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The Amazing List of Truly Stunning Literature

Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men



The Good Earth

The Hitchhiker's Guide

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead


Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck may be best known for The Grapes of Wrath, although his shorter works are actually much more entertaining, and I think better-written, reads. Cannery Row is one of my favorites, with Of Mice and Men right next to it. Cannery Row takes place in California, and involves several of Steinbeck's wonderfully developed, very real characters. Like all of Steinbeck's work, there are no heroes here, nor are there any everymen involved. Each character is simple, yet highly unique. The most memorable, in my opinion, is the Chinaman with the floppy shoes, who has seen the world in his dark eyes. Of Mice and Men is the classic and better-known story of George and Lenny, a tragic work of loyalty and friendship. The simpleton, despite his nature, is perhaps more perceptive than his caretaker, which makes the ending all the more difficult to accept. If you can't read it all in one sitting, it's best to use a playing card--preferably a queen--as a bookmark.

Catch-22: Combine Seinfeld, M*A*S*H*, Apocalypse Now, and Looney Tunes. Set this odd conglomeration in World War II Europe, Italy to be more specific, and take note of the oxymoronic nature of the phrase "military intelligence.". In doing so, you will have captured the essence of Joseph Heller's masterpiece, Catch-22. This book explains everything you could possibly want to know about the way things really work, despite its fictional nature. From the daily operations of a military hospital (and how to get there!), to the best argument for and against capitalism I've ever seen (yes, that's argument, singular, not arguments, plural), to how to conduct yourself in an Italian whorehouse (blood, money and sex! What more does a good book need, right? Blood, money and sex!), Catch-22 is a valuable companion to life. Think of the lessons you can learn! Chestnuts give you apple cheeks. Cotton doesn't taste good, even with chocolate. If you're naked, they have nowhere to pin your medal. Finally, and most importantly, They're all trying to kill you.

Dune: Paul Muad'dib is the Kwisatz Haderach. If you don't know what on earth that means, you need to read Dune, Frank Herbert's masterpiece. This socio-political tour de force is the definition of superb writing. Social commentary runs from greed to fanaticism to family. Read the book before you watch the movie. If that isn't possible, heal your scars. The book is a balm to the movie's rash (not that the movie is absolutely terrible, but compared to the book...). Herbert is a genius, and may the Spice flow.

The Good Earth: Perhaps the best known work by Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth is the story of a farmer's struggle through life. Beginning with the birth of the main character, its melancholy path takes us through joys and sorrows until its end, when the main character is old and near death. There are few books that will leave a reader with such a profound familiarity with a character as I have with Buck's Wang Lung. Although Buck's simple writing style seems rather boring at first, The Good Earth quickly becomes an involving, enjoyable read. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: All that can really be said is: 42. What does that mean, you ask? Well, that's a very good question, actually...Douglas Adams' series is even funnier than Catch-22. It is ostensibly science fiction, but is actually very difficult to classify. The Earth is destroyed within the first few pages, but it's not a post-apocalyptic story...there are manic characters, and depressive characters, and characters that are flowerpots that are falling from great heights (again!), but it is not a self-help book...It involves an accident involving a contraceptive and a time machine, but is not a sex manual...overall, it's just plain comedy, with a slightly comic twist. Guaranteed to leave you rolling about in the mud, or wherever you prefer to do your reading. And don't forget your towel!

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and prequel): In order: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again; The Fellowship of the Ring; The Two Towers; The Return of the King. This set of four books is hailed by many as the definition of epic fantasy, and with good reason. I personally feel that there are few series as consistently well-done, especially in the contemporary world. J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth is simply the most detailed world created for a work of fantasy; if one truly wanted to read the entire series, it would be necessary to read many other books in addition to the famous quartet. Most notable of those other works is The Silmarillion, which is a brief history of Middle-Earth before the world Bilbo knows. This series is magical, thoroughly involving, and no less than marvelous. (Purists may note that there are actually six books in the trilogy, and that the trilogy was only printed as such for distribution's sake, but I prefer to be more simple than that, since it's difficult to find a set bound the way Tolkein may have intended.)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Perhaps one of Tom Stoppard's most famous works, R&G are Dead is a brilliant comedy about what is not real, and what might be real. Honestly, there is little reality involved. The main characters are the two unknown, undeveloped friends of the prince from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Here, they are presented as inseparable, just as they were in Hamlet, and remain almost as undeveloped; all things are, and have been, and shall be, so it follows that all things remain in a constant state of non-development. Stagnation, however, was never so hilarious. To sum up: "it's this, is it? No enigma, no dignity, nothing classical, portentous, only this--a comic pornographer and a rabble of prostitutes..." Poor Alfred. 

Siddhartha: Written by Nobel Prize-winner Herman Hesse, this is the tale of a man's journey through life, and his search for spirituality. I think the beauty of it is the simplistic nature of its writing; the language truly brings the sense of India and that country's culture out, allowing a reader to actually become part of the book. A spiritual work, Siddhartha combines both Eastern and Western philosophies into a seamless piece. The Lesson of the River is perhaps an important one to learn, and, I think, makes the book worthwhile. Brings out the Brahmin in all of us.


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Copyright 2000, 2001 Adam Rutledge