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Darrell Huckaby - 02/25/09

Books are on my mind today. Imagine that. The rest of the country is still debating the merits of the recent Oscar winners and I am thinking about books. I seem, once again, to be out of step with the populace. So what else is new?

I was roaming around on the Internet the other day - others surf, I roam - and found a brand new list of books that everyone needs to have read. That's a heck of a thing, isn't it, that someone would have the audacity to suggest what someone else should have read. To each his own, I say, but such lists always make for interesting reading and can have the effect of eliciting much discussion - if we can tear our minds away from the burning question, "Was 'Slumdog Millionaire' really the very best movie of the year?"

But we were talking about books, not movies. I think the thing that caught my eye concerning the Internet item I found was that the Bible did not make the top 10 list of books that "everyone" needs to have read in order to be culturally literate. In fact, it was not even listed among the top 100.

Religion aside, that's lunacy. There are way too many biblical references in our culture, our literature, our art and even the foundation of our government for the Good Book to be omitted from any such list.

"Slaughterhouse Five" was on the list, and so was "The Communist Manifesto," but the Bible was not. Go figure.

Well, reading their list set me to thinking about some of the books I have read - and there have been thousands, understand. I set out to make my own list, not of books that I would suggest other people should read, but of books that I have enjoyed enough to read and re-read and revisit in my mind. And since Wednesday is the day, according to my own favorite writer, Aimee Jones, that I "just share what's on my mind with the people who read the paper," I decided to share a part of my list.

I started with the Bible. I haven't read the Bible every day of my life, but I haven't missed many - and if it doesn't show, the fault lies with me and not the reading material. It has everything. Tragedy, comedy, pathos, sex, murder, mystery, intrigue - and those who accept its overall premise live happily ever after. Great place to start any list of books, don't you think?

I think the first truly great book I ever read was "Gone With the Wind," and I don't want to hear any politically correct gobbeldy-gook about Margaret Mitchell's classic novel of the Old South being overrated or outdated or an insignificant piece of literature, either. My cousin, Carolyn, handed me a copy of "Gone With the Wind" in the summer between third and fourth grade. Mine, not hers. I read it in about four days and then turned right back to page one and read it again. I have read it at least a dozen times since. It's a classic. Period.

"A Tale of Two Cities" is also on my list. Nobody paints a picture of despair like Dickens. Like GWTW, I read it by choice, and then reread it, although honesty compels me to admit that I wasn't familiar with a lot of the European history at the time and probably should read it again.

"Lord of the Flies," which I was required to read, is on my list, too. I am convinced that they got the idea for the television series "Survivor" from "Lord of the Flies."

"To Kill a Mockingbird." I don't care if Harper Lee had help from Truman Capote or not. It's an incredible book and I still sit down with it about once every year or two, and the story is just as poignant each time.

I am a big fan of Ernest Hemingway and have read most of what he wrote, but "The Old Man and the Sea" is the one I keep coming back to. I would advise you to read it if you haven't - it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours - but I promised that I wouldn't tell you what you should read, only what I had.

If there were to be a contemporary book on my list, I suppose it would have to be "Prince of Tides," by Pat Conroy. I revisit that book every few years, too, and can smell the salt marsh of the South Carolina Low Country as soon as I turn the first page. Every time.

How many are we up to? Seven? Seven isn't very many for a man who has read thousands of books, is it?

I guess I could include something by Steinbeck. I have read most of his major works. I loved "Of Mice and Men," and I can't leave out Mark Twain, so I'll say "Tom Sawyer."

My very favorite book of all time? "Need Two." It also edged out "Black Beauty" to take the No. 1 spot on Marshall Atha's list. Ask him if you don't believe me.

And despite what I promised, you really ought to read it. And I can't wait until the movie comes out. I bet it will win an Oscar.