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Discovering the classics: Top 10 must-read books you never had time for before retirement

Feb 28, 2012, 8:26 a.m.

If you're like me, you have piles of books and lists of books you just can't seem to find the time to read. If you have the same problem, then here's a solution: A list of the top 10 classic must read books to tackle after you retire. If you can only make time for 10 books between trips to visit the grandchildren, taking tennis lessons or perhaps starting a small business, these are the ones:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic novel set in America's Gilded Age just gets better with age. If you have read it in school, you'll find a lot more nuances in the second reading. This tale of money, jealousy and loneliness is timeless. If you enjoy "The Great Gatsby," find some time for Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night," also.
  2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. You may have read this one in high school, but (trust me) your perspective has changed. The story of Thoreau's experiment living without the creature comforts of the 19th century could just as easily be a story about a person in our era living without electronics. The insights he gains at Walden Pond are still applicable today.
  3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This short novel (just 96 pages), published at the turn of the 20th century, inspired the movie "Apocalypse Now." On the surface, it's a tale of a business traveler who ventures deep into the Congo region of Africa. On another level, it's a tale of the horrible atrocities visited on the native African population by colonial European settlers.
  4. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This 1940 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, set in the dust bowl of Oklahoma during the Great Depression, is a story of hopelessness and desperation. Though the time period and the characters are different, the story is familiar to many Americans today. It's a good history piece from a world-class storyteller.
  5. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. If all you know about Twain's work are "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," you'll be delighted at the witty stories that document Twain's travels throughout Europe. They are tales that will satiate your lust for travel and adventure.
  6. Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. This lengthy novel, published in 1943, is something of a cult classic. The soap opera-style narrative follows the life of an architect, loosely modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright. The central theme of the book is individualism and one man's drive to make a difference.
  7. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Published in 1900, this "great urban novel" tells of one Midwestern girl's struggle to realize her American dream by moving to New York City. It's a great period piece with well-developed characters.
  8. French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. If you've only seen the movie, you must read the book. This intricate tale takes place on two, interlacing levels--one in the present and one in 19th century England. It's a masterful work by one of Britain's best authors.
  9. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. I could spend years strolling through Greene's expatriate, British colonial dramas. No author grasps the subtleties of Brits living abroad in the early to mid-20th century better than Greene. "The Heart of the Matter," one of his best works, is set in colonial Sierra Leone, in West Africa. The recurring theme is of failure and human frailties.
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Seriously! This lengthy tome is more than the punch line of a joke. This well-crafted tale recounts the lives of several families during the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Though the book is 200 years old, its message and its characters are timeless.

Many of these titles can be found in their entirety on the Internet free of charge (or at your local library). Others can be sent to your e-reader for just a few dollars. Remember: classics make great reading, especially when you're traveling.

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