Learning to read is one of the great joys of early education. After all, as Levar Burton was wont to say on Reading Rainbow, “Take a look, it’s in a book.” Books come in all sorts of flavors: fiction, non-fiction, biographical. You can learn anything you want by reading a book about it. But enjoying reading for instruction is different from a tremendous recreational read. Whatever your fancy when to a great read, we’ve got something for everyone. You’ll enjoy them so much you’ll want to read them repeatedly.
1. The Phantom Tollbooth
Meet Milo, a boy who is bored-stiff with the world around him. School, home, and life generally exist in a black-and-white haze with zero interest for the growing child. One day, when he arrives home from school, he notices a package with his name on it. As he starts to play with what he sees as a new toy set containing a tollbooth and map, Milo goes on a journey that will awaken a love of learning quickly and help a little boy value the world for all it has to offer. A children’s fantasy novel by Norton Juster, this book subtly appeals to anyone who’s ever been bored. One avid reader explains, “I’m in my 30s and just read it for the first time. I can imagine that reading this as a kid and reading this as an adult are very different experiences, both quite fabulous.”
2. East of Eden
In East of Eden, you’ll meet Adam Trask, who purchases the best land in the Salinas Valley, and as the story progresses, you’ll learn a lot about Adam and his brother Charles. While Adam visits his brother after their father’s death, he falls in love with Cathy Ames—an evil woman who marries him but seduces his brother and becomes pregnant with twins. Cathy and Adam move to California, where Cathy doesn’t want to raise their children or live in California. She leaves and, after ingratiating herself with the house of ill repute’s madam, dispatches her and takes over for her.
Cal and Aron, Kate’s twins, grow up, taking vastly different paths in life, and Aron dies during a battle in WWI. Adam suffers a stroke upon hearing of Aron’s death. Adam forgives Cal for his part in Aron’s demise before dying himself. Steinbeck considered this novel “the book,” and as many a reader would agree, “Fantastic book. I couldn’t put that one down.”
3. The Driver’s Handbook
One funny poster added the Driver’s Handbook from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the list of knockout books people should read, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m not the only one either. The simple fact that auto accidents cause more deaths than any other transportation is enough to make this a mandatory read for anyone applying for a license to drive. Whether you want to brush up on new rules, learn more about driving correctly, or simply pass the time at the DMV, it’s worth checking this handbook out and familiarizing yourself with its contents. One user said, “I wish more people would read this the first time.”
4. A Wrinkle in Time
If you ever wanted to know where the Marvel Cinematic Universe got its Tesseract from, this is the book to tell you. Before the MCU, Madeleine L’Engle wrote a young adult fantasy science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time. The first book in the Time Quintet is a series of five books by L’Engle. Inside, you’ll meet 13-year-old Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and a couple of their friends. Meeting a new neighbor, Meg transports through time to a planet known as Comazotz, where IT controls everyone mechanically. This planet also keeps their father, Alex, captive because he refuses to be controlled. Using hypnosis, forethought, and a great deal of love, Charles and Meg manage to free their father and escape back to Earth with the help of three supernatural beings, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.
While this story was initially deemed “too heavy” for children, it was eventually published by a friend of a friend of L’Engle’s family and has become a staple in American literature. According to one user, the sequels are worth your time and attention. “Don’t forget the sequels. I read them as a kid and only understood about half of the first reading, but now that I’m an adult, I notice all the nuances, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet is my favorite.”
Disillusioned with war and his commanding officers, the main character, Captain John Yossarian, laments about a liver condition to avoid flying further combat missions in WWII. After 44 of them, he figures he’s done his part for the war effort and fears dying in combat. Still, he adds 27 more missions to his total before the novel’s end, successfully showing that he is honest, loyal, and an able, brave flyer.
The title Catch-22 comes from the realization of Yossarian that nothing he does will affect any change in his dim and completely selfish navigator, Aarfy. His actions, protestations, and general life also do not affect his superiors, police officers, or anyone else he encounters. Even after Aarfy assaults and murders a maid, the police arrest Yossarian for going AWOL (Absent Without Leave), never once worrying about the assault or murder of the young woman.
While several people praised Catch-22, one understood why so many chose to read it. “It really all comes together at the end. One of the best examples of parallel structure and what it can do to enhance storytelling.”
6. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
In this series of six novels by Doulas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy being the first book, you’ll meet the only male survivor of Earth, Arthur Dent. In his primarily unfortunate travel through the solar system, Dent meets Ford Prefect, an alien trying to put together a guide for anyone else who’d like to hitchhike through the Galaxy. The two will also meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, a two-headed, non-Earth lifeform with contradicting personality issues and possibly the first depressed robot to be created.
In his travels with Ford and Zaphod, Arthur also finds Trillian, who used to go by Trish McMillan when she lived on Earth. As such, she and Arthur are the only surviving humans in the Galaxy.
Adams died before finishing the last book in his Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Thankfully, his widow knew he’d wanted a sixth book for the series. Eventually, she permitted Eoin Colfer to have him finish the book in Douglas’s tone and style.
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Latin America has never seen the likes of the Buendia family. Seven generations of selfish endeavors, starting with José Arcadio Buendia, play the background to this family’s rise and fall. His dream of a town of mirrors that reflect the outside world inside becomes the location of Macondo. Unfortunately, José is more interested in his scientific pursuits than his family and eventually goes insane, forcing his family to tie him to a chestnut tree until his death.
His wife, Úrsula Iguarán, is the matriarch of the Buendia family and rules the clan with steadfast discipline, often succeeding where her sons and their descendants fail. She is the one who connects Macondo to the outside world, but her fear of her family’s demise becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When fifth-generation Amaranta Úrsula Buendia starts an inappropriate relationship with her nephew Aureliano Babilonia, Amaranta conceives a child, and Úrsula’s worst fears become reality. Amaranta gave birth to a child that had the tail of a pig. Aureliano was lost in his grief when Amaranta died in childbirth, and ants consumed his child.
Aureliano had worked to decipher the works of Melquíades, and after Amaranta and the child they’d named Aureliano died, he could read the parchments. When he gets to the end of the documents, he finally reads, “…Melquíades’ final keys were revealed to him, and he saw the epigraph of the parchments perfectly placed in the order of man’s time and space: ‘The first in line is tied to a tree, and the last is being eaten by ants’.” Aureliano Babilonia dies in the massive whirlwind that devours Macondo when he reads the last of Melquíades’ missives.
One knowledgeable reader stopped by the forum to inform everyone that while writing 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez “was living in a village in Mexico, dirt poor. He and his family lived on care packages given to them by the villagers, who all understood that something magical was happening. His care packages contained copious amounts of cigarettes.”
8. The Stand
According to several posters, The Stand is an excellent read for when sick, as one contributor pointed out. “I read it every time I get a cold or flu.” Appropriately, the flu is a favored sickness for reading this post-apocalyptic fantasy because of its relation to the massively deadly influenza pandemic that wipes out all but six-tenths of the population in one of Stephen King’s most popular books.
When survivors of the pandemic begin to dream of angelic Abigail Freemantle and the demonic Randall Flagg, they head for Abigail in Nebraska and Randall in Las Vegas, respectively. Several main characters choose paths of peace or war, hatred or love, and the clash between good and evil takes on epic, humanity-saving proportions.
King, who’d wanted to “write a fantasy epic…with an American setting,” finally settled down, finishing one of his most notable novels in 1978. Eventually, King’s book became a miniseries for ABC in 1994. Heavy metal band Metallica derived their “Ride the Lightning” from the novel, and the band Anthrax wrote the title track from their 1987 album, Among the Living because of The Stand.
Marvel Comics also turned King’s extraordinary novel into six comic sets featuring five issues each. The first series issue is titled The Stand: Captain Trips.
9. Fahrenheit 451
In 1953 a man named Ray Bradbury wrote a novel inspired by the Nazi book burnings in Germany, among other reasons, titled Fahrenheit 451. Built on a series of ideas Bradbury had entertained in a set of short stories, Fahrenheit 451 is the culmination of compiling these ideas into one cohesive story. Book burning, censorship, and a distaste for government overreach all played a part in the development of Bradbury’s novel and the characters within.
Set somewhere around 2052 in modern-day America, Guy Montag is about to have an existential crisis. In a world where “parlor walls,” which are just a wall full of TVs, much like those in Back to the Future II, Guy’s wife Mildred thinks of them as family. Guy spends his days as a Fireman, seeking out illegal books and burning them along with the houses where they were found.
Guy strikes up a friendship with a neighbor girl whose family keeps books and laments the current direction of society. After learning of her death, Guy sees a woman burned alive in her home for refusing to give up her books. The woman’s death shakes him, and he wonders what it is about books that people are willing to die for. Eventually, Guy steals a text from a woman’s home and collects a small contingent of books over the next year. However, when he tries to involve Mildred and her friends in his study of the books, they turn him into his boss.
Guy ends his boss’s life and escapes downriver to a band of drifters who have spent time memorizing books to save their contents. After a group of bombers annihilates the city with nuclear weapons, Guy and the crew of drifters return to the city to start rebuilding society.
10. The Count of Monte Cristo
In the early 1800’s, a young sailor named Edmond Dantès became the recipient of one of the most significant swings of fortune known to humankind. At 19, he is accused of treason, imprisoned in the Château d’If, tortured on the anniversary of his imprisonment, and near taking his life. When fate brings another prisoner into Dantès’ life, Edmond gains the education he needs to seek revenge on those who turned his life upside down.
The book ends with Edmond finalizing his intricate revenge and returning to the Orient with a young woman named Haydée, whom he saved from slavery and is in love with. The 2002 film ended with Edmond finding and saving his former fiancé Mercédès and his biological son after ending the life of his former best friend, Fernand.
Monte Cristo is a gem for one fan of the novel and Alexandre Dumas’ work. “Monte Cristo, that is a gem right there. It’s amazing how Dumas tells all these seemingly meaningless things and how he ends up elaborately setting up all the future events. It’s a gigantic undertaking that the plot can twist so much. It also illustrates, like Three Musketeers, that while Dumas wrote adventure novels, they were far from simple feel-good stories.”
11. Brave New World
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, publishing the first copy a year later. Set mainly in a futuristic World State, many readers were astounded at the prolific telling of Huxley’s global society. One person even said, “Brave New World is frightening because after you read it a few times, you realize that this is the world our world is turning into.”
In Brave New World, people are environmentally engineered and funneled into castes. Most live in the World State, where they consume a soma drug that inhibits all emotional attachment and makes humans almost robotic. Those who don’t live in the World State live in the Savage Reservation, where they adhere to natural but severely primitive conditions. The three main characters emerge in the script: Bernard, Lenina, and John. John begins to challenge the World State’s rigid conditioning and social order, balking at the totalitarianism of society and culture.
While George Orwell’s 1984 is often cited as the foreshadowing of the current state of the world, many who’ve read Huxley’s Brave New World think it is much closer to how the world works now, even marching toward genetically engineered humans.
12. A Song of Ice and Fire
George R. R. Martin is the masterful creator of the beloved A Song of Ice and Fire book series, which became the popular Game of Thrones television series on HBO. When the show ended, it was quickly followed up by House of the Dragon, also from the Song of Ice and Fire series.
While many consider A Song of Ice and Fire a series by the author George R. R. Martin, it is a single story written in several volumes. In the story, seasons last for years and end without notice. In this fictional world, the Targaryen family has united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros behind a massive ice wall guarded by the Sworn Brotherhood of sentinels and dragons who rule the air.
Lord Robert Baratheon eliminates the ruler Aerys Targaryen, ruling the Seven Kingdoms through the extinction of the dragons, and eventually, King Robert is executed in A Game of Thrones as the Great Houses of Westeros vie for the Iron Throne. As the story progresses, Daenerys Targaryen, whose father was Aerys II, put to death by the late King Robert, rises to power with the help of three dragons hatched from eggs she received as a wedding gift.
Reading is a form of therapy that can be intrinsic in helping people from all walks of life to preserve their mental health. It’s also great for general relaxation, dealing with anxiety or stress, and enjoying a quiet afternoon, especially on a rainy day. If you need an excellent recommendation to pick up on your next trip to the library or to add to your at-home collection, any of the above books would be worth your time.
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