Five-star books, from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ to ‘Deliverance’

For the past several years, I’ve read one book about every two weeks on average. It got to the point that I was reading so many books I'd be at a tag sale or benefit sale and buy books I'd already read. So I decided to keep track of all the books I was reading just to keep that from happening. I hate more record-keeping but I couldn't think of any other way to do it.

Then I figured, as long as I'm keeping track of the books I read, I might as well rate them. I decided to use a movie-like star rating system — five stars is a totally wonderful read, and one star is suitable for birdcage lining. I haven’t had a one-star book yet.

With all that being said, here are the books I gave five stars to. Any of these I guarantee would make a great read or a great gift for someone who likes to read:

— “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles, 1949: A sprawling novel about a couple with marital problems traveling with a friend through the North African desert. Expansive and thought-provoking on many levels;

— “The Big Sleep,” Raymond Chandler, 1939: A true crime novel with detective Philip Marlowe. This is the seed of Garrison Keillor's famous “Guy Noir, Private Eye.” Think trench coats and dames;

— “The Stories of John Cheever,” John Cheever, 1977: I’d never read Cheever and this just blew me away. Masterful in every sense. If you ever fantasized about what goes on in the tony Upper East Side of Manhattan, look here;

— “Deliverance,” James Dickey, 1970: You know the movie; it’s even more intense in print. When you read something like this, you just wonder where it came from. This chilling story still resonates today and I’m sure will for a very long time;

— “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg, 2012: Very insightful. Master this and you can do anything. Makes you wonder if you really have as much control of yourself that you think you have;

— “The Narrow Road to the North,” Richard Flanagan, 2013: Epic prisoner-of-war tale. Superb, and based on true events. There is nothing pretty about war;

— “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn, 2012: A modern true-life thriller. Like something right out of the news. It may be a little cliched, but, then again, if you watch any TV, you see that every day. If you like plot twists, here you go;

— “Fortunate Son,” John Fogerty, 2015: Autobiography from the Creedence Clearwater Revival legend. Wonderful. What this American songwriting genius had to go through to survive the slimy recording industry is truly eye-opening. Money just has a way of ruining everything;

— “The Old Man and the Sea,” Ernest Hemingway, 1952: I read this in high school and it’s even better with age. You cannot not love it. The old man is the kind of guy we should all have in our lives (and the boy is too);

— “Fortune Smiles,” Adam Johnson, 2015: Just brilliant personal fiction. This is the kind of writing that I myself aspire to. Nothing is more fascinating to me than the way people deal with and react to the world around them;

— “The Basic Kafka,” Franz Kafka, 1946: If you have never read “Metamorphoses,” where the narrator wakes up as a giant insect, you'll find it here. Incredible. This brilliant writer was ignored in his lifetime, but his words will live forever;

— “The Trial,” Franz Kafka, 1925: The classic treatise against bureaucracy. I think of this when I'm waiting on hold, or filling out a tax form, or trying to find the customer-service phone number. There is nothing funny about it, which really makes it hit home;

— “Jailbird,” Kurt Vonnegut, 1979: Nobody satirizes our imperfect society better. I've read all of his books and I only wish there were more. Another great one is “Breakfast of Champions.” If you’ve not yet discovered Vonnegut, a Schenectady native for cryin’ out loud, what are you waiting for?;

— “The Railway Man,” Eric Lomax, 1995: A true-life prisoner-of-war story. Very moving. I don't know if I could have lasted with all he went through, described in excruciating detail. An amazing story of survival and redemption;

— “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” Carson McCullers, 1940: Truly moving and brilliant. A very special work. It will stay with you for a long time. This is a real gem;

— “Chesapeake,” James A. Michener, 1978: A monumental study of the southeastern seaboard area. How he can write these kinds of huge, all-encompassing books is a miracle for sure. A masterpiece;

— “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage,” Haruki Murakami, 2015: A wonderful introduction to the haunting and introspective world of the great Haruki Murakami. When I read him, it’s like he knows my thoughts. I don’t know anybody better who is currently writing;

— “The Kind Worth Killing,” Peter Swanson, 2015: A modern-day “Strangers on a Train,” Hitchcock-type thriller, and a great page turner. You will want more;

— “Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit,” Andy Rooney, 2009: Don’t you miss the old master? His writing is just like his talking. I just love finding the magic in the ordinary. He’s gone but his words are still with us, thank goodness;

— “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” William Styron, 1966: A controversial but nonetheless amazing work about slavery. The new movie is controversial as well. It’s just the nature of the subject. Still, the writing is powerful and direct. You will never again think about slavery the same way after reading this; and

— “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde, 1895: So funny and timeless from the master of wit and satire. He was truly brilliant. One can only imagine what he’d think of Facebook, the Karsdashians, or our president-elect. The male master of the one-liner (the great Dorothy Parker is, of course, the female one-liner master).

  So there you have it. If you read one of these and enjoy it, please let your friends know. We could all use a little good news these days, and these books are all that good. Enjoy!