My top ten novels (links go to descriptions further on the page):
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller.
- The Castle, Franz Kafka.
- Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig.
- Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson.
- East of Eden, John Steinbeck.
- Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut.
- The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
I can’t remember when I first read this, but I remember thinking that this was Monty Python, if Monty Python wrote science fiction. Agelessly funny, it is one of the few books that I re-read. In fact, this five-part trilogy has inspired me to christen many servers named after characters in places in this book. There is even an interactive fiction game based off this book, which is infamous for one of the most difficult puzzles in all of video games.
If any book could summarize my military experience, it’s Catch-22. I’ve dealt with Major Majors and Milo Mindbenders. Heller is so spot on with this book. The daily routine can be very paradoxical. In fact, I think I know some people who tell the front office that they will only see visitors when they are not in. I can see a bit of myself in each of the characters, so I’m not sure which one I more closely identify with, but I really did like Milo’s syndicate. Lets just say before the ban on cigarettes, a non-smoker with smokes was popular…
Admittedly, I did not finish this unfinished book. I lived K.’s painful story through my recall to Afghanistan. In the book, the protagonist, K., is sent to a town as a land surveyor, however the town does not need a land surveyor. It turns out, department A sent the request, but it was never approved by department B. Sigh. “Remove the document – and you remove the man.” -Bulgakov Subsequently, Kafka is one of my favorite authors and one of the few authors who I can (attempt to) read in the original German.
I don’t agree with everything in this book, but it was interesting and controversial. We’ll just leave it at that.
Hemingway has some of the clearest prose. When Pablo retold the massacre scene in the church, I felt that I was at the campfire listening to the story. It is one of the more powerful passages that I have read. I wasn’t a huge The Sun Also Rises fan, but do like his short stories. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber is one of my favorites.
This Chautauqua of a philosophical novel really piqued my interest in philosophical fiction. I like Pirsig’s breakdown of romantic and mechanical approaches. Also, he presents one of my favorite education experiments in this book. I think this is one of the reasons why I like creating software; software can be appreciated both for its elegance and for its functions. The best software is usually a mixture of both.
Neal Stephenson is my favorite living author. If he wasn’t living I don’t think I would like him less, but it’s nice to read material from an author with which one has the possibilities of interacting, even if he is a self-described recluse. Snow Crash really spurred me further into computers and the cyberpunk genre. Had it not have been for Snow Crash, I would never have read Cryptonomicon, which really inspired me to work with cryptography.
Despite this book being on Oprah’s list, I appreciate Steinbeck for creating such evil characters. More so than any other author, Steinbeck creates such evil and pits it against the most innocent and pure. This Cain and Abel tale truly has one of the most manipulative and conniving villains of all time. His other works like The Pearl and Of Mice and Men also have a great, disturbing evil in them. (I really liked Ben from LOST for this reason…)
Vonnegut is like a more satirical and dark Joseph Heller. His books are very odd but they contain very sharp-witted observations and social commentary. He is especially critical of military applications, and after what he lived through, I can see why. When I read several accounts of John von Neumann, who told Richard Fenymann that “you don’t have to be responsible for the world you’re in,” I just though of Vonnegut’s ICE NINE in Cat’s Cradle. I really need to read his biography…
Slaughterhouse 5 finally made me read this book since a character there mentioned that The Brothers K contains “everything there was to know about life.” This is one of the most difficult books that I’ve ever read, and I can’t say that I understood it all. Apparently in Russian, its common to refer to a person by nothing less than five different ways, which makes understanding whose talking to whom quite a task. However, if for one chapter alone this books is worth reading: “The Grand Inquisitor.”