romantic enough, reading for when you’re bored, reading for when you have too much housework and need that excuse to put it off. Seriously, you must rush yourself out to the bookstore immediately and pick up the books now!
    Twilight first, then New Moon, and then Eclipse. You will not be sorry!!

  11. Owen Meany is one of my favorite novels ever. What a beautiful story that is! (Didn’t like the movie based on it as much, though.)

  12. I love history, so this one’s definitely going in my “To Read” list. Thanks!

  13. Dune is very good, and I agree about the follow-ups not being nearly as well-written.

    One of my “Must Read” books, which I still read to my teenager, is Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Ought to be required reading for every Literature 101 course.

  14. I haven’t heard of “Lamb” but will look into it. Thanks for the recommendation on Wodehouse. I’ll follow up on that!

  15. Definitely not fluff reading. I recall struggling through both in college, but it wouldn’t hurt to read them voluntarily now that I might actually have the patience to get something out of them.

  16. Agreed on the Heinlein — sloppy work in later years, and so often twisted just so he could work in Lazarus Long. Again.

    I’ll look into Warraq’s book, and wholly agree on Weber.

  17. Don’t tell anyone, but I read fluff, too. I can’t fall asleep at night without reading for at least an hour, preferably fluff. But, like you, I read the Cliff Notes of so many of the classics that I can’t honestly claim to be familiar with them. I want to remedy that.

    Austen’s an excellent suggestion for that purpose.

  18. Wow, definitely not fluff there! I’ll add it to my list. Thanks!

  19. These are all fantastic recommendations, Emma. Thank you.

  20. Sssshhhh… I ordered the first two already. Unfortunately, they do fall within the “fluff” category so I’m saving them for night time reading.

  21. Nothing too life changing here, but I have been reading a lot lately:

    Till We Have Faces – CS Lewis
    The Peter Whimsey/Harriet Vane books – Dorothy Sayers
    The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
    The Hospital – Jan de Hartog
    Cold Tangerines – Shauna Niequist
    Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
    Crazy for God and Portofino – Frank Schaeffer
    The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad
    The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
    Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    The Voice translations of the Bible:

    All awesome and very recommended.

    Taris last blog post..The Official Preppy Handbook, Part II

  22. I’ve only heard of a couple of these, so I’ll definitely check these out, too. And I second the recommendation for Hosseini’s book.

  23. A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin and The Rabbi by Noah Gordon. The Devil’s Garden by Ralph Peters.

  24. Tari recommended:

    > The Peter Whimsey/Harriet Vane books – Dorothy Sayers

    Well, I certainly second the recommendation of Dorothy Sayers Peter Whimsey books. However, I have to say that Harriet Vane is one of the Lamest heroines in mystery fiction.

    I assume that you have read at least some of The Saint books by Leslie Charteris. He died about 15 years ago, and stopped writing The Saint novels about 35 years ago, so the series is a bit dated. But Patricia Holmes (or whatever her name was) is a much more active and intelligent heroine than Miss Vane.

  25. Life Changing Books(in no particular order)

    The Silmarillion
    Lord of the Rings
    The Hobbit
    Smith of Wooton Major
    Assorted short stories

    Starship Troopers
    Stranger in a Strange Land

    Ender’s Game
    the entire Alvin Maker series
    —Orson Scott Card

    Inside the Third Reich
    —Albert Speer

    Everything by Homer, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Euripides, and any of the other great Greek writers.

    Everything by Shakespeare

    All Quiet on the Western Front
    —Erich Remarque

    The Agony and the Ecstasy
    —Irving Stone

    The White Plague
    —Frank Herbert

    —Ayan Hirsii Ali

    —James Clavell

    …and probably assorted others I’ve forgotten.

    Fluff I’ve read recently

    *Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for serious fantasy-goers only.
    *The entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
    Xanth. Piers Anthony. Nuff said.
    *Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and (heh) her Sleeping Beauty Chronicles. Yes, I’ve read them. Yes, I own a copy, kept far far away from the children. Stop looking at me like that.
    *Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series
    *Tad Williams I debated whether or not to put this in the “life changing” category, but elected not to because it is largely fantasy…nevertheless, if you’re a scifi/fantasy lover like myself you must read everything this man has written.

    Currently reading:

    Chronicles of the 20th Century
    Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    —William Shirer

    wgs last blog post..Most awesome suspenseful moment ever

  26. The Wimsey books (no H) are excellent. Never take a man’s negative opinion of Harriet Vane before reading Gaudy Night for yourself. Harriet Vane was not a detective heroine; she was the author’s transition from a detective hero (Wimsey) to a very human woman (Vane) and Busman’s Honeymoon represents their being human together. Awesome.

    I haven’t gotten fire enough in my life to call any books life-changing. Eye-opening reads from the last few years include William Manchester’s first two volumes of Churchill biography, The Last Lion. Enormous reads but well worth every second of the time they take.

    Anwyns last blog post..Kristi Yamaguchi Wins Dancing with the Stars

  27. Tolkien (i-e, people, please, not e-i, you’re killing me!) and Lewis also despised Harriet Vane and most especially Gaudy Night, which just reinforces the point that GN was a book about a woman’s interior struggles, which are always of zero interest to any man not in love with the woman in question.

  28. Doh. You’re right, I misspelled that. One would think I’d know better for that particular author. :s

    wgs last blog post..Most awesome suspenseful moment ever

  29. The Sleeping Beauty Chronicles were… well… weird. I have them too. I have all of Ann Rice’s books as well – read each one in about a day or two cause she is such an excellent writer. But I did have trouble reading the SBC’s – there was just something off about those stories that I couldn’t get in to. Not sure why.

  30. I’ve been wanting to read The Rabbi for a while. Thanks for reminding me!

  31. I finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel series shortly before his death. Definitely for serious fantasy-goers. Got a bit hard to read toward the end.

    Another fluff series I’ve enjoyed which you Venomites recommended: the Harry Dresden series, which you Venomites recommended. The author, Jim Butcher, has a fantasy series that’s pretty good, too: the Codex Alera.

    But like I said, I’m saving my fluff-reading for bedtime. For summer daytime reading I want to actually read stuff that’ll make me smarter.

  32. Churchill is such a fascinating character. I really should learn more about him.

  33. Hey, Anwyn has had to correct my misspelling of Tolkien so many times it’s embarrassing.

    Except this one.

  34. That’s the kind of stuff I’m wanting to read!

  35. Slightly off the theme that’s been set in the comments, but I’m a geek and I love history. Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire” was tremendous and gave the clearest, easiest to read perspective on the Spartans and Ancient Greeks that I’ve come across.

    RichieDs last blog post..I can see what you see

  36. You know, I totally forgot the Temeraire series. I made the mistake of loaning all four books to a now-former “friend” and won’t be getting them back.

    But they’re good. Really really good fluff.

    wgs last blog post..Most awesome suspenseful moment ever

  37. Kate, if you’re going to read anything about the Greeks, Victor Davis Hanson is a must-read. Words don’t do the man justice; his take on the Peloponnesian Wars is amazing.

    wgs last blog post..Most awesome suspenseful moment ever

  38. Could be the sex.

    I’m just sayin’. 🙂

    wgs last blog post..Most awesome suspenseful moment ever

  39. I’ll add his name to my list, too, then. Thanks!

  40. Ha! For the last 10 weeks I have been reading (alternately) The CISSP and CAP Guide / All in One CISSP Exam Guide… each weighing in at a mere 1100 pages or so – each with a different perspective on the same topics. Driving myself batty by getting stuck on silly issues like why they consider an Intrusion Detection System to be a Preventative Control instead of a Detective Control (as far as I’m concerned it can only be Preventative if the hacker knows it’s there…) ah the joys of geekdom.

    Once I take the dratted test this Saturday which I have only the faintest hope of passing (because my brain apparently does not work correctly – at least that is my current attitude…. *sigh*) I plan on reading – NOTHING.

    I’m going to buy myself a camera (a birthday present/finally finished studying present) and I’m going to take pictures and not read at all if I can help it. Not even fluffy reading. I’m done.

    In a few months, I may look up this thread and read some of the books recommended here. In the meantime – I hope you enjoy your summer of non-fluffy reading.


    Teresas last blog post..Memorial Day

  41. That test sounds absolutely miserable! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for ya.