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TODAY contributor
updated 12/19/2012 3:16:57 PM ET 2012-12-19T20:16:57

“I cannot live without books.” So said Thomas Jefferson, and it’s a sentiment many of us share. What better way to ignore the impending doom of the Mayan apocalypse, slated for 12/21/12, than to tuck into an all-absorbing read? Since we love lists nearly as much as books, we asked five best-selling authors for their three picks for going out on a literary high.

James Patterson holds the New York Times best-sellers list record with 63 New York Times best-selling titles. His most recent book, “Merry Christmas, Alex Cross,” is the perfect book for the holidays, but he offers up these alternatives if you’re thinking about the apocalypse and not Christmas.

1. ‘How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer’
By Sarah Bakewell
(Other Press)
Twenty chapters cover every question you should have thought about, well before the end.

2. ‘The Book Thief’
By Markus Zusak
(Alfred A. Knopf)
Parents, the end is nigh—how did you do with getting your kids into reading? Instead of buying them video games and cell phones, did you stock them up with a pile of books to enjoy? “The Book Thief” is a great choice for a last chance to do your kid right.

3. ‘Ulysses’
By James Joyce
(Simon & Brown)
Everyone should read “Ulysses” before the end of days. Preferably right before.

Erik Larson is the master of narrative non-fiction, penning such bestsellers as “The Devil in the White City” and “In the Garden of Beasts.” He recommends three books that are sure to delight and distract.

1. ‘War and Peace’
by Leo Tolstoy
Because I’ve read the book three times, at three different points in my life, and each time I finished it, I had the strangest feeling that I’d led an entire other life. And packing in an extra life or two before the end is probably not a bad idea.

2. ‘The Maltese Falcon’
By Dashiell Hammett
It’s the best novel of detective fiction ever written, and frankly one of the best novels, period, and yet I’d wager that relatively few mystery and detective-novel fans have read it. It’d make an ideal last stop for a career of detective reading, and Spade and Caspar Gutman and Joel Cairo and Brigid O’Shaughnessy just might be the ticket to cheer one up as that end-of-days asteroid rockets toward home.

3. ‘In a Sunburned Country’
By Bill Bryson
It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I read it for the first time two days after 9/11, and truly it helped me get through those sad, dark days. A little laughter on the eve of the end won’t do anyone any harm.

Journalist, critic and satirist Joe Queenan is the author of numerous books, including the recently published “One for the Books,” which examines his own reading habits and obsession with books. His choices will prepare you for the end, albeit in different ways.

1. ‘The Great American Novel’
By Philip Roth
Since none of us will live long enough to experience another baseball season, this wondrous, hilarious, brilliant novel about the national pastime is essential reading. Critics always leave this book off their lists of Roth's greatest novels, which just goes to show that critics are idiots.

2. ‘Exposing Myself’
By Geraldo Rivera
This book is so vile it makes you happy the world is ending, just so you don't have to live in the same solar system as Geraldo Rivera anymore.

3. ‘The Iliad’
By Homer
(Penguin Classics)
This is the greatest book ever written. Nothing else is even close.

Author of “Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses,” Claire Dederer offers up these picks (and yes, one of them is a movie, because she’s a rebel).

1. Proust
Did you ever read Proust? You did not. I know it for a fact. Proust is really, really good. You don’t believe me, but it’s true. Now is not the time for lean, minimalist restraint. Now is the time for maximalism, for too-much-ness, for life’s rich pageant.

Love 'Hunger Games'? Here are 5 more dystopian reads

2.  ‘Melancholia'
When you're done with your Proust (ha!), watch the Lars von Trier film “Melancholia,” another luxuriantly over-the-top document, which also happens to conjure the most stylish-looking apocalypse imaginable.

3. ‘The Night the Bed Fell’ (from the collection, ‘My Life and Hard Times’)
By James Thurber
(Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
You’ll need jokes, and you won't have much time left after all that Proust and movie-watching, so throw in the short story “The Night the Bed Fell” by James Thurber. Done! I mean, really done.

Sean Wilsey, author of the memoir, “Oh the Glory of It All,” selects a daring reading list to quicken the pulse before the end.

In keeping with the apocalyptic theme (the word “apocalypse,” of course, coming from the Greek for “unveiling”), and with the thought that we'll need to procreate after whatever, um, goes down, I thought I'd suggest some smut:

1. ‘My Life and Loves’
By Frank Harris
(Prometheus Books)
“My Life and Loves” is a memoir that graphically details the author's erotic life in the late 1800s.

2. ‘History of My Life’
By Giacomo Casanova
(Everyman’s Library)
Casanova covers the same ground as “My Life and Loves,” a century earlier.

3. ‘My Uncle Oswald’
By Roald Dahl
(Penguin Books)
“My Uncle Oswald” is a slapstick thriller version of same from the recent past.

Taken as a trilogy, these books will titillate and amaze, leaving an aftertaste of horror and regret. You'll be ready for the end of the world.

Tell us, what are your picks for books that should be read before the world ends?

Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books (including the just-published Things I Want to Punch in the Face) and a publishing consultant; she can be found at jenniferworick.com. She’s happily tucking into some Jane Austen this week.

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