books i would totally recommend
April 22, 2008
I used to read more than I read now. And by “read” I mean, read books, not magazines, or billboards. I still read, but I feel myself gradually moving away from fiction and into other stuff, like magazines (The Economist–definitely my favorite, but impossible for me to get through before the next issue arrives), non-fiction books, like war history (loved the John Keegan WWI and WWII stuff, for example), and science (well, for me, I guess it’s psuedo-science, light stuff, like “A Brief History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson” and “The Big Bang”), and lots of news and even blog stuff on the Internet.
But I’m trying to get back to fiction. I just finished Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth.” I cannot figure out why I found it so compelling. It’s not that well written, it’s a bit, um, I dunno, common. But I found myself reading it at stoplights in my car. Go figure. So it’s on this list.
Anyway, this is just going to be a list of books I love. I’m not scholar, and I’m rarely hoity toity. I realize that most of the books on my list are conventional, non-adventurous. I haven’t decided whether to apologize for that or not. I tried to read Goedel, Echer, Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid, by Hofstadter once, and my head hurt. That book is NOT on this list, but props to Robert for recommending it way back when. Robert is smarter than me. I just like what I like. And I like these books. I’m sure there are other books I like that I can’t remember right now. I’ll add them to the list, which, by the way, will be in no particular order. For example, the books will NOT be listed by genre. Nor by year. Or Author.
In short, it’s just a list of books I love. I’m happy to add books to the list, so long as they meet the criteria. That is, they must be books I’ve read, and that I love.
In no particular order (did I already say that?):
Hamlet–What can I say? Although, I much prefer viewing Kenneth Branagh’s movie version to actually reading it. Not that I haven’t read it. Oh, I’ve read it.
John Keegan’s World War I and World War II–It’s gritty in detail, sometimes too mundane, but I love the way it gives both the strategic, um strategy stuff, and the view from the man on the ground. Great stuff.
The Good War, by Studs Terkel–Amazing in it’s breadth, from a gay soldier to John Kenneth Galbraith, this is still my favorite book about any war, much less World War II. Props to Bob for recommending this book back in the day.
The Razor’s Edge, by Somerset Maugham–This is a book that I think of all the time, when I find myself wondering if I’m wasting my life working for a small software company. But then the light changes and I have to drive again.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison–I first read this in college, and just loved it. Even though I get extreme white liberal guilt whenever I read it, I still love it.
A Brief History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson–How can you not get behind a title like that? Don’t YOU want to know about everything? And Bill writes it like he’s sitting with you on the beach, drinking a diet coke.
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole–Ignatius J. Reilly is kind of like Frodo for me–He lives. I really hope to see a movie version of this book. I would like to see Itnatius brought to life. Will Ferrel comes to mind.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley–The vision of kids sleeping while being programmed with subliminal messages returns to me sometimes. Usually when I’m whispering stuff into MY kids’ ears while THEY sleep.
King Lear–I love everything but the ending. And I’ve already said all I’m going to say about that.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne–I think I’ve always had a soft spot for Hester, but I just didn’t know it until I read this.
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut–I realize this is Vonnegut’s most accessible novel. I’m all about accessibility.
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams–Don’t Panic.
The Big Bang, by Simon Singh–More than an explanation of the Big Bang, this is really more a chronicle of the history of science and the scientific method that LED to the theory of the big bang.
Darkness At Noon, by Arthur Koestler–I read this in high school, for Mr. Norton. I distinctly remember reading this, and for the first time grabbing onto a BIG IDEA. I know, it’s weird, but before this book, books were nothing but science fiction short story anthologies. Maybe that’s just me.
The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon–I read this in Phil Snyder’s contemporary lit class, and I remember thinking “wait, this is supposed to be postmodern junk, theory disguised as fiction. Why do I LIKE this?”
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin–One of the first feminist type novels I read. Along with some of the postmodern stuff I read in college, I would call this a life-changing novel for me.
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad–I remember in high school, one of the English teachers, Bonnie something, speaking to a collection of English classes, talking about this novel, and getting all emotional (suicide in front of high school kids) about how each of us has a heart of darkness inside us. Like a dutiful high school student, I scoffed. But I never forgot. And you know what? It’s true!
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Attwood–With just a twist, a push, a shove maybe, this could be us. Ick.
The Catcher In the Rye, by J.D. Salinger–I named my youngest son after Holden Caulfield. I have high hopes for him. Funny thing is, I read this long after I went through my alienation, angst phase. It almost made me long for ennui, where I had none.
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger–I think I have a thing for first novels from authors. I love this: “Here’s what I saw,” Rube warns his readers. “Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will.”
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abby–You get Abby’s politics, but through a much more entertaining voice. Hayduke lives.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Conner–I love Flannery. A critic once said about her: “She creates a contrast of violent action with humorously and carefully drawn characters and a philosophy that underscores her devout Roman Catholic faith.” In other words she’s like an old woman version of Quentin Tarantino. What’s not to like? All Flannery is good, but this collection is really all you need.
Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett–I don’t know why I loved it. I don’t even know IF I loved it. But it’s a thousand pages, give or take, and I couldn’t put it down. You do the math.
Many Things Have Happened Since He Died, by Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn–Kind of turned me on to Southern Writing, if that’s a thing. She has a gift.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel–I don’t know if this is great fiction, but I love the idea of not missing the better story. I never want to miss the better story.
Lord of the Rings–You know, the dialog sucks, the writing is artificial and pretentious, and there are very very few meaningful women characters. And yet. And yet. What are you gonna do?