A few pieces of inside information about the list:
- There are lots of books that probably should be on any 100 Must-Read Books list that I won't be putting on mine because, in all honesty, I haven't read them. They may be classics, but I can hardly recommend something if I don't speak from experience.
- I have limited myself to only one book by each author, unless that author has written books in totally different genres.
- The books are listed in simple alphabetical order by author's surname. Thus, the number assigned to each is not any kind of ranking system; it's just there to demonstrate that I did, indeed, put 100--and ONLY 100--books on my list. I get annoyed with those people who write 500 Books lists and end up putting 512 books on them.
- Don't worry--all these books are available in translation. That's certainly how I read them, I assure you!
And now, without further ado
JNCL's 100 Must-Read Books
1. The Didache
-Author Unknown; Non-Fiction-
One of the earliest Christian writings. Ever. Just its historical value makes it worth one quick read.
2. The Epic of Gilgamesh
-Author Unknown; Epic Poetry-
Pretty much the first book ever written. If you're human, this book is your birthright.
3. The Martyrdom of Ss. Perpetua and Felicitas
-Author Unknown; Non-Fiction-
Some of this work was written by Perpetua herself, while she was in prison awaiting execution for being a Christian. After her martyrdom, another Christian finished off the text for her. It's amazing.
4. Things Fall Apart
-Chinua Achebe; Fiction-
This is certainly not a light-hearted read, but it is meant to be read as a companion volume to Heart of Darkness (#25, a REALLY morbid read!), and when taken together, they form a fascinating experience of racism and re-examining cultural assumptions.
5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
-Douglas Adams; Sci-Fi (sort of)-
Hilarious. And 42. That's really all there is to say.
6. Little Women
-Louisa May Alcott; YA Fiction-
Simply an excellent book by a brilliant woman
7. The Inferno
-Dante Alighieri; Epic Poetry-
If you're only going to read one volume of the 3-part Divine Comedy, make it this one. It is by far the most entertaining, as you get to see what ingenious ways Dante comes up with to torment the sinners. By the time you got to The Paradiso, I can just about guarantee you'd be bored out of your skull, because that book seems to be where we got the idea that everybody would walk around Heaven in long robes strumming harps all day.
8. Bless Me, Ultima
-Rudolfo Anaya; Fiction-
This book is kind of the illicit love child between my own Appalachian background, a Latino radio station, and a book you may never have heard of called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I like how clearly it demonstrates that none of us are very far from our pagan roots at any given moment.
9. 40 Hadith
-Shaykh Yahya ibn Sharaf an-Nawawi; Non-Fiction-
There are a lot of things that various groups claim Muhammad once said. This book contains 40 that pretty much everyone agrees are authentic sayings of his, and as such, it contains the best and the worst that Islam has to offer. For the most part, its contents are extremely straightforward, requiring far less commentary and backstory to understand than the quagmire that is the Qur'an. You can read it and form your own opinions.
10. Charles de Foucauld
-Jean-Jacques Antier; Biography-
Charles de Foucauld--now about half-way through the process of becoming a Catholic saint--was a complex, amazing man, and this is an amazing account of his work among the Tuaregs in Algeria.
In case you've ever suspected that the ancient Greeks had no sense of humor, just read this play. You'll get over that mistaken impression.
12. The Complete Robot
-Isaac Asimov; Sci-Fi-
Without doubt, the most impressive and lasting contributions that Asimov made to fiction were the positronic android, and even more importantly, the Laws of Robotics. I will say no more here, to avoid spoilers, but Asimov was the prophet of robots (a term he would have hated, since he was also a rabid atheist!), and this book is Asimov robotics at its best.
13. On the Incarnation
-St. Athanasius the Great; Non-Fiction-
A slim volume that literally changed the course of history, as it helped shape Trinitarian theology for all time. For a Christian, reading this book can be a mind-bending, life-altering event.
14. Sense and Sensibility
-Jane Austen; Fiction-
Die-hard Jane fans are divided over which is her best, most-entertaining, most accessible work, but I think this one is best suited to the beginner. In my opinion, it portrays her worldview in its purest distillate state.
15. Peter Pan (originally titled Peter and Wendy)
-J. M. Barrie; YA Fantasy-
Did you know that the name "Wendy" did not exist until Sir James Barrie concocted it for the heroine of this book? See how much of your own culture sprang from this work, and how much you need to read it if you haven't already?
16. A History of the English Language
-Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable; Non-Fiction-
Many people think that a textbook will be too technical for the layman to grasp. Textbooks are written for STUDENTS, who by definition are laymen and novices in whatever field they are studying. In that spirit, give this book a try; ignore the jargon and graphs if you want, and just dig into the meat of the history. You'll find out things you never imagined about your own language.
17. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
-L. Frank Baum; YA Fantasy-
This is a delightful, charming book. I don't know if any of the rest of the series is delightful and charming, because the second in the series was so horrible that I never read any others. Do yourself a favor and stick to the original.
18. Eccelsiastical History of the English People
-St. Bede; Non-Fiction-
If you're really bored whenever a history book is placed in front of you, you may be excused. Otherwise, you really should at least give this book a try, because the history of the Christianizing of Britain is in many ways the history of the culture of both the UK and the US. Some of Bede's "facts" are dubious, but they represent the best understanding of truth in Bede's time.
19. The Penderwicks: a Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
-Jeanne Birdsall; YA Fiction-
The Penderwicks may not look at first glance like an enthralling read, but I really see this book as the Little Women of my generation. It has one glaringly weak plot point, but overall, it is delightful, especially if you've ever imagined yourself to be Jo March.
20. Goodnight Moon
-Margaret Wise Brown; J Fiction-
To say this is a children's book is an understatement; it's a board book, for Heaven's sake, so I'm sure you can spare the five minutes that it takes to read it. And it is just wonderful, a time-traveling device back to your own childhood and a great way to bond with your kids at bedtime.
21. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
-Lewis Carroll; YA Fantasy-
I think Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is the more popular of these two books, but when I read them, I discovered to my surprise that the best stuff is in this volume, like the live flowers, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and the Red and White Queens.
22. The Canterbury Tales
-Geoffrey Chaucer; Fiction-
All I can say is, prepare to be shocked. People in the 14th century were every bit as randy as we are today.
23. The Hunt for Red October
-Tom Clancy; Fiction-
Thrilling. Spell-binding. Who knew an insurance salesman could write like that?
24. Trail of the Spanish Bit
-Don Coldsmith; Western-
I adore this series. I spent about half the total volume of my teenage hours with one of Don Coldsmith's books in my hands.
25. Heart of Darkness
-Joseph Conrad; Fiction-
See Things Fall Apart (#4 above)
26. Catherine, Called Birdy
-Karen Cushman; YA Historical Fiction-
Full of spitfire temper and irreverent humor, this book was made for any teenage girl or grown woman who was ever as much of a tomboy as I was.
-Peter David; Sci-Fi-
The author of this book is one of the greats of Star Trek fiction. If you're only going to read one Star Trek novel, make it this one. (BTW, an imzad is actually an instrument played in North Africa.)
28. Democracy in America
-Alexis de Tocqueville; Non-Fiction-
You may be in for some surprises hidden among this author's observations of American culture; a lot has changed since the last time he visited us.
29. A Christmas Carol
-Charles Dickens; Fantasy-
Without doubt the most famous of Dickens' works, this is also the one in which he states most explicitly the campaign he was waging, and the evils against which he was waging it, in hopes of irradicating some of the inequalities of Victorian inner city life. Besides, who doesn't love a good Christmas story?
30. Egeria's Travels
You may well never have heard of Egeria, or you may have heard of her under another name, since scholars still debate how it's actually spelled and pronounced. What's extraordinary about her is the detailed account she wrote of her pilgrimages to the Holy Land--in 381 A.D. Most extraordinary of all is the fact that the document survived. It's a fascinating read.
31. Time and Again
-Jack Finney; Fantasy-
Awesome, mind-bending read, with an excellent sequel, by-the-way. This book is SO much better than the movie which was SUPPOSEDLY based on it, Somewhere in Time.
32. The Diary of a Young Girl
-Anne Frank; Biography-
What is there to say? The diary of a hidden Jewish girl, living in a crawl space with her family to avoid the Nazis, was a life-changing document the moment it was penned. Honest, young, but with the wisdom of the ages, Anne Frank already knew how to hold readers in the palm of her hand.
33. Cheaper By the Dozen
-Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey; YA Biography-
Believe it or not, this book is basically a true story, and is about a family that were once famous. The father of this traveling circus really was a well-known efficiency expert, and this book is not only a hilarious accout of their daily lives, but also an amazing glimpse into a time of great changes in American history.
34. The Yellow Wallpaper
-Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Short Story-
Nobody would ever accuse this story of being fun or frivolous, but the story of a woman feeling trapped in her role as house wife amply illustrates why the female suicide rate dropped sharply in the western hemisphere when women went into the factories while men were away fighting wars.
35. The Princess Bride
-William Goldman; Fiction-
This book is fabulous, ridiculous, and so much fun. If you've only ever seen the movie, you need to read the rest of the story.
36. Virgin and Martyr
-Andrew M. Greeley; Fiction-
Fr. Greeley certainly shocked the American Catholic world when he decided to start writing murder mysteries with sex scenes in them! But he's a damn good writer, and this book is a fabulous introduction to the upheaval that took place in the Catholic church after the Second Vatican Council.
37. The Heraldry Book: a Guide to Designing Your Own Coat of Arms
-Marvin Grosswirth; Non-Fiction-
Heraldry has long been a hobby of mine. If you live in the United States, feel free to follow this author's advice and design your own arms, since we have no laws governing heraldry. If you're Canadian, you lucky thing, you are entitled to a coat of arms just because you're a Canadian citizen (provided you can pay the fee), and your heraldic authority encourages you to take part in the design stage, so this book could be helpful to you, too. Everyone else, you want to check out your country's laws before you go messing about with heraldry, especially if you're a citizen of the Commonwealth.
38. The Scarlet Letter
-Nathaniel Hawthorne; Fiction-
Ever rhapsodized about how the days of the Pilgrims were a purer time and Americans back then were all good Christians? Do us all a favor and read this depressing little book. Nathaniel Hawthorne never did recover from the inherited guilt of the Salem Witch Trials and his descent from the self-righteous Puritans.
39. The Iliad
-Homer; Epic Poetry-
This book has everything--passion, violence, Greek gods and goddesses, bloodshed, fancy dress, long journeys, pompous windbags, humble servants. It's quite a ride.
-St. Ignatius of Antioch; Non-Fiction-
If you're a Christian who has never read these letters, you've cheated yourself out of your spiritual heritage. This man knew and was trained personally by the Apostle John, writer of the book of Revelation. The letters were written as St. Ignatius was being forcibly marched to Rome by soldiers in his old age, knowing that he was heading to his own martyrdom. Yet, he sent a letter ahead of him to every church they passed, as they made their way through some of the major cities of the empire, in which he encouraged the churches to remain faithful to Christ. The man's courage was extraordinary, and his letters are powerful, profound, and simply beautiful.
41. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents
This is a fascinating book. It calls Edward Said's Orientalism onto the carpet very heavily, suggesting that perhaps Said dealt unfairly with Western scholars of Near Eastern studies who were men of a different age. Academia is notorious for its mercurial pendulum swings of opinion; Irwin apparently felt that the pendulum toward hating Orientalists had gone as far as possible, and needed to be kicked back toward their end of the spectrum.
42. The Phantom Tollbooth
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