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.

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