50 Books to Read Before You Die

words to inspire before you expire

Tag: Children (page 1 of 2)

“Temperance, industry, exercise, and cleanliness, are the lessons equally enjoined to the young ones of both sexes: and my master thought it monstrous in us, to give the females a different kind of education from the males, except in some articles of domestic management; whereby, as he truly observed, one half of our natives were good for nothing but bringing children into the world; and to trust the care of our children to such useless animals, he said, was yet a greater instance of brutality.”

—from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

His Dark Materials Trilogy

Hello again, class.

I started The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, months ago. Within a few chapters, though I barely knew the characters or the world Pullman had built, his writing drew me in—in a way that hasn’t happened with me since I read Harry Potter. Pullman’s teenage fiction novels are written like poetry.

I finished The Amber Spyglass, the third book in the trilogy, a few days ago. The series as a whole is controversial, intoxicating, and jaw-dropping in all the ways sci-fi and fantasy should be—it completely surpassed my expectations. I can think of hundreds of reasons why this book series made the list.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The story follows Lyra Belacqua, a young girl with a propensity for lying and storytelling. She lives in a world a lot like ours, with a few key differences—one being that every person is born with a daemon, a spirit-like animal that acts as a conscience. Lyra, with her daemon Pantalaimon and her friend Will Parry, gets caught up in a peculiar adventure, involving a kingdom of armored bears, a clan of witches hundreds of years old, a mystical truth-telling compass, a series of otherworldly portals, and a cast of characters with dangerous and obscure motives.

For all the plot over three heart-pounding novels—The Golden CompassThe Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass—Pullman never forgets the carefully structured theme of innocence in the face of corruption. Of all the enemies Lyra faces, the corrupt Church is probably the most intimidating. The Church of Pullman’s universe is overbearing, manipulative, and full of subservient agents who will do anything in the name of the Authority.

But for Pullman, it wasn’t enough to point out the corruption of religious institutions—his novels attempt to reveal corruption in the existence of God. He writes about the ongoing battle of humanity, between those who humbly submit to a greater power and those who seek wisdom and refute oppression. His novels point out the inherent immorality of a Kingdom of Heaven, like the immorality of any dictatorship in the modern age. The overarching plot of the trilogy goes so far as to use Christian theology (and mythology) to dismantle the Christian story of God—portraying God as the villain of humanity’s ongoing battle.

Naturally, the His Dark Materials Trilogy was met with controversy. Pullman’s story isn’t just atheistic (which can be controversial by nature)—it is also mature, saturated in sci-fi violence, and marketed for a younger audience. It’s probably still banned across the globe.

The trilogy makes a strong case for atheism, which was hard for me to read, but also helpful in my understanding of life outside of religion. I grew up with religion in my life, and I’ve come to accept those that don’t have religion in theirs—it’s simply not for everyone, and that’s a hard lesson to learn. I started reading The Golden Compass with something like a religious bias, and it made me read everything Pullman wrote with a grain of salt.

Author Philip Pullman

That doesn’t stop me from agreeing with most, if not all, of Pullman’s criticisms of the corrupt church he is familiar with. Religion has a history of abuse that cannot be dismissed, and those that choose to live with religion must always be aware of the power, and therefore the corruption, that religious institutions have a tendency toward. Aware of that corruption, Pullman pushes back against religious institutions through these novels—through literature, popular culture, and the education of young minds. Children will eventually have to make their own theological decisions in the real world, and books like the His Dark Materials trilogy can be a healthy part of making those decisions.

Like I said, these books were hard to read at times (I work at a church, for crying out loud!) but it certainly helped that these books were well written. It always impresses me when books have strong messages delivered by strong characters, and a fantastic fantasy world to back up big ideas. For a novel to work, all of the separate puzzle pieces have to fit together well, and the completed puzzle has to leave an impression. These three novels did both.

My next read is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and I’m diving into this one cold. I can only hope it’s good!

Have a good week!

Prof. Jeffrey

Wuthering Heights

Good morning, class.

It’s easy to see the similarities between Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and her sister Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In both stories, the swampy moors of the English countryside set an atmosphere of oppressive weariness and longing. The romances tracked in both novels have drama seeping through the pages—lies, betrayal, terrible passion, and a man too mysterious to ever fully trust.

But I think it’s easier to talk about Jane Eyre, at least in terms of plot—our heroine Jane begins as an orphan, and we follow her journey into adulthood and into her romance with Mr. Rochester. Wuthering Heights is much murkier. Instead of any hero, we get a cluster of characters surrounding the villainous Heathcliff, one of the more disgusting characters I’ve ever read in a novel. He enters the narrative, destroys almost everything around him, and remains a mysterious stain on everyone’s happiness until the final pages of the novel, where a happy ending barely scrapes by from the debris in his wake. And so Wuthering Heights leaves its mark.

Heathcliff and Catherine, portrayed by Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights (1939)

The main narrative follows Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in a tortured romance. Heathcliff is brought back to the Wuthering Heights estate as a child by Mr. Earnshaw, where he meets the young Catherine and her brother Hindley. They grow up together, and Catherine and Heathcliff realize their attraction to each other, but obstacles get in the way. Heathcliff runs away, and Catherine decides to marry their neighbor Edgar Linton instead. When Heathcliff returns, he has enough money to enact revenge on those who kept him and Catherine apart.

Heathcliff swindles Wuthering Heights from Hindley (and from Hindley’s son Hareton) while marrying Edgar’s sister to punish both Edgar and Catherine. They each have children: Linton is Heathcliff’s son, and Catherine’s daughter is named Catherine (simply to confuse matters further). The elder Catherine dies while giving birth, and Heathcliff prays that her soul never rest—that she haunt him until he dies.

Fast-forward about 18 years, and Hareton, Catherine, and Linton have all grown up. They are the product of tortured love, revenge, and heartbreak, with Heathcliff the only surviving member of the first generation. Without giving too much away, the three of them try to right the wrongs of the past and revolt against Heathcliff’s tyranny—to be what their parents couldn’t be.

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Heathcliff is the reason to read Wuthering HeightsI called him one of the more disgusting characters I’d ever read in a novel, and that’s because there so much villainous life breathed into him by Emily Brontë that he’s stood the test of time. His origins are unknown—both his heritage and his means of getting money—and hatred seems to come easier to him than love.

His relationship with Catherine is simply a mess. They seem to enjoy each other in childhood, both a little more unkempt and uncontrollable than most children. As outsiders they grow fond of each other. But in adulthood they punish each other as signs of love. They wrap up the Lintons into their mess and ruin the Lintons’ happiness—Edgar is in a loveless marriage and must compete with Heathcliff’s rage, while his sister Isabella is tricked into marrying Heathcliff who cares nothing for her.

After Catherine’s death, Heathcliff regularly digs up Catherine’s corpse and cries over it. He is ultimately disgusted with his son Linton and forces him to marry the younger Catherine so that he can inherit Edgar’s estate. Without a doubt, Heathcliff is a nightmare. Characters speculate if he is some kind of demon or imp. He has no pity for the people he hurts and delights in suffering. His obsession with Catherine is only matched by her obsession with him, and the only real question about his motivations is whether or not their relationship does more damage than he himself does.

Emily Brontë

Is Brontë’s writing strong? Absolutely—ahead of its time, even. Is the story worth reading? I’d say so—the plot is intricate and chaotic, in the best way. But Heathcliff is what makes Wuthering Heights special, and he’s why it made the list.

I like to think there isn’t a moral to the story, but if there is one, it’s about a bad kind of love vs. a good kind. The bad kind of love is the one that destroys and poisons, that’s so passionate and full of emotion that it can’t survive. Then there’s a patient, practical love—one that doesn’t hurt, and yet still wins out against obstacle. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine is destructive, but maybe the next generation can share a better love, despite the effects of the the generation before.

Up next, I’m reading E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India—one of the few books on the list I’ve never heard of before. Let’s hope it’s good!

Prof. Jeffrey

Missing From the List: The Giver

Hello again, class.

Everything about Brave New World that depresses me is something that gives me hope in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It’s the same futuristic society, heavily medicated and rid of all the emotions that plague humanity; but there’s room for change. There’s a hero with the emotional strength and the courage to do what he thinks is right, and there’s the tiniest cracks in his perfect world for him to slip through, allowing him to succeed. If Brave New World were like this, it probably wouldn’t be as impactful or important.

Thankfully, the comparisons between Brave New World and The Giver end there. For all its similarities, The Giver is actually something quite different, and that’s why I think it should make the list of books to read before you die.

Jonas is a regular 12-year old kid in this futuristic society. At 12, children go through a ceremony designating them to a role in the community—Nurturers, Instructors, Pilots, Birthmothers, Laborers, etc. At the ceremony, Jonas is chosen as Receiver of Memory, a rare assignment. He is to spend every day with a older man known as the Giver, and eventually take on his duties.

Jonas’s sessions with the Giver involve the transfer of memories—the Giver gives them, and Jonas receives them. They are the memories of humanity . . . things that Jonas’s community has purposely removed, which only the Giver and Receiver of Memory are allowed to hold. Memories of war, terror, grief, depression, violence . . . but also memories of elation, passion, joy, and love. Even colors have been removed from people’s minds because of what they can do to destabilize society.

Poster from the movie adaptation of The Giver (2014)

Eventually, Jonas begins to see through the cracks. He realizes things should be different, but that won’t happen while everyone else is happy—which, as he comes to understand, really means that everyone is medicated, lied to, and ignorant of the mistakes they are making. And that’s when the action really begins.

The Giver is the first book in a series, and I have yet to read the rest; I hope they are just as amazing as this first entry. For me, The Giver is special. In the same way that reading Brave New World in high school challenged me to read uncomfortable adult literature, reading The Giver in middle school challenged me to imagine literature that wasn’t neatly tied up to perfection. The Harry Potter series, for example, looks like a magical explosion of chaos, but underneath is J. K. Rowling’s carefully constructed artistic mechanism. But Lowry does the opposite: the world she creates is perfectly ordered, but underneath that is humanity trying to break free.

Author Lois Lowry

This is best shown by the ending. Where Harry Potter ties up at least 99% of its loose ends, Lowry leaves the ending of The Giver as open-ended as children’s literature will allow. The action isn’t resolved, the mystery of Jonas’s choice remains a mystery, and there’s only the possibility of hope that Lowry just barely lets readers see before ending the narrative. Sure, there are other installments in the series, but it’s still a daring creative move that did a lot to twist my reading habits.

And that’s the point of The Giver: to give young readers an idea of a perfect society, and to tarnish it; to show readers that perfection, if achievable, is not good. Perfection can actually be what hurts humanity most of all. Our imperfection is better for us in the end.

The fact that Lowry tackles these themes in a book for children makes it all the more powerful. The attempt to teach children themes like these undermines the discomfort of Brave New World because it drives the point home sooner. The particular discomforts of Brave New World outshine The Giver by far, but The Giver gets the chance to show children how to change the world before they realize it needs changing. The book is dedicated to all children, “to whom we entrust the future,” which says a lot about Lowry’s aims. Just another reason why everyone should read it.

As a reminder, next week is my post on Wuthering Heights! Make it to class on time!

Prof. Jeffrey

Lord of the Flies

Welcome back, class. It’s time to weep for the end of innocence.

A while back, I wrote about The Shining by Stephen King, claiming that it should be on the 50-books list as a representative of the horror genre, because horror didn’t feature much on the list. After reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I realize that I spoke too soon . . . Lord of the Flies is one of the spookiest, goriest, most uncomfortable novels I’ve read in a long time, and that’s clearly one of the reasons it made the list.

It’s a basic concept of a story: a group of boys is involved in a plane crash on a deserted island, and there are no grown-ups to lead them. They start out well enough, organizing themselves, electing a leader, establishing a hunting team—but a childish tension erodes it all. To top it off, they start to imagine a beast somewhere on the island, that it may be hunting them and planning to kill them all. Their fear and resentment against each other soon become hatred, anger, revenge, and eventually murder.

Ralph, the boy elected as “chief,” is somewhat charismatic, and older than most of the boys there—in the boys’ eyes, this makes him an excellent leader. Jack, the boy almost elected, is similar to Ralph at first, but he ultimately resents not being elected; he divides the group between those who voted for him and Ralph, and releases his inner savage when things don’t go his way. Then there’s Piggy: an overweight asthmatic boy who wears glasses, and who is never once taken seriously, even though he is clearly the smartest of the group. Between these three characters, this group of boys is transformed into a group of dangerous killers.

Author William Golding

If these characters weren’t children, the story would still work remarkably well. They disagree about the best methods of survival, hesitate to abandon rules, and eventually succumb to their more primal instincts. Part of Golding’s message is that the human race functions like this, on a larger scale . . . that within even the most composed and humane individuals lies a beast, waiting to lash out at the opportune moment. If a group of fully grown adults were trapped on this island, the societal breakdown might have taken longer, but it would have happened all the same (i.e., the TV show Lost).

But the simple fact that these are children makes all the difference. As Jack slips slowly into vengeance and savagery, it’s easy to hate and fear him, until you get the gentle reminder that he’s no older than 12. But he is wrapped up in the same horror as the rest of them—within him lies the beast within all of humanity, and his power over the others causes it to lash out ravenously.

There is one other boy who deserves mentioning: Simon, the quiet boy younger than Jack, Ralph, and Piggy, serving as a kind of bridge between the “biguns” and the “littluns.” He’s smart—not in the same way as Piggy, who is rational and critical, but in a more creative and reflective way. Simon doesn’t say or do much, but he is the only boy on the island who sees and understands who (or what) the Lord of the Flies really is.

After Jack’s hunting party slays a pig, they victoriously stake the pig’s head on a sharpened stick and post it in the ground. As they leave, Simon is enamored by it and stays behind, staring at the pig’s gory smile and hearing nothing but the cloud of flies attacking the bloody corpse. And then the scene becomes a mirage, or maybe a nightmare, as the pig’s head—the Lord of the Flies—begins to speak to Simon, naming himself the beast the children are all afraid of. The Lord of the Flies is the Devil itself.

Simon is the only boy who realizes that the beast they are all so afraid of is harmless, because it lies within—the only one who learns the message Golding is writing. The Lord of the Flies is a part of all of us, and all it needs is a push to escape the confines of something as simple as society.

In continuing the theme of savagery, I’m following up Lord of the Flies with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I’m surprised that the list features 1984 and Brave New World together, both heavily influential dystopian novels. I look forward to discussing the differences between them.

Until then, enjoy your week. And keep an eye out for your inner Lord of the Flies.

Prof. Jeffrey

Missing From the List: Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books

Good morning class.

The 50-books list has a handful of options marketed for children: i.e.,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series. But I think it’s strange that there isn’t a single entry on the list by Dr. Seuss—a man whose work is synonymous with children’s literature.

Dr. Seuss’ picture books cover a wide range of topics marketed for all ages. In his quirky, made-up-rhymes, overused-exclamation-points way, he tackles environmentalism, prejudice, and politics alongside boredom, bullying, and loneliness, and it’s never dull. So I officially declare that at least one of Dr. Seuss’ works should be one of the 50 books you read before you die.

I’m too weak to claim one is better than the rest, so I chose my top 5!

1. Horton Hears a Who!

Statue of Thodor Seuss Geisel and his “Cat in the Hat” character.

Symbolically, the politics in this story are about involvement vs. isolationism—what happens when those with power intervene to help those without. Written in the 1950’s, this could easily be about WWII or the American-Korean conflict, criticizing Americans who wanted to stay out of international issues. Dr. Seuss rarely shied away from such controversial topics, even when writing for kids.

But even if that was Dr. Seuss’ intention, the messages for kids are more wholesome: all people are equal, even if they don’t have the power to say so; stick to your true beliefs, even if others make fun of you or hurt you for them; and every voice counts in times of trouble, so don’t be afraid to stand with others. This book is inspiring, and an emotional rollercoaster. Of course there’s a happy ending, but that doesn’t make it less stressful when the town of Whoville is moments away from being destroyed toward the end—I get chills reading it every time.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I think it’s a stroke of genius from Dr. Seuss that the Grinch hates Christmas simply for the sake of hating Christmas. He hates the noise and the feasting and the singing—there’s no explanation, just that he hates it from the bottom of his too-small heart. It makes him instantly unlikable and easy to transform by the end.

And by the end, the message is clear—Christmas is more than decorations and gifts. Dr. Seuss doesn’t say what Christmas is beyond that, because that’s enough. Christmas may look flashy and bright, but what it actually is—the love and joy and peace-on-Earth that it stands for—is beyond words. Not many Christmas stories can relay that message well, and this is one of the few.

3. The Lorax

I tend to forget that “The Lorax” has a happy ending, because the death and decay caused by the greedy Once-ler’s business fills up so much of the story, and packs such a powerful punch, that the end just can’t match. Watching the bright and colorful land of the Lorax darken page by page, and seeing the devastating results of a rampaging business, has stuck with me more than the final scene, where the remorseful Once-ler passes a final Truffula seed to a stranger, who may be able to bring the forest back.

The environmental message is painful and foreboding (particularly, the whack of the final tree cut down and the Lorax’s final trace in his land, the word “UNLESS,” are both emotional battering rams). It’s a sad story, even with the happy ending, and most writers wouldn’t dare write such a story targeted at children—though the message probably means more to adults anyway, as they read this story to their children, their eyes forced open to the injustice toward the Earth. Because of this, I think “The Lorax” says more about Dr. Seuss than most of his books.

Author and Illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel

4. The Sneetches

This is one of Dr. Seuss’s underrated masterpieces—I’ve only met a handful of people that recognize it. But I grew up with “The Sneetches,” and it’s themes of prejudice, greed, and classism are with me to this day.

The Sneetches are a divided people, the privileged identified by stars on their bellies, and the rest with no “stars upon thars.” Then along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean with his star-adding machine, which can put stars on the Sneetches bellies and give them the world they could never have—all for three dollars each. But then, all the Sneetches are equal, which doesn’t sit well with the Sneetches born with their stars. So they go through McBean’s star-off machine, upsetting the rest of the Sneetches . . . well, chaos ensues.

The Sneetches learn their lesson, of course—a Sneetch is a Sneetch, star or no. It’s one of those lessons that people are still working on, and the Sneetches are a good model to study.

5. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

In a previous post, I talked about this book as particularly special to me—like all of Dr. Seuss’ books, it has a way of speaking to the soul. It doesn’t have a big story or political message, but it’s full of hope and inspiration. Dr. Seuss tells the reader directly what they will face, both the good and the bad, as they grow up and move out into the wide weird world.

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go” doesn’t shy away from the pain, fear, and loneliness the world can cause (even if it’s in Dr. Seuss’ quirky way, it still means a lot). Coupled with the determination, success, and wonder the reader will meet, the good and the bad balance each other out, and make the message more meaningful. But it scales back at the end—the glamour and glory of all these possible new places boils down to an almost-blank page, leaving it to the reader to imagine what’s next. It’s a very hopeful message.

Even with these 5 favorites, I still feel like I’m missing several of Dr. Seuss’ greatest works—I probably forgot a few. Tell me your favorite Dr. Seuss picture book in the comments!

Next week, I’ll be writing about The Great Gatsby, so be prepared to discuss. It’s probably the easiest and most comfortable literature I’ve ever read, but it’s also one of the most layered and complex stories I’ve ever come across. But more on that next time.

Have a good week!

Prof. Jeffrey

“[Daisy] looked at me absently. ‘Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when she was born . . . It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with and utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. “All right,” I said, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”‘”

—from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Missing From the List: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Hello again, class.

The youngest book on the 50 Books to Read Before You Die list is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in the summer of 2007. By that time the series was 10 years old, and it had already established a lasting impact on the world. The 50-books list, made in 2011, could see that impact and the quality of the novels, so the series was made required reading for everyone.

The Hunger Games Trilogy didn’t get the same advantage—the first installment was published in 2008, and the final installment in 2010, a year before the official list was released. If the list had been made later, I honestly believe this series would have been included. But, as always, let’s talk about why.

The story is popular enough by now, but for those who need the cliff notes: the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is a teenager swept up in the political slaughter of children disguised as an annual “game,” where 24 children are forced into an arena to fight against each other for their lives. The personal aspects of Katniss’s life get swept up, too; as soon as children are chosen for this sentence, they live entirely in the spotlight. From the opening chapters of the first novel, Katniss is being filmed and interviewed, giving the public every moment of the emotional roller coaster she’s experiencing.

That includes the intricate difficulties of the family she’s supporting, as well as the love triangle she so desperately wants no part of. And suddenly, her attitude, fashion sense, love life, and ability to survive become the absurd center of attention of an entire nation of oppressed people. How she reacts to her situation is a part of a larger political game she’s also forced to play, which is even more difficult to survive.

Katniss’s journey is only partially about her survival, and what she sacrifices to have it (her humanity, her future, her family). On that point, it’s a dystopian sci-fi action-thriller—interesting futuristic technology and fight sequences that rival war movies. I’d call it entertaining if it wasn’t so brutal, but we are talking about children fighting for their lives.

Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy

And that’s the problem—the teenagers killing each other is broadcast to the whole corrupt nation as entertainment. The Hunger Games trilogy is a scathing criticism of our society privileging and promoting violence as entertainment, with upfront proof that children always pay the price. The society Katniss lives in has such a skewed perspective that it doesn’t see violence and death for what it is: raw, painful, and terrifying. The same could be said of our world, with action movies and violent news stories filling up every void in our daily lives.

The series does have a lot in common with 1984—another reason it might not have made the list, being too similar to an already featured classic. But the fact that The Hunger Games is the teen-fiction version of a great sci-fi classic means it’s even more worthy of being on the list; it’s such a layered and accessible view of societal dangers that it should be required reading for everyone.

It’s especially worth mentioning that The Hunger Games has a strong female lead in an action-based book series. Even at the time of the first book’s release (and even today) that can be hard to find. I definitely believe our society privileges men in stories like this, and it’s good to see a figure like Katniss Everdeen flaunt our societal expectations. But Katniss isn’t a through-and-through warrior either—she’s a teenager with a very messed up life, making mistakes and not knowing who to trust in a world of liars and politicians. Many current novels still fail to treat female characters as well as this, so author Suzanne Collins deserves props.

As I continue to read Jane Eyre, treatment of female characters is on the front of my mind. I’m really impressed with Jane as a character so far—but I’ll update you next week, students.

Enjoy your week!

Prof. Jeffrey

“Children can feel, but they cannot analyse their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to to express the result of the process in words.”

—from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Missing From The List: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Happy holidays, class!

As I’ve said before, our class textbook is flawed. There’s certainly more than just 50 books to read before you die—what about the books that didn’t make the cut? Not to worry…Prof. Jeffrey to the rescue.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of those books. I can guess a couple of reasons why it didn’t make the list: it can come off as disjointed or unstructured, and it isn’t as strong as other fairy tale narratives, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (I do keep coming back to that one, don’t I?). Nonetheless, it’s worth reading.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

In many ways, the novel has been surpassed by The Wizard of Oz (1939), considered one of the greatest films of all time. From there, the story has spawned many revisionist versions, such as Gregory MaGuire’s The Wicked Years series or the use of the characters on TV shows like NBC’s upcoming show Emerald City or ABC’s Once Upon a Time. The movie musical has also inspired musical adaptations such as The Wiz and Wicked. The cultural impact may be more important than the original story.

Even so, L. Frank Baum’s novel on its own has made milestones. It’s essentially the first “American” fairy tale—a children’s story built on the backbone of late 19th century American culture. References to the farming population of the Midwest, the Industrial Revolution, the glamour of urban life, and the overwhelming sense of social, economic, and political influences are seen through the eyes of Dorothy Gale, an innocent girl in the middle of it all. It isn’t a stretch to call Oz the American Wonderland—just as amazing to behold, and just as terrifying in the eyes of a child.

Wicked (1995), novel by Gregory MaGuire

It’s enough of a remarkable story to keep returning to, over and over again. Remakes, revisions, rewrites…everyone has an image of Oz they prefer, and it’s diverse enough to withstand new adaptations. Talking animals, wicked witches, wonder and adventure and terror—it’s got everything a good fairy tale needs. Even if you’ve seen the movie and you know the story, the original is worth the read.

Your homework: what other books belong on the list? What books do you think people should read before they die? Put it in the comments!

I’ll be finishing Life of Pi next. See you next week.

Prof. Jeffrey

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