The Top Ten Project Rhonda Seamons The Top Top Ten List from the Book at Barnes & Noble
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert 3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare 7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust 9. The stories of Anton Chekhov 10. Middlemarch by George Eliot The Task Please provide us with a list, ranked, in order, of what you consider to be the ten greatest books you have read. Please don’t include the scriptures (we all love them). Other than that, there are no limits. You can choose fiction or non-fiction, any work, any writer, and any time period. “Top Ten” is terribly vague: do you mean top ten most influential or most life-changing or most interesting or best written or most entertaining or most irritating or most provocative or...? Well, obviously you are aware of this but intentionally left it vague in order not to give the list any particular bias. So, here’s my top ten list, based on... well, what first popped into my head, then ranked in order of...ummm, I have no idea. Mostly, they’re books that have engaged, troubled, challenged, or changed me in valuable ways both because they are beautifully written and because they profoundly affected my mind and heart.
This was like trying to pick which child is a favorite. In making my selection, I was surprised to notice a common theme for nearly all of the books. Almost without exception, the main character was a rather ordinary person, often a child or a woman, who found within her/himself surprising goodness, courage and strength to overcome difficult circumstances. I find that very encouraging, even inspiring. I feel a little guilty about this list. All of the authors on my list are American (how ethnocentric!). All of them are men (how sexist!). And five of them are still alive (how shallow and contemporary!). Mea culpa – mea maxima culpa. De gustibus disputandum non est.
(There’s no disputing tastes.)
The Top Top Ten List from the 2007 BYU-Idaho Faculty Survey
1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl 2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien 3. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo 4. Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage 5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 7. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom 8. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis 9. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis 10. King Lear by William Shakespeare Then came the . . . EDUCATION WEEK INVITATION! The Task Please provide us with a list, ranked, in order, of what you consider to be the ten greatest books you have read. Please don’t include the scriptures (we all love them). Other than that, there are no limits. You can choose fiction or non-fiction, any work, any writer, and any time period. Do you know how many times I have used your list? I love adding books to my Amazon “wish list” as I check out the unusual ones that people have read. So glad you are updating it. Thanks for doing this again. I look forward to seeing a new list. My list is different today than it was all those years ago, but not much due to the passage of time. The main reason is that any top ten list I come up with is an arbitrary list of 10 of my many favorite books—probably the ones that happen to sound most appealing to me based on my present mood. Tomorrow I'd probably send a different list. But I do really, really love these books; even if they aren't always my top 10, they are definitely top 50. This was a painful undertaking. I feel like I have betrayed or slaughtered some of my darlings that have not made the list. But, seeing as the list has now been stable for two whole days, I feel that I need to send it in now before I change my mind yet again. So, with apologies to Augustine, Austen, Thoreau, and Kafka, here is my top ten (for the next few hours at least). The Top Top Ten List from the 2013 BYU-Idaho Faculty Survey
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien 3. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen 4. Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage 5. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl 6. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom 7. Paradise Lost, by John Milton 8. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien 9. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville 10. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky Then I started wondering what the data would look like if I combined the studies. I kept the “latest” data for people who participated both times, and here is the result . . . The Top Top Ten List from the Combined 2007 & 2013 Surveys
1. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien 2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 3. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl 4. Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo 5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen 6. Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage 7. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom 8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain 9. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis 10. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne 10. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prynne is a sinner in the hands of seventeenth-century Puritans. Forced to wear the letter “A” for adultery, she is publicly disgraced and shunned. Despite her condemnation, Hester refuses to reveal the identity of her lover. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, returns unexpectedly and seeks revenge. Chillingworth is a torment to the guilt-stricken minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, as is Pearl, the child born of Hester and Dimmesdale’s adultery. Ultimately, it is the fallen lovers, not the Puritans, who come to understand the nature of sin and redemption. (The Top Ten) 9. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was a rare individual. One of the few non-clerics to be recognized as a theologian by the Anglican church, he put forth the case for Christianity in general in ways that many Christians beyond the Anglican world can accept, and a clear description for non-Christians of what Christian faith and practice should be. Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks, published as three separate books: The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. Lewis’ style is witty and engaging, the kind of writing that indeed lives to be read aloud. (Amazon) 8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Hemingway proclaimed, “All modern American literature comes from . . . ‘Huckleberry Finn.’” But one can read it simply as a straightforward adventure story in which two comrades of convenience, the parentally abused rascal Huck and fugitive slave Jim, escape the laws and conventions of society on a raft trip down the Mississippi. Alternatively, it’s a subversive satire in which Twain uses the only superficially naïve Huck to comment bitingly on the evils of racial bigotry, religious hypocrisy, and capitalist greed he observes in a host of other largely unsympathetic characters. Huck’s climactic decision to “light out for the Territory ahead of the rest” rather than submit to the starched standards of “civilization” reflects a uniquely American strain of individualism and nonconformity stretching from Daniel Boone to Easy Rider. (The Top Ten) 7. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
The Hiding Place proves that the light of God's love can penetrate even the darkest recesses of despair, places like the Nazi extermination camp at Ravensbruck. After protecting Dutch Jews in a secret room in their home, Corrie ten Boom, her sister and father were discovered, arrested, and imprisoned. Only Corrie survived, but her faith in God remained strong-so strong that, after the war, she could forgive a former camp guard in a face-to-face meeting. More than just a spellbinding adventure, The Hiding Place is a life-changing story. (Amazon) 6. Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage
The author has departed from the course usually followed by writers on the Life of Jesus Christ, which course, as a rule, begins with the birth of Mary’s Babe and ends with the ascension of the slain and risen Lord from Olivet. The treatment embodied in these pages, in addition to the narrative of the Lord’s life in the flesh comprises the antemortal existence and activities of the world’s Redeemer, the revelations and personal manifestations of the glorified and exalted Son of God during the apostolic period of old and in modern times, the assured nearness of the Lord’s second advent, and predicted events beyond—all so far as the Holy Scriptures make plain. (Jesus the Christ) 5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” reads this novel’s famous opening line. This matching of wife to single man—or good fortune—makes up the plot of perhaps the happiest, smartest romance ever written. Austen’s genius was to make Elizabeth Bennet a reluctant, sometimes crabby equal to her Mr. Darcy, making Pride and Prejudice as much a battle of wits as it is a love story. (The Top Ten) 4. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Twenty years in the writing, this masterpiece of melodrama sweeps across unspeakable poverty, assumed identities, the sewers of Paris, and the battle of Waterloo while also making time for love, politics, architecture, history, and Hugo’s burning invective against social inequities. The novel’s central struggle—between good-hearted prison escapee Jean Valjean and the indefatigable, by-the-book detective Javert—is about the need to temper the law with mercy and redemption, qualities often sorely lacking in Hugo’s time. (The Top Ten)
3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. (Amazon) 2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Tomboy Scout and her brother Jem are the children of the profoundly decent widower Atticus Finch, a small-town Alabama lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Although Tom Robinson’s trial is the centerpiece of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—raising profound questions of race and conscience—this is, at heart, a tale about the fears and mysteries of growing up, as the children learn about bravery, empathy, and societal expectations through a series of evocative set pieces that conjure the Depression-era South. (The Top Ten)
1. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
An Oxford medievalist, Tolkien drew on his vast knowledge of mythology, theology, and linguistics to imagine this epic trilogy. The books chronicle the hobbit Frodo’s attempt to destroy the magical ring of Sauron, Lord of Darkness. The Fellowship of the Ring introduces the men, dwarves, and elves summoned by the wizard Gandalf to protect Frodo. In The Two Towers Frodo and his companion Sam continue their quest toward Mount Doom, while the rest of the fellowship are brought into the battle detailed in The Return of the King. (The Top Ten) Favorite Authors • C. S. Lewis (25) • J. R. R. Tolkien (24) • Harper Lee (21) • Charles Dickens (20) • Jane Austen (19) • Victor Hugo (18) • Viktor Frankl (17) • William Shakespeare (16) • Corrie ten Boom (13) • James E. Talmage (13) • John Steinbeck (12) • Mark Twain (12)
Authors with Most Works Cited • C. S. Lewis (8) • Tom Clancy (7) • Louis L’Amour (7) • Stephen R. Covey (6) • Charles Dickens (6) • William Shakespeare (6) • Og Mandino (5) • James A. Michener (5) • John Steinbeck (5) • J. R. R. Tolkien (5)
Women’s Top Ten 1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 2. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl 3. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen 4. Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo 5. The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom 6. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte 7. Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage 8. Beloved, by Toni Morrison 9. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck 10. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Men’s Top Ten 1. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo 2. Paradise Lost, by John Milton 3. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain 4. Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage 5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 6. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl 7. King Lear, by William Shakespeare 8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig 9. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville 10. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Each time I read your introduction about the prophet and the moving of the 675 volumes, I smile. How could I ever leave any of my books behind? My Kindle will hold 3500 books, but somehow it’s not quite the same as the feel of the book in my hands. Will the next generation value these hundreds of books that I have in my library? Will anyone fight over them when I am gone?