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As promised, here is the list of my top five books from the twenty-five that I have read so far.  This ranking is completely subjective and is not an attempt to say a particular book is ‘greater’ than another.  These are simply the five books I have most enjoyed over the past few months.  I am also trying to pick the books I think my readers would be most interested in, so I am avoiding my nerdier history and philosophy selections.  With no further ado, the list.

#5: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

Wells Tower’s collection of short stories is full of pitiful characters in depressing situations that somehow leave you in a happy mood.  Tower’s prose is outstanding.  His sentences have an edge to them that few seasoned writers can boast.  I am especially fond of the eponymous story, which follows a middle-aged Viking on one last plundering raid.  Go buy this book and support a fresh voice on the American literary scene.

#4: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre

Le Carre’s gripping tale of Cold War spy Alec Leamas is a spy novel worthy of Hemingway.  This is not James Bond using gadgets to defeat supervillains and seduce chesty double agents.  This is the story of a real man used as a pawn in the cutthroat game of Cold War power politics.  Read it and feel glad that your life is a bit less complicated than that of poor Mr. Leamas.

#3: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This is a novel that is almost painful to read.  The utter lack of self-confidence on the part of the asylum patients is heartbreaking.  Randall McMurphy is a tragic hero worthy of Shakespeare, losing his all for the sake of his comrades.  The despicable “Big Nurse” Ratched is also a villain for the ages.  I love the Jack Nicholson movie, but I enjoyed the book even more.

#2: Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Continuing the theme of books that will break your heart, I have selected Solzhenitsyn’s classic story of a man fighting cancer and oppression in Soviet Russia.  Despite the saddest of possible lives, Oleg Kostoglotov emerges as a hero who inspires us all with his unrelenting humanity.  This is not a book for someone wanting a cheerful read, but is absolutely worth the effort.

And the final, number one, best book I have read so far is…

#1: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Gibran’s book is beyond words.  Despite its brevity, The Prophet is overflowing with timeless wisdom that can be applied to all our lives.  A bit philosophical for some tastes, this book is nevertheless a must read.  It is also my dear, sweet great-grandmother’s favorite book.  In case you aren’t aware, you don’t argue with the Granny.