My Top Ten Books in the English Language

My Top 10 Books in the English Language

Updated on March 5, 2009

This is a list of books that I return to over and over again. There are many good books that I have read, but these are the ones that I keep around, quote from,and reread in times of trial and tribulation. These books are like comfort food for the soul. Oh, and they’re also in English. And they’re fiction, and in prose.

There are some other books that would be on this list if it weren’t for those qualifications. The Old Testament is a book I re-read all the time, but it’s in Hebrew and it wouldn’t qualify. Kipling is one of my favorite authors. I have read some of his novels, and they were good, but not one of them made the list. They’re all English language books, too, but I didn’t feel the need to read them more than once. It’s my book of Kipling’s Collected Poems that I return to, over and over again, not his novels or his short stories.

The following ten prose books made it into the list on their own merits.Some are by my favorite authors, but not every book by a favorite author made it onto the list.  Some of them are written by people who are not on my list of favorite authors. They just happen to be my favorite books. In English.

Except from Wuthering Heights

I took a seat at the end of the hearthstone opposite that towards which my landlord advanced, and filled up an interval of silence by attempting to caress the canine mother, who had left her nursery, and was sneaking wolfishly to the back of my legs, her lip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch. My caress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.

‘You’d better let the dog alone,’ growled Mr. Heathcliff in unison, checking fiercer demonstrations with a punch of his foot. ‘She’s not accustomed to be spoiled – not kept for a pet.’ Then, striding to a side door, he shouted again, ‘Joseph!’

Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, but gave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him, leaving me VIS-A-VIS the ruffianly bitch and a pair of grim shaggy sheep-dogs, who shared with her a jealous guardianship over all my movements. Not anxious to come in contact with their fangs, I sat still; but, imagining they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making faces at the trio, and some turn of my physiognomy so irritated madam, that she suddenly broke into a fury and leapt on my knees. I flung her back, and hastened to interpose the table between us. This proceeding aroused the whole hive: half-a-dozen four-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hidden dens to the common centre. I felt my heels and coat-laps peculiar subjects of assault; and parrying off the larger combatants as effectually as I could with the poker, I was constrained to demand, aloud, assistance from some of the household in re-establishing peace.

Mr. Heathcliff and his man climbed the cellar steps with vexatious phlegm: I don’t think they moved one second faster than usual, though the hearth was an absolute tempest of worrying and yelping. Happily, an inhabitant of the kitchen made more despatch: a lusty dame, with tucked-up gown, bare arms, and fire-flushed cheeks, rushed into the midst of us flourishing a frying-pan: and used that weapon, and her tongue, to such purpose, that the storm subsided magically, and she only remained, heaving like a sea after a high wind, when her master entered on the scene.

‘What the devil is the matter?’ he asked, eyeing me in a manner that I could ill endure, after this inhospitable treatment.

‘What the devil, indeed!’ I muttered. ‘The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir. You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers!’

‘They won’t meddle with persons who touch nothing,’ he remarked, putting the bottle before me, and restoring the displaced table. ‘The dogs do right to be vigilant. Take a glass of wine?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Not bitten, are you?’

‘If I had been, I would have set my signet on the biter.’ Heathcliff’s countenance relaxed into a grin.

‘Come, come,’ he said, ‘you are flurried, Mr. Lockwood. Here, take a little wine. Guests are so exceedingly rare in this house that I and my dogs, I am willing to own, hardly know how to receive them. Your health, sir?’

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte does a good job of hiding her authorial presence in Wuthering Heights.There are plenty of intrusive narrators, each with his or her point of view, but not one of them is the author. The genius of the book is that no two readers experience it the same way. Ask someone who has read it, and you’ll get a different answer every time. Or at least, you’ll get many different answers depending on the general outlook of the person you talk to.

My paternal grandmother thought the whole point of Wuthering Heights was that one shouldn’t carry strange children into one’s house and bring them up as one’s own. Heathcliff was the demon seed that brings down a nice family or the cuckoo egg that spoils the nest.

I was shocked when I found out that’s what she thought. To me, it was all about how one should never settle for less than one’s deepest desire. The tragedy was not that Heatcliff didn’t belong at Wuthering Heights, It was that Cathy was willing to disregard her ties with one who was more herself than she was,

I discovered an old copy of Wuthering Heights in my grandfather’s library when I was fifteen. My grandfather had long since died, and I was staying in his room at my grandmother’s apartment in Tel Aviv.

It was 1976 and we were visiting over the summer break. When I returned to the States, I was surprised to learn that my friends in the girl scouts thought the story was about how it is important to be sensible in finding a husband. My best friend at the time told me that she could make any man a good wife, provided he were normal.

Normal was the last thing I was looking for!

The strength of Wuthering Heights is that like reality, it can accomodate many different readings. And its weakness? That it deals only with domestic concerns.

Over the years, Wuthering Heights has gone up and down in people’s estimation, depending on the literary fashion of the day. Today, it is too often regarded as a glorified romance novel. It’s not. There’s a real ear for dialogue and dialect, for social stratification and philosphical differences in Emily Bronte’s writing. Behind the action, there is thought. There is satire and comedy, not just high drama. Take the excerpt in the sidebar as an example.:

The Scarlet Letter

I didn’t discover The Scarlet Letter until I was in law school. I took great solace in it. I know that when Hawthorne wrote it, many people found it shocking, and that at the time I read it, most of my contemporaries found it to be stuffy and boring. To me, it was precisely what I needed. It was about the conflict between the indivdual and an oppressive society. I liked the way an outcast who is placed on a platform to atone for sin can somehow by virtue of this singling out become more saint-like than the people who judged her.

The following excerpt shows that Hawthorne was less artful in concealing his purpose as a writer than Emily Bronte. This type of writing is not accepted by modern literary editors, but it’s still very effective, and the true reason why the youth of today turn to Japanese manga over the offerings on the New York Times Bestseller list:

“Speak to the woman, my brother,” said Mr. Wilson. “It is of moment to her soul, and therefore, as the worshipful Governor says, momentous to thine own, in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess the truth!”

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in silent prayer, as it seemed, and then came forward.

“Hester Prynne,” said he, leaning over the balcony, and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, “thou hearest what this good man says, and seest the accountability under which I labor. If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him–yea, compel him, as it were–to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee, and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him–who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself–the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!”

The young pastor’s voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken. The feeling that it so evidently manifested, rather than the direct purport of the words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and brought the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Even the poor baby, at Hester’s bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half pleased, half plaintive murmur. So powerful seemed theminister’s appeal,that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name; or else that the guilty one himself, in whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, and compelled to ascend the scaffold.

Hester shook her head.

“Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heaven’s mercy!” cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more harshly than before. “That little babe hath been gifted with a voice, to second and confirm the counsel which thou hast heard. Speak out the name! That, and thy repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy breast.”

“Never!” replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. “It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!”

“Speak, woman!” said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold. “Speak; and give your child a father!”

“I will not speak!” answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she too surely recognized. “And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!”

“She will not speak!” murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew back, with a long respiration. “Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart! She will not speak!”

The Fountainhead

The first time I read The Fountainhead, I didn’t like it. I started reading it because I was a very big fan of Atlas Shrugged and I wanted to read everything else Ayn Rand had written. However, The Fountainhead was more of a grownup book, and it dealt with issues that at fifteen I was not yet ready to tackle. At the time I would have summed up my points of displeasure like this:

1) I didn’t like the rape scene. Sex should be consensual.

2) I didn’t like that the hero was behind on his rent and did not honor his obligation to his landlord


3) I didn’t really believe that an architect has the right to blow up a building he designed just because the exterior decor has been altered from his original plans.

That’s what I concluded at fifteen, when everything was black and white — either right or wrong. Four years later, I was in law school, and I wanted to quit and after reading The Scarlet Letter, I was searching for something else to read that might nourish my embattled soul. Suddenly, I realized what The Fountainhead was all about. The Fountainhead is not a book about the joys of the free market. It’s about something else altogether. It’s about how to resist the urge to sell out. It’s about the one thing that is stronger than the lure of the market: personal integrity.

Excerpt from The Fountainhead

They concluded that there was nothing abnormal in the manner of the man who was speaking, except the fact that his right hand would not leave the edge of the table, and when he had to move the drawings, he did it with his left hand, like a man with arm paralyzed.

He spoke for a long time. He explained why this structure could not have a Classic motive in its facade. He explained why an honest building, like an honest man, had to be of one piece and one faith; what constituted the life source, the idea in any existing thing or creature, and why — if one smallest part committed treason to that idea — the thing or the creature was dead; and why the good, the high and the noble on earth was only that which kept its integrity.

The chairman interrupted him:

“Mr. Roark, I agree with you. There’s no answer to what you are saying. But unfortunately, in practical life, one can’t always be so flawlessly consistent. There’s always the incalculable human element of emotion. We can’t fight that with cold logic. This discussion is actually superfluous. I can agree with you, but I can’t help you. The matter is closed. It was the board’s final decision — after more than usually prolonged consideration, as you know.”

“Will you let me appear before the board and speak to them?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Roark, but the board will not re-open the question for further debate. It was final. I can only ask you to state whether you agree to accept the commission on our terms or not. I must admit that the board has considered the possibility of your refusal. In which case, the name of another architect, one Gordon L. Prescott, has been mentioned most favorably as an alternative. But I told the board that I felt certain you would accept.”

He waited. Roark said nothing.

“You understand the situation, Mr. Roark?”

“Yes,” said Roark. His eyes were lowered. He was looking down at the drawings.


Roark did not answer.

“Yes or no, Mr. Roark?”

Roark’s head leaned back. He closed his eyes.

“No,” said Roark.

After a while the chairman asked: “Do you realize what you are doing?”

“Quite,” said Roark.

“Good God!” Weidler cried suddenly. “Don’t you know how big a commission this is? You’re a young man, you won’t get another chance like this. And … all right, damn it all, I’ll say it! You need this! I know how badly you need it!”

Roark gathered the drawings from the table, rolled them together and put them under his arm.

“It’s sheer insanity!” Weidler moaned. “I want you. We want your building. You need the commission. Do you have to be so fanatical and selfless about it?”

“What?” Roark asked incredulously.

“Fanatical and selfless.”

Roark smiled. He looked down at his drawings. His elbow moved a little, pressing them to his body. He said:

“That was the most selfish thing you’ve ever seen a man do.”

Franny and Zooey

Franny and Zooey is about exactly the same thing. What is more selfish: to maintain your personal integrity or to sell out? Very different story, but essentially on the same topic,

Franny Glass is a college student who has returned home to have a nervous breakdown on the couch in her parents’ living room, (and to pray without ceasing),  because she can’t cope with the fact that every one she knows is a phony, and in order to fit in, she would have to be a phony, too. If she decides on the path of complete integrity, isn’t she just being an elitist who looks down on everyone else? How can we maintain our personal integrity without alienating — and being alientated from — other people who have already lost theirs? Is there any way to be pure of heart without being an elitist? Isn’t the pursuit of virtue essentially the most selfish motive in the world?

Excerpt from Franny and Zooey

Franny said, as icily as she could, with a faint tremor in her voice, “May I interrupt now, Zooey?”

Zooey let got the snowman and picked up a pencil to play with. “Yes, yes, interrupt,” he said.

“I know all you’re sayimg. You’re not telling me one thing I haven’t thought of by myself. You’re saying I want something from the Jesus Prayer, which makes me just as acquisitive in your word as somebody who wants a sabek coat, or to be famous, or to be dripping with some kind of prestige. I know all that! My gosh, what kind of an imbecile do you thin I am?” The tremor in her voice amounted now almost to an impediment.

“All right. Take it easy, take it easy.”

“I can’t take it easy! You make me so mad! What do you think I’m doing here in this crazy room — losing weight like mad, worrying Bessie and Les absolutely silly, upsetting the house and everything? Don’t you think I have sense enough to worry about my motives for saying the prayer? That’s exactly what’s bothering me so. Just because I’m choosy about what I want — in this case, enlightenment or peace, instead of money or prestige or fame or any of those things — doesn’t mean I’m not as egotistical and self-seeking as everybody else. If anything, I’m more so!…”

Podkayne of Mars

Podkayne Fries is a bright, adventurous teenaged Mars girl embarking on the trip of her life with her Uncle and her close-lipped, genius younger brother. Podkayne wants to grow up to be a starship pilot, but the story isn’t really about that. It’s about the simpler things in life and what truly, truly matters.

Excerpt from Podkayne of Mars

I was all cried out by the time he gave up; I even had a suggestion to make. “Maybe if we sent for a Geiger counter?”

Uncle shook his head and sat down. “We aren’t looking for a bomb, honey.”

“We aren’t?”

“No. If we found it, it would simply confirm that Clark had told you the truth, and I’m already using that as least hypothesis. Because… well, because I know more about this than the short outline I gave you… And I know just how deadly serious this is to some people, how far they might go. Politics is neither a game nor a bad joke, the way some people think it is. War itself is merely an extension of politics… so I don’t find anything surprising about a bomb in politics; bombs have been used in politics hundreds and even thousands of times in the past. No, we aren’t looking for abomb, we’re looking for a man — a man you saw for a few seconds once. And probably not even for thta man, but for somenody that man might lead us back to. Probably somebody inside the president’s office, somebody he trusts.”

“Oh, gosh, I wish I had really looked at him!”

“You didn’t know, and there was no reason to look. But you can bet that Clark knows what he looks like. If Clark — I mean, when Clark comes back, in time we will have him search the I.D. files at Marsopolis. And all the visa photographs for the past ten years, if necessary. The man will be found, and through him the person the President has been trusting who should not be trusted.” Uncle Tom suddenly looked all Maori and savage. “And when we do, I may take care of the matter personally. We’ll see.”

Then he smiled and added, “But right now Poddy is going to bed. You’re up way past your bedtime, even with all the dancing and late-sleeping you’ve been doing lately.”

“Uh…What time is it in Marsopolis?”

He looked at his other watch. “Twenty-seventeen. You weren’t thinking of phoning your parents? I hope not.”

“Oh no! I won’t say a word to them unless — until Clark is back. And maybe not then. But if it’s only twenty-seventeen, it’s not late at all, real time, and I don’t want to go to bed. Not until you do.”

“I may not go to bed.”

“I don’t care. I want to sit with you.”

He blinked at me and then said very gently, “All right, Poddy. Nobody ever grows up without spending at least one night of years.”

We just sat there for quite a while with nothing to say that had not already been said and would just hurt to say over again.

At last I said, “Unka Tom, tell me the Poddy story—“

“At your age?”

“Please.” I crawled up on his knees. “I want to sit in your lap once more and hear it. I need to.”

“All right,” he said, and he put his arm around me. “Once upon a time, long, long ago when the world was young, in a specially favored city there lived a little girl named Poddy. All day long she was busy like a ticking clock. Tick, tick, tick, went her heels, tick, tick, tick, went her knitting needles, and most especially tick, tick, tick went her busy little mind. Her hair was the color of butter blossoms in the spring when the ice leaves canals, her eyes were the changing blue of sunshine palyign down through the spring floods, her nose had not yet made up its mind what it would be, and her mouth was shaped like a question mark. She greeted the world as an unopened present and there was no badness in her, anywhere.

“One day Poddy–“

I stopped him. “But I’m not young any longer … and I don’t think the world was ever young!”

“Here’s my handky,” he said. “Blow your nose. I never did tell you the end of it, Poddy; you always fell asleep. It ends with a miracle.”

“A truly miracle?”

“Yes. This is the end. Poddy grew up and had another Poddy. And then the world was young again.”

“Is that all?”

“That’s all there ever is. But it’s enough.”

The Former King and The Divine Queen

Imagine what would have happened if Catherine Linton had not been a Yorkshire lass but the Queen of England, and Heathcliff hadn’t simply decided to punish her family — but had instead gone to some barabrian land where there were Viking savages and if he’d come back to conquer England.Then you would have a book that transcends the domestic limitations of Wuthering Heights.

The Former King and The Divine Queen are two books in what should have been a fantasy trilogy. They came out in the early 1980s, and they are now out of print. Their author, Adam Corby, has not been heard from since. It’s all very mysterious.

Who is Adam Corby?

Nobody knows who Adam Corby is, whether he is still alive or why he stopped publishing. Some say Adam Corby is just a pseudonyn, and that he is still around today, making his living by writing technical manuals.

A representative sampling of what you find when looking for biographical material about Adam Corby is this bit by Morgan Holmes, from Forgotten Ages #21 (

Adam Corby: I think Corby might be a pseudonym. He had an unfinished series about Ara-Karn published with TIMESCAPE in the early 80’s. TIMESCAPE seemed addicted to Lord Dunsany/Jack Vance type writing and the Corby series is probably the best thing they put out. The first novel, THE FORMER KING has Ara-Karn show up in a boat for the dead on the shores of northern barbarians. He soon becomes leader of his adopted clan, overthrows a would be warlord and leads the barbarians to wholesale rapine and destruction of the southern empire’s cities. The 2nd novel, THE DIVINE QUEEN, is written in a more baroque style and centers on the empire’s desperate attempt to stop Ara-Karn including plenty of treachery. Alas we don’t know what happened with Ara-Karn because Pocket Books fired the editor and dropped the Timescape line in 1983. A shame.

Here is a representative excerpt: “From the moaning body on the bloodstained ice, the crowd turned its eyes to the conqueror, standing not exultantly, but calmly on the edge of the abyss, the sword leaning casually against one bloodstained hand, the blood smoking, the chest rising and falling rythmically, but the eyes still ablaze with the madness of combat. The feet were blued by the frozen cold and bleeding between the toes. From a dozen cuts, the blood also gelidly flowed. The cord fillet had broken asunder, leaving the clotted hair to hang free about those wild eyes. And those savage men of the hard, far North saw in the victor, not a man, not an outlander barge-robber, nor yet a god or messenger of the gods, but a wild beast, whose desperate, destructive fury outdid anything that they in their supposed savagery could match. And there was not a man among them — not even those who loved him best, not Gundeon or Kuln-Holn himself — who did not at that moment feel the fearful awe of him who stood alone amongst them.

Ara-Karn straightened, and those of the Orn tribe nearest him stepped back a pace, as a the gentle animals will do near a predator even when his hunger for blood has been sated. And Gundeon knew that there would be no need for bowmen now. With Gen-Karn dead, none would dare oppose the victor’s will. Cautiously he approached and placed a fur mantle about the naked shoulders of his adopted son.

The man with the sword seemed not to notice. He glanced down and pointed with his sword at the writhign body and spoke.

“Take it away,” he said. His shoulders sagged a little with a great onrushing weariness..

“Lord, not yet!”

Bar-East spoke these words. The Speaker of the Law forced a way between the crowds and confronted the stranger.

“Lord, I have seen the battle; we all have seen it. You have conquered and are the Warlord of the North. Yet one duty remains before the title is fully yours. Your enemy still lives.”

“What of that?”

Bar-East blinked his old eyes, as if he had not understood. “His death lies upon your hands,” he answered simply. He pointed to the sword, blood still oozing down to its point. “Slay him.”

But Ara-Karn asked: “Why should I?”

“Because it is our custom.”

Ara-Karn shook his head. “No. That is not my way.”

“Because he is an evil man who has pressed our necks beneath his toes for too long!” cried another of the crowd, a Durbar.


“Slay him,” said Bar-East slowly, “because if you do not, he will only hate you the more, and strive and scheme and never give off scheming to murder you for his defeat.”

But Ara-Karn only smiled, wan as the icy crystals round his ankles. “No. That too is not my way.”

“Lord, what softness is this? Your mercy is to no avail with this man. He is a chief, and he was the Warlord of the Tribes.” Below them, the great sprawling figure of Gen-Karn writhed and groaned in pain.

And Ara-Karn looked at the Speaker of the Law with eyes like pebbles washed upon a lonely shore, and he said in tones of pitiless hardness, “Old man, you know more of mercy now than I am ever likely to.”

At this, there was only silence from that mass of blood-aroused men — looks of confusion and disbelief and one or two of anger. They had turned upon their former king and now would see his death — or if not his, another’s. Their lusts demanded to be sated to the full.

Gundeon, at his side, spoke in low swift tones: “My son, he is right. It is customary. If you let Gen-Karn live and he survives, he will never forget his defeat. I know his nature, lord: ever will he seek a way to destroy you henceforth. Kill him now and have done. It is your right — and your duty.”

“And who are you to speak of my duty?” Ara-Karn asked, contempt heavy in his voice. He turned and let his gaze fall on all the warriors assembled closely around him. He raised his voice. “And why should I wish to rule over you, anyway? What are you but unwashed savages?”

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Speaking of unwashed savages, there is Miss Jean Brodie in her prime, presiding over a class full of impressionable young girls. The place is Edinburgh. The time: between the world wars, in the early thirties, when fascism is on the rise. Miss Jean Brodie is a big fan of Mussolini.

Excerpt for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Miss Brodie stood bronzed before her class and said, “I have spent most of my summer holidays in Italy once more, and a week in London, and I have brought back a great many pictures which we can pin on the wall. Here is Cimabue. Here is a larger formation of Mussolini’s fascisti, it is a better view of them than last year’s picture. They are doing splendid things, as I shall tell you later. I went with my firends for an audience with the Pope. My friends kissed his ring, but I thought it proper only to bend over it. I wore a long black gown with a lace mantilla and looked magnificent. In London, my firends who are well-to-do — their small girl has two nurses, or nannies as they say in England — took me to visit A.A. Milne. In the hall was hung a reproduction of Boticelli’s Primavera which means The Birth of Spring. I wore my silk dress with the large poppies which is just right for my colouring. Mussolini is one of the greatest men in world, far more so than Ramsey MacDonald, and his fascisti –“

“Good morning, Miss Brodie. Good morning, sit down, girls,” said the headmistress who had entered in a hurry, leaving the door wide open.

Miss Brodie passed behind her with her head up, up, and shut the door with the utmost meaning.

“I have only just looked in,” said Miss Mackay, “and I have to be off. Well, girls, this is the first day of the new session. Are we downhearted? No. You girls must work hard this year at every subject and pass your qualifying examination with flying colours. Next year you will be in the Senior school, remember. I hope you’ve all had a nice summer holiday, you all look nice and brown. I hope in due course of time to read your essays on how you spent them.”

When she had gone Miss Brodie looked hard at the door for a long time. A girl, not of her set, called Judith, giggled. Miss Brodie said to Judith, “That will do.” She turned to the blackboard and rubbed out with her duster the long divisions sum she always kept on the board in case of intrusions from outside during any arithmetic period when Miss Brodie should happen not to be teachign arithmetic. When she had done this, she turned back to the class and said, “Are we downhearted, no, are we downhearted no. As I was saying, Mussolini has performed feats of magnitude and unemployment is even farther abolished under him than it was last year. I shall be able to tell you a great deal this term. As you know, I don’t believe in talking down to children, you are capable of grasping more than is generally appreciated by your elders. Education means a leading out, from eout and duco, I lead. Qualifying examination or no qualifying examination, you will have the benefit of my experiences in Italy. In Rome I saw the Forum and I saw the Coliseum where the gladiators died and the slaves were thrown to the lions. A vulgar American remarked to me, ‘It looks like a mighty fine quarry.’ They talk nasally. Mary, what does to talk nasally mean?”

Mary did not know.

‘Stupid as ever,” said Miss Brodie. “Eunice?”

“Through your nose,” said Eunice.

“Answer in complete sentences, please,” said Miss Brodie. “This year I think you should all start answering in complete sentences. I must remember this rule. Your correct answer is `To talk nasally is to talk through one’s nose.’ The American said, `It looks like a mighty fine quarry.’ Ah! It was there the gladiators fought. ‘Hail Caesar!’ they cried. ‘These about to die salute thee!'”

Miss Brodie stood in her brown dress like a gladiator with raised arm and eyes flashing like a sword. “Hail Caesar!” she cried again, turning radiantly to the window light, as if Caesar sat there. “Who opened the window?” said Miss Brodie dropping her arm.

Nobody answered.

Muriel Spark is not on my list of favorite authors. Because I liked The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie so much, I did try reading a few of her other books. I’ve come to conclude that this book is a fluke, and that Muriel Spark may have produced this classic work of great fiction quite by accident.

Muriel Spark is an anti-romantic, and her writing always tends to discredit her protagonists. Somehow, in the case of Jean Brodie, even though we are not oblivious to the comical aspects of the character, we can still identify with her in her romantic pretensions and her passion for life. Here is a teacher who really cares about ideas and can inspire her students to act on them, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even when a work pokes fun at the romantic ideal, it’s romanticism that sustains it. At least, that’s how it works for me. I have to feel that a character’s life is meaningful if I’m going to take the trouble to read a book more than once.

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is a story that takes place in a society that is collapsing. Businesses are failing, one by one, and the government steps in to bolster the failing companies at the expense of those that are showing a profit. A group of people who feel they have been exploited decide to quit and re-group and form a close-knit community away from civilization. They become self-reliant, growing their own food and providing everything they need and thereby avoid the long hand of the government.

But that’s not really what the story is about. That’s just the plot. The real story is about learning to recognize the moral rules that govern the universe, both in and out of civilization. It’s about how to honor ourselves and in so doing also experience genuine respect for others.

Excerpt from Atlas Shrugged

He acknowledged to himself, for the first time, all the half-grasped , half-rejected moments when he had thought of Francisco d’Anconia and thrust the thought aside before it became the knowledge of how much he wanted to see him again. In moments of sudden exhaustion — at his desk, with the fires of the furnaces going down in the twilight — in the darkness of the lonely walk through the empty countryside to his house — in the silence of the sleepless nights — he had found himself thinking of the only man who had once seemed to be his spokesman. He had pushed the memory aside, telling himself: But that one is worse than all the others! —while feeling certain that this was not true, yet being unable to name the reason for his certainty. He had caught himself glancing through the newspapers to see whether Francisco d’Anconia had returned to New York — and he had thrown the newspapers aside, asking himself angrily: What if he did return? — would you go chasing him through the night clubs and cocktail parties? — what is it that you want from him?

This is what he wanted — he thought, when he caught himself smiling at the sight of Francisco in the crowd — this strange feeling of expectation that held curiosity, amusement and hope.

Francisco did not seem to have noticed him. Rearden waited, fighting a desire to aproach; not after the kind of conversation that we had, he thought — what for?  –what would I say to him? And then, with that same smiling, light-hearted feeling, the feeling of being certain that it was right, he found himself walking across the ballroom, toward the group that surrounded Francisco d’Anconia.

He wondered, looking at them, why these people were drawn to Francisco, why they chose to hold him imprisoned in a clinging circle, when their resentment of him was obvious under their smiles. Their faces had the hint of a look peculiar, not to fear, but to cowardice: a look of guilty anger. Francisco stood cornered against the side edge of a marble stairway, half leaning, half sitting on the steps; the informality of his posture, combined with the strict formality of his clothes, gave him an air of superlative elegance. His was the only face that had the carefree look and brilliant smile proper to the enjoyment of a party; but his eyes seemed intentionally expressionless, holding no trace of gaiety, showing — like a warning signal — nothing but the activity of a heightened perceptiveness.

Standing on the edge of the group, Rearden heard a woman, who had large diamond earrrings and a flabby, nervous face, ask tensely: “Senor d’Anconia, what do you think is going to happen to the world?”

“Just exactly what it deserves.”

“Oh, how cruel!”

“Don’t you believe in the operation of the moral law, madame?” Francisco asked gravely. “I do.”

Rearden heard Bertram Scudder, outside the group, say to a girl who made some sound of indignation, “Don’t let him disturb you. You know, money is the root of all evil, and he’s the typical product of money.”

Rearden did not think that Francisco could have heard it, but he saw Francisco turning to them with a gravely courteous smile.

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

In the past, literature was always about the noble and the great. Recently, more and more it has centered on “ordinary” people. Many would class A Tree Grows in Brooklyn into this category. Francie Nolan is a child growing up in a poor family in Brooklyn in the early years of the twentieth century. Her father is a singing waiter, more often drunk and unemployed than not. Her mother supports the family by scrubbing floors. But Francie is not ordinary.

This book has shaped my understanding of what it means to be truly courageous and self-reliant in the face of dismal poverty. It has also shaped my ideas about patriotism and the American melting pot.

Excerpt from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Indeed, Francie was the only one in her classroom whose parents were American-born. At the beginning of the term, Teacher called the roll and asked each child her lineage. The answers were typical.

“I’m Polish American. My father was born in Warsaw.”

“Irish-American. Me fayther and mither were born in County Cork.”

When Nolan was called, Francie answered proudly: “I’m an American.”

“I know you’re American,” said the easily exasperated teacher. “But what’s your nationality?”

“American!” insisted Francie even more proudly.

“Will you tell me what your parents are or do I have to send you to the principal?”

“My parents are American. They were born in Brooklyn.”

All the children turned around to look at a little girl whose parents were not from the old country. And when the teacher said, “Brooklyn? Hm. I guess that makes you an American all right,” Francie was proud and happy. How wonderful was Brooklyn, she thought, when just being born there automatically made you an American!

Watership Down

Watership Down explores some of the same issues as Atlas Shrugged, only with rabbits. Sometimes I think that our biggest problem right now is that we have become too domesticated. We have no natural predators, not even bacteria, and so our bodies have turned against us, and our minds are full of useless information, but none of us know how to produce food or to hunt and gather it, if necessary. We think food and shelter comes from other people, and we’re not exactly sure how the other people got them. We are trained to consider our relative position in society as more important than the position of society in the natural order of things. But when a society collapses, individuals discover self reliance and true friendship among peers. Sometimes knowning when to walk away from a sheltered way of life is a matter of life and death. That’s what this book is about.

Watership Down reminds me to trust my instincts and to eschew weird forms of art or odd social situations that make me sick to my stomach. If it feels sinister and creepy, then chances are that it is!

Excerpt from Watership Down

“Why do we let them stay in that warren?” cried Silver. “What sorts of rabbits are they? They left Bigwig to die. You all heard Cowslip in the burrow. They’re cowards. Let’s drive them out– kill them! Take the warren and live there ourselves!”

“Yes! Yes!” they all answered. “Come on! Back to the warren! Down with Cowslip! Down with Silverweed! Kill them!”

“O embleer Frith!” cried a squealing voice in the long grass.

At this shocking impiety, the tumult died away. They looked about them, wondering who could have spoken. There was silence. Then, from between two great tussocks of hair-grass came Fiver, his eyes blazing with a frantic urgency. He growled and gibbered at them like a witch-hare and those nearest to him fell back in fear. Even Hazel could not have said a word for his life. They realized that he was speaking.

“The warren? You’re going to the warren? You fools! That warren’s nothing but a death-hole! The whole place is one fowl elil’s larder! It’s snared — everywhere, everyday! That explains everything: everything that’s happened since we came here.”

He sat still and his words seemed to come crawling up the sunlight, over the grass.

‘Listen, Dandelion. You’re fond of stories, aren’t you? I’ll tell you one — yes, one for El-ahrairah to cry at. Once there was a fine warren at the edge of a wood, overlooking the meadows of a farm. It was big, full of rabbits. Then one day, the white blindness came and the rabbits fell sick and died. But a few survived, as they always do. The warren became almost empty. One day the farmer thought, ‘I could increase those rabbits: make them part of my farm– their meat, their skins. Why should I bother to keep rabbits in hutches? They’ll do very well where they are.” He began to shoot al elil– lendri, homba, stoat, owl. He put out food for rabbits, but not too near the warren. For his purpose, they had to become accustomed to going about in the fields and the wood. And then he snared them– not too many: as many as he wanted and not as many as would frighten them all away or destroy the warren. They grew big and strong and healthy, for he saw that they had all the best, particularly in winter, and nothing to fear– except the running knot in the hedge-gap and the wood-path. So they lived as he wanted them to live and all the time there were a few who disappeared. The rabbits became strange in many ways, different from other rabbits. They knew well enough what was happening. But even to themselves they pretended that all was well, for the food was good, they had nothing to fear but one fear; and that struck here and there, never enough to drive them away. They forgot the ways of wild rabbits. They forgot El-ahrairah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in an enemy’s warren and paying his price? They found out other marvellous arts to take the place of tricks and old stories. They danced in ceremonious greeting. They sang songs like the birds and made shapes on the walls; and though these could help them not at all, yet they passed the time and enabled them to tell themselves that they were splendid fellows, the very flower of Rabbitry, more clever than magpies. They had no Chief Rabbit — no, how could they? — for a Chief Rabbit must be El-ahrairah to his warren and keep them from death: and here there is no death but one, and what Chief Rabbit could have an answer to that? Instead, Frith sent them wonderful singers, beautiful and sick like oak-apples, like robins’ pincushions on the wild rose. And since they could not bear the truth, these singers, who might in some place have been wise, were sqeezed under the terrible weight of the warren’s secret until they gulped out fine folly — about dignity and acquiescence, and anything else that could make believe that the rabbit loved the shining wire. But one strict rule they had; oh, yes, the strictest. no one must ever ask where another rabbit was and anyone who asked: “Where?” except in a song or a poem — must be silenced. To say `Where?’ was bad enough, but to speak openly of the wires — that was intolerable. For that they would scratch and kill.”


That was my list of top ten books in the English language. I didn’t want to build my descriptions of the books based on a synopsis of the plot, because that can be so misleading. Every good book has a plot, but the plot in and of itself is not what makes it good. I wanted you to read the excerpts, so you would feel what it’s like to be inside the book, in the special space between reader and writer. I did this not just because each of these writers has a unique personal writing style — even though that’s true, that isn’t my point here, either. These books are meaningful to me in a much deeper sense. Skillful writing is not what does it for me. Intricate plotting isn’t enough, either. There’s something else that has to happen before I can fall in love with a book.

That’s right, fall in love! I am not just an appreciative reader of these books. I am a fan. What does that mean? It means that at one point or another, I was totally obsessed by each of these books. I didn’t just read them and re-read them. I couldn’t stop talking about them. Everything that happened to me reminded me of something in one of these books. I would day dream about the characters. I would invent alternate scenarios that weren’t in the book. I would write epic poems about them. Example: Elnavis .

Well, I actually only wrote an epic poem about one of them. But there are other ways to be a fan. The portrait of Hester Prynne, which I cut out from a magazine, used to hang in my law office. None of my clients knew who it was supposed to be or why it was there. It now hangs in my living room. The feelings that Wuthering Heights stirred in me were always the yardstick against which I measured to see if something was true love. Atlas Shrugged taught me that value cannot be faked, but The Fountainhead taught me never to give in to the market’s evaluation of my work. If the market and I don’t agree, I walk away. I don’t stand and haggle about my true worth.

Like Franny Glass I’ve had those moments when looking inward too deep and too long created more problems than it solved. I don’t have to look down on other people just because their road to virtue is different.

Whenever I think about juggling motherhood and career, I remember Podkayne of Mars.

When I began teaching, Jean Brodie was my model — not in the particulars, but in the passion I brought to the job. When I think of the kind of teacher I want my daughter to have, I want someone like Jean Brodie. I don’t want a teacher to teach my daughter what to think — I want her to teach her how to think. In that way, the pupil has the opportunity to surpass the teacher.

Whenever I hear about the plight of the poor, I think about Francie Nolan and how brave and strong she was. I know she didn’t want or need a handout, and that the self-reliance she learned in her childhood is the biggest gift her parents could give her.

And Watership Down makes me smile when someone tells me that I am not sophisticated enough to understand modern art or that true dignity is found in accepting a hopeless situation. Like Hazel and Fiver, I’d rather find a way out.

Do you do that with your favorite books, too? Do you obsess over them?

I don’t think everybody does. I think there are two kinds of readers, those who read books to pass the time of day or to be able to engage in small talk about them with other people, and those for whom reading certain books is a life-altering event, and the books remain an active presence, long after they’ve been read.

If it’s like that for you, then maybe these books are worth looking into.

(c) 2009 Aya Katz


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 

6 years ago from The Ozarks

Nice to meet another fan of a “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, Glimmer Twin Fan. I have a hardback copy that I bought secondhand. When I first read the book, I checked it out of the library. I wonder if most libraries still carry it.

This hub was written over three years ago, and I have since issued an amendment to my list: there is another book I also love, one I took for granted until recently. Here is an article about that:

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Claudia Mitchell 

    6 years ago

    Gotta say that “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” tops my list! I have spent countless hours getting lost in that book and still have my original copy which is tatters. A beautiful piece of writing!

  • Aya Katz profile image

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Glassvisage, thanks for dropping by. I didn’t like The Fountainhead the first time, either. It might just pay to give it another chance. Watership Down is a classic. Glad you like it, too! The Scarlet Letter is unforgettable to me, but it may also depend on how you discover it. There is the overall context, but then there’s also the personal one.

  • glassvisage profile image


    9 years ago from Northern California

    Aya, I should have known that many of the books you mentioned would be tomes I’ve never heard of! I started the Fountainhead, and I don’t like it, but maybe I should continue with it after reading this Hub. I love that you have Watership Down on here, and I had forgotten about The Scarlet Letter. Thank you for this list!~

  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Abhishek87, so glad to meet another Ayn Rand fan! I think one of the problems in current literature assessment is that a well polished sentence or paragraph is valued for itself, and not for the small part that it plays in an entire novel. The other problem is that if you concentrate on the heroic struggle of a protagonist, and minimize his human frailty, then you are accused of writing about a cardboard character. But if you do the opposite — concentrate on frailty and minimize heroism — you are never accused of creating cardboard characters. There is a double standard.

    However, one of the wonderful aspects of Hubpages and the Web is that we fans can meet and talk and discover that we are not alone!

  • Abhishek87 profile image


    9 years ago from India

    Another Ayn Rand fan here. I am really very young, so when I read Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged (in the past year only), I thought she was the best there ever could be. The sentences in these books hit me like anything, each one of them. But now I see the opinion of the majority, I mean people can see everything except the major thing that makes it worth what it is, the fight that Roark and AS characters put against their enemies. It really amazes me.

  • Aya Katz profile image

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    TotalReviewGuy, thanks for your comment! Watership Down is one of those books that seems fresh upon every new reading. When my kids were too young for the book, I used to read them El-ahreirah stories! There’s something there for everyone.

    I haven’t read Shardik, either. Something about it doesn’t attract me enough to get started.

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  • TotalReviewGuy profile image


    9 years ago from Your Computer

    Watership Down has been a favorite of mine and re-read every few years. I’ve just realized that it’s been over 10 years since my last reading. I’m long overdue so many thanks for reminding me!

    I’ve tried a few time to get through “Shardik” also to no avail.

  • Aya Katz profile image

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Ralph, I’ll definitely give Cannery Row a try, and I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve read it. Dickens is a great satirist, that’s true!

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    Ralph Deeds 

    9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Nearly everybody likes Cannery Row. Steinbeck’s touch is much lighter in Cannery Row than the Grapes of Wrath.

    I neglected to mention Dickens above. He was a master of social satire and he invented some of the most memorable characters in all of literature. He’s certainly in the very top rank of wolrd novelists

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Jerilee, thanks for dropping by! I’m glad to hear that new people are still discovering Ayn Rand, at whatever age. In a way, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that she isn’t being taught in the schools and in college. Required reading can ruin a classic. I was lucky that I never went to high school, so I had to discover The Scarlet letter all on my own! If someone had forced me to read it, I might not have liked it nearly as much.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Ralph Deeds, I haven’t read Cannery Row yet, but I do have a copy that I inherited from my grandfather. I will probably get around to reading it in the next year or so. I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath and what struck me was how patronizing it was. The migrant workers are portrayed as if they all have the mentality of small children who need to be looked after. I remember thinking: just because someone is poor doesn’t mean he’s a simpleton.

    A few months ago, I read The Winter of Our Discontent. Of all the Steinbeck books, I think that one is more nearly about the themes that interest me. Even so, it was disappointing, because I don’t think that Steinbeck and I have the same understanding of what it means to be a human being. It’s almost as if in some non-religious sense, he buys into the doctrine of original sin.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Iphigenia, thanks for the compliment! You’re right, everybody has their own list of favorites and their own reasons for choosing them. It’s good to be able to share those lists, without thinking that any one of them is definitive.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Paraglider, thanks for your comments and your recommendations. Maybe I will look into Stevenson’s The Wrong Box and Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth.

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  • Jerilee Wei profile image

    Jerilee Wei 

    9 years ago from United States

    Intriguing list Aya! I love the way you backed up your choices too. Just this past week my daughter, niece, and some of their co-workers — were bantering back and forth in emails, about the BBC’s list of 100 classic books that everyone should read. Growing up in southern California with a bunch of liberal arts teachers from Berkeley I was blessed to have been exposed to authors who made you think and teachers who didn’t tell you what to think.

    Still, I was an adult with teenaged children before I read Ayn Rand. I think that truth be told, she had a profound influence on a lot of women and some men, in this country and is still reaching younger generations. One of my nephew’s just posted a link from you tube, on his facebook in which she was being interviewed, and is just now reading her books (he’s about 34).

    I’d love to see other hubbers publish a list of their favorites and support those decisions. Books are such a delightful glimpse into the soul and mind of those who love them and have learned from them.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Shalini Kagal, thanks for dropping by! Glad to see that we share some of our favorite books. There was a time when if somebody told me that they liked Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice equally well, it made no sense to me. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could appreciate Pride and Prejudice. A novel of manners is primarily about the social world, and if someone is as blind to that world as I used to be, then he cannot see that even people who are well integrated into their community and its social customs might require courage to make a very tiny stand. For me, Pride and Prejudice is a lately acquired taste.

    I like To Kill a Mockingbird, too. It just didn’t make it onto my top ten. I haven’t read Shibumi, yet. I will have to look into it.

    Ayn Rand draws such knee jerk reactions, both from the right and left, that people don’t bother to read what she actually wrote. I read her critically, with an eye to what she said, not what people say she said. Maybe attitudes toward her will chage in time.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Lita Sorensen, thanks for your comment! I’m glad to hear that we share some of the same values in literature. Politics and literature are not co-terminous. Two people can like the same book and have completely different politics. I think that’s good!

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Ralph Deeds, thanks for sharing your list of top ten. Some of the novels you mentioned were not originally written in English, and if I were to read them, I would try to do so in the original language. I have copies of some of them lying around… but I admit I haven’t actually read them. Maybe someday I will.

    When I asked what Huck Finn and Moby Dick were about, I already knew the synopsis type answer or what they say on the dust jacket blurb. I meant, from your heart of hearts, what do they mean to you? Two people can read the same novel and get different things, depending on their moral and intellectual context. I can’t deny that Mark Twain is a great writer, he just doesn’t happen to be among my favorites. Twain is at his best as a satirist. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with satire, (I write satire, too, sometimes), but when someone is looking for a book to inspire and uplift, satire is not going to do it.

    It’s all right to take note of other people’s foibles and laugh a little, but it’s not okay if that is all you ever do. This is why I like Franny and Zooey, but not Catcher in the Rye. There are some great moments in Catcher, but in the end it’s all about putting other people down. Franny and Zooey corrects this error. It shows us that we can’t become better people simply by sitting in judgment of others. Being good is about finding the right path for you, and allowing others to find their own path.

    Sadly, I haven’t read Melville yet, so I can’t say for sure whether I’ll like him or not. I do have a copy of Moby Dick that someone gave me because it’s supposed to be good literature. I haven’t been tempted to read it yet, and I may change my mind about it once I do. However, from everything I’ve heard about it, it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing. Revenge against a whale? Isn’t that a little weird? People have lost limbs to all sorts of accidents, but ascribing moral evil intent under these circumstances seems bizarre. It’s like getting mad at a tornado for destroying your house. That isn’t rational.

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    LondonGirl, thanks for your comment!

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  • Ralph Deeds profile image

    Ralph Deeds 

    9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Cannery Row is one of my favorites. Anyone who liked it should try some of Jorge Amado’s books. They have a lot in common with Steinbeck. He documents life in the towns on the Amazon–the poor, the gamblers, whores and scam artists.

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    9 years ago

    Thanks for sharing – it is so hard to compile a list like this, there I so much choice, and everyone will feel thee is a gap in the list. Your love of your personal choices glows throughout this hub, tha glow enhances the excellent presentation and illustrations.

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    Dave McClure 

    9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

    Hi Aya – Interesting list. I agree that Jean Brodie may well have been a fluke. None of her others come close. My list would include some Dickens, probably Our Mutual Friend, Stevenson’s The Wrong Box, possibly the funniest read among the classics, and Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth. Among the moderns, it’s much harder to choose, because they still live in changing time. Probably I’d select Lanark by Alistair Gray. I read Huck Finn last time I was back in UK, with great pleasure, and also have a soft spot for Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men.

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  • Shalini Kagal profile image

    Shalini Kagal 

    9 years ago from India

    Aya – that’s a great list – what I haven’t read, I must put on my to-read list right away!

    I love Wuthering Heights too – and go back to it so often! Of course I’m a sucker for the gentler romantic novels too, so Pride and Prejudice is a well-thumbed novel too.

    I’m an Ayn Rand fan too – and unlike you, I read Fountainhead before Atlas Shrugged and I saw the way her ideas progressed. I wish people would see the ideas behind her stories – I think she was far ahead of her time and we might do well to follow the integrity of her protaganists and use the earth well like they did!

    Watership Down is another favourite too – and I would also add Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Trevanian’s Shibumi. I re-read them too. Thanks for this and thumbs up!

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    Leta S 

    9 years ago

    Hi, Aya-We absolutely come at things differently politically, but I’m surprised how many books are on your list that meant something to me, too.

    I see a theme within your list–particularly regarding women.  You seem to like strong, resolute, solitary, nontraditional, very ‘out of the ordinary’ character types.  As referenced by Hester Prynne, Francie–a few others.   I can appreciate that!

    Both The Scarlet Letter and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn haunted me for a long time….  Interesting and eclectic list.

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  • Ralph Deeds profile image

    Ralph Deeds 

    9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (often shortened to Huck Finn) is a novel written by Mark Twain and published in 1884. It is commonly regarded one of the Great American Novels, and is one of the first major American novels written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels.

    The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. By satirizing a Southern antebellum society that was already anachronistic at the time of its publication, the book is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all of American literature.

    (From Wikipedia)

    Moby-Dick[1] is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a white whale of tremendous size and ferocity. Comparatively few whaleships know of Moby Dick, and fewer yet have encountered him. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg. Ahab intends to take revenge.

    In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the main character’s journey, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of gods are all examined as Ishmael speculates upon his personal beliefs and his place in the universe. The narrator’s reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor’s life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices such as stage directions, extended soliloquies and asides.

    (from Wikipedia)

    Here’s a great YouTube video of Orson Welles doing the call me Ishmael passage from Moby Dick. It’s well worth watching

    Other novels among my favorites that come immediately to mind are

    Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (great movie)

    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (great movie-Apocalypse Now)

    The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (outstanding movie)

    1000 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado (very funny Brazilian movie)

    The Leopard by Giuseppi di Lampedusa (great movie starring Burt Lancaster)

    The Sotweed Factor by John Barth (comedic historical novel about the colonizing of the Chesapeake Bay area; one of the funniest books ever)

    The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevski

    With Moby Dick and Huck Finn that makes ten of my favorites, not necessarily my favorite 10. That would take more thought.

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  • LondonGirl profile image


    9 years ago from London

    thanks for sharing these with us – your passion really does shine through

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  • Aya Katz profile imageAUTHOR

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Ralph Deeds, thanks for your comment and for sharing some of your favorite books. This is a list of books that mean the world to me. I realize they may not be everyone’s cup of tea — least of all a group of literature and philosophy professors seeking to arrive at some kind of professional consensus. I think that part — a big part — of the problem with literature today has to do with this consensus politics, instead of each person consulting his own conscience about aesthetic judgments. I bet most of those professors don’t have either of their “official” top books as their personal favorite, and many would be ashamed to admit what they really enjoy reading.

    I’m not ashamed. I know it’s uncool to read Ayn Rand. And by the way, my reading of her is NOT the canonical take on it. The Objectivists would ex-communicate me, if I had ever bothered to join. I’m for free enterprise — but NOT for capitalism. Rand didn’t even realize there was a difference. Nevertheless, in times of moral tribulation, her books are of great help to me. If Howard Roark isn’t standing up to corporate America in that scene I cited, what do you think he’s doing? Is it any different from what Hester Prynne did when she refused to inform on Dimmesdale?

    All the books I like are about personal integrity and how to achieve it. What are Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn about? How many people turn to these books when they are in a bind? And that brings me to the next question: what do you think literature is for?

  • Ralph Deeds profile image

    Ralph Deeds 

    9 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

    Aya, you’re entitled to your opinion. However, your list is quite different from what would come from a consensus or vote by college literature and philosophy professors. First, two that are considered ahead of the “Scarlet Letter” on the best books in American literature–They are “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “Moby Dick” by Herman Mellville. Some professors and critics rank Huck Finn number one, and others “Moby Dick.” They are both great novels. I would delete Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” from your list if it were mine and replace them with “Moby Dick” and “Huckleberry Finn.” Neither of Ayn Rand’s books is considered even in the top 100 American novels, and she doesn’t even rate a mention among philosophers. Of course, I’m not questioning what you said about what the books mean to you. I read and enjoyed both of them a long time ago, but the characters seemed to me to be cardboard cutouts to illustrate Ayn Rand’s selfish, social Darwinist opinions. Incidentally, she’s partly to blame for the current worldwide economic abyss because her worshipper, Alan Greenspan’s inaction was a big contributor to the crash.

  • Aya Katz profile image

    Aya Katz 

    9 years ago from The Ozarks

    Vladimir Uhri, thanks for asking. If we’re talking about my favorite self-contained book, I would say it would have to be The Book of Ruth. It’s a beautiful story that shows people blending together in families, regardless of their ethnic extraction. It has some of the most moving lines.

    I also enjoy reading and rereading Joshua and Samuel I and II.

    Samina, thanks for dropping by. Have you never read Wuthering Heights before, or are you rushing off to re-read it? BTW, when I read Bow the excerpts, he told me his favorite was the one about Poddy.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Hi Dr Katz

    Thanks for informing about the best books in English, this will send me racing towards our central library to fetch Wuthering Heights… whew !

  • Which book you like best from Tannakh?

    Thanks for you inside you gave us.

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Interview with Julia Hanna and Guest Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh –continued

On July 13, 2018 Julia Hanna and Aya Katz continued to interview with Dt. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh that had begun the week before. The topic was language and apes.

Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is more experienced than any other ape language researcher,  and her breakthroughs have revolutionized the field. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh has a lifetime of achievements in the field of ape language, working with  both chimpanzees and bonobos.  She is has generously agreed to share her personal experiences, her observations and her scientific conclusions with us in this interview.


Specific issues covered in this interview include:

  • The ability of specific parrots to use human language to share new information.
  • The difference between living language and expressions that have been bleached of meaning and are only used as social signals.
  • How a parrot can use language spontaneously and not only by rote.
  • How a baby develops its self-identity.
  • Human rearing and its effect on the cognition of chimpanzees.
  • Autistic individuals and defects in mirror neurons.
  • The mechanisms and tests employed to determine that an individual is self-aware.
  • The mirror test of self-recognition.
  • Cognitive differences between monkeys and apes.
  • Whether there is more to language than its embodiment in a living being.
  • AI translations of two languages into each other using text alone.
  • The difference between the structure of language and the exchange of meaning between beings.
  • Evolution of homonids revisited and where other apes come into our family tree.
  • The many waves of hominid migrations from Africa.
  • Maternal mitochondria and its effects on neonatal development.
  • The inroads that the discovery of epigenetics has made on classical theories of evolution and natural selection as the driving force.
  • The difference between epigenetics and neonatal environment.
  • A brief phone appearance by Liz Rubert-Pugh, who is also an ape language researcher.
  • The ability of bonobos and chimpanzees to communicate at levels and speeds far beyond the average human.
  • How traumatizing it would be for an enculturated ape to be taken from the human environment where he was raised and placed in a sanctuary or zoo.
  • The animal rights agenda and how it has been used to confiscate exotics and keep them from breeding in the United States.
  • The anti-conservation results of shipping endangered chimpanzees to camps where they are not allowed to procreate.
  • The natural relationships between humans and other animals.
  • Political correctness in the animal rights movement.
  • Why sanctuaries will not allow even young and healthy chimpanzees to breed.
  • How child welfare and animal welfare are related, and how the increased number of children removed from the home for non-abusive behavior of parents correlates with animal “rescues”.
  • How the internet could be used to allow captive apes to communicate with one another across the globe without leaving home.


Interview with Julia Hanna and Guest Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh


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Interview with Julia Hanna and Guest Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

On July 6, 2018 Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh spoke with Julia Hanna and Aya Katz.

Recently, Koko the Gorilla passed away. In response, Geoffrey Pullum wrote a scathing  critique of Koko’s language skills.…

Julia Hanna and Aya Katz wanted to discuss with Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh the merits of this kind of critique of ape language.

Since her research survived the funding cuts that followed the Clever Hans conference,  Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is more experienced than any other ape language researcher,  and her breakthroughs have revolutionized the field. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh has a lifetime of achievements in the field of ape language, working with  both chimpanzees and bonobos.  She is has generously agreed to share her personal experiences, her observations and her scientific conclusions with us in this interview.


Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

Issues discussed include:

  • The ability of non-human primates to keep other primates as pets in the wild as well as in captivity.
  • Standards for proving a human has language and how they contrast with standards of proof for non-humans.
  • AI and chat boxes, debate engines and what constitutes language.
  • What it means to engage in a dialogue.
  • The fact that there  has not  been any academic debate as to whether a human displaying some mastery of grammar and phonology, but not the ability to engage in dialogue, can be said to “have language.”
  • Herbert Terrace’s teaching techniques for Nim Chimpsky and how they elicited imitation.
  • Lana’s dialogues in Yerkish, an invented language.
  • Language universals and whether they are based on brain morphology or information theory constraints.
  • Irene Pepperberg and Alex the African Grey Parrot.
  • Washoe and how language was elicited from her by the Gardners and Roger Fouts.
  • The difference between training an ape to use language and allowing the ape to pick up the language in a real world context.
  • How Kanzi the bonobo acquired language.
  • What is the minimal language use that can be considered having “real” language.
  • Whether the meaning of language can be negotiated.
  • Whether bilinguals have to acquire language anew with each new language or they just build onto their already existing language structure.
  • Whether the language of hunter-gatherers is materially different from that of modern humans living in industrialized society.
  • The current state of the educational system where assessments and tests supercede teaching and learning.


Livestream with Julia Hanna and Guest Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

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Interview by Julia Hanna with Kelly Clear and Aya Katz

On June 29, 2018 Julia Hanna interviewed Kelly Clear, the narrator for the Audible edition of When Sword Met Bow, and Aya Katz, its author.

Kelly Clear is from a musical family and grew up reading books out loud to his siblings. He has been married for thirteen years and has four children and one on the way. Vacuum County was the first book he narrated on Audible, released last year. Kelly and his family moved from Michigan to Washington State last year after finishing the primary recording for Vacuum County.

Kelly Clear holding u p a copy of When Sword Met Bow

Topics discussed in the interview include:

  • Why it is important to read to children
  • How different children respond to being read to
  • Favorite parts of When Sword Met Bow
  • The children in the Clear household and preparing for the new baby
  • Kelly’s participation in Community Choir
  • Library programs that foster literacy
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder and current political moves to penalize her fiction
  • The AR reading program in the public schools
  • Other works for Audible recorded by Kelly Clear



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Interview by Julia Hanna with Evelyn Adams and Aya Katz

Evelyn Adams is the narrator for Ping & the Snirkelly People, soon to be out on Audible. She became an avid reader at the age of eight when she was first introduced to the wonderful world of  Roald Dahl. Reading has always been a passionate interest for Evelyn,  leading to her first young author’s award, when she was thirteen. Evelyn resides in Toronto, Canada and is an English teacher by  day and a narrator by night, reading to her little daughter.

Julia Hanna interviewed Evelyn Adams and Aya Katz on June 22, 2018.

Some of the issues discussed include:

  • The inspiration for Ping’s voice.
  • How Evelyn Adams became an Audible narrator.
  • How being an English teacher helps Evelyn with her job as a narrator.
  • Evelyn’s knowledge of Urdu and Punjabi.
  • Toronto, Canada and its environs — attractions for tourists.
  • Greater Toronto area and its mix of cultures.
  • Other books that Evelyn is narrating.
  • Other children’s books by Aya Katz
  • The inspiration for Ping & the Snirkelly People
  • Evelyn’s favorite scenes in Ping & the Snirkelly People
  • The references to events and media from 1967 in  Ping & the Snirkelly People
  • ESL applications of  Ping & the Snirkelly People
  • Evelyn’s own writing and her love of books.

Ping & the Snirkelly People — Order Here


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Live Talk with Julia Hanna and Aya Katz


On June 15, 2018  Julia Hanna and Aya Katz had a livestreamed conversation.

Topics discussed include:

  • Tariffs and what their effect is on the economy of the country that enacts them.
  • Who should pay for waging war.
  • Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and their conflicting positions on how to fund war.
  • Smuggling and smugglers and the black market.
  • Privateers, privateering and Jean Laffite.
  • The reasons given for war:  protecting resources and people.
  • How the humanitarian reasons given to incite war result in more civilians killed.
  • The Mt. Carmel Massacre and the reasons given to justify it
  • How the US government is funding the Jane Goodall Insitute
  • How US conservation efforts abroad could lead to war
  • How US conservation efforts at home are often misguided, including those involving Spanish Broom and Milkweed and Monarchs.
  • Why in local elections it is best to vote for good people regardless of party affiliation
  • Huma Abedin’s foreign policies and how they influenced Hillary Clinton


Who Should Pay for Waging War

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LiveTalk with Julia Hanna and Aya Katz

On June 8, 2018 Julia Hanna and Aya Katz had a livestreamed conversation.

Some of the topics discussed include:

  • The election results in California
  • The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act
  • Language Acquisition by Total Immersion
  • How Meaning is not Negotiated by New Language Learners
  • Ping & the Snirkelly People
  • The Meaning and Effect of the Pledge of Allegiance
  • The Candidacy of Austin Petersen for U. S. Senate in the Missouri Republican Primary
  • The Vote to Remove Fluoride from the water supply of Houston, Missouri


Julia Hanna’s Blog

Austin Petersen’s Website

Article about Second Language Acqusition 


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Live Interview with Julia Hanna and Guest Sophia Delaat

On June 1, 2018 Julia Hanna and Aya Katz spoke with guest Sophia Delaat.

Sophia Delaat is the author of The Mermaid’s Tale  and a renowned gourd artist. Raised in a military family, the daughter of a Colonel, Sophia got to travel extensively as a child, growing up and going to school in the United States, Portugal and Japan. She went to college in Texas, became interested in early childhood education, was trained in teaching, taught in Melbourne, Australia, became a Waldorf school teacher, raised a daughter on her own,  later married, and is now living in the Missouri Ozarks with her husband, where she works on gourd art and serves as a CASA worker.

Topics discussed in our interview include:

  • The mythological origins of The Mermaid’s Tale.
  • The Waldorf School and its education system.
  • Kindergarten education and fostering the imagination in play.
  • Dreams and pictorial thinking.
  • What it means to be a woman.
  • Making art out of gourds.
  • The underpinnings of Anthroposophy.
  • Being a CASA worker and helping children from difficult home backgrounds.

Sophia’s book, The Mermaid’s Tail may be purchased on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

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Live Interview with Julia Hanna and Guest Kathy Freeze

On May 18, 2018 Julia Hanna and Aya Katz spoke with guest Kathy Freeze about the novel she is writing, her purple martin colony, her nature photography, trips to Yellowstone Park, mentoring of other purple martin landlords, her libertarian beliefs and  who she would be voting for in the Senate race in Missouri.

Kathy Freeze is a libertarian, an avid nature-lover and amateur photographer who lives in the beautiful Ozarks of Missouri.  She also blogs about her adventures with nature, her purple martin colony, butterflies, bees and native prairie restoration on her blog at “The Birds & The Bees”.  

Topics discussed include:

  • The book Kathy is writing and what her inspiration was for this work of realistic fiction.
  • Her purple martin colony and her work mentoring other purple martin landlords.
  • Her nature blogging and photography.
  • Her trips to Yellowstone National Park.
  • The issues involved in conservation of apex predators such as wolves, coyotes and owls.
  • Her libertarian political beliefs.
  • Her support for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri, Austin Petersen.

Here is an inspiring nature video from Kathy’s YouTube channel.

In addition to her own blog, The Birds and the Bees, Kathy has also written right here on Pubwages:

Feeding Purple Martins During Inclement Weather

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Live Interview with Julia Hanna and Artist Lanie Frick

On May 11, 2018 Julia Hanna and Aya Katz spoke with artist Lanie Frick about her art, her reputation as a colorist, her professional membership in artist organizations and how she went about getting two grants at the same time from two different art organizations to improve her technique and hone her approach to her artwork.

“Colorist” is the term used most often when referring to Lanie Frick fine art painter. Her use of color infuses subjects of horses, domestic animals, wildlife and the supporting landscape with light and mood. Lanie’s painting style is one of intuitive expression where realistic subjects show movement and life by vivid notes of impressionism.

Lanie is a juried member of Women Artists of the West (WAOW) and Best of Missouri Hands (BOMH). She has been the Featured Artist for large events such as the Nebraska Horse Expo and PRCA Rodeo in Missouri. Her paintings are regularly juried into regional and national exhibitions including the 2014, 2015 and 2016 National WAOW shows, “Gallopalooza” of Louisville, KY, as well as published internationally on cover art for novels and magazines. Public and private collectors throughout the United States and abroad have purchased her paintings.

Topics discussed during the live interview on May 11, 2018 included:

  • What it means to be a “colorist”.
  • What is “intuitive expression”.
  • How Lanie Frick became an artist.
  •  How Lanie Frick  became a juried artist and became a member of  Women Artists of the West and  Best of Missouri Hands.
  • When, how and why Lanie Frick decided to apply for grants, and how she came to be chosen for two grants at the same time.
  • The best mindset and approach when applying for an art grant.
  • Color, composition. design and value as terms of art.
  • Impressionistic painting and expressive painting.
  • A brief discussion of modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
  • Inspiration for artworks and finding models and subjects.
  • Commissioned art work versus spontaneous art or self-motivated art.
  • How to find your own style rather than mimicking the style of others.
  • Lanie Frick’s portfolio of past art works and the art she is working on now.

Lanie Frick is the author of four books about color mixing in art, available on Kindle.

Book 1 of Lanie Frick’s four part series Order it on Amazon

To learn more about Lanie Frick’s art and life, here is her website:

Follow her on Facebook:

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