As the title implies, this is the third installment of a list of books that have been important in my life. You can read the first two here and here. These are books I have read in college and since graduating.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
This is one of a very few books that I would say it’s better to watch the movie/musical first. There’s a reason it earned the nickname “Lee’s Bricks” during the American Civil War. This book is a monster. There is a 100-page portion on one particular battle of the French revolution that ends with a single name that doesn’t get mentioned in the book again for another three or four hundred pages. But it’s important, so you’d better not forget it.
There’s something very rewarding about making it through all the church history, politics, war history, Parisian slang, and detailed accounts of the sewers of Paris with a story that would only be half as rich without all the baggage. The book hangover is strong with this one. The best cure? Try some Alexandre Dumas to ease you back into normal reading. I used The Three Musketeers, But The Count of Monte Cristo might be better.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Stories from WWII have always been fascinating to me. This book, and the movie it produced, deserve the acclaim they’ve been given.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I don’t know how I didn’t read this sooner than I did. This book is so important. It is also super ironic that this book has been censored before for younger readers. It’s almost like whoever makes the decisions about education doesn’t actually read the assigned materials.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
So college may have turned me into a Francophile. Well, at least you know I know where France is!
George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
I kind of discovered this book by accident during a crazy research project inspired by the musical Hamilton. Yes, I am that annoying person who will sit through a historical movie silently fuming then deliver a lecture on everything that was wrong. I can barely get through just the trailer for Braveheart. And after listening to the soundtrack for Hamilton, I had questions that needed answering. In that hunt for answers that led to stacks of library books all over my room, I found this gem. The story of the Culper Ring, the most underrated spy ring in history.
They operated during the Revolutionary War, and were essential in the victory over the British. The group was started by Benjamin Tallmadge, aide-de-camp of George Washington and lifelong friend of Nathan Hale. Washington felt the need for a more structured espionage system after Hale was caught and hanged by the British for treason. So, Tallmadge recruited spies who would arouse little to no suspicion, such as Robert Townsend, a shopkeeper in British-occupied New York, Caleb Brewster, who was already a smuggler, and a few others. The first class you take in the CIA, apparently, is about their spycraft and the techniques they developed, many of which are still in use. WHY DIDN’T I KNOW ABOUT THEM BEFORE?
The craziest part? Of those six spies, the true identity of one wasn’t discovered until the 20th century, almost by accident, while the last remains shrouded in mystery. All we know is that she was a woman, probably upper class, who lived in New York City, and that she was caught by the British and sent to a prison ship. We don’t even know if she died on that prison ship, or if she was released when the war was won, or if she managed to escape. All we have, is her code name: Agent 355. Where is her Anastasia-esque legend? Do I need to write it myself?
SIDENOTE: If you think you know something about the Culper Ring because you watched the AMC show Turn, think again. That show barely got all the names right.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
I have been known to have historical crushes. Louis Zamperini,Olympic athlete, WWII bombardier, prisoner of war, and Christian evangelist, is one of them. I would also make a pit stop on my journey through time to eliminate Lady Mar to do something about the Bird. Like drop him in the middle of the ocean.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Move over, Darcy. Thornton is here. And he brought Higgins and the entire union with him.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
This is the scariest book I’ve ever read. And not just because I read it when I was alone in a farmhouse with no reception or wifi in the middle of the Irish countryside during the full moon. I also think it would be super fun to do a “Lizzie Bennett Diaries” style webseries of this book.
The Night Circus by Alix Morgenstern
I’ve never read anything quite like this book. Le Cirque des Reve is described in such exquisite detail, you could almost swear you’ve been there.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but this book should be on everyone’s reading lists. It’s not exactly a children’s book, but it’s an excellent book about childhood.