Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My Top Ten List of 59 Favorite Books

Yesterday I spent some time browsing the lists of "Ten Favorite Books" on the Amazon.com book blog website. And, as I've always been a bookworm (and I'm easily influenced), I was inspired to create my own list; but I found I had trouble limiting myself to ten titles.

So I expanded the number to twenty-five.

And then to fifty.

And finally ended up with fifty-nine "top" reads. Quite a few are the usual, predictable works that seem to show up on just about everyone's list, but there are some more obscure, quirkier entries, as well.

The books are listed alphabetically, by author's name, and are not ranked in order of preference, with two exceptions: I've put my absolute favorites of all time at the head of the list. Both represent a degree of cheating, I suppose, since I have a great deal of trouble choosing only one title by each author. But, after all, I'm not doing this for a grade. It's MY list and I can cheat if I wanta.

Carroll, Lewis, and John Tenniel. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. As far as I'm concerned, these are equally great and interchangeable. If I were having to flee the planet, and could take only one book with me, it would be one of the "Alices."

Pym, Barbara. A Few Green Leaves / Quartet in Autumn. Just about anything by her would qualify, but especially these two. And if I couldn't take an "Alice" with me on my Earth evacuation flight, I'd take Dear Barbara.

Albee, Edward. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Loved the play, loved the movie. Played Martha in high school acting class. I was brilliant.

Barth, John. Giles Goat-Boy. Read this one in the late '60s, while in exile in Pampa TX. Really made me homesick for UT at Austin. Could have been written about the UT campus.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions (Ficciones) / Labyrinths. OK, I know this is cheating again, but it's hard to choose between them. If I had to do so, I'd take the one with the "Library of Babel" story – Labyrinths?

Bradbury, Ray. The October Country. Winner of a close contest with Dandelion Wine.

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. I think I read this for the first time when I was about 12. I think I bought it because of the "wuthering" in the title. Never did figure out exactly why the heights were "wuthering," but I became a big fan of the Brontes for a while. Especially after I found out about the tiny books they created.

Clark, Nancy. The Hills At Home. Just read this last year. And I could read it again and again. Full of wonderful characters and funny, unpredictable events.

Clark, Walter Van Tilburg. The Ox-Bow Incident. Probably the best "Western" novel ever written. Westerns are one of my guilty pleasures.

Clarke, Pauline. Return of the Twelves. Bronte stuff. Toys coming to life. Kids out-smarting grown-ups. How could I resist it?

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. Complete Sherlock Holmes. Another instance of cheating, I suppose. But I did actually first read Conan Doyle in a "Complete" edition, so it's very hard for me to choose any single story or collection. I guess if I had to, I'd pick "Hound of the Baskervilles."

Cuppy, Will, and William Steig. The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. I bought a paperback copy at the grocery store. I was about 11 or 12 and must have thought of it as a children's book. It was one of the funniest books I've ever read and actually taught me a lot about history.

Didion, Joan. Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I just love Joan Didion.

Didion, Joan. The White Album. See above. I was very sad when John Gregory Dunne died. I've always secretly thought of my husband Michael and myself as a sort of Didion-Dunne duo. Without all the – you know – best-sellers, of course.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Wonderful book – almost turned me into an "outdoor" person. Made me re-read Thoreau, which can't be bad.

DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca. I read this after seeing the Hitchcock film on TV – I was probably about 13 or so. Very into gothic romances at the time. But I've re-read it several times since then, and find that it still holds up.

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. The only thing by George Eliot I could ever finish. I think she must have had it ghost-written.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Another case of "choose one." I've enjoyed everything I've ever read by Fitzgerald. Even though he was such a beast to Zelda.

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant's Woman. Time travel back to Victorian England.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank. Read for the first time when I was about 11 or 12. I thought it was fiction and had a hard time believing there ever was a real Anne Frank. Or rather, that a young girl could have written such a book.

Gorey, Edward. Amphigorey. Mostly for the art work, I think.

Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger In a Strange Land. Read it at the height of my "hippie" period. Just before my "Star Trek junkie" period, during which I had some matchbooks printed with the inscription "I Grok Spock." Well, I guess you had to be there.

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. Yes, just like everybody else in my generation.

Hesse, Hermann. Magister Ludi. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what the game is, but the book is fascinating.

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Just the scariest book I've ever read. Perfect basis for one of the scariest movies.

James, Henry. The Aspern Papers. Henry James is best read in short works, and this is one of the best of those. I think I read this for the first time because of the movie "Lost Moment," which is based on the James story. It's one of my all-time favorite romantic films from the '40s. I've been looking for a reasonably priced video or DVD for years.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Probably his best-known short work. Again, I think I read this for the first time because of a TV or film version I had seen. I remember the first time I read it, I wasn't exactly sure why the ghosts were so interested in the children. So that was a LONG time ago.

James, P.D. The Dalgleish novels. Pick any one! Although I think I prefer the early ones because they generally feature more Dalgleish and not so much of his "team."

Kerr, Jean. Please Don't Eat the Daisies. You don't hear much about Jean Kerr these days, but she is (was?) absolutely one of the funniest American writers. This was a big best-seller back in the '50s, and I was always a list-watcher, even as a kid.

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Went through a period of reading everything I could find by Kundera, back in the '80s. He was very good to read on the bus and metro going back and forth to work in Washington DC.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it when it first came out. Loved it then. Love it now. Just a great, great read.

Lewis, Hilda. The Ship That Flew. I don't know how I found this book. Think it may have been a Scholastic or Weekly Reader book club offering. Read it for the first time when I was about 12 and really enjoyed the time travel aspect. But the English setting also appealed to me. Guess I was an Anglophile, even as a kiddo.

Lovecraft, H.P. Tales. I think I've read just about all Lovecraft's shorter tales, and they've all sort of melted together in my mind. But I'm a sucker for "nameless horror" fiction.

McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove. If you're from Texas, you have to love it. We all like to believe we had Texas Rangers in the family.

Millhauser, Steven. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. Magical. This book was such a find, at the time. I forced it on everyone I knew.

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. OK. I admit it. Just like every other 14 year old girl of my era, I got swept away on clouds of crinoline and magnolia.

Morris, James. Oxford. Read this for the first time after spending several months in Oxford while my husband was teaching in a summer program there. Loved the town AND the book. Not sure why James wanted to become Jan, but we won't go into that now.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. This was one of the first truly "adult" books I ever read – I think I was around 13, just about the age of Lo herself. At the time, I thought it was hysterically funny.

Orwell, George. 1984. What can I say? We're there, folks!

Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Club Dumas. Just discovered this last year. Read it in translation, of course. Again, because of the movie tie-in. But the book is so much richer and deeper – even Roman Polanski doesn't really do it justice.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Collected Works. I'd have trouble singling out any one story. As Poe himself would be the first to admit, each one is perfect. So I'm just going to choose his entire oeuvre and not look back.

Powell, Anthony. A Question of Upbringing. A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement – actually, it's hard to pick amongst them, but since this is the first book of the triad, I'll use it. All the other books in all the other "movements" are worth reading, but I think the first three are the most impressive. Actually, I've never read an Anthony Powell book that I didn't like.

Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus and Other Stories. Another book I discovered while living in Pampa TX for a year, with nothing else to do but read and watch Star Trek. I had only recently discovered there was a "Jewish school" of writers, and was busy reading a lot of Bellow and Roth and Bruce Jay Friedman and Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer.

Rowland, Sid. Ludwig the Tomato. Sid Rowland is a poet I happened onto when I was co-editing Poet Magazine back in the '90s. He's self-published several works, but "Ludwig" is my favorite. Some of the most original and funniest material you'll ever read. And Ludwig IS actually a tomato.

Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zooey. I identified so closely with Franny at the time, I went around for weeks repeating her Jesus prayer over and over to myself.

Salinger, J.D. Nine Stories. I've always found the stories much more interesting than The Catcher in the Rye. Always thought Holden was a bit of a jerk, actually.

Seuss, Dr. And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Other favorites: On Beyond Zebra, and Horton Hears a Who. "Mulberry Street" was the first Seuss I read, so it definitely goes on the list.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. I think this was the first Shakespeare play I read all the way through. For a speech class in high school, as I recall. I was supposed to read Julius Caesar in junior high, but got by with a friend's notes and the Shakespeare entry in the World Book Encyclopedia.

Spark, Muriel. Memento Mori. Such a strange idea for a novel. And you never quite find out what's really going on. Another toss-up here: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is also a favorite.

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Read this in installments, when it first appeared in Rolling Stone. I was living in a commune in Austin, TX. And I'm sorry to say that Thompson's frenetic tale of drugged-out escapades on the edge of reality seemed familiar and almost homey to me at the time.

Thurber, James. The Thurber Carnival. I discovered Thurber in high school – his short, hilarious tales were perfect for speech contests. Today, I think I'm even more in love with the drawings than I am with the stories.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. This came out when we were living in Shreveport, and of course everybody in Louisiana had to read it. One of the funniest books I've ever read. Used to have a first edition, but it disappeared sometime back in the '80s.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. OK, this should probably go up at the top of the list, with the Alices and Pyms. My mother read an abridged version to me when I was about 6 or 7 – everyday at naptime, one summer. It put her to sleep quite efficiently, but I was riveted. And I've re-read the full novel on my own many times since. I own a lot of different editions – none of them rare – some with illustrations, some without. It gets my nomination for Great American Novel, hands down.

Uris, Leon. Exodus. I read this at a very formative period in my life and it made a huge impression. At the time, I had probably never actually met a Jew.

Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds. Read it first when I was about 10 or 11, and it scared the pajamas off me.

White, T.H. The Once and Future King. I was 12 or 13 and in love with Richard Burton, who was doing "Camelot" at the time. So I was interested in anything about Arthur and his knights. Checked this out of the local library and instantly fell in love with the eccentric fantasy. And my love of the book has long outlasted my crush on the gorgeous Welshman.

Wilson, Angus. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. Great academic mystery tale about an archaeological find in England.

Wolfe, Tom. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test / The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. I read these at the same time, together. They may not have been in a combined volume, but I always think of them that way.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. It DOES embarrass me to admit that, although I greatly admire her writing, I've never really enjoyed reading Virginia Woolf. Except for Orlando, which I discovered at about age 17. Bought a copy at the Northstar Mall Waldenbooks in San Antonio TX, mainly because it had a great cover. I think it may have been a Signet paperback, or something similar. And in this case, apparently, it was perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover.