Misfit Book Roundup
In honor of National Book Month of 2016, the Misfits have contributed to this roundup piece with their most cherished books of all time. Because we are all enthusiastic readers and book lovers, this was a challenging, difficult task. Many beloved books had to be left behind to make room for just a choice few. Some of us picked just one special favorite, while others pushed the boundaries and came up with several. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the Misfit’s most treasured books of all time:
For my head:
"The Federalist Papers" by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. I could read these a million times over. Simply brilliant. Need I really say more about some of the most influential writings affecting the creation of our government and nation?
"The Iliad" by Homer. One of the ultimate classics. I know, I know, typically people enjoy the exciting adventures of Odysseus more, but I've always been partial to this woven tale during the Trojan War. It warns of the dangers of stubborn pride, highlights bravery and honor, and underlines the heavy sacrifice and personal costs of war. Plus it has some famous characters who are just plain fun to follow through the betrayals, battles, and divine interventions.
For my heart:
"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. Sure, it's probably the original RomCom. So what? Love, heartbreak, scandal, betrayal, quirky characters, veritable wit...it has it all. Complete with two independent and stubborn BUT(!) destined lovers. I've read it a dozen times and love it more with each read.
For my soul:
"Margot Fonteyn: A Life" by Meredith Daneman. I basically danced out of the womb. I trained as a classical ballerina in an intensive pre-professional program, then danced professionally into my late twenties. Margot Fonteyn was an icon. She was the ballerina of the 20th century. The most famous, danced the most performances, originated the most roles, and worked with all the greats. She also held the longest career, not retiring until the age of 61. This biography of her inconceivable life onstage and off is raw and inspirational.
Honorable Mentions: "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe, "1776" and "John Adams" by David McCullough.
“Steinbeck: Novels 1942-1952” Yes this is an anthology so it's cheating but it contains both The Moon is Down and East of Eden, so shut up. Both are, in their own way, about the inexorable striving of the human spirit for personal autonomy, be it from other men or from Fate (God). The philosophical discussions between Lee and Samuel Hamilton alone are enough to get me to reread East of Eden every couple of years. Oh, and fuck you, Oprah, for trying to ruin one of my favorite books.
“A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving. Also about Fate, so there may be a theme here. But it's also about courage in the face of your fate, and whether or not anyone, even God, has the right to use another human being for His own purposes. Irving is also very funny, which I enjoy.
“The Gates of Fire,” by Steven Pressfield. Historical novel about Thermopylae. This is a guy's book, but I love it.
“Waiting for April,” by Scott Morris. The best novel nobody's heard of. I'd call it a 21st century 'Look Homeward, Angel'. Very Southern.
“A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens. Because it’s riveting, the last third is brilliant and the final scene is the best thing ever written in English.
“Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond because it's a fascinating take on really boring material.
“All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr because of its affirmation of human spirit.
“Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” by Virginia Lee Burton for its unintentionally dark summation of humanity's failings. The old man works his entire life just to dig himself a hole so deep he can't get out of it!
Avi Woolf (@AviWoolf)
“Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by Robert Louis Stevenson
A short, but incredibly powerful tale about good and evil. You will find yourself thinking and worrying about human nature itself…especially after you read the last chapter.
Anything by GK Chesterton
Chesterton has written so much and so well that to recommend any specific work of his is to do him a disservice. I know of no-one who wrote so often and so well in favor of wonder, fantasy, human compassion, truth, and on how "boring, ordinary life" really is an amazing adventure, if only we open our eyes and see it.
“A People's Tragedy” by Orlando Figes
A tragic, gut-wrenching, horrifying account of the Russian Revolution, and of how a whole empire brutally tore itself apart through mutual social hatreds. No-one sane can read this and think "burn it down" is anything but a nightmare to be avoided.
Anything by Dr. Seuss
Yes, I'm serious. No-one captured the wonder of childhood for me more than the author of The Cat in the Hat, Wacky Wednesday, Green Eggs and Ham, and so many other books. His works let us know that even as we mature as adults, there's no shame in holding onto a bit of silliness and craziness. Especially if it shows up on Mulberry Street.
“Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley, for its complex, prophetic warning of a controlled, dystopian state, fueled by a disintegration of morality and the discouragement of individualism and critical thinking, and the ensuing chaos when that system is disrupted. I read it when I was 16, and it's had a great impact on my life.
"Slaughterhouse-Five," by Kurt Vonnegut, for its search for humanity after the destructiveness of war, and the confused contemplation of existence through science fiction.
“East of Eden,” by Steinbeck, for its masterful storytelling, and portraying the continual battle of good and evil.
Honorable mentions: “Cat's Cradle,” by Vonnegut, “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller, “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville.
“Hell House” – by Richard Matheson
I’ve been a die-hard horror fan (books and film) for almost my whole life. It started when I was a tot – my parents were watching “The Trilogy of Terror” on TV, and I sat silently on our staircase where they couldn’t see me peeking around the corner. I was terrified and mesmerized all at once, and my love of horror was born. I read my first horror novel, “It,” by Stephen King as a young teenager, and it shook me to my core. Since that time I have devoured as many horror-themed books and films as possible.
Only one stands out to me above all others, however, and that is the novel “Hell House.” It was originally published in 1971, but I didn’t discover it until the mid-nineties. I finished it in under two days because I just couldn’t put it down. Terrifying, gruesome, depraved, wicked, nasty, offensive, creepy – this is not for the faint of heart – which is why it won MY heart.
“Rebecca” – by Daphne Du Maurier
My Twitter handle gives this away, of course. I fell in love with “Rebecca” when it was assigned to read in my English class my 10th-grade year of high school. From the very first line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” I was lured into the mysterious world of this modern gothic, transfixed by its deceptive simplicity. Underneath the casual conversations and formal interactions between the never-named narrator, Mrs. de Winter, her husband Maxim, the ghastly Mrs. Danvers and others, lies a chilling intrigue. The star of the show here, the deceased first wife of Maxim – Rebecca – dominates their entire existence, and I found myself as jealous of her as the new Mrs. de Winter was. Manderley itself (the estate where most of the plot takes place) serves as an imposing character in itself, and I loved it, dark and mysterious as it was.
I’ve read this countless times, and I never fail to find something new to appreciate within its depths.
“Brave New World” – by Aldous Huxley
Generally placed in the “dystopian” genre of fiction, “Brave New World” kicked me in the gut as effectively as any well-written horror novel. Whatever you want to call it, it chilled me to my bones and left a lasting impression upon me. I read it at about age 15, and I remember seeking out my dad (a bibliophile if there ever was one) to hash out the hundred or so questions and fears it brought me. What is a human soul, and what happens to it in a world such as this?
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson” series – by Robert A. Caro
A four-part biography of the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, this series meticulously traces the life of LBJ going all the way back to the years in the hardscrabble Texas Hill Country before he was even born. Caro takes the readers from that time, through his childhood, teen and young adult years, his path into Congress, all the way to the presidency.
I alternated between complete and utter loathing for this nasty, cruel man (Caro doesn’t candy coat, to put it mildly) to admiration for his almost supernatural will to achieve power with significant accomplishments on the way. Setting aside the life of LBJ himself, this series gives the reader an unflinching, hard look into the machinations of power, deceit, and hubris of the political players in DC itself. I’d recommend it just based on that.
Honorable mentions: “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov, “Gone With the Wind,” by Margaret Mitchell, “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
"Notes from a Small Island" by Bill Bryson. It chronicles Bill's first visit to Great Britain, I think in the early 80s. I laughed all the way through. Originally read my wife’s copy on our first (of many) trips to Venice. Great, fun read. ("Watching the English" by Kate Fox gets honorable mention. Another great read)
"The Stand" by Stephen King. I've read it at least twice because I bought it when it came out, then I bought the expanded edition and read that. I think it's the least schlocky, most serious fiction he's ever written. Spooky, weird, great characters. It's dystopia at it's best. ("Pet Semetary" gets honorable mention here, though the movie sucked)
Another favorite is the recent non-fiction "Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get a Job, Raise a Family, and Other Manly Advice" by Cam Edwards and Jim Geraghty. Just a wonderful, easy read that every young man (especially college kids who know nothing) should take to heart. Each writer tells a story about themselves and translates that to helpful advice for the young 'men' of the modern world. Ward Cleaver is a Stud and WWWCD prevalent throughout. :)
I'm a big fan of the “Politically Incorrect Guide” (PIG) series. The Civil War, The British Empire, Islam (and the Crusades) come immediately to mind, but there are many, and they rock.
My favorite book is “East of Eden,” by Steinbeck. My Grandma, who's one of my heroes, loaned me her copy when I was 14 and encouraged me to read it, so it always reminds me of her. The story is gripping and interesting. But I love it most because it taught me that free will is paramount. No matter what circumstances you're born into or evil that happens to you, you have the ability to overcome it by what you choose to do. My favorite part of the book is when Lee is discussing the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. He describes to Adam and Sam the results of his research into the meaning of the Hebrew word "Timshel," which is what God says to Cain when banishing him for killing Abel. After consulting various biblical scholars, Lee determines that the word does not mean "Thou shalt" or "Thou will" but instead that "Thou mayest" overcome evil, suggesting that the power to overcome evil is a choice. One of my favorite quotes from the book:
"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?"
This made a huge impression on me in part because my Grandma had many sad and bad things happen in her life growing up. She could have been bitter at the unfairness, but she wasn't. She was strong, warm, kind, moral, and tough as nails.
“It,” by Stephen King. The plot is both heartbreaking and thrilling but it’s the characters and King’s mastery of foreshadowing to build suspense and dread of things to come that make it my favorite. He'll tell you before you get to know a character that they're going to die, then he'll make you like them, or hate them, but care either way, only to then remind you that Yes this character is going to die, and horribly, but not yet. Then he'll take his time so as to give you hope that maybe you misunderstood. Then he kills them. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. Just a masterful piece of modern Americana.
Also, though it’s a short story: “The Color from Outer Space,” by HP Lovecraft, such a beautifully heartbreaking tale of terror in the middle of Massachusetts. Lovecraft had none of the heart that King wields, nor the technical skill, but his VISION is clear. You believe he is speaking from experience when you read about the terror the farmer felt as the Orange/Purple corruption overtook his farm, his family and his sanity.
“It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. It is a must-read before the election, it shows how empathy is a huge part of leadership. If anyone had to read just one book before the election, it should be that book.
“Celia Garth,” by Gwen Bristow - I love the setting, Revolutionary War Charleston. The characters weave in and out with real historical figures, bringing them to life. It's romantic and exciting and at times gut wrenching. By the end, you're cheering equally for Celia and the United States.
Hired Mind (@thehiredmind)
“Revelation Space,” by Alastair Reynolds.
Marc Logic (@marcannem96)
“A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour,” by John Feinstein
As a former golf professional, I was absorbed by Feinstein’s peak into the real world of the PGA Tour – not the upper crust, rich and famous guys getting the autographs, but the ups and downs, heartaches and achievements of the average professional golfer, including the ones living out of their cars just to make a living trying to make the PGA Tour.
“Ender's Game,” by Orson Scott Card - One of the best written military scifi novels ever written. It may sound a bit far fetched at times, with children military tacticians, however that can be set aside. The novel has always resonated with me, from the character of Ender to what he went through and the thoughts and concerns he faced. Highly recommended, I try to read it at least once every year or two.
“The Name of the Wind,” by Patrick Rothfuss - The telling of a hero's true story. His origins from a child up through his formative adolescent years. It covers the lies, the truths, the embellishments. It is the first part of a trilogy (book 3 still pending publishing as of this writing), and takes the hero's journey and Harry Potter and adds some more flair to it.
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” by Alexandre Dumas - Read this one unabridged. It is one of the most beautifully crafted novels I have ever read. Originally serialized and covering many different plot threads that all tie together at the end, the story of Edmond Dantes search for revenge and the story arc he goes through is one of the most profound stories I have read in a very long time.
“Animal Farm,” by George Orwell - Animals discover communism is bad news. What more needs to be said?
“Tigana,” by Guy Gavriel Kay - A fantasy novel about a country that has been ripped from the memory of every living person-- except for the residents of the country itself. A deeply moving, tragic tale involved the search for love, for vengeance, and the meaning of identity. Let this novel introduce you to the many beautifully written novels by GGK.
Honorable mentions: “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand, “Watership Down,” by Richard Adams, “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” by Scott Lynch, the “Mistborn” series by Brandon Sanderson.
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Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.