Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Books For Our Times

A few weeks ago, Newsweek published an article entitled "What to Read Now. And Why." It is a list of fifty books that the people at the magazine feel everyone should read in order to gain a comprehensive view of the times we are living in. So what book was deemed to be the most important book in understanding our times? Well, it wasn't the latest Obama biography. It wasn't a book by Warren Buffett. It wasn't even written in this century. It was Anthony Trollope's classic novel The Way We Live Now.

"We know it's insane. We know people will ask why on earth we think that an 1875 British satirical novel is the book you need to read right now—or, for that matter, why it even made the cut."

To me, this a perfect example of what a classic is. It is a book that is as relevant and inspiring today as when it was first written, be it a decade ago or a millennium ago. There are quite a few classics that pop up on Newsweek's list. Here they are along with the reason they were chosen:

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope:
The title says it all. Trollope's satire of financial (and moral) crisis in Victorian England even has a Madoff-before-Madoff, a tragic swindler named Augustus Melmotte.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor: Stories of the New South, Christ-haunted and out of control, are as scary as they were when published in 1955. "Shut up, Bobby Lee, it's no real pleasure in life."

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: There's no better season to read the Great American Poem than summer, and no better place than the outdoors for savoring its charms, both contemplative ("I lean and loafe at my ease") and ecstatic ("Mad naked summer night!").

The Mississippi Books by Mark Twain:
When Twain turned his attention to the river that ran by his hometown, what was just run-of-the-mill genius in his other books took on a special Krypton-proof dazzle. Think of these as one book, or three ways of telling the same, very American, very tragicomic story.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: In an age of bioengineering, Shelley's novel about a scientist and his creation is especially unsettling-and its message about the necessity of companionship and sympathy is especially urgent.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie: "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world," says the protagonist of Rushdie's freewheeling, fanciful allegory of modern India. Published in 1981, Midnight's Children delivers just the opposite: the world through the life of a young man.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling: A boy orphaned in war becomes a junior spy for the English in Pakistan and Central Asia. Kipling's portrait of a quagmire is eerily contemporary.

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