It’s the most hectic time of the year. The state budget is sitting on my desk in Richmond. My 2014 legislation is due to be filed in two weeks. I’m madly finishing a number of legal cases. I have four children who deserve Christmas presents.
So I need to spend a couple hours listing my favorite books of all time. They display an unabashed Western bias, mainly because I only read in English. But these are the ones I loved the most.
Here they are in no uncertain order:
1. The Bible. The story of a people, a man, a message. You can read it a dozen times and still discover new meanings.
2. War and Peace. Epic. Vital. Something about this book just blows me away. You can feel the cold air on a St. Petersburg night. You can see Napoleon’s troops standing in the sunlit fields of Borodino. Tolstoy is the best writer ever.
3. Les Miserables. You liked the show or movie? The book is 10x better. The redemptive story of Jean Valjean is moral to the core, yet transfixing. I want to stand atop a Paris street barricade and sing, after I read it.
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls. I go through Hemingway phases. When I was in college, I was fascinated by ”Sun Also Rises.” Then “A Farewell to Arms.” Three years ago, I read “Bell” and loved it. Robert Jordan waiting for his death in a Spanish valley …
5. From Here to Eternity. This will surprise a lot of people because this book by James Jones was considered pop fiction when it came out — and then a famous movie. But it is the best book ever about Army life. (A close second is “Tales of the South Pacific”).
6. Life and Fate. If you have not read this book by Vassily Grossman translated from Russian, then run to a bookstore or Amazon site. It tells a searing tale of Russia’s struggle in WWII. It is the 20th century mirror to Tolstoy and I say that with no hyperbole.
7. The Executioner’s Song. A chilling story. Norman Mailer writes about crime, death, prison, loneliness and small towns. Don’t sleep alone after reading it.
8. Lonesome Dove. An ode to a bygone era by our greatest living writer, Larry McMurtry. Gus and Call. The last of the Texas Rangers, riding across the cordillera. Blue Duck. The last of the Comanche warriors, leaping to his death from a prison window. You didn’t think I’d leave this one out?
9. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. This is actually a biography (like “Ex Song”), but it’s such a damn good book … you’ve got to include it. When you read this book, you realize what it means to be a great American.
10. The Great Gatsby. Word-for-word the best American book ever written. “So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into our past.”
(Two bonus additions with a nod to British literature)
11. Atonement by Ian McEwan. A story of love, accusation, confusion and class-based society in 1930′s England. A really awesome story.
12. A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of reason. It was the age of foolishness. (This is a super-tough call on Dickens, because “Great Expectations” is another favorite).
OK, that’s my go-to list. You can blast me for the lack of diversity. Guilty as charged. Also note that I have avoided history titles (e.g. “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”), which would needlessly complicate things.
I also failed to mention “Last of the Mohicans” or “Huckleberry Finn” as well as “Brothers Karamazov.” Any of these books could crack the Top Ten or Top Five, depening on my mood. Also “Man’s Fate” by Andre Malraux.
But that’s for another time. Feel free to add your favorite books below ….