Peruse the comments below submitted by readers across Maine. Note that many comments have been edited for brevity.
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
"I've read this book many times over the past 25 years. Each time I read it, I find relevance and parallels in the text, to the life and times I find myself in. I actually have plans to have a quote from the book tattooed on my left arm this summer: 'Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.' I can't think of many quotes more immediately relevant than that."
"I've always loved dystopian fiction and this was the start of that before it was even categorized that way. This book is more relevant now than ever and is a book that everyone must read!"
"Topical for sure."
"I have read many of these books, and can't believe some are even on a list like this. But never the less, the content and far reaching implications of a book such as 1984 cannot be devalued or dismissed, and that is why I have given it my vote. It should be required reading of all high schoolers in Maine. Thank you Mrs. Spearin, Woodland High School (posthumously) for opening up the world through this book. Who would have thought? We are fast approaching many of its quandaries."
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)
"When I was placed in summer school as an alternative to being held back in fifth grade, I was amazed to learn that I loved reading this book, in the English/literature class that I was forced to take. It was a turning point in my life. Since then I've read it several times, and enjoyed it immensely every time."
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
"I selected Americanah because the author has written a modern classic, a book that is grounded in the present but will stand the test of time as a portrait of the American immigrant experience. Because Maine is one of the least diverse states, it is incumbent on us as readers to educate ourselves about perspectives and experiences that are not our own."
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
"Imaginative, fun but still with a serious side. I've loved all these books since I was 11. I already was a great reader but this reinforced the power of reading and imagination. I also have a very early copy that I plan to pass on to my nieces and am encouraging them to love reading also. The story is timeless and even as an adult I enjoy revisiting the story."
"Gave me a special time with my girls. Read the series then went to PEI. Such an adventure. Really brought the books to life!"
"To me a girl found her real self and learned about true family and peace."
"Anne of Green Gables is a timeless tale of hope and imagination. It is appropriate for all ages."
Another Country by James Balwdwin (1962)
"I first read this book when I was 20, and was deeply moved by its devastating story. Since then, each time I reread it, it has never failed to reveal something new to me, all couched in Baldwin's extraordinarily elegant prose."
"The 1960's was time of great Civil Rights that changed many lives. The lessons learned and the causes won, are now vanishing. We need to re-explore and examine how the U.S. returned to the past, and the methods of moving forward again in our times."
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
"Have read Atlas Shrugged three times and each time gained new insight. The first read was during my early 20s. I found it life changing."
"I read it at just the right age and level of personal development so that it struck a strong chord."
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
"Beloved takes us to the heart of the difficult choices that people make when they are in impossible conditions."
"So many of these fall into one of three categories: 1) Recency bias: I just read (& saw, in some cases) that in the last year or two, so I think it's better 2) Nostalgic bias: "Oh! I remember reading that!" (wistfully cut to 16 year old me) or 3) "I keep meaning to read that ..." I went with 'Beloved' because it's a consistent, engrossing re-read for me, and it didn't fall prey to changing of tastes & cultural attitudes, its core messages and stunning language remain true and worthy (to my mind)."
"This is the definitive novel that allows readers to get a sense of the inferiority of the experience of slavery — just how horrific and enduring this defining aspect of American history is."
Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1972)
"Wonderful story of the relationship between the young and the elderly."
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz (2007)
"An amazing story that captures the true feel of different eras, places, and cultures."
"It's brilliantly written and about the immigrant experience today as well as a classic "outsider" book. Oscar is an updated and more universal Holden or Gatsby."
"I loved the writing. The story, the characters."
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
"Love books and fear for our country and the way of life I've been so privileged to have for 66 years."
"Makes us realize the risks people are willing to take to bring the enjoyment of reading to others."
"This is my favorite because I picked it up 'used' in a local bookshop by accident and I remember tearing up when Rudy died. The whole story caught me by surprise, from its historical accounting to character development. I was charmed. And when I have to recommend a book The Book Thief always is at the tip of my tongue."
The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger (1951)
"Clearly this book is a classic. I have read it numerous times and each time see something else in the characters that I have not thought about before. I also taught this book when I taught high school and it captivated students at the time. Recently I saw a documentary about Jews and WW2 and discovered that Salinger participated in helping to free the concentration camp victims and shortly after wrote this book. A lot of what he saw haunted him- understandably so and some of that may also be reflected in the book. Which is why I will once again need to reread the novel! Timeless!"
"It's for everyone."
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
"All about the logic/illogic of the military and war."
"Though I served in the Vietnam-era and not WWII, Catch 22 perfectly captured the essence, glory, and banality that IS the U.S. Army (and I write this on the Army’s 243rd Anniversary)."
"Brilliant parody of American society in the 1950s, and significant applications to the current political climate as well."
Charlotte's Web by EB White (1952)
"I never tire of reading it and I weep every time."
"Charlotte's Web is a timeless book for all ages that shines a light on the importance of human decency and kindness through the eyes and hearts of the iconic American farm family."
"It's Maine in a nutshell — plus, my grandfather wrote it, so I might be just a little prejudiced by that."
"If you'd like, please tell us why your choice is your favorite. Strong female characters, and the themes on friendship, love, and doing all we can to make the world a better place during our lifetime."
"It's theme of love and acceptance is universal."
"Charlotte's Web helped me fall in love with reading and it is a wonderful example of friendship!"
"Charlotte's Web shows the importance of friends, love, and loyalty in one's life. It also speaks to the significant contributions that even the smallest creatures can make in creating a better world."
"America at its best."
"When I read this book as a young girl, I loved it so much that I set out to copy it in longhand. To this day, the images and characters from "Charlotte's Web" live on in my heart. And, most of all, it's about love."
"Who can argue against the best coming-of-age story passing down timeless lessons about loyalty and compassion immortalizing the agrarian rhythms of a very familiar saltwater farm? Love, death, childhood, and a bit of blueberry pie for good measure."
"I am in perpetual awe that EB White appeared to so capture the hearts and minds of each of the animals in Charlotte's Web. It is a precious and perfectly written book from beginning to end and touched my animal loving soul so very deeply. (I would urge you to add Bambi by Felix Salten to this list. I have an original hard cover copy from 1929 and it is as magical as Charlotte's Web. As an animal rights advocate, reading Bambi deepened my already strong devotion to always advocating for animal protection and kindness towards all animals.)"
"Charlotte's Web taught me at a young age to appreciate all living beings, to see how individual opinions regarding the same issue can be different but just as valuable. The importance of love and respect for those who are different from us is also a major theme in the book. Finally, love for animals and their place on this earth with us has been a guiding force in my life."
"Read it to my third grade class every year!"
"Maine writer of outstanding sensitivity and appeal to all ages, not just a children's book!"
"You don't need to be a child to be so utterly moved by the loyalty of friendship, accepting differences and witnessing with the desperation Wilbur feels as he learns about death. Truly the classic story presenting themes that will never die."
"Charlotte's Web is a book that brings back the fondest memories of childhood. My fourth grade teacher read it aloud to us with all the character voices that she could muster. The message of the power of friendship and love was as clear then as it was when I read it as a teenager, and then again read it to my son. E. B. White's speaks to all of us in a honest language that has made me love this book all my life and in turn has made me love reading."
"This is THE Maine book, a transitional moment in a young girl's life when she can still hear the voices of her animal friends, and yet rushes forth to ride the ferris wheel with Henry. A snapshot of post WWII rural Maine, glimpses of which remain for my daughters to see and feel, still. Thank you for asking."
"Read to, and by, children in classrooms everywhere."
"Charlotte’s Web is a gentle story of life’s cycle and how we live on forever. The characters are all realistically parallel to some in the general population. Grief was taboo until Kubler-Ross and Charlotte’s Web. I often think of her when I carefully take a spider from my home and put her/him outside. It makes life and death less scary and normalizes it as life’s cycle."
"Wise and truthful, particularly concerning death and love."
"It's as well written as any book on this list, and can be read on multiple levels. It's a great story and ages well. It combines realism with idealism."
"Charlotte's Web reminds me of my childhood. It teaches children about the circle of life. The characters are endearing and the story is of a simpler time and full of life."
"Universal themes of love and acceptance in a charming story that appeals to all ages."
"I [heart emoji] E. B. White :-) A unexpected, beautiful story about friendship!"
The Chronicles of Narnia (series) C.S. Lewis (1950)
"It is for children and adults. Much to be learned and thought about."
"An allegory that I think about often. Like C.S. Lewis's other series as well: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. J.R.R. Tolkien is close second."
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (1980)
"So many threads of interest are presented: as a fictional read; historical information; page turner; human evolution, plant life evolution, medical evolution, child hood behavior, social norms, race and gender norms, childbirth practices, societal issues and resolution of such, relationship between and among humans, environmental interaction, weather/climate and how humans adapted. There are so many threads which one could follow and read just for one or many interests."
"Novel approach to anthropological history."
"I first read these as a teenager. I sat out in the woods and read them, and when I would stop reading to go back home, I was always so inspired to do something creative, something positive, something that would help the world. Later I read them all to my children, more than once."
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
"I lost myself in this great book, feeling like I was rotting in prison and wishing somehow for ultimate revenge! A wonderful read!"
"I have re- read this book numerous times and I am always newly sweep away by how swiftly innocence is lost and avenged and ultimately replaced by knowledge and an uneasy peace. I think I start it each time just to get to the closing lines that state: 'the sum of all human wisdom is contained in the words wait and hope.'"
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
"I like many of the books in this list, but Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment stands out for me because I remember being engrossed in its every word, as if every word was perfectly chosen and necessary to the telling of the story. I feel lucky to have had access to the translated version available to me at the time. This book lives on because it is intensively introspective in relating the story of a person’s inner struggle — after having committed an anonymous wanton act just for the sake of it — between keeping the secret or seeking punishment. Like a moth to the flame, Raskolnikov kept seeking the company of Petrovich. Crime and Punishment is an exciting and timeless introspective on personal values, morals, and living in society."
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (2003)
"I think we all have a little bit of the main character in each of us. At times, it was like looking in a mirror; at other times, it was like watching a neighbor or family member!"
"So perfectly told story from an autistic voice!!"
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2003)
"I enjoy how Brown weaves culture, history, art and literature in developing the story. My first choice would have been The Power and the Glory but sadly it didn't make the "grade."
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
"Don Quixote will not be Maine's favorite book of all time, but from those listed, it is mine. It is both sad and funny and presents a poignant picture of the human condition. A wise person told me 50 years ago that you could read it as a young person and laugh, in middle age and ponder, and in old age and cry.
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
"Most science fiction is based on Dune."
Foundation (series) by Isaac Asimov (1951)
"Optimistic, thought provoking, & minimal violence; by best writer ever."
"A truly epic scope space opera told with a very simple and clean writing style. And it gives us hope for the future."
"Sci-fi is just my favorite."
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
"So hard to choose, So many excellent books but The Giver had a strong emotional impact."
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
"Never get tired of the story and Masterpiece Theater's presentations of it throughout the years."
"I read this book in high school, it started my life long love of Charles
Dickens. The time period he writes about is full of history and heroes. It transports me to this time and place."
"Dickens prose is wonderful. He paints pictures of the times that are treasures."
The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (1939)
"It made a big impression at the time I read it. It has a lot of heart."
"My favorite book Is "The Stargazer," a biography of Galileo. Of the books listed, my favorite is "The Grapes of Wrath," because it cries out to us to support the downtrodden, the victims of capitalist oppression."
"An optimistic commentary on the resilience of the human spirit, and what I hope is still the fundamental American character."
"This book really was the one I read with so much incidence in my heart & mind that it shaped my youth & adult life. It's like & is part of my family story."
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
"It's the American Dream. Young man from questionable background becomes fabulously rich and seeks true love, but all does not end well."
"Truly the Great American Novel. Holds up still after many readings. Captures the ineffable quality of the American character - the ability to remake yourself in your own image. Plus, beautiful, memorable writing."
"This competition should seek to identify those books which best represent an essentially "American" literature. Of the list of 100, only a handful satisfy that objective, and The Great Gatsby is the best among them."
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
"There are so many favorites on this list. It was hard to pick. I did love Gone with the Wind."
"It was really a toss-up but chose Gone with the Wind because its story is at the heart of the ongoing struggle between the two poles of our society. But why Tom Sawyer and not Huck Finn? Why Sirens of Titan and not Slaughterhouse Five?"
"I have many favorites on this list but this one I have read at least twice and have seen the unforgettable movie several times. Hopefully a Civil War could never happen again in this country."
"I love historical fiction, the Civil War has always been a something l wanted to learn more about. Who doesn't love Scarlet O'Hara, and Rhett Butler? But have to say this was a very hard choice, so many great books."
"Sorry, can't decide. Spent a half hour going 'oh! I love that book'...if forced would have to choose GWTW. I read it every couple of years. It's a book you can lose yourself in."
"Gone With The Wind was the first book that I literally could not put down. As a junior high schooler, I read this in one weekend. The plot has so many story threads, and the depiction of Civil War times is great."
The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
"This book makes the reader feel that the plot could really happen in the future. Also, any book I can read more than once and still enjoy is a great book to me! (1st read in 1985)"
Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling (1997)
"There are so many good books on this list but Harry Potter had an incredible impact on the book industry and with developing the love of reading for so many. And it's a heck of a story! It's a book for the masses. I doubt there are many who have not heard of Harry Potter."
"It has everything you could want in a story — humor, suspense, action, love, epic fight scenes — and is a classic tale of good vs. evil and the grey in between. It is for old and young alike, and naturally lends itself to rereading because it is broad and deep and yet timeless as well."
"While I love many of the books on this list, Harry Potter is the one that I have read over and over and over and over again. So I think it must be my favorite!"
"I read this with my stepdaughter and then 15 years later, read it with my son — it is still fresh, morally sound, and entertaining — it is a story that I could read again & again and still be absorbed..."
"Very well written and imaginative."
"The first of the "Harry Potter" books was recommended to me by a young child, and I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then read each book of the series when it became available and loved each one. As each of my three children became ready for chapter books, I read him or her the series and re-read each again for myself. We also watched each movie-version together, dressed as characters for Halloween, and played Harry Potter games online (I have been "sorted" into Ravenclaw, my husband is a Gryffindor, two of my children are Slytherins, and my other child is a Hufflepuff). I treasure many of the books on the list, but this series has been an essential part of the life I share with my family!"
"Engages young readers and tells a wonderful redemptive story of what it means to be "different" and how you can change the world."
Hatchet (series) by Gary Paulsen (1987)
"This was a tough choice but the writing of the Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen transported you to what it would be like to survive, alone, in the wilderness and the inner strength that we all have to survive. This lead me to read Winterdance, the fine madness of running the Iditarod, also by Gary Paulsen, and he once again transported me to what it would be like to race across Alaska in the winter. His writing is so personal and descriptive that I can read his books over and over again and what a life this man had...I recommend his books over and over to people. As well as read them over and over."
Heart Of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad (1902)
"I have read this book several times. It is as relevant and vivid today as it was when I first read the book 20+ years ago."
"The language, the imagery, is amazing; it is haunting, in a way a brilliant horror novel, as it reminds us of the darkness that lurks in every heart..."
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009)
"The book is entertaining, but it is eye opening as well."
"History, well developed characters, great story!"
"This book is a snapshot in time of the racial struggles of the deep south, presented with clarity, great depth and humor. The topic was handled with an in-your-face honesty, that was deeply satisfying and enjoyable to read. So beautifully crafted, you truly cared about the characters. So many great books on this list, but I kept coming back to this one, as one of my favorites! Also, great for discussion!"
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
"Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is my favorite because his zaniness stands the test of time. It made me laugh out loud the first time I read it, and rereading it still makes me laugh today."
"Adams' whimsical tale contains many important insights and lessons."
"It still makes me laugh, it still makes me think, and it still makes me wish I had an electronic thumb."
"I have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy more times than any other book. I find new things to laugh about and new insights into the human psyche every time that I read it."
"I selected The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, based on how often I quote from it versus any other book on the list."
"Wacky, fun and very creative."
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1953)
"Because to a large extent the truths told by Ellison in 1953 still dog America today."
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
"Determination, solitude and actualization."
"There is so much to love in this list, but "Jane Eyre" will always be my favorite novel. It is a beautiful story told in a compassionate and powerful voice, and it never fails even in many re-readings to completely engross me."
"Jane Eyre is the most satisfying coming-of-age novel because Jane wins by staying true to herself and doing the right thing."
"Story of someone who understands the importance of making decisions you can ultimately live with."
"The first book where I was transported to another place and time."
"There were several books on this list that I've read multiple times. But I chose Jane Eyre because it's a stand-alone work that has a strong female character who is very easy to identify with...who gets a happy ending after some pretty horrible trials."
"I read it for the first time at age 10, and every five years or so since then (I'm now 67). The story of this young woman who always operates from her moral center, rather than from the influence of others, has always intrigued and inspired me, especially when I was young."
"I wish there were my all-time true favorites on this list, but because the reading of Jane Eyre in my early years was probably the stimulus for an onward search for further Good Reads, this is my choice for this survey."
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
"It was a book that I read as a young person and a middle-aged person and loved it both times. But what really amazed me about the book? I held a discussion at the library with our usual book group that consisted of most folks over 65 and invited a high school class to join us in the discussion. After our time was up, one of my 90-year-old patrons, Persis, took aside a 16-year-old boy and they sat and talked and bonded over this amazing novel. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and will remember until the end of my days. Literature really can bring people together."
"Truly an American story showing pain, hope, family and joy."
"This book is my favorite read because it has drama, is written in common language, it evokes childhood memories I can relate to, it portrays courage (Atticus) and empathy (toward Boo Radley). It is one of the few books I have read more than once."
"To Kill A Mockingbird is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. It's one of the few books that I've read more than once."
"I love the layers of this story as it describes so vividly a coming of age story for Scout and all those touched by the events in the community. It is a timeless story that I find myself rereading every few years. It is a national literary treasure."
"The characters are old friends who stay with me. I have read the book at least four times in the last 50 or so years and never am disappointed. Some books are beautifully written. Some have living characters. Some are full of lofty ideas and important issues. This book has all of these and yet is able to remain fully engaging and entertaining to read. Few books do all of this successfully."
"It's a beautiful and poignant coming of age story. Timeless. Sad and funny. Perfect. If I could pick a second favorite it would be A Prayer for Owen Meany."
"Easy capture of racism and moral choice to defend in spite of backlash of a southern community. Celebration of child's view of learning value of character building through examples from one's life experience."
"My choice, though a difficult one, is To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee created riveting characters and wove them into a story with several controversial themes. During a time when no one wanted to address civil rights, sexual assault, mental illness, or single parent homes, this author tackled all of them (and more). Her courage in doing so, reflects in the courage of all the characters. The novel is ageless. Society still struggles with all of these issues."
"This book is witty and thoughtful. It is a pertinent today as when it was written. I feel the full range of emotions each time I reread it."
"Political, wonderful characters, as relevant today as it was when I first read it 50 years ago."
"To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic-its theme of prejudice is timely even today."
"To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee had a big influence on my path to a career as a legal aid lawyer. I read it often in my teens, 20s, and 30s and it comes quickly to mind as I think about why I feel passionate about working for the underdog, my love for the rule of law, and commitment to make justice work. I also strongly related to Scout. I was a tomboy with older brothers I worshipped. She was the first girl I met like me - who hated the trappings and the bounds that being a girl amidst older boys placed on me. I could feel the discomfort of and rebellion from that frilly dress in my bones. And, of course, who doesn't want a perfect father like Atticus. Like Scout, I suppose, I wanted to be a lawyer like him. Great book."
"I read this as a young teen during the 1960's when race riots where happening. I had only seen one black person in the flesh. Powerful!"
"It’s the first book I read as an adult that I wish I had read when I was supposed to In High School. It was so good it made me wonder what other great books I missed out on, I’ve been reading great books ever since."
"A classic, no matter how many times I read the book I still am entranced with Scout and her adventures. Timeless. If you have not read this book, you are missing out! Also a great movie...shall I say it…the book was better."
"Every nuance rings true...the plot is perfectly developed and the characters are believable and real."
"Quintessential American novel..."
"As much as I want to vote for Hitchhiker's... or Dune as two of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird has to be in contention for THE Great American Novel and should be required reading in every high school and college. Mockingbird exemplifies the best of American prose — simple, straightforward writing from the heart of small-town Americana, with deep, troubling and not easily assuaged reflections of the injustice inherent in our institutions. A read that was as groundbreaking in its day as it is timely and relevant today. And it accomplishes such insight without ever losing focus on the human scale of the story or delving into platitudes or oversimplifying the issues it raises. An important, thrilling, touching, and thought-provoking read that makes some of the most uncomfortable topics in American life (both at the time of the writing and right through the present) approachable."
"It's timeless and reminds us that what is most precious is very simple."
"Sadly, still very timely under the current horrific presidential administration."
"It is real."
"It is universal in its message and it is timeless in any place where there is or has been prejudice, racism and injustice."
"To kill a mockingbird has found a way to stay relevant over its published lifetime. I believe every American should read it at least once in their life."
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly."
"I've loved a lot of books over the years, but no book has stayed with me quite like The Little Prince. When I was little, we had a record of it, and my brother and I would listen to it. When I got older I read it to myself; and in high school I read it in French. Now as a grown-up, I read it now and then, and the story is still delightful and meaningful, fantastical and philosophical, and symbolic of everything. It's one of those rare stories that bridges the gap between children and adults. It introduces children to the world of adulthood by poking gentle fun at the serious, self-important adults in the story. At the same time, it reminds adults what it is like to be a child."
"The memories that came when I saw the title."
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
"I reread this book often — It has historical perspective, the characters are SO REAL, and it just warms my heart."
"Childhood favorite that stands the test of time."
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
"Epic story, characters totally engaging, multiple layers of emotion, incredible writing—this book has it all."
The Lord of the Rings (series) by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
"There are so many amazing books on this list, but Lord of the Rings has always been my favorite. Tolkien's poetry, deep-rooted mythology, and humanity come across in every line, making the whole world so spell-binding and real to me every time I read it. It has everything from high drama to silly songs, and is a book I return to again and again."
"It was the starting point for the great fantasy writing to come."
"It combines epic fantasy adventure with a story of how groups of disparate people come together, overcoming deep, long standing disagreements to fight and conquer a common foe through individual courage."
"The Lord of the Rings has it all — action, adventure, romance, struggle, betrayal, mischief, magic...and so on! It is an epic battle between good and evil."
"This is the original epic fantasy series, and it opened up an entire new universe to me. All fantasy series that have followed it are just imitations, even the good ones."
"While there were many on this list that I love, The Lord of the Rings series is one that I've read over and over since my childhood. The adventure, friendship, love, loyalties, and purpose of the characters demands your attention. It's a dense read, but so rewarding!"
"Its rich detail and imagination reveals something new each time it is read. The message is timeless: even the greatest evil and injustice can be defeated if ordinary people will only take a stand against it."
"Imagination is everything, but here is a work of imagination that tells of universal truths, beauties and tragedies and that is entirely consistent within its worlds. And the greatnesses are leavened with the everyday lives of characters who carry their humanity with them, even though most are not human!"
"It's one you can return to at different points in life and always find new layers of complexity and meaning. And it's a subversive story of strength in smallness and selflessness, of true power in unlikely places!"
"Great fiction takes one away from here, and among the numerous works listed Tolkien's did just that in an incomparable fashion."
"Other than The Hobbit, the first major novel(s) I read. I was captured by the sweeping and thoroughly self-contained and complete saga and history of a fantasy world. Tolkien created a masterpiece of good vs. evil, friend for, bitterness and joy, adversity and friendship that includes: racial disparity, class, suspicion, dread and the overwhelming audacity of hope in the tiniest of efforts to the greatest of deeds by the mightiest of insignificants and the pettiest of the grand. Magnificent and brilliant to both the child and the adult. Unparalleled."
"Middle Earth is the greatest fictional world ever created and has been the influence for so many other great fictional worlds like those of George R.R. Martin and J. K. Rowling."
"I enjoy the camaraderie of the characters. Each is unique. The story brings adventure and pain. Joy and sorrow. I have read the series at least 12 times and still find something new."
"A world apart, yet with all the emotions and motives of our world, in a simpler time with everything at stake."
"I first read the "The Lord of the Rings" as a teenager and fell in love with all of the characters and their individual struggles with good and evil. I have read it many times since then and I always take away something new - each stage of my life brings me a different appreciation of the stories - a different interpretation of the struggles. I love these books!!!"
"Written by a combat veteran who fought the horrors of totalitarianism, it speaks to the bravery required for facing down evil (from within and without)."
"An epic tale that has it all!"
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002)
"This book has fascinated me through several readings and haunted me since the moment I started it."
The Martian by Andy Weir (2014)
"Not just the great story, but the background of how it came about is inspiring! Weir published free online, got input and suggestions by scientists (and amateur astronomers), edited, adjusted, and perfected. It gained traction and was eventually published and became a hit! It's a story about passion, science, exploration, and the joy of learning."
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
"There's just so much in it! It's also surprisingly funny and the characters are great."
"Because it's funny — the unexpected irony is very modern and just tickles me. And because Anna Karenina is not on the list."
"Moby Dick is the great American story, obsession, conquest, madness, more relevant today than ever. But it was a toss-up with The Great Gatsby, also a quintessential look at American experience, also about obsession and madness. But two of the greatest novels ever written are curiously omitted from the list — Portrait of a Lady and Middlemarch, both great studies in feminist perspective (and also about obsessive behaviors, come to think of it)."
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
"I read the book 37 years ago and couldn't put it down. It was my first experience with magic realism and the ending blew me away."
"The language and images it created captivated me..."
"Marquez was a true craftsman, and this book is one of his most beautiful creations."
Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon (1991)
"I love Gabaldon's Books for their unpredictability and her willingness to take risks. Her writing has created amazing images and elicits strong emotions. When I read one of her novels, I feel as if I too live on Fraser's Ridge."
"Family sagas over time really connect you with the characters."
"The whole series is brilliantly written...each character, and there are many, are so real and the way they interact through the entire series plotlines is amazing. Mixing European and American history with time travel, medicine, culture and romance. Dianna Gabaldon is gifted writer. Thank you."
"A great escapist love story. I also love the attention to detail of the natural world that surrounds the characters."
Great story, characters and history. What’s not to like!!
The Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan (1678)
"My #1 vote is not on the list. The Bible."
Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett (1989)
"An epic novel of the Middle Ages and cathedral building in England filled with fascinating characters with all the human foibles, solid background information that gives the incredible storytelling a sound foundation. I have read this book over and over, listened to it on audio books, discussed it with several reading groups. Each time I learn more and up my estimation of what a treasure Ken Follet has given us."
"Story linking real architectural history with the knowledge and brute strength of men who built cathedrals. All without technology; all with faith in the end result, patience and persistence, tragedy along the way. A far cry from the instant gratification of today's culture."
"No reason, just found it interesting."
"Historical fiction about talented stone craftsmen who spent most of their lives creating one or maybe two iconic beautiful churches for the ages."
"I was fascinated by the how structures like cathedrals are created."
"It was hard to choose one — they all have their value and they many have a place in my life. I stared at the list and waffled for nearly a quarter of an hour between Siddhartha and "Pillars of the Earth". Pillars taught me a lot about human nature — good, bad and indifferent. It taught me about human resiliency, grit and vision. Siddhartha taught me about my place in nature and how to be myself. I watch the water through the seasons and I'm reminded of that book all the time."
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving (1980)
"This is a magical story that touched my heart, made me laugh, made me cry and made me fall in love with Owen Meany. A story of friends, faith, and humanity, as only John Irving can tell it."
"A Prayer for Owen Meany remains at the top of my list. But there were lots of other good choices! This was tough! The Alchemist, The Book Thief...too many books, too little time! Thank you!"
"I read A Prayer for Owen Meany in high school. I remember finishing the book and crying. It’s one of the funniest, most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read."
"The last sentence in Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany was heart wrenching to read: so much so that I flipped back to the beginning and read it again, this time savoring every word. I was born in Biddeford ME in 1964 & the Vietnam War was essentially not covered in history books. After reading A Prayer for Owen Meany twice through, my next reads were these books in this order: 1) In Retrospect: The Tragedy & Lessons of Vietnam by Robert S. McNamara; 2) The Long Grey Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966 by Rick Atkinson; 3) Trail of Tears: The Rise & Fall of The Cherokee Nation by John Ehle. In my mind's eye, that is precisely what a great fictional work should do: beyond escape and entertainment, an exceptional book will also entice and inspire the reader to delve into non-fictional pieces to assist the formation of their own opinions. Something Fifty Shades and several others on this lack. FYI: my second choice is Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises."
"Because it speaks to one of the questions I am most interested in: What makes people believe (or not) or have faith (or not) in God? And because Owen and John's friendship is so honest and strong. Irving's writing is funny, poignant, and to me, APFOM is a perfectly crafted book."
"An epic story of faith and friendship."
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
"It's the perfect novel."
"The clashing of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, the gentle love story of Jane and Mr. Bingley, the scandal of Lydia and Wickham, what's not to like?"
"Spirited female heroine in a time that was out of the norm and thankfully a man that recognized her value."
"The characters are timeless, the observations are acute, and the writing is flawless. That being said, this was a hard choice and came down to what book has called me to reread it most from among many on this list."
"1st adult novel, Modern Library edition, with paper cover listing all other Modern Library titles...my first reading list...I loved the novel and shared it & the list with everyone!"
"Only the best love story ever written! But goodness, only one?!"
"This was very difficult. I wanted to check several. And, when I am forced to winnow it down to one single book, it will always be Austen's P & P. Austen's wit and how Lizzy comes off the page as imperfect, meaning alive, has brought me back so many times to this book. I can't even think how many times I have read it in my 63 years."
"Greatest book ever. Each time I read it I find something new and wonderful."
"A story full of family, romance, status, friendship, mystery and love!"
"Besides the social commentary and focus on class distinctions, there is a love story and remarkable characters with all their idiosyncrasies intact."
"I first read Pride and Prejudice at age 16, and I must say, I did not completely understand it. I read it again at 19 and thought it was brilliant. I have read it at least 5 times (and all of her other novels at least two times). I love the insight, the wit, the young woman's point of view, the picture of the customs and concerns of another time and place. I have seen most of the movie/television adaptations of Austen's novels as well. They wear well. I highly recommend the film Bride and Prejudice to anyone who enjoys Austen, but has not seen it: Austen goes Bollywood and it totally works. Actually, it has been a few years, so it is probably time to pick up the novel again. (NOTE: Strong second choice: Things Fall Apart -- which I have read more than 20 times as I taught it in High School Social Studies.)"
"My go to book when I have nothing to read also, my go to book to escape all my worries."
"There is so much to learn about human nature through reading this book over and over. It is brilliantly crafted and very funny."
"I read this book when I was 15, stayed up all night, fell in love with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy!"
Because it's my favorite.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
"McArthur Library has selected Ready Player One for our Great American Read book. We have very active programming for all ages, but wanted to select a book we love and that we could share with young adults, new adults and adults. This book has it all! A great and innovative plot, good writing and super fun throwbacks to the 1980's. Can't wait to re-read this book and share it with others."
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
"Rebecca is one of the most interesting books ever written. It's a unique psychological mystery with an unnamed narrator whose life is dominated by the shadow of her husband's first wife. Love and hate, dominance and submission, obsession and repulsion: there is nothing humdrum in this novel. It is epic."
A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959)
"As a teenager without many formative "life experiences" this book brought to light so many emotions and enabled my young mind to become aware of complicated issues. It was so very many years ago now but whenever I am asked for a book recommendation by a patron this one always comes to mind. Not a "happy" book but an important one."
The Shack by William P. Young (2007)
"It challenged my views about the deity."
"My first time reading about God that really deeply touched me."
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
"Profound. Inspiring. Life-changing."
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
"This is the perfect novel. Hemingway is at the top of his form. I have read it every few years since I was a young woman. It never loses its freshness."
The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
"Classic good vs evil. Memorable characters. Pop culture. A riveting story. And, Maine's beloved Stephen King."
"This story changed my life. It made me want to love to read again."
Tales of The City (series) by Armistead Maupin (1978)
"It challenged our concept of family and so beautifully reflected the changing attitudes of its time."
"Opened my eyes to a diverse world."
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
"It takes place in a time that reminds me of my early years & the sense of tenacity is very powerful."
"This book just spoke to me. I have re-read it many times! But to be fair, many of the books on this list are favorites of mine."
"Wow, it's nearly impossible to pick a single "favorite". I'm sure most have many "favorites". From this list I picked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it made me think of how life might have been for my parents growing up. It just seemed raw and real and hearing stories from when my parents were growing up, or first married, this story Seemed to give insight on what their lives may have been like. My second favorite (or maybe tied for #1) is Anne of Green Gables. I have read and re-read this book many, many times!!"
"I read and reread this novel as a tween and teen. Its themes around prejudice, sexuality, and striving still reverberate in my mind today."
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
"Every time I read Where the Red Fern Grows to one of my children I cried even though I knew how it was going to end. Such a sweet and simple story. The one children's book I didn't mind reading over and over again."
"This book is so much about life and all we encounter and accept. Great for children."
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
"A definite classic that will make a great book for the discussion at our book club meeting."
"This was very hard as I've loved different books more at different times in my life. In the end, I'm selecting Wuthering Heights as it's the book I've picked up and read the most times. There is an eloquence in the writing style that draws you in instantly — creating characters of such depth — that I can never put it down — despite knowing the finale each time. Thanks for putting this together."