“A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

-Carl Sagan

This is something us humans have got right. Much is said about the greatness of the written word, and we still fall short of words. Books have the ability to paint a picture in the mind’s imagination, be it scary, sad or joyous. Books are the means to teleport yourself to uncountable universes, all in the comfort of your home or maybe an often-visited library.

The greatest books written all have one thing in common – they allow their readers to be lost in their magically woven stories. While tastes differ from one reader to another, generations of book lovers have agreed on one thing- there are some books that one cannot afford to miss in their lifetime. Some classics transcend time. Here is a list of books that you absolutely must read at least once before you die.

Harry Potter

My personal favourite, the Harry Potter series, revolves around a boy wizard who finds on his shoulders, the ginormous task of killing the greatest magical villain of all time- Lord Voldemort. With his best friends, Ron and Hermione, Harry sets out on what seems to be an impossible journey laced with adventure, triumphs, deaths, battles, and in the midst of all, growing up. While battling real-life issues, the trio encounters fascinating magical creatures as well, including dementors, poltergeists and house elves among others. J. K. Rowling does a fabulous job creating a whole new magical world with every imaginable detail included right from wizard currency to magical sports in this thrilling book series.

The Diary of a Young Girl

This book is a gut-wrenching account of a young girl’s life as she hides from the Nazis along with her family. It is the personal diary of Anne Frank, a school-going girl from the Netherlands during World War 2. Originally written in Dutch, the diary was later published by Anne’s father after she died in a German concentration camp in 1945. The book left the whole world shaken as they read about the atrocities suffered by the vanquished of the War through the eyes of a young girl, with hopes and dreams about the future even in such perilous times.

Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a controversial choice to be put on this list, but it deserves a mention, undoubtedly. It is a book wherein the narrator Holden Caulfield, directly addresses the reader which makes it an interesting read right from the beginning. Upon his expulsion from a private school, Holden leaves early to explore New York where he meets unforeseen circumstances- an old girlfriend, prostitutes, nuns and even his sister. Catcher in the Rye portrays a teen’s dramatic struggle with adulthood and death.

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini is one of those writers who have been responsible for half the reading population’s tears and sadness. His books are heart-wrenching, and that would be an understatement. One of his masterpieces is The Kite Runner. Set across two vastly different countries, this book tells the story of Amir, a young boy from Kabul and his closest friend, Hassan. With a backdrop of shocking events including the fall of monarchy in Afghanistan to the rise of the Taliban, the book also explores the themes of guilt and redemption while portraying a father-son relationship at the same time.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first part of the five-book series written by Douglas Adams and is one of the novels you read as a kid, that stay with you forever. It is the story of Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, who embark upon a journey through the galaxy seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway. With the company of friends from all dimensions, including a chronically depressed but brilliant robot, the duo teaches us not to live life all that seriously.

Alice in Wonderland

Written by English mathematician Lewis Carroll in 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of those books most of us were read to at bedtime. I personally read it for the first time in Standard 3 as it was a part of my curriculum. It follows the story of a young girl, Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole on a hot summer day and has amazing encounters with fantasy creatures such as a talking rabbit who can read time, a pipe-smoking caterpillar, a talking pack of cards and the infamous grinning Cheshire Cat, among others. This book takes us on an exciting series of adventures through the eyes of a very interesting, rather dramatic character, and continues to a sequel, Through the Looking Glass.

Asura: Tale of the Vanquished

The epic Ramayana has been told and retold many times in many cultures. In this riveting take on the classic, Anand Neelkanthan portrays the tale of the vanquished in the war, the Asuras. The book shows us the story of Ram and Ravana in a completely new light, from the eyes of Ravana, and a mere washerman of his country. Asura is a shocking retelling of the epic that has been celebrated in many cultures in an around India for 3000 years.

Master of The Game

This book is one of the best works of master mystery maker, Sidney Sheldon. The writer, who is known for the magic he has created in the mystery and thriller genres, left his readers spellbound by this masterpiece. Spanned across four generations, Master of the Game follows the story of Kate Blackwell, an extremely smart, cunning owner of the giant conglomerate, Kruger Brent, Ltd., and how she leaves no stone unturned in ensuring her company reaches heights never touched before, shunning aside her family and their well being in the long journey. A hint of drama is added to the novel through the parallel themes explored through various characters, such as greed, sexuality, murder and jealousy.

The Shining

Written by the king of horror, Stephen King, The Shining is one of the most thrilling novels of the horror/thriller genre in the history of literature. Jack Torrance takes up a job as the caretaker of an isolated hotel. As winter sets in, he and his family start encountering sinister events, but the only one to truly notice the strange happenings is the five-year-old boy Danny. Things go dark as cabin fever sets in on Jack and murder is the only thing on his mind. This is honestly one of the very few horror novels I have ever read in my life.

The Lord of the Rings

If you are a fan of fantasy and fiction, this book series will keep you captivated until you turn the last page over. It follows the adventures of Frodo Baggins, an inhabitant of Middle Earth, and his friends as they embark upon a highly exciting, extremely dangerous task of destroying a Ring of huge power. Wars are fought, wizards, elves, humans and Hobbits all come together to complete that one mission while encountering and battling the foulest creatures in all of earth.

Animal Farm

In Mr. Jones’ Manor Farm, when an old boar by the name of Major inspires the other animals to break free of the oppression and tyranny they face, they plan on staging a revolution to achieve for themselves, a state of justice and equality. Twists such as a power hungry pig Napolean becoming a totalitarian dictator make this book a very interesting read. As we go further, we begin to recognize the political satire attempted by Orwell as we fish through the ideas of corruption, religion, death, politics and much more.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Written by Harper Lee in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is a modern classic in English literature, with a Pulitzer Award-sized feather in its cap. This book deals with the themes of rape and racial inequality in the Southern United States in the 1930s. The book is written through the eyes of Scout Finch, who tells about her father Atticus Finch, an attorney and how he hopelessly struggles to prove the innocence of an African American man falsely accused of rape, in a highly racial society. This book functions on the dark themes of rape and racism and discrimination, and yet manages to uphold warmth and humour throughout.

Jane Eyre

An iconic book by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre is one of the most influential, timeless literary heroines the world has ever seen. The book is the story of a ten-year-old Jane, who is an orphan living with her aunt, a family that heartily dislikes her (Harry Potter much?). Emerging through an unhappy home and a strict, borderline cruel Lowood Charity School, Jane grows up and takes the post of a governess, while falling in love with the charming Edward Rochester. Jane Eyre is such a book that provokes readers to this day with its daunting questions and vexing answers.

Romeo and Juliet

No literary suggestive list is complete without the mention of the Shakespearean classic, Romeo and Juliet. This is a timeless story of two young adults who fall hopelessly in love and meet their ends due to the same love that is strongly opposed by their respective families. The story is based upon the foundation of young love, where ‘One would rather die than be apart from their beloved’. The book is underlined with the themes of conflict and contrast. Romeo and Juliet is a play who’s course is littered with violence, blood wars, family feuds, in the midst of which these young lovers find the courage to love one another.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Written by renowned British author Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fantasy children’s novel that many of us have grown up reading. It recites the tale of a poor boy Charlie Bucket, who wins a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the trip of a lifetime. His journey through the mouth-watering factory with a few companions and the eccentric Willy Wonka forms the rest of the story. Even today, I love going back to this book – makes me relive my childhood.

The Hobbit

A prequel to the famous The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is another classic written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It features the adventures of one Mr Bilbo Baggins as he sets out with an odd company of thirteen, to reclaim stolen treasure from, hold it, a dragon. Although written as a children’s book with none of the dark tones of its sequel, The Hobbit is considered as a literary masterpiece by kids and adults both.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a children’s book written by William Golding that stays with us for a long, long time. As a plane crashes on a secluded island, a group of British boys are stranded in there. As time passes, they elect Ralph as their leader, but the brute Jack wants to establish his own control. And so he does, while leading the boys to a savage primal hunters’ lifestyle. Lord of the Flies is a yet again a coming-of-age story, wherein innocence is lost and the children face the harsh reality of the world all too suddenly.

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte has spun a classic, passionate tale of love and youth through her protagonists, Catherine and Heathcliff. Seeking revenge for the loss of his soul mate, Heathcliff unfolds the themes of chaos and order, betrayal, loss, selfishness and obsession. The story also becomes violent at places that portrays the true unstable nature of humans. This timeless love story makes for a delightful read owing to the poetic touch, evocative descriptions and the overall ‘gothic literature’ feel that is exuded.

You could spend your whole life scavenging libraries and book stores, spending hours and days and weeks deep inside the stories woven by hundreds and thousands of writers, going through page after page with equal vigour, and you would still fall short of time to read everything worthwhile there is to read. I believe such a list will help you climb the first step of the humongous ladder that is the world of books, and after that, you’re on your own in a world of wild imagination and magic spun into words on paper.

If you happen to read books from this list, do let me know about your experience in the comments below.

What books do you think I missed out on? I’d love to know your suggestions.

I’ll be back soon with another post. In case you miss my writing, you can order a copy of my book from Amazon [Paperback or Kindle]

I am also sending out author signed copies. If you want one, do drop me an email at my [email protected]

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