Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trend's 15 Books in 15 Minutes

Liking Sarah's post on books below, I figured I'd go ahead and do mine, too. Having basically spent 4 years of my life during grad school reading no fiction, it's really sort of "things I read in high school/undergrad," and "things I've gotten into recently." Here they are, in no particular order.

1.) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - one of the few pieces of fiction I've actually read more than once. I think a lot of the "counter-culture" stuff is horribly overrated and dated, and I realize a lot of people could level the same charges to this book, but it's still one of my favorites ever. Mercifully, I read the book before the movie, so that I have my own version of McMurphy in my head, rather than Jack Nicholson.

2.) The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - another of the rare "worth reading more than once" books for me. Carson McCullers is one of the most underrated American authors, and should be included in any discussion of "greatest Southern writers."

3.) Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - I love a lot of Philip Dick's work, but this may be his best to me.

4.) Heart of Darkness - It's probably cliche, but what Joseph Conrad did with English while not being a native-born English speaker is still mind-blowing.

5.) Catch-22 - had I read this before and not after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, I would probably feel about it the way I do about Kesey's work. Still, it's one of the 15 best things I ever read, and definitely contributed greatly to my sense of humor.

6.) Her Smoke Rose Up Forever - fortunately, James Tiptree's (Alice Sheldon) work has recently been re-published in an anthology, and it's some of the most powerful science fiction of the twentieth century, with an added bonus of bringing in gender in ways that few sci-fi authors really do.

7.) Native Son - This was one of those books in high school that everybody but me absolutely hated.

8.) The Ghost Writer - while I like all of Philip Roth's Zuckerman books, this is probably my favorite of the Roth books I've read thus far (though I haven't read a lot of his "great" works, specifically American Pastoral).

9.) East of Eden - Grapes of Wrath is a better social work, but I just love the biblical grandeur combined w/verbal simplicity of East of Eden.

10.) God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - I went through nearly all of Vonnegut's works as a teenager (which seems like a very teenager-thing to do in retrospect), and while I may have liked a few others more at the time (Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle), for whatever reason, this is the one that really stuck with me.

11.) The USA Trilogy - literary and narrative experimentation can fall flat, or can be outstanding; Dos Passos' trilogy is probably one of the best of examples of experimentation and innovation at its finest.

12.) Grande Sertao: Veredas - the greatest piece of literature in Portuguese, ever (including Saramango). Unfortunately, Guimaraes Rosa's innovation and playing with language and narration (600 pages, no chapters, no breaks) also makes it damn-near untranslatable.

13.) The Big Sleep - Chandler has better works, perhaps (Lady in the Lake, The Long Goodbye), but this was the first I read, and the first that got me into good noir fiction from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

14.) Vidas Secas - Another great Brazilian work about a poor family in the dry backlands of Brazil - just a great, simple, beautiful, and heart-breaking story.

15.) The Tin Drum - To this day, I have no clue what at least half of that book was about. But damn if I didn't love it from start to finish. I may even go back some day and give it another go, just to see if I can make more sense of it than I did when I was 16.