My Favorite Books

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2013-12-15 – Every so often you see a thing go around Facebook asking you to pick your 10 favorite books. Or the 10 books most significant in your life. Or some variant of that. You’re told not to take much time in compiling your list. I compiled mine by looking at my bookshelf. If there was an important book in my life that I borrowed from the library, it’s not here. That’s probably not a big problem, since I’ve always tended to buy books.

There was no way I was going to get this to 10 books. I got it to 15 fiction and 8 nonfiction. In general, I read more nonfiction than fiction, but fiction stories are more particular. Nonfiction tends to contribute to my store of ideas, often without being associated in my mind with a particular title.

Many of these books are just representative of an author. I picked one title and that’s it. The title might be the one I read first, not necessarily the best (but it may be). They were important for grabbing my interest. In some cases, I included a collection, particularly where I enjoy the author’s short works.

Here is the list, starting with fiction (alphabetical order):

  • Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
  • The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Bible by God
  • Hagaddah by God
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Collected Stories of I.B. Singer
  • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  • Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Collected Works of Mark Twain
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

And here’s the nonfiction list:

  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • The History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong
  • The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod
  • The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins
  • The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • The Children by David Halberstam
  • Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution by Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin
  • The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts


4 responses to “My Favorite Books

  1. Steve, I was much impressed with your list of 10 books, especially the fictional section. You are the only person I know who knows of Ambrose Bierce and to have his collected works on your book shelf is impressive. A few minutes ago, I read Andrew Ferguson’s piece on Bierce, “Cynic’s Progress: the brave life and mysterious death of Ambroe Pierce”. It’s a wonderful, informative article. It is currently at the top of the list on or you can go directly to The Weekly Standard. Here’s the link:

    And merry Christmass and I hope you had a meaninful Hanukkah.
    Cheers, –Greg

  2. Greg! It’s always great to hear from you! I’d be interested in hearing what’s on your top 10.
    I think I discovered Bierce through the Devil’s Dictionary. My first short story (which I no longer have) was a take-off on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” set in the Warsaw Ghetto. I was dismayed when the professor of the class I was taking recognized the source. This was shortly after college, so I must have discovered Bierce when I was in college.
    To me, Bierce naturally fits with Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, which I also list. I guess it is no accident. I think that even Isaac Bashevis Singer is in the same camp…I probably shouldn’t say camp when talking about Singer. But I think they are all tied together by irony and cynicism.

    • Steve, I did pretty much what you did. I selectively took the books they were laying about my desk and listed then. I have a library downstairs of a seveal thousand books but I didn’t go into it because that would be too overwhelming. So here’s some of the stuff I have read in the last few years. The exercise was instructive, though. I see that I am reading too much physics, cosmology if you will. I have learned some physics but I still don’t know anymore about what the universe is about. So I have, as I have mentioned before, turned to the classics of literature and enjoy what meaning is between the two covers. Next up is Miguel de Unamono’s The Tragic Sense of Life. I think that is going to be an important book for me.

      More in time. Let’s keep the conversation going.

      Cheers, –Greg


      Tolstoy, War and Peace,
      Cervantes, Don Quixote,
      Stendhal, The Red and the Black
      Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
      James. A Portrait of a Lady
      Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
      DH Lawrence, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover
      Bellow, Ravelstein, Herzog, The Actual, Humbolt’s Gift
      Forster. A Passage to India and A room with a View
      C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
      Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
      Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
      Flaubert, Madame Bovary

      Recent Nonfiction reads:

      Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism
      Montaigne: The Complete Essays
      Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe
      Meinesz, How Life Began: Evolution’s Three Geneses
      Prinz, Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind
      Hunter, The Processes of Life: An Introduction to Molecular Biology
      Nagel, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False
      Pagen, The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters
      Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
      Krause, A Universe from Nothing: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing

      • Greg– I’m already seeing things I missed. I should have included the Lawrence you mentioned. Also, don Quixote. On the nonfictions side, there is The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. That was missed because it was on the coffee table rather than the shelf. I read it recently and didn’t even finish it (yet). But it talked about the fiction form. We normally think of fiction as not true. That is not the case. It would be better to say it is not factual, but can contain many truths.

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