October 2, 2011 - Great Books Week

and Mystery Series Week

It's great to read wonderful books, and it's fun to read mysteries, because they are like puzzles for us readers. Librarians, booksellers, book clubs, teachers, and authors sometimes start holidays and honorary weeks celebrating books, and this week just happens to be overlapping: Great Books and Mystery Book Series.

In a mystery series, readers get to know and love a cop, a private detective, or an amateur sleuth who solves the mystery at the end. My favorite fictional detective is Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. He's short and fastidiously fashionable (if a large upward-curling mustache and patent leather shoes are fashionable!); he has retired from the Belgian police force and moved to England to become a celebrated private detective.

Agatha Christie books are written for adults (although I read and loved them as a young teen). Some fictional detectives especially for kids and teens include Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, the Boxcar Children, Nate the Great, and the gang in Scooby-Doo. But there are a lot more! Check out this list from Amazon! 

What makes a book a “Great Book”?

Some schools and universities are organized around reading what is called “Great Books.” Just as there are different ideas about what makes a book a “classic,” there are different ideas about what books should be on a list of “Great Books.” However, most people list books that they believe still have impact in modern times because they speak to great issues and offer great ideas. Some people mention that truly great books are inexhaustible; they can be read again and again, and the reader will still gain more insight into the human condition.

So what makes the list?
(Or, rather, what books make many “Great Books” lists?)

  • Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey
  • The Bible
  • tragedies by Ancient Greeks Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides
  • writings by Ancient Greeks Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Archimedes
  • writings by Ancient Romans Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ptolemy
  • writings by early Christians Augustine and Thomas Aquinas
  • writings by Leonardo da Vinci
  • works of Chaucer
  • works of Shakespeare
  • Defoe's Robinson Crusoe
  • Cervantes's Don Quixote
  • works of John Milton
  • Swift's Gulliver's Travels
  • works of Charles Dickens
  • works by philosophers such as Descartes, Machiavelli, Thomas More, Hobbes, Pascal, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Adam Smith, Kant, Bertrand Russell, Sartre
  • works by scientists such as Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Boole, Freud, Einstein, Planck
  • Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
  • Austen's Pride and Prejudice
  • Byron's Don Juan
  • essays by Emerson and Thoreau
  • works by Tolstoy
  • works by Mark Twain
  • works by James Joyce
  • plays by George Bernard Shaw

Each list of “Great Books” is going to have a different selection of books, but many will include some or all of these classics from the last 25 centuries. Notice that they are “Western” books – there is presumably a list of Great Books from the Eastern tradition, somewhere—and that they are written for adults.

What about kids' books?

Some people have tried to make lists of great kids' books, including me.  Here is one Amazon list of someone's top 50 kids' books.

His top 10 are:
  • Charlotte's Web
  • The Velveteen Rabbit
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, etc.)
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories
  • The Giver
  • The Thief Lord
  • Inkheart
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Celebrate books!

Pick up a classic book you've never read before. Check out books from a “Best Of” list. Investigate a new mystery author. Read an old favorite.

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