The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien

The epic of all epics

What can be said about The Lord of the Rings (LotR) that hasn’t already been said? It is at or near the top of almost all “best novels” lists, including the top 100 reading list that can be found in this blog. It has apparently sold over 150 million copies and been translated into 56 languages. Lord of the Rings is considered in the high-fantasy epic genre/style but has appealed to many who don’t usually read fantasy novels.

If you haven’t read the book(s), then it’s likely you’ve seen the movie adaptations – or at least are familiar with the topics and themes due to its prevalence in pop culture. Because of that, I won’t go into much detail about such things. Even if I wanted to, it would be really difficult to try and fit a short and sweet summary into a single paragraph or two, especially since this novel clocks in at over 1100 pages in total (!) and is usually broken up into three volumes. This novel is probably the best illustration of the “hero’s journey” type of story that I’ve encountered.


I had put off reading this book until just recently due to the sheer length of it. I’m glad I finally decided to check it out. I highly recommend it, but feel that I need to make a disclaimer. There are times in the course of the story where it feels a little bogged down in the details and can be hard to follow along with all the various names and places (especially since characters and places often have multiple names that are used interchangeably). This might frustrate some readers to the point that they can’t fully enjoy the story.

Here’s a link to the Wiki article on the book. You can learn more about Tolkien (and find ways to connect with fans across the globe) on the Tolkien Society website.


Animal Farm – George Orwell

animal farm george orwell book cover

A novel of political satire depicting the Soviet Union under Stalin

Animal Farm, by George Orwell, is parody or allegorical telling of the Russian Revolution and aftermath, in a fairy tale style setting. It is a very popular book that is often included in many “best novels” lists, including the list I posted previously – the top 100 reading list – which you can find here. It was written during the latter part of World War II but the author originally had difficulty finding a publisher as the USSR was an ally of England at that time. The book became very popular after the war, especially as the Cold War began to intensify.

Here’s a good description of the author’s background and purpose of the book, from Wikipedia:

According to Orwell, the fable reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin (“un conte satirique contre Staline”), and in his essay “Why I Write” (1946), wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”.

Wikipedia Animal Farm entry –


Inequality – The farm animals suffered greatly under the mismanagement of Mr Jones, the original owner of the farm and land. The lack of care provided and abuse from Mr Jones is what leads to the initial revolt by the animals. In the early part of the rebellion, animal equality is enshrined as part of the 7 commandments.

Corruption of power – The pigs become the early leaders and organizers of the rebellion and during the transition to animal takeover of the farm. But slowly one particular pig begins to exert more and more influence and begins to use his power to banish and kill any animal who would question him. This new ruling party begins to violate almost all of the 7 commandments and to make revisions so as to justify their behavior.

Influence of propaganda – One pig in particular, Squealer, is the main instrument of propaganda. He is the one who changes the commandments and gives the official orders to stop singing the song of rebellion, alter the history of the rebellion, and spread rumors to make Snowball the enemy and Napoleon the true hero.

Hypocrisy of the Soviet Union – If you are able to get a version that contains the preface and appendix that Orwell wrote to go with this book, you’ll see his reasons for why he portrayed Stalin and the USSR in such unflattering terms. At the initial time of writing, very few were willing to acknowledge the gigantic hypocrisy happening under Stalin and how the initial Russian Revolution, which was supposed to help the peasants, had instead turned into a corruption of power and a ruling party that stood against many of the things that the Revolution fought against.


This is an interesting book and an easy read. As an allegory, it is a warning of how quickly power can corrupt and the horrible things that can happen under totalitarian rule. In that way, this novel is similar in warning to Orwell’s later book, 1984. Personally, I found 1984 to be a much more compelling book and prefer it to Animal Farm. But still, I feel like this book is important as a piece of satire, especially considering the time it was written. If you aren’t familiar with Russian history, the Wiki link included below will help you to identify the animals and events portrayed in this book. It felt a bit slow developing in parts, but I liked it overall.

Here’s a link to the Wiki page for Animal Farm.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurston their eyes book cover

A brilliant novel from an author you may not have heard of before

“Their Eyes Were Watching God”, now recognized as a classic, must-read novel, was originally poorly received and reviewed when it was published in the 1930s. It is a whirlwind that plunges you into what life was like in the early 1900s for people of color, especially women. I guess you could call it a type of “coming of age” novel, as it follows the life of Janie Crawford, the protagonist, as she grows up in the deep South.

Topics and Themes

Race issues: it is hard to miss the racial issues that Janie experiences, especially early in her life. While I would consider gender roles to be the most significant theme of the book, race and racism are portrayed in this novel, though not as thoroughly as To Kill A Mockingbird. Prejudice and racism are nasty things that continue to be embedded in America. Often times, we are not fully aware of how much they impact our culture.

Gender roles: Janie has complicated relationships throughout the book. Women experience many stereotypes and labels today, but even more so for a black woman in the first part of the 20th century. Women in the book are seen as objects and “less than”, not appreciated for what they bring to the relationship or marriage.

Cultural identity: the author uses dialog that contains the typical vernacular of people living in the deep South at that time. This was one of the reasons that the book wasn’t well-received by black (male) authors at the time it was written. It is likely that having a black woman protagonist was yet another reason for the lack of approval. Life in the South, cultural interaction, and social life is displayed throughout the book.


This novel captivated me right from the first page. It took me a little while to get in the flow with reading the dialog between characters. I can see where this could be a turn-off for some readers, especially those who aren’t familiar with the deep South dialect and way of speaking. The characters are well developed and messy around the edges, the story flows well, and I found myself along for the journey when reading this great novel. I can see why this book is often included in “best novels” lists, like the Top 100 post. Personally, I’d rank it much higher.

Link to the book on Amazon. Wiki link here.

1984 – George Orwell

george orwell 1984 novel

A dystopian novel about a future where Big Brother is always watching

Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949 by the author George Orwell, is possibly the definitive dystopian novel. It is a classic, iconic work of literature and many of the words and phrases that Orwell created in this book have become part of our language. If a government or organization is referred to as Orwellian, it means that the thing is sinister, deceptive, manipulative, authoritarian, and/or totalitarian. 1984 is often compared to Brave New World, which was published 17 years earlier.


Government Surveillance – “Big Brother is Watching” posters are everywhere, but it isn’t just a show for intimidation, it’s a fact for those in the Party. The issues and concerns about privacy and government intrusion are even more pressing in our day with the controversial NSA surveillance of citizens.

Authoritarianism – Orwell takes what he’s learned about dictatorships and authoritarian governments, from the fascism of Nazi Germany to the communism of Soviet Russia, and imagines what those could become in the future with the benefit of advanced technology. He shows how authoritarian and totalitarian governments are strikingly similar, even though they may technically come from opposite ideological sides of the political spectrum. The goal is still the same – power and control.

Social Class Hierarchy – The population in the novel is divided into 3 categories and it is explained later in the novel how this structure has been fairly consistent throughout human history since the agricultural revolution. Class struggles are discussed and implied throughout the book.
1. The Inner Party: the elite, comprising a very small percentage of the population
2. The Outer Party: a larger group that encompasses the rest of the official political party members, but still small compared to the overall population (approx 10-15%)
3. The Proletariat: the rest of the population (approx 85%), largely uneducated and often ignored by the Party. Usually referred to as “proles.”

Newspeak – A language created by the Party with the purpose of simplifying and condensing the English language in such a way as to promote their ideology and control. The media is tightly controlled by the party and is filled with propaganda. The Party works around the clock at editing and rewriting history, employing newspeak terms like “doublethink” to distort reality and maintain control over the population.


In many ways, I prefer this book over Brave New World. While BNW is more of a satire or parody, 1984 is much more detailed and developed in its plot and characters. 1984 is darker and haunting (even creepy). Orwell is a first-class writer and I think if you enjoy dystopian novels, you’ll really appreciate this book. This is an important book to read, both for enlightenment and as a cautionary tale of how power corrupts people and governments.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book.

Top 100 Reading List – from Joel Patrick

The “Ultimate List” of books you should read before you die

If you’re looking for ideas on fiction novels to read, you can start by going through this fantastic compilation on Medium called “100 Books to Read before You Die: Creating the Ultimate List.” The author of that post, Joel Patrick, did some significant work analyzing multiple “Top 100” lists by various organizations. Do yourself a favor and check it out. I’m going to only list the books and authors here, but not the rest. I don’t want to plagerize, only to use it for comparison purposes since this blog has already reviewed some of the books included in this list (and will have reviews coming soon on books that are in this list). Please visit the article above and check out the author’s notes on each book.

The Ultimate List: 100 Books to Read before You Die

Again, here’s the link to the article that put together this list –

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. The Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  7. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  8. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  9. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  10. Ulysses by James Joyce
  11. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  12. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  13. 1984 by George Orwell
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  15. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  16. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  17. A Passage to India by EM Forster
  18. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  19. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  20. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  21. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  22. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  23. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  24. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  25. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  26. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  27. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  28. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  29. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
  30. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  31. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  32. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  33. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  34. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  35. Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
  36. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  37. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  38. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
  39. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  40. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  41. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
  42. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
  43. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  44. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  45. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  46. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  47. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  48. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  49. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  50. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  51. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  52. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  53. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  54. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  55. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  56. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  57. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  58. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  59. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  60. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  61. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
  62. A Dance to The Music of Time by Anthony Powell
  63. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  64. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  65. Under The Net by Iris Murdoch
  66. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  67. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  68. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
  69. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  70. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  71. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  72. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  73. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  74. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  75. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  76. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
  77. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  78. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  79. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  80. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
  81. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
  82. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  83. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré
  84. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  85. Money by Martin Amis
  86. Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey
  87. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  88. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  89. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
  90. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  91. Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  92. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  93. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  94. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  95. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  96. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  99. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  100. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Closing Thoughts

I’ve had quite a few of these on my wish list for some time now. Some I have read, like Ulysses by James Joyce, that I didn’t particularly enjoy and therefore won’t review on this blog. Some, like On The Road by Jack Kerouac, were okay, but they didn’t really click with me personally and I don’t know if I’d recommend/think that people should read them. Others, I have read but have yet to complete a review on them. I’m very thankful to Joel Patrick for putting this list together. I’ll definitely be using it for selecting future fiction books for my personal reading.

Is there a book on here that surprises you? What’s your favorite from this list?

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

book cover aldous huxley brave new world

A dystopian novel about an “ideal” society gone wrong

Dystopian books and movies are very common now, but that wasn’t the case when Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. The author imagines what a futuristic society could be like where science has taken a strange turn and humans are genetically modified and conditioned to fit into pre-determined roles in society. It is a profound book considering the time it was written, prior to WWII, with fascism, communism, and other authoritarian governments on the rise. This book pokes at those governments and also people with utopian beliefs about capitalism, consumption, and materialism.

I found the following G.K. Chesterton quote interesting. It is from his review of the book.

After the Age of Utopias came what we may call the American Age, lasting as long as the Boom. Men like Ford or Mond seemed to many to have solved the social riddle and made capitalism the common good. But it was not native to us; it went with a buoyant, not to say blatant optimism, which is not our negligent or negative optimism. Much more than Victorian righteousness, or even Victorian self-righteousness, that optimism has driven people into pessimism. For the Slump brought even more disillusionment than the War. A new bitterness, and a new bewilderment, ran through all social life, and was reflected in all literature and art. It was contemptuous, not only of the old Capitalism, but of the old Socialism. Brave New World is more of a revolution against Utopia than against Victoria.

G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 4 May 1935

Science fiction and fantasy genres can take a big gamble when trying to predict future technological advances. While some parts of the book aren’t possible based on what we know now about science, other parts are chilling at how accurate Huxley was in his predictions. He also had a clear grasp of how propaganda can be used to control the population. It’s the same basic blueprint that all dictators use.


Nature vs Nurture – while the science isn’t 100% accurate in this book, the author does do a good job of highlighting the different ways that our genetics and environment affect how we develop and interact in society.

Freedom vs Security – what is the most important thing in society? In the “Community, Identity, Stability” slogan of the futuristic world government, security and stability come at the cost of a loss of freedom. In a technical sense, people are still able to make choices, but most of their lives have been decided for them.

Hedonism – is true happiness found in the pursuit of the maximum amount of pleasure? Is the goal of life to be constantly stimulated in every way, without time to think, reflect, or re-evaluate what we’re doing or why we’re doing it? This book is at least partly a satirical take on the promise of utopia through materialism and capitalism.


I liked this book more than I thought I would. It’s an easy read. The main suggestion I have is that it’s best to read this book in a more lighthearted manner. It is poking fun at a few things that people at that time were claiming to be the next savior of humanity – socialism, capitalism, hedonism and even science. But it also rings true in our era as we are still grappling with these questions and issues.

On the negative side, there are some plot holes and lack of character development that may annoy some readers. My biggest complaint is the ending. I was disappointed that he chose to end the book the way he did.

Overall, I think this is an interesting book and definitely recommend it.

Find the book on Amazon here.

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

the catcher in the rye book cover

The teenage angst coming of age anthem

Did you have a period in your life, perhaps during your teenage years, where you rebelled against the superficiality of society and the hypocrites who are often in positions of authority? If so, you’ll likely strongly relate to Holden Caulfield, the angst-filled protagonist in “The Catcher in the Rye.” This classic book by J.D. Salinger, set in the late 1940s, is often listed as one of the most important English novels. It is also one of the most challenged and censored books of all time.


Teenage angst – Holden is a conflicted teenager, filled with angst at the world, its institutions, and those in authority. He has a rebellious streak that often gets him in trouble and he struggles with trying to keep it all together.

Loss of innocence – In some ways, this is a coming-of-age story where Holden is mourning the loss of innocence during his transition to adulthood. It is a source of anger and frustration.

Identity – Tied in with the above, Holden is struggling to find his own identity. He struggles with authority figures, he struggles to fit in with his peers, he struggles with being isolated.


I never read this book as a teenager. It’s a shame because I know I would have loved it. I can see why so many people list it as one of their favorite books of all time. Holden Caulfield is the poster child for teenage rebellion and angst. He is deeply flawed and conflicted. You can feel it in this book. It is raw and obscene. That’s largely why so many people have tried to get it banned. It makes some people very uncomfortable.

I think it is an important book and I do recommend it. Be warned that there is a good amount of profanity in this book, in case that’s a deal breaker for you. It might take you a bit to catch up with the slang terms that Holden uses. If you are unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia has a list of common phrases in the book and what they mean.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

harper lee to kill a mockingbird book cover

The highly controversial and popular book that became a beloved movie

What can I possibly say in this post that hasn’t already been said about the classic American novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee? It is at the same time one of the most loved and hated books. It has been banned many times in many school libraries but in other places praised as one of the greatest American novels ever. In some ways, this perfectly reflects the time in history that Ms Lee grew up in and was writing about.

Comparing the movie and the book

If you are one of the few people who hasn’t seen the movie that was based on this book, you’re missing out. Gregory Peck’s acting job as Atticus Finch won him an Oscar and is considered by many to be the greatest film hero ever. Those who are not familiar with the book may assume that the movie is just like it. While the movie does capture most of the book, I feel like the book has more depth and humanity. It also develops some of the surrounding characters to a greater depth.

Major themes in To Kill A Mockingbird

Since many people are familiar with the storyline, I wanted to address the major themes in the novel. These are the following:

  1. Southern culture
  2. Racial injustice
  3. Gender roles
  4. Honor/ethics/morality

The use of racial slurs and profanity will shock many readers. It is difficult to see a word so frequently that is now condemned. The book itself is challenging in how it looks at class struggles, racism, culture, and morality. One of the things I appreciate most is that it causes you to ask questions instead of trying to provide nice and neat answers. What is the right thing to do? Why would someone act that way? What drives the behavior of some people, or even the culture at large? How can we have more compassion for the outsiders in society? It is raw at times and representative of the culture. And it isn’t perfect either. It feels very human.

Final thoughts

This is a powerful book. I can see why some consider it to be the most impactful book they have ever read. I can also see how some people who find it offensive or flawed in how it deals with the issues. I believe this book should be at or near the top of any “must read” list. What do you think?