Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Big Book List

I'm home with a heavy cold and have been making lists: 100 favorite and most influential albums, 150 favorite and most influential books, 5 books I remember reading that might not exist, and 25 authors I love off the top of my head without giving it much thought.

I found the big book list quite interesting, for it shows (me) different periods in my life. The list was not exhaustive by any means; I was an avid (possibly compulsive) reader in childhood and into my mid-thirties. Since then, I've read for entire weekends or through the night only on occasion. No, I haven't stopped reading books. There's two piles of books I'm currently reading in front of me and to my right. These days, I tend to read parts of books. I often blame the computer for this, but it isn't the only explanation. The fiction reading experience - immersing oneself in another world completely - well, it doesn't call to me like it once did. I also stopped reading in bed many years ago. This helped me rid myself of insomnia, but there's something truly wonderful about books and being in bed which I know I am now missing. Marcel Proust would agree.

Creating My Big List of Books was illuminating. It could have been subtitled "Ways I Thought about and Examined the World and Myself." There were certainly distinct periods of my life marked by shifts in what I read. The only thread that runs though my entire life is my enjoyment of mysteries and an interest in what for a lack of a better word is called "religion."

As for mysteries, I started with The Nancy Drew Series, and I wonder if anyone reads them nowadays. I "graduated" to reading Agatha Christie, whom I remember reading in bed way past sleepiness overcame me. I also remember thinking she wasn't a great writer, and this is when I discovered the art of skimming so that I could get the end and find out what happened. Not a great habit, but hey, if the plot or the information is the point and the writing is not, I suppose it's better than plodding through a book. But then again, why did I spend time reading anything that wasn't well written?

This brings me to a genre of books that didn't make it to my list - true crime stories. I read them like a maniac when I lived in my first apartment in New York City. They scared me terribly, but I was fascinated by the awful things people could do to one another. My father read these books, too, in between reading Sartre's Being and Nothingness, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and all the other "heavy stuff" he seemed to always be reading when I was a teenager.

My father was also fairly obsessed with the Holocaust, and so I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, along with who knows how many other books about that time period. However, the one book that I unabashedly recommend to anyone is Constantine's Sword by James Carroll, a former Catholic priest who narrates an engrossing "tale" of his relationship to his Church and its relationship to the Jews.

This reminds me that "Hiroshima" was not on my list, and it should have been, for it is seared into my memory.

I'm being flippant, but this brings me to my lifelong fascination with dystopian and post-apocalytic books. What is their fascination? As a kid, I think I simply enjoyed the mayhem, and that, in the aftermath of destruction, survivors no longer had to adhere to society's rules. Additionally, post-the-apocalypse, people returned to subsistence living, and that dovetailed well with my interest in the back-to-the-land movement and making everything by hand. I was a terribly conflicted teenager! I had utopian dreams, but also avidly read Genet, Burroughs, De Sade (didn't make the list - simple prudery, I suppose), and later on, everything by Dennis Cooper.

I suppose that the grand arc of all the books I've read is ethics. It has never occurred to me until now that this is so. I adored Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, and any book that presented a dilemma or crisis of ethics held great interest for me. I want to write, "what else is a book for?", but that is my way of seeing fiction.

Here's the list, for those of you who are not my Facebook friends:

The Mind of Clover Robert Aitken
The Gateless Barrier Robert Aitken
The Eye Never Sleeps Gempo Merzel
Bearing Witness Bernie Glassman
The Miracle of Mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step Thich Nhat Hanh
Quaker Faith & Practice (London Yearly Meeting)
Nausea John Paul Sartre
The Stranger Albert Camus
Howl Allen Ginsberg
Portnoy's Complaint Philip Roth
The Human Stain Philip Roth
Junky William S. Burroughs
Querelle Jean Genet
The Thief's Journal Jean Genet
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels
Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany
The Mad Man Samuel R. Delany
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
The Bell Iris Murdoch
The Book and the Brotherhood Iris Murdoch
The Executioner's Song Norman Mailer
Oswald's Tale Norman Mailer
In Cold Blood Truman Capote
The Wanting Seed Anthony Burgess
The Five Gospels (The Jesus Seminar)
The Other Bible (translation & compilation Willis Barnstone)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle
The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone Wilkie Collins
The Monk Matthew Lewis
The Three Pillars of Zen Philip Kapleau
Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck
Christianity Without God Lloyd Geering
The Magus John Fowles
The Collector John Fowles
Being and Nothingness John Paul Sartre
The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
A Hero of Our Time Mikhail Lermontov
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Huraki Murakami
A Wild Sheep Chase Muraki Murakami
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe
Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe
The Odd Women George Gissing
The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope
Ruth Elizabeth Gaskell
Bleak House Charles Dickens
The Shining Stephen King
Imajica Clive Barker
Human Traces Sebastian Faulks
The New York Trilogy Paul Auster
The Information Martin Amis
London Fields Martin Amis
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich William Shirer
Constantine's Sword James Carroll
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
King Jesus Robert Graves
Anya Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Creation, A Novel Gore Vidal
The Gospel According to the Son Norman Mailer
The Last Temptation of Christ Nikos Kazantzakis
The Persian Boy Mary Renault
The Mapp and Lucia series E.F. Benson
The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House Emily Eden
Pamela Samuel Richardson
The New Jerusalem Bible
A Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
The Ripley Series Patricia Highsmith
The Whole Earth Catalog
The Stand Stephen King
Tripods Trilogy John Christopher
Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov
The Moosewood Cookbook
The Madness of a Seduced Woman Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Chinese Poetry Wai-Lim Yip
The Narrow Road to the Interior Basho
Sophie's Choice William Styron
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Hell's Angels Hunter S. Thompson
The Farewell Symphony Edmund White
The Berlin Stories Christopher Isherwood
The Folding Star Allan Hollinghurst
An Instance of the Fingerpost Iain Pears
The Kingdom of the Wicked Anthony Burgess
A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
The Cider House Rules John Irving
Mikkelson's Ghosts John Gardner
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
Less Than Zero Bret Easton Ellis
The Secret History Donna Tartt
Closer Dennis Cooper
Frisk Dennis Cooper
What Came Before He Shot Her Elizabeth George
Ethics for a New Millenium The Dalai Lama
Inner Revolution Robert Thurman
The Waterworks E.L.Doctorow
Athena John Banville
Interview with a Vampire Anne Rice
When We Were Orphans Kasuo Ishiguro
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea Yukio Mishima
Nine and a Half Weeks Elizabeth McNeil
Sanity, Madness, and the Family R.D.Laing
The Politics of Experience R.D.Laing
Childhood and Society Erik Eriksson
Identity and the Life Cycle Erik Erikson
The Noonday Demon Andrew Solomon
Listening to Prozac Peter Kramer
Public Sex Pat Califia
Genderflex Cecilia Tan
The Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious SIgmund Freud
When Things Fall Apart Pema Chodron
Varieties of Religious Experience William James
Zen's Chinese Heritage Andrew Ferguson
Shoes Outside the Door Michael Downing
Siddhartha Hermann Hesse
Our Bodies, Ourselves
Read My Lips Ricki Anne Wilchins
Zen Mind Beginner's Mind Shunryu Suzuki
The Joys of Yiddish Leo Rosten
The Rebus Books Ian Rankin
The Nancy Drew books
Winnie the Pooh
The Medical Detectives Burton Rouerche
Migraine Oliver Sacks
The Story of Civilization Will Durant
The Joy of Cooking
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
Moon in a Dewdrop Dogen and Kazuaki Tanahaski
How to Raise An Ox Francis Dogun Cook
Plays Well WIth Others Alan Gurganus
The Dispossessed Ursula LeGuin
I, Robot Isaac Asimov
Steel Beach John Varley
The Wasteland and other poems T.S.Eliot
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Charles Mackay
Against Depression Peter Kramer
Harlot's Ghost Norman Mailer
Travelling in the Family Carlos Drummond De Andrade
Mindfield Gregory Corso
Naked Lunch William Burroughs
The Castle of Otronto Horace Walpole
The Mysteries of Udolpho Ann Radcliffe
Northanger Abbey Jane Austen
Daniel Deronda George Eliot
Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope
The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco

Image note: Self explanatory, I should think. I have always loved the covers of Penguin books.

1 comment:

jmcleod76 said...

Parents still buy Nancy Drew for their kids. I know this from my years working in the kids department at Barnes & Noble. They still sell very well. Whether or not those kids ever actually read them ... that I don't know. I did have a couple of pre-teen customers (girls) who bought them for themselves, so there are a few.

I like dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction quite a it, too.