“The Great Books”


Here is another fine example of a Reflective Essay, this time by Aaron Bryant. Aaron decided to reflect on one of his favorite pastimes — reading. I’m happy to share it with below.

The Great Books

By Aaron Bryant

I have been reading for as long as I can remember. I have never been an extraordinarily fast reader, I have never read a Dostoyevsky in a sitting, nor do I blaze through several books all at the same time. I take a long time with good books. Cornelia Funke, one of my favorite authors said, “Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” Some books ought to be just tasted, not read as ravenously as any of the “greats.” What makes these books so good though? What makes those books I have chewed and digested truly worth reading?

I once compiled a list of some of my favorite books, though I am afraid that list would take far too long to read, so an abridged version would include Ready Player One, Ender’s Game, The Thief, Plugged, Insignia, Pathfinder, The Dragonback Series, The Harry Potter Series, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy not to mention some 20 odd others. These are books that have great characters, perfect dialogue, and astoundingly realistic worlds, or else they have confounded me with an amazing plot. One of my favorite books that does just this is Ender’s Game. It is set in the war-ravaged, post-apocalyptic future, where a brilliant ten-year-old boy joins a school that is engineered to produce commanders for the ongoing war against an invasive alien race that threatens the Earth’s very existence. The “Buggers” have sent their final fleet and Earth is scrounging a force together to counter it. Ender, the main character, is to be one of the grand commanders of this fleet, but far in the future when the Bugger fleet actually arrives at Earth, right? Well, I am not going to ruin the end for any prospective readers, but I will say that it completely blew me away.

The Thief is definitely another one of my favorite books. One reason I really enjoyed this book is that I really relate to the main character, Gen. He is a sarcastic, smart-mouth thief that boasts at a local tavern of his ability to steal anything. He is then imprisoned for showing off an important object that he stole from one of the lords of his country. He was, of course, immediately silenced, but word of his boast got around. He eventually was summoned into the queen’s presence and commanded to steal something very important from one of the hostile neighboring countries. This book also has a stunner of an ending that made me reread the book from the start to try to see it coming. These plot driven books are rather like the Inceptions of the reading world. A good one can fry your brain. So be careful.

My other favorite books like Ready Player One, Plugged, Pathfinder, The Dragonback Series, and the Harry Potter series are some of my favorites because they create amazingly realistic worlds along with some seemingly living, breathing characters who can almost jump off the page. I have also enjoyed books that make me think about myself or the future. They have made me question what I would have done if I was the main character, or what the future will look like. Will it be like Rot and Ruin or The Enemy, that have the world ending in the zombie apocalypse, or more like 1984 or The Hunger Games with a terrifyingly oppressive government and an underground rebellion. What about the distracted future of Ready Player One, in which almost all human contact is made through a virtual-reality videogame, or the future of The Dragonback Series or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which humans are but one of the vastly inferior alien races in outer space? In his novel A Dance With Dragons, author George R. R. Martin says through his character Jojen, “‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. . . . The man who never reads lives only one.’” With books, we can live through the lives of other people in situations that are impossible for us to experience otherwise.

A good book is a rare thing. A book that is truly great, however, is even rarer. Any book hoping to be recognized as one of the greats, though, will find itself hard pressed unless it has an incredible plotline or great characters. I agree with C. S. Lewis when he says, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” The tea would have to be East Texas sweet, but I would read for the rest of my life if I could.

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