My ten best books

Update 07/11/2017: I posted what follows three years ago in response to a challenge that was posed at the time. It got me thinking about the ten books that have particularly impressed / influenced me. As I now reflect on my choices I made then, I am still happy with these, and am mindful I have read hundreds, maybe thousands, of books in my lifetime, many of which have left an impression and I am happy to recommend to others. For example, there are many great classical fiction authors I admire, e.g. Jane Austen. Some modern more popularist ones, I simply enjoy when I have the chance to read, which isn’t often, e.g. Jeffrey Archer. There are books from my childhood e.g. the Biggles series by W.E.Johns. As for non-fiction, there are many books on themes like science, technology, nature, art, culture, history, geography, philosophy, biographies etc. and specifically those to do with Christian apologetics and devotion, many of which I rate highly. I am mindful of my own obsession as a book addict and of the Bible text that encourages a balanced approach. Back to the title, here goes …

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There is something going around Facebook at this time when people volunteer the titles of ten books they have particularly enjoyed and/or have influenced them throughout their life. As an avid book reader there is no shortage of candidates, and the challenge is selecting from them, but here goes …

The Bible has to be my number one choice, although it is in reality sixty-six books rolled in one. I was introduced to it from a very young age and it has been with me ever since. It is the one book I read each day and I never exhaust its riches. While I study it as the God’s message, I realise some read it as great literature containing memorable texts, especially the King James version. My regret is even though I have read and pondered on all its contents several times I don’t know it well enough. It is after all the word of God.

Pilgrims Progress, written by John Bunyan in 1678, while he was in prison on account of his faith, has been an inspiration ever since I was a boy and no less today when we may suffer for conscience sake. It is the one book I would want, after the Bible, if given the choice and, while not having read it for many a year, it is one I have read a number of times prior. I am drawn to it because it more than any book I know, other than the Bible, charts the journey of a Christian through life and the various challenges found along the way, whilst traveling as a pilgrim whose destination is the Celestial City.

The Lord of the Rings is three books. While the film that came out a few years back was good, it cannot replace the book as it records the journey of Frodo the Hobbit to destroy the Ring that rules over all and thus save Middle Earth. It is a fantasy with a strong underlying moral and spiritual narrative, in particular the continuing conflict between the forces of light and darkness, and in my view by far the best of its kind (far better than Harry Potter). The author, J.R.R.Tolkien, is brilliant in every way concerning what he writes. This is one book I found hard to put down, following on from my childhood introduction: “The Hobbit”.

Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis is what can be best described as an example of Christian apologetics and one of the most erudite I know. As one who makes it his business not only to promote and preach the Gospel, I need to defend it to waverers, skeptics and detractors, and no-one does it better than the author with his memorable succinct and pith statements and underlying impeccable logic that more than any tells it (the rationale for life) as it is. Not only did Lewis write several excellent Christian books covering important themes e.g. the problem of pain, his children’s books e.g. “The Chronicles of Narnia” are also great reads.

The Tale of Two Cities was written by perhaps the greatest of all English authors: Charles Dickens. Dickens was an outstanding story teller, who could graphically paint images with words and made marvelous use of the English Language. In this book, the contradictions of life, summed up in the opening line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and the story of sacrificial love, summed up in the closing words: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known”, continue to enthrall me. Many of Dicken’s other books I would deem to be among the greats.

Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell was a book I was introduced to as a youth. It is set in a grim future, in a world ruled as far as the hero, Winston, is concerned by sinister totalitarian regime, headed by “Big Brother”. 1984 tells a story of a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, and describes the attempts to come to terms with such a world and unsuccessfully rebel. It could also serve a salutary warning of things to come and have already come. I should add that some of his other books make superb reading e.g.”Animal Farm”.

The Oxford English Dictionary may appear a strange choice as it is not a book to be read but rather referred to. I have been referring to this ever since I was child, in its various variants, ranging from pocket size to several large volumes. While my own achievements as a wordsmith are modest and I did not shine in English at school, I realize words do matter and I try to get my words right to the point of obsession, helped by the OED.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer chronicles the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from the 1920s to 1945. Besides being a monumental work in describing many of the important events of the period and giving insights into what was happening and why, I remain fascinated and also disturbed how these things came about, what could or should have happened, how this impacted the world and still does, and reflective that such things can and do happen if we allow it.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a brilliant novel one of the longest ever written and a long way from being the easiest. It is one I have started more than once but never managed to finish. Its attempt to come to terms with one of the major themes of human history: war and peace, is brilliant. There is enough there that makes me want to return to it should the occasion ever arise.

The Three Golliwogs by Enid Blyton is one of many books I read as a child and at the time fascinated me and now wistfully look back on a long gone time of innocence. It also happens to be an object of a long standing family joke for whenever I use a word my sister doesn’t understand, I am taken to task since the last book she read was “the three gollies”. While Blyton is not every one’s cup of tea and there are aspects of her writing that will irritate me, she remains one of the greatest children’s authors.

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