12 months essential reading

I’ve never done one of these reading lists before. In fact, I have become kind of lazy with my consumption of novels. My expectations are extremely high in terms of the entertainment value which my selections must live up to. I don’t want to read anything sad or negative. It can’t be too heavy or light, it needs to be just right. A mighty tall order, really. No wonder I am having a hard time finding books which fit all my criteria.

For 2019, it is time to shake things up. Instead of skimming the surface of what I could be reading, I’m going deep into the classics. A bunch of lists and recommendations were consulted before I created this list. While one book per month might seem like child’s play for some people, it represents a significant reading challenge for me. I will struggle to complete this within the year. Especially when I realize just how big some of these titles are.

In keeping with the challenge I have set for myself to spend a good amount of time learning, this list of books is a reasonable assignment. I’ve listed the titles in alphabetical order and I’ll attack the stack of volumes in the same manner. I have not read any of these particular books or the authors who have written them. I am a newbie to the whole thing.

I have resisted the classics because they always felt like a school assignment. Imagine, all these years later, still trying to buck what the teachers think is good for me? It is only by watching my daughter do the same that I realize, it is time to be a grown up. I will have to be brave. Some of the subjects are not happy. But, there has to be good reasons why so much critical acclaim and various awards have been bestowed on these titles. And many of these are in the public domain.

Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible. 

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook

Beloved is a 1987 novel by the American writer Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War (1861–65), it is inspired by the story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state.

Toni Morrison’s spiritual and haunting novel, investigates the trauma of slavery even after freedom has been gained, depicting guilt and emotional pain after the main character killed her own child, whom she named Beloved, to keep her from living life as a slave. A spectral figure appears in the lives of the characters and goes by the same name as the child, embodying the family’s anguish and hardship and making their feelings and past unavoidable.

The novel was lauded for addressing the psychological effects of slavery and the importance of family and community in healing. Beloved was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature and the earliest canonical novel, the Bokklubben World Library collection, cites Don Quixote as the authors’ choice for the “best literary work ever written”.

The story follows the adventures of a noble who takes the name “Don Quixote de la Mancha” and sets off in a fit of obsession over romantic novels about chivalry to revive the custom and become a hero himself. The character of Don Quixote has become an idol and somewhat of an archetypal character, influencing many major works of art, music, and literature since the novel’s publication. The text has been so influential that a word, quixotic, based on the Don Quixote character, was created to describe someone who is, “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially: marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.”

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II.

The first half of the book depicts Dr. Frankl’s four years losing everything in concentration camps — a description so hellish, it leaves you desolate. Shattered by his Holocaust experiences, Frankl struggles to survive after he is freed. In the second half of the book, Frankl shows how that period of his life informs and develops his theory of “logotherapy” — he asserts that life is about finding meaning, what is meaningful to each individual. As excruciating as his experiences are, Frankl’s theory is full of love; he is able to find redemption for himself and others. 

According to a survey conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man’s Search for Meaning belongs to a list of “the ten most influential books in the United States.”

Mrs. Dalloway published on 14 May 1925, is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post–First World War England.

Using a combination of a third-person narration and the thoughts of various characters, the novel uses a stream-of-consciousness style all the way through. The result of this style is a deeply personal and revealing look into the characters’ minds, with the novel relying heavily on character rather than plot to tell its story. The thoughts of the characters include constant regrets and thoughts of the past, their struggles with mental illness and post-traumatic stress from World War I, and the effect of social pressures. The novel’s unique style, subject, and time setting make it one of the most respected and regarded works of all time.

In October 2005, Mrs Dalloway was included on Time’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.

In the public domain, outside of the USA – Project Gutenberg Australia

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a landmark 1967 novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez that tells the  story of seven generations of the Buendía family and follows the establishment of their town Macondo until its destruction along with the last of the family’s descendents.

In fantastical form, the novel explores the genre of magic realism by emphasizing the extraordinary nature of commonplace things while mystical things are shown to be common. Márquez highlights the prevalence and power of myth and folktale in relating history and Latin American culture.

The novel won many awards for Márquez, leading the way to his eventual honor of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 for his entire body of work, of which One Hundred Years of Solitude is often lauded as his most triumphant.

Slaughterhouse-Five published in 1969 is a science fiction-infused anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut about the World War II experiences and journeys through time of Billy Pilgrim, from his time as an American soldier and chaplain’s assistant, to postwar and early years.

What Kurt Vonnegut set out to do was write a book about war, and in particular the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. What he ended up doing was writing clean around it — traveling in and out of time warps, bouncing on and off the earth, sometimes setting down on the planet Tralfamadore, millions of miles away from Dresden and millions of miles away from war. What he created was a masterpiece of satire in which every crazy, clever moment, every whimsical line, no matter how deceptively light, is imbued with the sorrow and the starkness of the atrocity Vonnegut himself witnessed in that very real war.

Slaughterhouse-Five is generally recognized as Vonnegut’s most influential and popular work.

The Great Gatsby is a novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published by Scribner’s in April 1925, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews and sold poorly; in its first year, the book sold only 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. However, the novel experienced a revival during World War II, and became a part of American high school curricula and numerous stage and film adaptations in the following decades. Today, The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary classic and a contender for the title “Great American Novel.”

Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream. Perhaps the most-famous aspect of the novel is its cover art—a piercing face projected onto a dark blue night sky and lights from a cityscape—an image that is also found, in a slightly different configuration, within the text itself as a key symbol.

In the public domain, except in the USA – Project Gutenberg Australia

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy science fiction series created by Douglas Adams. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats, including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 video game, and 2005 feature film.

Parodying practically every well-worn sci-fi plot device in existence, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has become a classic in its own right. A hapless hero with astonishing luck? Ill-tempered aliens hell-bent on destroying Earth? Pithy advice (e.g., “DON’T PANIC”)? Check, check, and check — and so much more. Even non–sci-fi geeks will be charmed by this hilarious and endlessly entertaining read, with (of course) sequels following.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction novel by U.S. writer Ursula K. Le Guin, published in 1969. The novel became immensely popular and established Le Guin’s status as a major author of science fiction. It tells the story of an ethnologist sent to another planet, but it is Le Guin’s powers of imagination that turn The Left Hand of Darkness into something truly transcendent.

Not only is The Left Hand of Darkness a masterpiece of ideas, invention, and language, but it takes conventional assumptions about gender and grinds them into a fine, powdery dust. It was among the first books in the genre now known as feminist science fiction and is the most famous examination of androgyny in science fiction.

The book won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and went on to become one of the keystones of science fiction.

The Old Man and the Sea is the last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, and has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. In 1953, The Old Man and the Sea was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and it was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to their awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook

To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. Made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962, giving the story and its characters further life and influence over the American social sphere.

The novel examines racism in the American South through the innocent wide eyes of a clever young girl named Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch. Its iconic characters, most notably the sympathetic and just lawyer and father Atticus Finch, served as role models and changed perspectives in the United States at a time when tensions regarding race were high. The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality.

That will be my year in novels. I think this will leave be fairly challenging but also leave me enough time to squeeze in a few other books along the way. I am dreading the length of Don Quixote. And One Year Of Solitude is not a quick read either. It was not until I saw all the titles in a stack, lovingly sourced by my husband from a local second-hand bookstore, did I realize how different the reading time commitment would be. I hope to knock off the first two rather quickly, in case Don Quixote proves to be as challenging as I fear!

Thank you for reading my thoughts on creativity. Each day, I hope to get a little closer to understanding how to design a lifestyle I don’t need a vacation from. I believe that focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives is an important aspect of happiness and ultimately wellness.

There are a couple of interesting projects on the horizon in 2019. The travel book will be digitally published by the summer. A creativity retreat is on the docket for the Fall.

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Comments: 4

  • reply

    Mom

    January 1, 2019

    Excellent list! I read Animal Farm in High School; To Kill a Mockingbird last year (fantastic book) and am reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy now (well, not right now because the book is at the Red House – but it is a fun read.

  • reply

    jenn

    February 3, 2019

    That is a daunting list. I have read animal farm so many years ago that I’m not sure it counts. loved hitchikers and to kill a mockingbird
    What did you read for jan and what did you think about it?

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