291. TMTF’s Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read

I love recommending books. This temptation, common to bookish people, seizes me occasionally. I am tempted today beyond what I can bear; there is no way out of this temptation so that I can endure it. That said, here are ten books I think everyone in the world should read.

This list is a mix of great classics, personal favorites, and books with widespread cultural impact. This is not a definitive list of ten books everyone absolutely must read, nor is it a list of my ten all-time favorites. These are simply ten recommendations for the average reader.

Let’s get bookish, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Books You Should Probably Read!

10. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday is either a gripping spy thriller set in Edwardian era London, or else an eloquent reflection upon the silence of God and the meaning of pain. Either way, it’s fantastic. The dialogue is clever, the plot has some astonishing twists, and the whole book is drenched in intrigue and melancholy romanticism. It’s Thursday himself who says, “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” This desperate courage, along with brilliant surprises and unexpected philosophical depth, make The Man Who Was Thursday a classic.

9. The Cay by Theodore Taylor 

The Cay

This book made a strong impression on me as a child. On the surface, The Cay is an exciting tale of survival: the story of a privileged white boy and a poor black man stranded together on a deserted island. A closer look at The Cay reveals themes like bigotry, sacrifice, loss, and cultural differences, all handled with disarming frankness and simplicity. The Cay is a quick, easy read, and a book well worth reading.

8. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Everyone should read this book because freaking Sherlock Holmes. He is the archetypical crime-solver and one of the most famous characters in fiction. The Holmes stories are worth reading if only to understand their cultural impact… and they’re also pretty fun to read. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of some of the best. While I personally prefer Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, there’s no denying the significance or excellence of Sherlock Holmes.

7. Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen

Living Poor

Living Poor is a memoir of Moritz Thomson, a man described as “the finest American writer you’ve never heard of.” After joining the Peace Corps, Thomson found himself living in a remote coastal village in Ecuador. His account of living poor is powerfully written, with jabs of wry humor punctuating a tone of bitter resignation. I grew up in Ecuador, so Thomson’s descriptions of its people and places strike a special chord with me. For all readers, whatever their circumstances, Living Poor is not only a heartrending glimpse of an impoverished community, but a look at the universal problems of poverty, depression, and helplessness.

6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Like The Cay, this children’s classic is disarming in its brevity and simplicity. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the delightfully funny story of the Herdmans, “the worst kids in the history of the world,” and their unexpected takeover of a church’s Christmas pageant. The book is hilarious. The Herdman kids respond to the Christmas story with suspicion, awe, and curiosity. Not only does this give readers plenty of laughs, but also a fresh, new perspective on an old, tired holiday. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is two parts funny, one part poignant, and all parts wonderful.

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

I mentioned earlier that the Sherlock Holmes stories are worth reading for their cultural impact. The Lord of the Rings is important in exactly the same way. It didn’t invent the fantasy genre, but it sure as heck defined it. While The Lord of the Rings is an amazing work of fantasy, it’s also slow-paced and really long. The Hobbit is a much quicker read: a simpler adventure that shows off Tolkien’s remarkable world and sows the seeds for the bigger tale told in The Lord of the Rings. The story of Bilbo Baggins and his epic journey “there and back again” is a charming read. I can think of no better introduction to the fantasy genre.

4. Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Silence

Silence is the story of a Portuguese Jesuit sent to seventeenth-century Japan, and also one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever read. The novel deftly changes perspectives partway through as it follows Sebastião Rodrigues in his journey from religious zeal to anguished perplexity at God’s silence. Silence is not only an elegy on the silence of God, but also a fascinating look at how cultures and their values conflict—much like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, another book I considered for this list. It’s not a fun or easy read, but Silence is a book to challenge the mind and the heart.

3. Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves

This is not a particularly deep book, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s a collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Really, what higher praise can there be? The book introduces two of Wodehouse’s most enduring characters, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his nigh-omniscient valet Jeeves, in a series of stories penned with Wodehouse’s effortless humor, aplomb, and British wit. Wodehouse’s work belongs on any list of recommended books, and Carry On, Jeeves is a fine place to start.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Many of my dear readers probably had to read this book for school, which is kind of a shame. Nothing sucks the fun out of books like being forced to read them. There’s a reason this one is read so widely in schools—it’s absolutely fantastic. Everything about the book is excellent, from the setting to the characters to its skillful handling of themes like racism, class divides, and the loss of innocence. Like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another novel that nearly made this list, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the great classics of Western literature. If you’ve never read this book, read it. If you were forced to read it for school, give it another chance.

1. The Bible

Holy Bible

Along with Greco-Roman mythology, the Bible is the foundation of Western literature. Its cultural and literary impact over two millennia is literally incalculable. The Bible is packed with history, poetry, and philosophy that have inspired people and shaped societies. As literature, the Bible is a little uneven—the Psalms are much better reading than, say, Leviticus—but the work as a whole is an incredible wealth of wisdom, truth, and beauty.

O people of the Internet, what are your top book recommendations? Let us know in the comments!

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