Top Ten Books I Read in High School

Today is my last day of high school ever. I’ve reviewed many books on this site. In celebration and commemoration of this rite of passage, here’s a countdown of the top ten books I’ve read in high school:

10: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I read this in 10th grade. This sci-fi classic is great because of its writing style, which remains consistently engaging and impactful throughout the book. Also, Bradbury’s book oozes with bibliophilic sentiment. What’s not to love?

9: “The Great Highway” by August Strindberg

I read this in 12th grade. I loved the ending to this play. It has to do with living up to one’s ideals, which I related to immensely. Also, it’s Strindberg’s last-ever play, so it doesn’t get much better than this.

8: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I read this in 9th grade. This book was amazing at bringing humanity to war, in a way that showed war’s futility. In other words, it juxtaposed the humanity of the soldiers with the inhumanity of war–in the face of humanity, Remarque made war seem absolutely stupid.

7: A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

I read this in 12th grade. I loved the anti-hero in it. He was so irreverent, and served as the prototype for the Byronic hero, and many other anti-heroes throughout history.

6: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas

I read this in 10th grade. It’s great. I planted three trees in my backyard. I named them Athos, Porthos, and Aramis after the characters in this funny swashbuckler. That should give you an idea of how impactful this book has been on my life.

5: Confessions by Jean- Jacques Rousseau

I read this in the beginning of 11th grade, and found a kindred spirit in Rousseau. Both of us loved life and didn’t feign apathy towards it. It makes me really wish I’d known Rousseau in person, but really glad I read this book.

4: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I read this in 11th grade. I liked the book’s development and its complexity. Instead of glorifying war, it glorified the best of humanity. Books like that are rare, and well-done books like that are even rarer. Here’s to you, Anna Karenina!

3: Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

I read this in 11th grade. It showed me that writers can write for full orchestra. Here is my review of it.

2: Native Son by Richard Wright

I literally just finished reading it and it is amazingly well-executed. As promised, here’s the link to my full review.

1: “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

I read it in 9th grade and then reread it in 10th grade and then again in 12th grade. Because this book can be interpreted any way you want it to be interpreted, everyone can find something within that is relatable. Also, it has amazing imagery. Read it, and you won’t be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions

These books were really good, and would definitely be in my top 30:

Martin Eden (Jack London)

“Long Day’s Journey into Night” (Eugene O’Neill)

Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend (Laura Hillenbrand)

“Death of a Salesman” (Arthur Miller)

Man’s Fate (Andre Malraux)

The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)

Jonathan Livingston, Seagull (Richard Bach)

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)

The Natural (Bernard Malamud)

The Once and Future King (T.H. White)

“The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail” (Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence)

4 Plays of Chekhov (Anton Chekhov)

The Man Who Laughs (Victor Hugo)

The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)

The Children of Hurin (J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Cyrano de Bergerac” (Edmund Rostand)

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

Bullfinch’s Mythology (Thomas Bullfinch)

“The Condemned of Altona” (Jean-Paul Sartre)

The Lay of the Nibelung

This Boy’s Life (Tobias Wolff)

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Mortality (Christopher Hitchens)

I hope you’ve enjoyed my books. If you’ve read any books on these lists, feel free to comment below about them.

I Read, and Revel in the Fridayness of Friday

It’s Friday, and I thought I’d celebrate by giving you my review of all nine works in “Nine Plays by Eugene O’Neill.” Brace yourselves!

“Nine Plays by Eugene O’Neill” by… You guessed it (Eugene O’Neill)

Favorite Quote: (From “Strange Interlude”): All the twenty odd books I’ve written have been long-winded fairy tales for grown-ups–about dear old ladies and witty, cynical bachelors and quaint characters with dialects, and married folk who always admire and respect each other, and lovers who avoid love in hushed whispers! That’s what I’ve been, Nina–a hush-hush whisperer of lies! Now I’m going to give an honest healthy yell–turn on the sun into the shadows of lies.”

In September, I vowed to read everything O’Neill had ever written. This book was a great resource. O’Neill himself chose the plays that would feature in this book, so we get to see what works he considered his best. Also, they’re arranged in chronological order, so we get to see O’Neill mature as a playwright.

At first, he writes shorter and simpler works like “The Emperor Jones,” but by the end of this anthology, he’s progressed to complex trilogies (in the form of “Mourning Becomes Electra”). By the end of this collection, he’s experimented with using drums to increase tension, employing masks as props, and having his costume-clad characters exit the play alongside the audience and get into limousines that are waiting outside the theater (!!!).

Were the 800 pages of play worth it? Yes.

The only complaint I have about this marvelous writer is that his female characters all chase men. Evidently, there are more things to want in the world than men. Maybe his future plays will be able to do women justice.

Short Takes on Each Play:

“The Emperor Jones”: This reads like a fable–the islander challenges a Brit, and the islander loses his mind. The protagonist’s dense accent helps to obfuscate meaning rather than to clarify it, but the use of gradually-quickening drum-beats in the background effectively accentuates the protagonist’s increasingly-wild thoughts.

“The Hairy Ape”: It reads like another fable, this time about man’s descent into bestiality. It’s slightly better at its readable accents, and its ending is more impactful than that of “The Emperor Jones.”

“All God’s Chillun Got Wings”: This play is about race-relations. It has a good beginning and a good middle. However, the ending seems to lack the impact possessed by “The Hairy Ape”. You do begin to see O’Neill trying his hand at somewhat longer works of drama though (by a few acts). He also begins to write with more nuance and realism.

“Desire Under the Elms”: Cardboard female characters run rampant in this play. Although it’s more nuanced than O’Neill’s previous plays, it still seems somewhat contrived.

“Marco Millions”: This is the play that has an epilogue where Marco Polo (yes, that Marco Polo) exits the theater alongside the audience and takes a limousine that awaits him on the street outside. I don’t see how this adds to the play, other than to perhaps suggest that European colonialism was the source of American wealth. This play is much longer than any of the previous plays in the book. It’s better than “The Hairy Ape”, although the female characters remain cardboard.

“The Great God Brown”: This play incorporates masks to show the difference between a character’s public self and private self. Interestingly, characters are usually afraid of each others’ private selves. Some characters steal others’ masks, which leads to even more identity-based chaos. The play is good, but the women are still obsessed with the men.

“Lazarus Laughed”: This play has a good idea but I feel like its execution is flawed. O’Neill tells of the time after Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. Lazarus constantly laughs, and his laugh inspires joy in others, so they form a cult around him. This cult constantly chants, “Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!” This cult chants this throughout the whole play. Because there is so much chanting, it slows the pacing, and is rather distracting.

“Strange Interlude”: This play is pretty long. It involves a woman who wants to have a child. Her husband’s family has mental health issues that may be inheritable. The woman wants a child, so she has one with another man and tries to pass it off as her husband’s. For the first time in O’Neill’s drama, each and every scene has momentum. Each scene changes the dynamic between characters and increases tension. The play is great. Just beware of contrived female characters.

“Mourning Becomes Electra”: This play parallels “The Oresteia” by Aeschylus, only it takes place during the Civil War. The best part of this play is a character named Sid who sings “Shenandoah” at various intervals throughout the trilogy, which really accentuates the changing mood of the play. O’Neill’s play cycle is better than Aeschylus’s in some parts (characters are more-fully realized, for instance). At this point, O’Neill’s writing has matured. It shows through his treatment of his content. “Mourning” combines some fable-istic aspects from “The Hairy Ape” with the more naturalistic elements of “Desire Under the Elms.”

Those are the nine plays. I hope you enjoyed my reviews, and check out the book here.

I’ve Been Published Again!

A story about a WWII pilot who rescues an enemy…

My story, “Take Me As I Am,” has been published in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. Here’s an excerpt:

God has forsaken Wolfe Iscariot, but he murmurs hymn-lyrics anyway.

“Helpless I am, and full of guilt; But yet for me Thy blood was spilt; And Thou canst make me what Thou wilt; And take me as I am.”

He lets the burgundy prayer beads slip from his fist and crash to the ground. He hasn’t believed in God since three years ago when he first enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps.

Gideon enters from the washroom. The Japanese boy wears a dead pilot’s leather gloves. “It’s almost dawn. Are we ready to go?”

Wolfe grasps at the prayer beads on the floor. “Am I ready to go, you mean?”

“Don’t leave me behind again.”

At moments like this, Wolfe regrets having taught the boy English.

Check out the whole story here!

I Read and Reread, While Sick on Memorial Day Weekend

Being bedridden with a high fever has plenty of benefits, the best of which is extra reading time. Here are some books I’ve read that may be of interest to you:

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” By Tennessee Williams

Favorite Quote: “Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself.”

This play is about a man named Brick who doesn’t want to get hot and heavy with his wife, who complains that she feels “like a cat on a hot tin roof.” There’s also an inheritance. I find this play interesting not necessarily for its amazing craftsmanship (the version I read had two endings), but for the insight it gives into the working mind of Tennessee Williams. The quote I gave is taken from one of his stage directions, for instance. Also, the very fact that the play has two endings means that readers can get inside Williams’ head to see what he wanted to accomplish in his play (by reading Ending #1), and contrast it with what his director, Elia Kazan thought (by checking out Ending #2).

El Capitán Alatriste by Arturo Peréz-Reverte

Favorite Quote: “Hay que ganarse el pan, zagal.” (“You have to earn your bread, kid.”)

This book taught me all the Spanish I know. I spent hours looking up all the words in it on Word Reference. It was worth it, because the story is great. It takes place during Spain’s Golden Age, and stars a kid named Iñigo Balboa, whose father was slain in battle, and who now resides under the guardianship of his father’s friend, Diego Alatriste. Alatriste is a mercenary-for-hire, and is given the task of assassinating two gentlemen with suspiciously unimportant-sounding names. This gets Diego and his kid sidekick into trouble. It’s worth a read to see how (and if) they get out. If you don’t have time to translate a lot of Spanish, check out the English-language version, called “Captain Alatriste.”

Taggerung by Brian Jacques

Favorite Quote: “Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also.”

This is a book I first read when I was in middle school. As I lay in the throes of sickness, this book proved to be a trusty companion indeed. In this installment of the Redwall series, an otter is raised by an evil tribe, and is prized as the “Taggerung” because of his superior fighting skills. However, our otter hero is too pure of heart to live a life of murder, and so he sets out to find his true home. Although some sentences are clunky, this book is heartwarming for people of all ages, and is especially fulfilling if you’re sick in bed on Memorial Day Weekend.

I hope you enjoyed my books! If you have any recommendations for me, leave a comment, and I’ll try to write about them on my site.

I Read, Therefore I Am

I have compiled a list of books I recently read. In the name of subjectivity, I will not give numerical ratings to these books, or any others that I review. My rating a book “one star” could deter others from reading what could, to them, turn out to be a five-star masterpiece. I’ll simply give my general impressions about the books I’ve read, and leave you to decide whether or not you want to read any of them.

“Abe Lincoln in Illinois” by Robert E. Sherwood

Favorite quote (obviously): “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

This was a well-written play about Abe Lincoln’s pre-presidential existence. It gave insight into the man himself–his personal demons and triumphs. It was funny and sad, but seemed underdeveloped in some parts. For instance, Lincoln has an epiphany in the woods. However, it happens with only a few lines of dialogue. Maybe I’m just complaining about this because I’m used to reading books. Maybe it looks different on stage.

Maybe you have to read it to find out for yourself.

The Color of Water by James McBride

Favorite Quote: “I felt like a Tinkertoy kid building my own self out of one of those toy building sets; for as she laid her life before me, I reassembled the tableau of her words like a picture puzzle, and as I did, so my own life was rebuilt.”

McBride interweaves his story with that of his mother’s. Although I read this intermittently, I still enjoyed the humor and humanity of their stories. McBride also made me think: if we know each others’ stories, we find that we’re more similar than we may initially believe. I saw fragments of myself in McBride’s story, and I’m sure that other people will glimpse pieces of themselves in this book as well.

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

One of Many Favorite Quotes: “The laurel, the lizard, and the stone will come no more. The women weeping at the gate have gone and will not come again. And pain and pride and death will pass, and will not come again. And light and dawn will pass, and the star and the cry of a lark will pass, and will not come again. And we shall pass, and shall not come again.”

This book is amazing. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in high school. It’s epic in size and in soul. It’s largely autobiographical, and chronicles the first 20 years of one Eugene Gant, who lives in North Carolina (like the author of the book). It captures America’s humor and tragedy. It extols life, bemoans death, venerates the quintessential American spirit, and makes for rapid reading.

That’s it for now! I hope that you enjoyed my thoughts, and that they inspire you to check out some of these titles. If so, leave your comments below. I’d love to hear what you think!

Check Out My Story!

A story about a child who must save her father’s life…

art classic contemporary design
Photo by Dom J on

After her mother died on the hunting trip, after she asked her father if she could help make the grave, after he forbade her from digging, and after she watched him try to shovel a hole to the world’s center—so he could escape through it and never return, she thought—he clambered onto Earth’s surface with ghosts crowding his eyes and bought a cabin in the woods.

“We will make a new life,” he told her.

Salt flowed down her cheeks and she didn’t answer.

You can read the rest of my first-ever published story at Five on the Fifth!

On Dealing With Writer’s Block

If you are suffering from writer’s block, try finding a picture online and writing about it. This helps a lot, even if you think what you’ve written is awful.

Take the picture below, for instance.

silhouette of trees at sunset
Photo by Pixabay on

Intriguing? Yes. Story-worthy? Maybe. It depends on your take. This picture could spawn someone’s whole novel. For another person, it may just be a short story or poem. For other people, it may may just be a stream-of-consciousness. The key is just to write it.

The key is just to write it.

After writing about the picture for a while, you now have a foundation for something else. Wait a few days, then revisit the rant you wrote. Think up characters and a conflict, introduce a plot-twist. Eventually, you might have a story.