Matt's Favorite Books

#1. War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace

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Tolstoy's epic, set during Napoleon's invasion of Russia, captures the full-range of humanity like no other book I have ever read. It serves a book's two main purposes: (1) it is fun to read and (2) one learns a lot about life by reading it. Don't let its massive size deter you- it's well worth the time.

Epic historical novel by Leo Tolstoy, originally published as Voyna i mir in 1865-69. This panoramic study of early 19th-century Russian society, noted for its mastery of realistic detail and variety of psychological analysis, is generally regarded as one of the world's greatest novels. War and Peace is primarily concerned with the histories of five aristocratic families--particularly the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Rostovs--the members of which are portrayed against a vivid background of Russian social life during the war against Napoleon (1805-14). The theme of war, however, is subordinate to the story of family existence, which involves Tolstoy's optimistic belief in the life-asserting pattern of human existence. The heroine, Natasha Rostova, for example, reaches her greatest fulfillment through her marriage to Pierre Bezukhov and her motherhood. The novel also sets forth a theory of history, concluding that there is a minimum of free choice; all is ruled by an inexorable historical determinism.
-The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

#2. Slaughterhouse-Five : Or the Children's Crusade
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers. A great storyteller who uses wry wit and extraordinary situations to make some serious statements about our lives.

Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
-Book's Description

#3. The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R Tolkien
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

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An amazingly rich adventure... you are immersed completely in another world, alongside hobbits, elves, ogres, wizards, and more. Fun yet deep. Check out this edition- it contains all three books in one tome and is illustrated by 50 great watercolor paintings by Alan Lee. It's a great deal at Amazon, too.

A Christian can almost be forgiven for not reading the Bible, but there's no salvation for a fantasy fan who hasn't read the gospel of the genre, J.R.R. Tolkien's definitive three-book epic, the Lord of the Rings (encompassing The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), and its charming precursor, The Hobbit. That many (if not most) fantasy works are in some way derivative of Tolkien is understood, but the influence of the Lord of the Rings is so universal that everybody from George Lucas to Led Zeppelin has appropriated it for one purpose or another. Not just revolutionary because it was groundbreaking, the Lord of the Rings is timeless because it's the product of a truly top-shelf mind. Tolkien was a distinguished linguist and Oxford scholar of dead languages, with strong ideas about the importance of myth and story and a deep appreciation of nature. His epic, 10 years in the making, recounts the Great War of the Ring and the closing of Middle-Earth's Third Age, a time when magic begins to fade from the world and men rise to dominance. Tolkien carefully details this transition with tremendous skill and love, creating in the Lord of the Rings a universal and all-embracing tale, a justly celebrated classic.
-Amazon Editorial

#4. Poetry of T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot
Poems by T.S. Eliot

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My favorite poet. This collection contains some amazing poems, such as "The Wasteland," "The Hollow Men," and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The following is a quote from "Prufrock":

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

If you like this passage, you should get this book.

#5. Cannery Row
John Steinbeck
Steinbeck, Cannery Row

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Novel by John Steinbeck, published in 1945. Like most of Steinbeck's postwar work, Cannery Row is sentimental in tone while retaining the author's characteristic social criticism. Peopled by stereotypical good-natured bums and warm-hearted prostitutes living on the fringes of Monterey, Calif., the picaresque novel celebrates lowlifes who are poor but happy.
-The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
#6. The Loved and the Unloved
Thomas Hal Phillips
The Loved and the Unloved by Thomas Hal Phillips

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A great coming of age story about a sharecropper's son in the South. Sadly, time so far has unjustly passed it by... hopefully new readers will discover its simple greatness.
#7. For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway
For Who the Bell Tolls

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My favorite Hemingway book. The two main characters tragically try to define themselves and their love against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

For Whom the Bell Tolls combines two of the author's recurring obsessions: war and personal honor. The pivotal battle scene involving El Sordo's last stand is a showcase for Hemingway's narrative powers, but the quieter, ongoing conflict within Robert Jordan as he struggles to fulfill his mission perhaps at the cost of his own life is a testament to his creator's psychological acuity. By turns brutal and compassionate, it is arguably Hemingway's most mature work and one of the best war novels of the 20th century.
-Amazon Editorial

#8. Animal Farm
George Orwell
Orwell's Animal Farm

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Great allegory about how the original Marxist ideas became twisted into Soviet Communism. Check out this great illustrated edition.
#9. The Winds of War
Herman Wouk
Wouk's Winds of War

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A favorite novel in my family for many years. It is the story of a Navy family who experiences every aspect of the impending Second World War. Historical fiction at its best.
#10. To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Harper Lee

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That rare literary phenomenon, a Southern novel with no mildew on its magnolia leaves. Funny, happy and written with unspectacular precision, To Kill a Mockingbird is about conscience - how it is instilled in two children, Scout and Jem Finch; how it operates in their father, Atticus, a lawyer appointed to defend a Negro on a rape charge; and how conscience grows in their small Alabama town.
#11 The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S. Lewis

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Narnia is the land of enchantment, glory, nobility--home to the magnificent Aslan, cruel Jadis (the White Queen), heroic Reepicheep, and kind Mr. Tumnus. All the magic of C.S. Lewis's Narnia, bewitching readers for almost 50 years, is captured for the first time in this splendid deluxe edition, including The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle, with fabulous illustrations hand-colored by the original Narnia artist Pauline Baynes and an insightful introduction by Narnia authority Brian Sibley. Lewis's work has cast a spell over countless readers over the years, so that once we pick up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we don't want to stop until we've read the whole series. The Complete Chronicles makes it even easier to keep reading! The seven beloved stories have been arranged in the chronological order in which Lewis intended them to be read. Begin at the beginning, as Digory and Polly are tricked into a strange other world, which becomes, even as they watch, the great Narnia. Return again and again with four other children--Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy--who are to play such a vital role in Narnia's history. Finally, enter the whimsical land one last time to witness the end of Time, and the beginning of something new: "world within world, Narnia within Narnia." This gorgeous volume is absolutely a must-have for current and future Narnia lovers. (All ages)
-Amazon Editorial
#12 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
Huck Finn

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'All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,' Ernest Hemingway wrote. 'It's the best book we've had.' A complex masterpiece that has spawned volumes of scholarly exegesis and interpretative theories, it is at heart a compelling adventure story. Huck, in flight from his murderous father, and Nigger Jim, in flight from slavery, pilot their raft thrillingly through treacherous waters, surviving a crash with a steamboat, betrayal by rogues, and the final threat from the bourgeoisie. Informing all this is the presence of the River, described in palpable detail by Mark Twain, the former steamboat pilot, who transforms it into a richly metaphoric entity. Twain's other great innovation was the language of the book itself, which is expressive in a completely original way. 'The invention of this language, with all its implications, gave a new dimension to our literature,' Robert Penn Warren noted. 'It is a language capable of poetry.'
-Book's Description
#13 A Princess of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Princess of Mars, John Carter of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
A purely fun book. When I'm up for an easy read adventure, I turn to the John Carter of Mars series.

Although Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) is justifiably famous as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes, that uprooted Englishman was not his only popular hero. Burroughs's first sale (in 1912) was A Princess of Mars, opening the floodgates to one of the must successful--and prolific--literary careers in history. This is a wonderful scientific romance that perhaps can be best described as early science fiction melded with an epic dose of romantic adventure. A Princess of Mars is the first adventure of John Carter, a Civil War veteran who unexpectedly find himself transplanted to the planet Mars. Yet this red planet is far more than a dusty, barren place; it's a fantasy world populated with giant green barbarians, beautiful maidens in distress, and weird flora and monstrous fauna the likes of which could only exist in the author's boundless imagination. Sheer escapism of the tallest order, the Martian novels are perfect entertainment for those who find Tarzan's fantastic adventures aren't, well, fantastic enough. Although this novel can stand alone, there are a total of 11 volumes in this classic series of otherworldly, swashbuckling adventure.
-Amazon Editorial

#14 Collected Fictions
Jorge Luis Borges
Having lived and studied in Buenos Aires, I can tell you that not only is Borges Argentina's favorite writer, he is also the heart of their rich literary culture. His short stories are labyrinths into his vast imagination. If you can read Spanish, I recommend holding out and finding a copy in Spanish.

To discover the fictions at midcentury was stunning. There was no one like Borges. Everything else, for a short time, seemed predictable and beside the point.
-The New York Times Book Review

#15 Look Homeward, Angel : A Story of the Buried Life
Thomas Wolfe
Wolfe's look homeward, angel
I am a big fan of Wolfe's writing style- in stark contrast to the tersity of Hemingway, he writes long, sweeping sentences... this book is more a great prose poem than a novel. I'm also a big fan of the well-told coming of age story.

Look Homeward, Angel is an elaborate and moving coming-of-age story about Eugene Gant, a restless and energetic character whose passion to experience life takes him from his small, rural hometown in North Carolina to Harvard University and the city of Boston. The novel's pattern is artfully simple -- a small town, a large family, high school and college -- yet the characters are monumental in their graphic individuality and personality. Through his rich, ornate prose, Wolfe evokes the extraordinarily vivid family of the Gants, and with equal detail, the remarkable peculiarities of small-town life and the pain and upheaval of a boy who must leave both. A classic work of American literature, Look Homeward, Angel is a passionate, stirring, and unforgettable novel.
-Amazon Editorial

#16 All the King's Men
Robert Penn Warren
Robert Penn Warren
This landmark book is a loosely fictionalized account of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, one of the nation's most astounding politicians. All the King's Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a southern-fried politician who builds support by appealing to the common man and playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. Though Stark quickly sheds his idealism, his right-hand man, Jack Burden -- who narrates the story -- retains it and proves to be a thorn in the new governor's side. Stark becomes a successful leader, but at a very high price, one that eventually costs him his life. The award-winning book is a play of politics, society and personal affairs, all wrapped in the cloak of history.
-Amazon Editorial
#17 The Little Prince
Antoine De Saint-Exupery
El Principito
The Little Prince is a little novel that reflects with the tenderness of childhood the simple things that grownups so often forget; reading this book reminds us of the child within.
#18 The Dark Tower Series
Stephen King
Stephen King's Dark Tower Series
Stephen Kings receives far too little credit as a serious writer. People often confuse him as simploy a popular horror writer. The truth is, King not only has one of our best imaginations, but he is also one of our best writers. Anyone who has read The Shawshank Redemption or The Body (also known as Stand by Me) can attest to this. In my opinion, his greatest literary and storytelling accomplishment is his Dark Tower series.

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.
While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, The Last Gunslinger, is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America. Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.
In this fantastical third book in the series, Stephen King once again takes readers on a journey of incomparable imagination. Roland, the Last Gunslinger, is moving ever closer to the Dark Tower, which haunts his dreams and nightmares. As he and his friends cross a desert of damnation in their macabre new world, revelations begin to unfold about who - and what - is driving him forward. A blend of riveting action and powerful drama, The Waste Lands leaves readers breathlessly awaiting the next chapter.
Stephen King returns to the Dark Tower with the fourth volume in his series. Roland, The Last Gunslinger, and his band of followers have narrowly escaped one world, and slipped into the next. It is here that Roland tells them a long-ago tale of love and adventure involving a beautiful and quixotic woman named Susan Delgado.
-Barnes and Noble

#19 A Mauriac Reader
Fracois Mauriac
Francois Mauriac, Knot of Vipers, other novels
The Knot of Vipers [one of several novels included in this edition] is an intriguing story that examines the contours of the heart and the limits between good and evil. The plot involves an old miser and his squabbling family. An excellent novel.
#20 On the Road
Jack Kerouac
Kerouac's On the Road
On the Road is truly an influential work. Overnight, it propelled Jack Kerouac from unknown status to "king of the beats" and then helped awaken a nation of youth who shook America out of the 1950s and ushered in the excitement of the 1960s. The novel continues to inspire and has picked up a new generation of followers in the 1980s and 1990s. On the Road follows Sal Paradise as he traverses the American continent in search of new people, ideas, and adventures. But it's the way Sal and his friends--primarily Dean Moriarty--look at the world with a mixture of sad-eyed naivete and wild-eyed abandon that causes the rumbling in the soul of so many who read it.
-Amazon Editorial
#21 Watership Down
Richard Adams
Watership Down
Watership Down has been a staple of high-school English classes for years. Despite the fact that it's often a hard sell at first (what teenager wouldn't cringe at the thought of 400-plus pages of talking rabbits?), Richard Adams's bunny-centric epic rarely fails to win the love and respect of anyone who reads it, regardless of age. Like most great novels, Watership Down is a rich story that can be read (and reread) on many different levels. The book is often praised as an allegory, with its analogs between human and rabbit culture (a fact sometimes used to goad skeptical teens, who resent the challenge that they won't "get" it, into reading it), but it's equally praiseworthy as just a corking good adventure. The story follows a warren of Berkshire rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home by a land developer. As they search for a safe haven, skirting danger at every turn, we become acquainted with the band and its compelling culture and mythos. Adams has crafted a touching, involving world in the dirt and scrub of the English countryside, complete with its own folk history and language (the book comes with a "lapine" glossary, a guide to rabbitese). As much about freedom, ethics, and human nature as it is about a bunch of bunnies looking for a warm hidey-hole and some mates, Watership Down will continue to make the transition from classroom desk to bedside table for many generations to come.
-Amazon Editorial
#22 The Once and Future King
T.H. White
Sword and the Stone, Queen of Air and Darkness, Ill-Made Knight, Candle in the Wind
Quartet of novels by T.H. White, published in a single volume in 1958. The quartet comprises The Sword in the Stone (1938), The Queen of Air and Darkness--first published as The Witch in the Wood (1939)--The Ill-Made Knight (1940), and The Candle in the Wind (published in the composite volume, 1958). The series is a retelling of the Arthurian legend, from Arthur's birth to the end of his reign, and is based largely on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur.
-The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
#23 Second World War
Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill's Second World War
The 6 volume history, told by the man who lived and shaped so much of it. Nobel prize-winning author ("for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values")
#24. The Best and the Brightest
David Halberstrom
Halberstrom, Vietnam
David Halberstam’s masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy, with a new Foreword by Senator John McCain. Using portraits of America’s flawed policy makers and accounts of the forces that drove them, The Best and the Brightest reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country’s recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam, and why did we lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It is an American classic.
-Amazon Editorial
#25. The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger
Salinger, J.D.
Ever since it was first published in 1951, this novel has been the coming-of-age story against which all others are judged. Read and cherished by generations, the story of Holden Caulfield is truly one of America's literary treasures.
-Book's Description
#26 Catch-22
Joseph Heller
There was a time when reading Joseph Heller's classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it's impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel's undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller's characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.
-Amazon Editorial