If you’ve ever played the game “If you were stranded on an island, what is the one thing you’d wish you had?” you would know that most people say something dull like, my wife or a flare gun. Personally, I would say books.
1. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Stop rolling your eyes. Grammar is not some archaic institution only your grandmother appreciates. Understanding the beauty and complexity of the English language is a worthwhile endeavor, especially in this day and age. It’s not necessarily easy (hey, I’m sure this article is riddled with mistakes), but if you read this grammar bible you’ll be one step closer to not sounding like an ignoramus at cocktail parties, or in emails to your boss. Plus, it’ll make you a better writer – a priceless skill.
2. Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
Think you know poverty? Unhappy with your crappy job? Ha! Nothing beats Orwell’s tales of poverty and struggle in Down and Out, and even though he was starving and verbally abused throughout most of his adventures, he never fails to entertain with colorful descriptions of the ridiculous (and occasionally frightening) characters he encounters and the places most wouldn’t dare to go. From the vermin infested apartments of Paris to the cobbled alleyways of London, Orwell makes us appreciate what we have and reminds to never, ever accept a job in a hotel kitchen.
3. This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Youth, love, ego – it’s endlessly entertaining. Fitzgerald, a literary god, humbles us with his lessons on falling in with the right crowd, finding the right girl, and living in a fast paced world. Despite its age, Fitzgerald’s observations can aid our understanding of hipsters, the college process, and why some people are just plain jerks. Fitzgerald is a master, and you owe it to him to read something other than The Great Gatsby (great book, surely great movie, but we all know you haven’t read it since the 10th grade and you didn’t really get it then).
4. Sacré Bleu, by Christopher Moore
Sacré Bleu is hilarious and inadvertently teaches you about subjects you didn’t think you cared about. It’s sort of a dark, modern fairytale set during the rise and development of the Impressionist art movement, discussing the struggles of the era's painters. I’m not an expert or anything, but the book seems pretty much flawless to me. Not only did I learn things about Impressionism and it’s key figures, but the book is filled with all the things readers love: sex, lies, substance abuse, magic, witty retorts – you name it, Moore tackles it. It’s Moore’s latest novel, and was clearly researched with painstaking attention to detail and infused with Moore’s unique brand of creativity. Even if this book doesn’t strike your fancy, Moore has written a slue of fantastic works of fiction and any one of his pieces is worth a read. A personal hero and a generally cool dude, he’s a master of modern fiction who never fails to make you think.
5. A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Okay, this may seem strange, but there is no denying that childhood would be a dark and scary time without Silverstein’s poetry. He covers all the essentials: don’t be a brat, respect living things, draw pictures, have big dreams and for God’s sake ask a lot of questions – you’ll never know if you never ask. Poetry is difficult medium, but Silverstein knows how to elegantly translate our deepest fears, answer our pressing questions, and cheer us up in only a few lines with spot on rhymes. Don’t let this book get dusty on a shelf, read it over and over again because you know you love it.