Rob Jenkins - 09/06/09
Titles for our time

In honor of this weekend's Decatur Book Festival (which is still going on) I'd like to recommend some of my favorite reads. Other than this fine newspaper, I mean.

What these books have in common is that, regardless of when they were written, they all have special application to our day. Call them "Titles for Our Time," and here are my top five:

"Gulliver's Travels," by Jonathan Swift. Perhaps the greatest satirist ever, Swift is at his best enumerating the follies of human society. Though sometimes classified as a political commentator, Swift is no partisan; instead, he has an admirable ability to lampoon all sides at once. The theme of "Gulliver's Travels," with its senseless squabbles, arbitrary pronouncements, and out-of-touch intellectuals, is that claims to rule based on moral superiority are just as arbitrary as claims based on physical superiority. If that isn't a message for our time, I don't know what is.

"Neither Five Nor Three," by Helen MacInnes. Not as famous as the other books on the list, but a fascinating read nonetheless. Set during the 1950s "Red scare," the novel occasionally borders on hysteria. Still, it offers a great deal of insight into how the far Left has subverted so many of our country's great institutions, including higher education, the entertainment industry, and the Democrat Party.

"That Hideous Strength," by C.S. Lewis. The final installment of his adult science-fiction trilogy (the first two books are "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Perelandra"), this novel can also be read independently. Like "Neither Five Nor Three," it sometimes seems a bit dated, in that it's set in a "modern" world that is not our modern world. It is also, however, a fascinating and insightful treatise on the nature of evil, particularly that sort of evil that cloaks itself in high-sounding slogans and pseudo-scientific jargon. You know, the kind of evil we read about in the newspapers every day.

"Animal Farm," by George Orwell. I could just as easily have chosen "Nineteen Eighty-Four" here, but I decided to go with something that will appeal to adolescents, including those age 25 and over. That's because children of all ages need to understand how quickly a "people's movement" can become totalitarianism. Orwell's fable clearly demonstrates that sentient beings can be rigidly controlled "for their own good" only through physical force - and only for so long.

"The Lord of the Rings," by J.R.R. Tolkien. Really three books, so I guess I'm cheating. But taken together, this trilogy constitutes perhaps the most comprehensive discourse on evil - and the response required of good - ever consigned to literature. Early in the first book, when Frodo asks Gandalf why such horrible things had to happen during his lifetime, Gandalf replies "That is not for [us] to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."