Thursday, July 29, 2010

Heresy: Naming My Top 10 Books

I said I'd never do it. OK, maybe I didn't say so, but I thought I would never utter (or type) a Top 10 Favorite Books. That's just heresy to a reader. There are so many choices. There are so many variables. WHAT IF I LEAVE SOMETHING REALLY GOOD OUT?

However, like any good shifty freaknasty of a reader, I have a disclaimer.

These are TEN OF my favorite books. Not THE Ten. There is no THE Ten.

OK, I think I've safely covered my reading butt. Without further ado:

1. The Great Gatsby, by Ole F. Scott Fitzgerald. As many times as I've read this book, I practically have it memorized. I can call him "Ole F. Scott" if I want to. If he were alive I'm pretty sure we'd grab a whiskey together (maybe a whiskey sour for me). I first read this book as a junior in high school and I was one smitten kitten. It was subtle. Nothing blew up, there were no orgies (hello, Brave New World!), and no nuclear warfare. It was just a good novel about screwed up people. I loved the symbolism because I actually "got" it. Brilliance!

2. The Lord of the Rings (all of 'em!), by J.R.R. Tolkien. I may never read this weapon of a big chunky book again, but the first time through was sacred and fabulous, and I actually thought about doing grad work at the University of Maryland so I could camp outside the office of one of the greatest Tolkien scholars in the country after I heard her speak at my university where I did my BA. She was THAT GOOD. And I was that in lust with Tolkien's furry-footed creations.

3. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Because with "Estella" plastered all over my online persona, she'd probably crawl out of my copy of the book and smother me in my sleep if I didn't mention Dickens. People have a very strong reaction to Dickens. They either love the dickens out of him or hate the dickens out of him. I read this one as a freshman in high school, and obviously some of the characters stuck with me. I re-read it a couple of years ago, and got even more out of it. I will always love Estella, but maybe I should've named this blog "Miss Havisham's Revenge" because she's REALLY the star of the show. Rotten wedding dress and all.

4. What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. I just don't know how to describe this book. It's about art and philosophy and photography and fairy tales and friendship and loveship and it turns into a murder mystery in the last bit. It's just weird, but so lusciously, sexily, smartily written (yes, smartily) that I couldn't resist. I'll be doing a BookDrum profile for it when I re-read it soon. Hustvedt's other stuff is good, too. Especially The Blindfold and A Plea for Eros: Essays.

5. Patrimony, by Philip Roth. If you want a memoir with a sucker punch, go ahead and read this one. Roth writes candidly about his father's aging and what it's like for the child to become the caregiver. It's definitely not all pretty, but it's pretty human and accessible for Roth. Now, he's also believed to be a big fat liar most of the time because he plays with the idea of "truth" in his books, so it might be a load of horse*$%#. Either way, it's worth the read.

6. Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure, by Paul Auster. I avoided his fiction until after I read his memoirs. I don't know why, but it's actually been darned enlightening. It's cool to know where some of the anecdotes that make their way into his stories began. Auster has truly lived a "writer's life" of adventures, hard knocks, and crazy jobs. He's lived all over the world, worked on a ship, starved, stretched, and probably stank a few times.

7. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. DEATH IS THE NARRATOR! I know, I'm screaming in all caps, but it's really worth the scream! Death is a fantastic narrator, and that's what really got me involved in this Holocaust novel told from the perspective of a German orphan. It was one of those "grab you by the hair" novels. I devoured it for a graduate class a couple of years ago, and we had a very spirited discussion. Mostly the discussion revolved around "what is an adolescent novel" because the majority of people I know would argue that this one is just as fit for adults as young adults. Plus, ya know, I cried for the last 200+ pages, and I'm hard-hearted ogre, so that's pretty impressive and worthy of a Top Ten.

8. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. Because it made me feel sad and lonely and happy and hopeful right alongside the characters. And I'm talking emotions to the bone. Very authentic and well-written.

9. Fables, by Bill Willingham. I devoted two and a half years of my life to Fables, from a term paper my first semester of grad school right on up to my Masters thesis. I love this series because it is smart, thoughtful, clever, and all those good words. Willingham shows off his knowledge of class fairy tales while he updates them and makes them hilarious, heartbreaking, and sometimes downright mean. The early collections are my favorites.

10. Feed, by M.T. Anderson. This is another novel I read in a grad class, and it made my brain explode. When it came time to pick a novel to teach my Freshman Composition courses, I chose this YA novel for its depth, cleverness, and to provoke my classes into discussion. In the story, teens have the Internet wired into their brains, the environment is shot, there's a whole facade of synthetic "stuff" covering up the natural environment. It's just a mess. And it's our contemporary lifestyle turned up to a gazillion. My students had a really good time looking for the similarities and embellishments and identifying the ways sf fiction critiques our society.


This Top 10 is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. And I know it's not Tuesday. I'm just running two days behind in general.

32 comments:

  1. I feel so under read. I think the only one of those I've read is The Great Gatsby.

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  2. Don't feel underread. I purposely picked some things that I thought would be a little more obscure. One can only read about Jane Eyre so many times!

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  3. Ooh, some great books on this list! And I NEED to read The Book Thief! What is my deal?! :)

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  4. What a great list! I was happy to see LotR on the list. The book (I count all three as one) is one of my favorites as well. It's such a wonderful world.

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  5. I know what you mean, how on earth can one ever pick out 10 favourite books? This changes as you move on through life, there was a time I would have mentioned all of Iris Murdoch's novels, but not now. Definitely the Hours would be on mine now, but also some of David Mitchell's books (say, The Cloud Atlas). But you have a great list there and I cannot deny any of them!

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  6. Before I even started to read your list, I knew The Great Gatsby would be listed somewhere. I think I've known this about you for a decade or so. :)

    I'm glad to see The Book Thief listed. It's one of my all-time favorites, too. I really should read it again...

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  7. Coffee and a Book Chick, you would probably loooove The Book Thief. Take the plunge!

    Trisha, I count the three as one also. That's what the scholar said was proper. lol

    Seachanges, that is sooo true. This list has changed a lot from when I was young--drastically! It's fun to look back and ruminate on the past faves and update the list.

    Les, it has been TEN YEARS! How crazy is that??? You, Heather, Nancy. Gosh, I miss those Yahoo groups sometimes. I tried keeping up more recently, and the time crunch of work and baby just kill me.

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  8. I'm just guessing about the 10 years. For all I know, it could be longer. I joined the Yahoo groups back in '95 or '96. I don't remember which one I met you on (On the Porch Swing, Arm Chair Readers, or The Book Spot). I met Nat and Heather on one of those, too. So, it could easily be 15 years!

    I was lurking on OTPS for a while, but couldn't keep up. It's hard enough keeping up with blogging!

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  9. Les, I think I joined the groups in 2000 or 2001, so right about 10 years. I actually just rejoined OTPS because I got all nostalgic. We'll see if I can keep up at all!

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  10. Oh, Patrimony -- I read it in college (and actually took a whole course dedicated to Roth!) and can't unread some of those passages, particularly the one where his father soils himself. You're right, it ain't pretty -- but it's unforgettable. Even with all the controversy (or because of it?), Roth is a pretty gifted writer.

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  11. I'd definitely put The Book Thief on a top ten list too! I've read several of your other top ten and will check out the ones I haven't read. I know what you mean about naming THE top ten. I can't do it either!

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  12. This is a fun list and adds quite a few to my TBR. I haven't read Patrimony yet. I should give that a try because the Roth I did read in college was okay. The Great Gatsby would definitely be in my Top Ten list no matter how you qualify it. It is the #1 book that kindled my love of literature and made me what to study English Literature in college. Great book.

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  13. Ironically, I'll be posting my top ten tomorrow! Different meme, same topic this week. :D I tried to read Gatsby a few weeks ago and didn't make it past page 30. :( Though I did LOVE Brave New World. In fact, looking at this list, I get the impression that our tastes in books are very, very different. I hated The Hours, was meh about The Book Thief, and couldn't read beyond a few pages of Fables...

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  14. Oh, but I *did* love Great Expectations! At least we have that in common. :)

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  15. Meg, he is quite gifted. I devoured The Human Stain, and I enjoyed The Dying Animal as well. While I don't always agree with him, I appreciate his writing very much.

    Kathleen, looking forward to your thoughts on any of these that you decide to try. :D

    Amen to Gatsby, Jennifer! What is it about that book that "gets" us so much, I wonder? I've read lots of people who feel the same way we do.

    Amanda, but I can tell you for sure that we have very similar taste in literary menfolk (loved your Top 10 there), and I'm also a Harry Potter nut. My collection is far less awesome than yours, though. :)

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  16. Yay! Someone who loves The Great Gatsby as much as I do! I am the only Fitzgerald fan in my circle of friends, so I am always happy to talk about that book! Great selection!

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  17. Wow. You are amazing to be able to name a top ten. I think mine would change with the wind, but I love The Great Gatsby. I read it in high school and didn't connect with it at all, but then read it again for my books club and really got it. I think it's one I could re-read every year if I had the time.

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  18. LOVED The Great Gatsby and The Book Thief!

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  19. I always think I'd have such a hard time naming my top ten/twenty/whatever books, but then I remember I had a whole shelf at home called "Special Books I'd Die Without". It's easier when you have all your books spread out in front of you, I think.

    I copied your description of What I Loved verbatim as the wee reminder to myself of why I want to read it, when I add it to my TBR list. :p

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  20. Love, love, love The Book Thief! One of my favorites as well :) Hmmm...I hate to admit but I've read The Great Gatsby and remember very little from it. Guess that is because I read it back in high school...I really should try rereading some of the classics that I read in high school. Except for Lord of the Flies. I hated that book! Great list Andi :)

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  21. I saw Siri Hustvedt's book a couple of weeks ago and wanted to get it. I didn't have my wallet then. When I came back for it yesterday it was gone. Boo hoo!!!

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  22. I think I've read more than half of these: yay! lol I can't say I have much interest in Roth...I found Everyman an agony to get through, and none of his other books sound appealing to me either. But What I Loved sounds really neat! And I do need to reread Great Gatsby one of these days...I really enjoyed it in high school. :)

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  23. I with you on number 1, and it may just be my number 1 of all time, if pressed. I love the way you did this; not THE top ten but A top ten. Perfect.

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  24. Okay, I know I've got to add some books to my wish list now! I've only read three of the ones from your list (Gatsby, LoTR, and Fables--well, I haven't finished Fables yet, I'm savoring them slowly). But since I adore all three, it certainly makes sense to give the others a go, doesn't it? (At least the ones that don't scare me because I'm sure I'm not smart enough for them.)

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  25. I've recently picked up the Siri Hustvedt book from an used bookstore. I love Lord of the Rings though I haven't yet read Return of the King. :-( I definitely agree with you on Fables and The Book Thief.

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  26. Just the thought of coming up with such a list makes me a little panicky. And my brain hurt.

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  27. Gawd, I am SUCH a Philistine. For me, any list of ten books would have to include the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout. Any of them. All of them. And the homespun country wisdom of the late Gladys Taber. And Beverly Nichols (any of his books are great, but if you haven't read any, try Merry Hall, or Laughter on the Stairs. Or maybe Sunlight on the Lawn. Gardening books but oh, so much more.)
    Canadian Chickadee

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  28. I love your list, Andi! One of these days I'll finally read Great Expectations, and I'll dedicate the reading experience to you :P

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  29. Oh, that is an interesting meme. I might join this one next week, I love lists...!

    Great list, too. I don't know all of them, but the ones I know, yeah! I'm a big Fitzgerald fan, but The Great Gatsby is probably the novel I like least. I esp. love him for his short stories.

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  30. I love top ten lists and like you I always stress that there are not absolute top ten. (But the Great Gatsby is definitely and always on the list!)

    And also, I really want to read Feed.

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  31. I really enjoyed Great Expectations but I don't think it'd qualify as one of my all-time favorite books and same with Gatsby. Maybe I need to re-read both! :)

    But, The Book Thief is definitely on my list. I still remember how much that book affected me after I finished reading it. So good.

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