Ask any group of voracious readers to list the top five books everyone should read in their lifetime, and you are guaranteed a spirited debate. There are so many factors to consider that no two people will view the topic in the exact same way.
Personally, I like to include books that challenge the reader to think and learn. I want them to have positive messages, and promote tolerance and acceptance. And, of course, I want them to be interesting! So here we go, my five books that everyone should read in their lifetime:
1. A text from a religion OTHER than your own
That's right, I'm not just going to recommend the Bible since most people already have at least some familiarity with the stories. Whether you choose the Five Classics of Confucianism, the Qur'an of Islam, the Talmud of Judaism, or whatever else catches your interest, learn something new about an unfamiliar faith and culture. Try the Rigveda (one of the sacred texts of Hinduism). It is the oldest known religious text.
Most of these texts have surprising similarities and attempt to convey the same messages. Maybe if everyone took the time to learn a little bit about another faith, there would be less hate in the world.
2. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a student in high school, but decided to pick it up again as an adult and see what else I got from it. I would recommend that others do this as well! It also bears the distinction of being one of the few books whose film rendition is well done, if you absolutely can't bring yourself to read it again.
Lee manages to write a book that maintains the warmth and innocence of childhood, even though the themes range from racism to integrity. I quickly fell in love with Scout (and related to her tomboy nature).
It seems a shame that Lee never wrote another novel after publishing "To Kill a Mockingbird" because her contribution to the world was stunning. I would have loved to see what her second novel might have been like, even if it wasn't such a classic.
3. "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
The Joad family had simple dreams. They wanted a home for their family and honest work. Steinbeck narrates their tale of the journey from Oklahoma to California in "The Grapes of Wrath." It captures the hopelessness of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. What I took away from the book was the fortitude of the Joad family - despite nearly impossible circumstances, they fought onward and did the best they could for the people around them.
If you enjoy Steinbeck and would like to pursue him further, my next suggestion would be to read "Cannery Row" which I debated adding to the list in place of "Grapes." I have never been disappointed by the time spent reading his work. Any would be a wonderful choice!
4. "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach
My cousin gave me this book as a graduation present when I was 17. He said that it helped him through a difficult time in life and hoped that it would do the same for me. I have read this book often since then, and find that
Jonathan is a seagull who is frustrated by the limitations of his life. He wants something more out of his days, but this makes him unpopular among the other gulls and eventually he is exiled from the flock. However, he keeps working and improving himself. He keeps "working on love" as well.
5. "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens
This is an interesting novel to read because it was originally printed in two-chapter installments in a British literary magazine. So, while it maintains coherence as a whole, every two chapters had to have a resolution of its own.
Dickens is another author who has never disappointed me. Following his main character, Pip, move from his humble roots to the world of upper class society, we watch him learn about gratitude and suffering. Pip places social advancement above most other things in his life, and lives to regret it.
As a bonus selection, I would recommend that everyone read one nonfiction book on a subject they know nothing about. What have you always wanted to learn but never took the time for? Whether you have an interest in discovering more about art, geology, astronomy, or philosophy, there are books out there geared towards beginners. Don't wait to learn something new.
There are many other authors who were close to making my list. They include George Orwell, William Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, Frank McCourt, Jane Austen, and Thomas Pynchon. I think I would have had a much easier time selecting a list of 25 books that everyone should read, simply because I have so many favorites that had to be excluded within this small space.
The world is filled with wonderful books - why not set a goal for yourself to read more of them? Grab your library card and explore the wonders!