Friday, June 19, 2009

15 books in 15 minutes

In keeping with the literary theme of my last post, I'm stealing this meme from Natalia because I love her. And because I love you, and we have good discussions about books on this here blog. So!

Instructions: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you — the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you. (In the interest of staying true to the exercise, I listed the books first and then went back and wrote descriptions)

1. Les Miserables. This book more than any other has been a huge part of me. I was a kid when my parents went to see the musical and brought home the soundtrack, and I became obsessed. My grandmother, the one who always wanted me to put down the books that I read obsessively at meals and in bed, bet me that I couldn't read the book. I was 9. She brought me a huge hardcover unabridged copy--I'm not quite sure where that copy is now--and I read it in 3 days, at meals, in bed, in every spare second. Of course at age 9, 90% of it went over my head, but I go back to it over and over. I tattooed a quote from it on my back. I find something new and beautiful every time I read it. One day I'll learn French and read it in French. I swear.

2. Ulysses. I guess I already blogged about it once, so I don't know if I have to say much more than it pushed the boundaries of what fiction and language could do in my mind. That said, I too have not read Finnegans Wake.

3. The Thief's Journal I came to Jean Genet because of a silly goth magazine's photo spread with quotes from Funeral Rites. Funeral Rites is a seriously fucked-up book, and an amazingly beautiful one, but The Thief's Journal has stuck with me longer. Genet makes the hideous and abject beautiful, and makes the beautiful abject. More people probably know his plays, but I love his fiction. Another reason I need to learn French.

4. The Savage Detectives. I read this last summer after hearing an NPR segment on Roberto Bolano. I came away from the book staggered, like I hadn't been by an author in years. His fierce devotion to his artistic and political ideals reminded me that art is as revolutionary as politics, and writing fiction is a worthwhile occupation.

5. Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Hunter S. Thompson is like Jesus, in that the man is pretty awesome, but I can't stand most of his followers. No, seriously, I hate people who start immediately talking about the drug references in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, because they miss out on the real reason Thompson was so fucking great: the man could WRITE, and he could see through hypocrisy no matter how out of his mind he was on whatever substances he could smoke, drink, or snort. The best political journalist America's ever seen?

6. Lolita. Is also a cliche, but I don't care. No one should've ever tried to make a movie out of it: Lolita is the consummate novel, from a man who spent plenty of time messing around with the idea of a novel, stretching it to its limits and beyond (Pale Fire). The story in Lolita can't be told properly in any other medium but the written word.

7. The Sound of Waves. I also came to Mishima from that same silly goth magazine--so my goth years were good for something. The first book of his I read was Forbidden Colors, probably his best book, but the one that hits me like a ton of bricks is this one, a deceptively simple first-love story.

8. Written on the Body. Jeannette Winterson is a whole lot of awesome as far as I'm concerned, but Written on the Body is a standout for many reasons, chief among them that it's a love story in which you never know the gender of the main character. You know that the lover is a woman, but the "I" who speaks is so perfectly concealed that it becomes a game within the book, trying to find a clue. And yet it doesn't compromise the story a bit.

9. Namedropper. Emma Forrest's first novel, written when she was maybe 19; I read it when I was in college and it was the first time that I really saw myself in a character. Normally, I read books to get out of my own life, but this one was so much like me.

10. The Sound and the Fury. So Faulkner might be another cliche. So what? I still love him, and always will. I love the way this whole book revolves around Caddy and yet she is only a ghost; that everyone thinks they know her and yet it's so immediately clear that no one does.

11. Shanghai Baby. Wei Hui's first novel, I think, I bought because it was "banned in China." It's not very shocking at all, but it was the first book that I read where I thought, "I could do this."

12. Jazz. I did not properly appreciate Toni Morrison in school, despite going through several of her books, a few of them repeatedly. It wasn't until I took an audiobook of Jazz from my local (tiny) library for a road trip that I realized why people love her. What most of my favorite books have in common is a love for and experiment with language, and this one is no exception. It reads like music.

13. Blonde. Joyce Carol Oates does Marilyn Monroe, and I melt and want to cry just thinking about how heartwrenching this book is. Another one that someone unfortunately tried to adapt to the screen, and another one that should only be read.

14. The Sandman. Because I am me, I have comics on this list. I only have comics that were written by one person for their span, and the Sandman counts. I cannot make a list of books I love without including Neil Gaiman, and I cannot be honest and say that I like any of his prose novels more than Sandman. The Sandman comics are about stories and storytelling, about the nature of fiction and characters and myths and of course dreams, and they will change your life.

15. Local. Another comic, and my favorite since Sandman, I think. It's a collection of short stories about one girl, and when put together (in a gorgeous hardcover that I still don't have) it's a story of a life told in the moments that define it. It is also the perfect comic for people who don't read comics. Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly are wonderful.

(OK, it took me a lot more than 15 minutes to write blurbs about all of these, but I did come up with the list in less than 15. Your turn, now...)