Recommended readings for life

By Dr. Matthew Bennett copyright  2002

For building a sense of imagination, adventure, and wonder.

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
These beloved childhood classics introduce the imaginary world of Narnia, which is visited periodically by English schoolchildren who have adventures and learn principles of spirituality and morality.

Edward Ormondroyd: David and the Phoenix
A haunting story of the friendship between a small boy, David, and the legendary Phoenix. The Phoenix undertakes to give David an education, traveling with him all over the mythic world to visit mythic creatures. The bittersweet ending introduces David to the idea of destiny.

Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are.
A rambunctious youngster travels to a world of Wild Things and quite naturally becomes their king…until he starts getting homesick.

For learning about the passages of life: joys, sorrows, and companionship. 

Jean de St.Expury: The Little Prince.
A poignant story of the lonely Little Prince, who travels through the universe to find a companion. He encounters archetypal characters along the way, including a fox who teaches him how to tame, and a rose who shows him how he is unique and special.

E.B. White: Charlotte’s Web.
This childhood classic explores issues of mortality as well as friendship, compassion, and tolerance.

E.B. White: The Trumpet of the Swan
A young boy befriends a young trumpeter swan. Explores the value and beauty of nature and life itself. Also deals with the yearning for belonging and identity.

George Selden: The Cricket in Times Square

This is the story of a mouse and a cricket who live in Times Sqaure, observing the adult world from a floor-high perspective.


Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising Series
An enchanting series about certain English children and their doings with the Old Ones, a legendary group of spiritual guardians, and their conflict with the evil Dark.

Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time
Some children discover a portal into another dimension, and discover dark powers which seek to taint the very earth itself.

J.R.R. Tolkein: The Hobbit Trilogy
The prelude to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, this book introduces home-loving Bilbo Baggins and tells how he was thrust into an adventure in the broad world of danger and ancient magic.


Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
A Southern girl comes of age among the powerful, gritty, and sometimes dark issues of adult life in a small town.

Richard Adams: Watership Down
A tribe of rabbits defend their culture and their lives against the inner and outer forces of predation and change.

J.R.R. Tolkein: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Tolkein’s sweeping fantasy epic of the turbulent times surrounding the end of the Third Age represents a rite of passage and a landmark of English literature.

T.H. White: The Once and Future King
A vivid and poignant telling of the Arthurian legend, focusing on the humanity of Arthur and other main characters, colored with a sort of sad wisdom.


Family Secrets and Legacies 

Pat Conroy: The Great Santini.
A young man struggles to differentiate himself from his strong-willed, charismatic, and violent father.

Sexuality, Sensuality, and Relationships

Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Set in Prague during the turbulent late 60’s, a man and woman encounter their own needs and desires while negotiating the troubled times in which they live.

Erica Jong: Fear of Flying
An 80’s era treatment of sexuality and its anxieties.

Phillip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint
A young man copes from the psychiatrist’s couch with his budding sexuality and guilt-ridden Jewish background. The only novel I know with a punchline.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita
The persistence of desire and its gravitational effect on the adult mind.

Isolation and Individuation 

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure
A young man in turn-of-the century England encounters setbacks and cold indifference in his hesitant search for childhood dreams and adult desires.

Hermann Hesse: Demian
A misunderstood young man finds a mysterious companion who reveals unlikely truths of the world.

The Spirit Journey 

John Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress.
A classic of puritan Christianity, this story is an orthodox allegory of the Christian calling. Modern readers may find it somewhat sanctimonious; particularly valuable as a prelude to C.S. Lewis’ answering work, Pilgrim’s Regress.

C.S. Lewis: Pilgrim’s Regress.
C.S. Lewis’ answer to John Bunyan, describing the Christian journey as a very human experience of error and backsliding.

Castenada, Carlos: The teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
An anthropologist encounters a shape-shifting shaman who allows the narrator into the his own mythic world.

Hermann Hesse: Siddhartha
A western perspective on eastern spirituality; a young Hindu seeks the source.

Miguel Cervantes: Don Quixote
The classic story of a misunderstood idealist and visionary, and what happens when he projects his idealism onto the “real world.”

The Nature of Human Society

James Stephens: The Crock of Gold
A modern Irish fairy-tale, at once mythic and earthy, with poignant observations on the undercurrents of life.

Colin Mackay: The Song of the Forest
Awe and fear stand revealed as the primeval motivators drawing together the first human habitations.

Franz Kafka: The Trial
One morning, a man is arrested. His efforts to find justice in the labyrinthine corridors that make up faceless and nameless bureaucracy describe a chilling description of the dangers of anonymous modern society.