Books to read before you die

Our main family e-mail account is with AOL, and one of the AOL headlines that caught my eye yesterday was “10 Books to Read Before You Die” based on a popular opinion poll conducted by Netscape. Their list included:

1, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

I really have no desire to read this. Though there were parts of the movie I liked, overall it was the story of a spoiled immature girl growing up into a spoiled immature woman. Not terribly inspiring, to me anyway. But it was cited for the historical accuracy of the era, so that might be worth exploring.

2. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

This I would agree with. There is a richness to the story itself, the vocabulary, the imaginativeness, the quest of good vs. evil.

3. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.

I’ve never had an interest in this. I suppose if my boys had been interested I would have explored it. I’ve read many debates by Christians about whether we should read it or not. I’ve got too many other things I am interested in reading to get involved with this, and I am not inclined to read things dealing with the occult, even in fun. That may seem inconsistent with having read Lord of the Rings with its wizards and magic, but the wizards in LOTR were more like superheroes of Middle Earth — I don’t think they did what real witches would do.

4. The Stand by Stephen King.

I am not a Stephen King fan.

5. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

I was amazed at how the public flocked to this. I’d recommend The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin Lutzer.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

On my TBR list.

7. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

This precedes The Da Vinci Code. I’m not really interested in exploring it.

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

I had never heard of this one. It’s described as “a hymn of praise to the concept of rugged individualism…[the] polemic for Rand’s philosophy of ‘rational self-interest.'” Doesn’t sound like anything I’d be interested in.

9. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

Since it cites “liberal use of profanity, its frank conversations about sex,” I don’t think I’d explore this, either.

10. The Holy Bible.

I was surprised to see this on their list. The reason the site lists is “No book has had more influence on the world. Its pages tell the story of the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind and the coming of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The Bible contains epic stories of history, heroism, and hope.” I once wrote of reasons to read the Bible here.

My own list of classic “Books To Read Before You Die” would include the following:

1. The Bible.

For reasons mentioned above.

2. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Classic picturesque allegory of the Christian life.

3. Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Classic picture of early American homesteading, homemaking, and family values.

4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

Classic English waif in the industrial era, tale of a boy overcoming many odds against him to grow up into a decent human being.

5. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Riveting example of “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

6. Something by Jane Austen.

My favorite Austen book is Persuasion (my review is here), but probably most people would list Pride and Prejudice as quintessential Austen and the quintessential novel of classic English society and romance.

7. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Besides a painful picture of the cruelty of slavery, it also represents Uncle Tom, as one former pastor put it, as “the kind of Christian you always wanted to be.”

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

For many reasons mentioned in an earlier review.

9. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon.

The Mitford series is a sweet and poignant picture of small town American life. This first book in the series is my favorite.

10. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Classic, beauitful tale of redemption.

I had originally meant to include both Christian books and classics on one list, but I am discovering I have more than enough for two separate lists. So here would be my top ten Christian books to read before you die. The first two in the above list, of course, could also go on this list, but I will leave them where they are:

1. Hudson Taylor: Growth of a Soul by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor.

This is one of the classic missionary biographies. It includes many of Hudson taylor’s own writings as well as the story of his life and faith.

2. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton.

Life story of a remarkable missionary to India.

3. Goforth of China and Climbing by Rosalind Goforth

I can’t begin to express ways in which my heart was touched or lessons learned by reading these books.

4. By Searching and In the Arena by Isobel Kuhn.

I have probably given away more copies of these books than any others. the first is Isobel’s own journey from doubt into faith; the second details certain experiences of her life in which God’s grace and power were on display.

5. To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson.

Biography of Adoniram Judson, America’s first missionary. I admire his conviction, his passion, his steadfastness in the face of persecution, his overcoming in the face of loss, pain, and doubts.

6. Winning the Inner War: How To Say No to a Stubborn Habit by Erwin Lutzer, reviewed here.

I’ve read this two or three times, maybe more. It’s a great help in learning to overcome temptation.

7, Changed Into His Image by Jim Berg.

Great resource on how to live the Christian life.

8. The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot.

Not a “how-to” guide, but the story of her own family. Wonderful, inspirational examples.

9 Through Gates of Splendour by Elisabeth Elliot.

The first and classic story of the five missionaries speared to death in the early 1960s by what was known then as the Auca Indians, and the subsequent reaching of that tribe with the gospel.

10. Not My Will by Francena Arnold.

One of the first examples of Christian fiction I am aware of and one of the best.

My mind is swirling now with book titles, many more that I could recommend. But these are the best of the best.

How about you? Would your list include any of these? What would you list differently?

15 thoughts on “Books to read before you die

  1. I like your list! Intriguing idea, making a top ten list like this. Now my mind is going on what I’d include!

    Interesting that the AOL list contains several overtly spiritual/occult books.

    I read ‘Gone With the Wind’ as a teenager and loved it. It was during my “big thick books” stage, when I also read ‘Roots’ — proud of getting through all those pages! I think ‘Gone’ does capture an era well. That, and ‘The Killer Angels,’ are the 2 Civil War books that stand out in my mind.

  2. Did you mean to credit David Copperfield as the author of “A Tale of Two Cities?”

    Oops! 😳 Thanks for pointing that out — I’ll go correct it. bh

  3. Well! Out of AOL’s list I have read 7 of the 10, seen the movie for Lord of the Rings and have NO interest in reading the books, (tried to read The Hobbit once and just could not get through it…) I’ve read a few Stephen King books – but don’t really care for him… and I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged – but I do want to!

    Of your list, I have read five — The Little House series I read as a CHILD!!! And again to my children! Jane Eyre was ok… I found it somewhat bothersome to get through – but I really wanted to read it! I’ve NOT read David Copperfield OR Tale of Two Cities — but I HAVE read Great Expectations AND Oliver Twist! (does that count?) And the Mitford Series is my FAVORITE — I just LOVE Father Tim to pieces!!! I have read them ALL!

    Of your Christian list, I have read two Amy Carmichael books – but have never read anything else! I’ll have to copy this list and go searching!


  4. Barbara,

    I think I definitely like your list better! I have never read any of the Mitford books because I always thought they are a bit too long for me…. I might have to one of these days.

  5. I am not sure who from AOL wrote that list. My daughter had to read Ayn Rand in high school and generally I try to read what my kids are reading and I didn’t like that at all.
    There are so many wonderful classics that should be on that list. I have read GWTW and it is so much better than the movie. (Isn’t that always the case?)
    I have also read 3, 5 and 7 and cannot agree that they should be on the list. #6 and 10 ABSOLUTELY, great choices. #9 I actually read in high school English.
    While I am thankful that I have read 8 of the 10 listed, I agree more with your list. Oh and what about Anne of Green Gables? Yes, there are to many to list. For Christian reading I love the Beverly Lewis books.

  6. Barbara, several of your favorites are my favorites as well, and others are ones that I’ve intended to read! I recently got a copy of “Not My Will” from Moody Press…they are re-releasing it…and I plan to read it again for the first time in many years.

  7. Would you believe I read Gone With the Wind during the summer between 4th and 5th grades, Barbara? While we were on our family vacation? It was pretty heavy reading for someone so young but I devoured it!!! I loved it!! Then when we went to see the movie as a family at the drive-in, I remember being a little disappointed because so much had been left out that had been in the book but still it was good! And I’ve seen it a zillion times and have the movie in my collection!

  8. I am working right now on my top ten missionary biography lists. Isobel Kuhn is perhaps my all-time favorite missionary biographer…
    I would add a few to yours that are must-reads:
    Sensei, the story of Irene Webster-Smith, an amazing missionary in Japan;
    Tramp for the Lord- the story of Corrie Ten Boom in her later life;
    Created for Commitment – the story of BSF founder A. Wetherell Johnson
    a biography on the life of Henrietta Mears, the founder of the modern sunday school movement

  9. Thanks for the comments about the book version of GWTW being better than the movie. Isn’t that usually the case? I might give it a try some day.

    Sue, I have read Tramp for the Lord — an amazing, convicting book. I have not heard of the other two, though — thanks for the recommendations!

  10. I read Catcher in the Rye a couple of years ago and it was awful. AWFUL. I don’t mean offensive, I mean bad writing, no plot, no character…Just BAD.

    You really should read To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s a classic for good reason.

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