Friday, October 30, 2009
You may remember this entry from a short while back. In it, I listed 15 books that I loved, or that changed my life, or that you never heard of before and wished to hell I'd quit blathering on about them.
Well, now it's Donatello's turn.
You'll remember Donatello from this, this, this, and perhaps most especially this. I think he's a wonderful writer in his own right. He should have a blog of his own, or maybe be published someplace where he could earn some actual scratch for his efforts. Until he wises up, though, I'm happy to publish him on these pages, saving me about 1,500 words of effort a few times a year and making me seem more prolific than I really am.
Now, without any further ado (because I won't be saving any effort at all unless I shut up) Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Donatello!
Hey Jim -
I thought I’d take the time while you’re on vaca to write up some more of those responses. We’ll see how many I get to... it is nice to play hooky from my chores etc. Anyways, I liked your post on 15 Books. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to take that one up myself. I doubt I’ll have as much to say about this list, but that’s ok.
To call all of the following books "life-changing" would be a stretch, though some of them were, for me at least. Still, they are books that largely will explain who I am, how I got that way, and why I think the way I do. I’m also picking only those that I think would be of general interest, though I may add a few subject-specific "honorable mentions."
I’m also leaving out some obvious choices. I mean, everyone ought to read the Bible; believers have no excuse, and everyone else ought to read it in self-defense. Homer, Aristophanes, Chaucer... yup, sure, they’re great, but this isn’t a list of Great Books, it’s a list of 15 books that I think are great. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the difference.
By the way, I read Babbitt from your list; one of those I’ve always meant to get to. Great story, silly 1920s slang notwithstanding. Gosh all fish-hooks! I can’t say I find myself longing for his lifestyle, though. What impressed me was his ultimate change of heart at the end, where he realizes that what he didn’t get to do in life was not so much to go to law school but to choose the sort of life he wanted, and that the latter is the opportunity that he should give his own son.
One funny thing I noticed when I was making up my list: you know I read constantly and chronically. I have a reputation for having read every book ever written, which is absolutely untrue. I’m still getting to lots of things. It was only a year or two ago that I finally read Moby Dick. Just this year for Fahrenheit 451 and Babbitt. Well, there’s plenty of time. Anyway, what I have done is read some important books very carefully. Still, I usually read non-fiction: history, biography, philosophy, cookbooks... novels not so much. The funny thing was that 9 of the 15 books on my list wound up being novels. Hmm. Go figure. Well anyhow, in no particular order, THE LIST:
Lizard Music, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
A kid’s book, but still a great read. I first read it in hardcover when it was new and I was about the same age as the protagonist, Victor. Got a new copy in my 30s and liked it just as much.
A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
If you’ve never read this, you’re in for a treat. If you have, read it again anyway. The character I most identify with in this one is Meg.
Nineteen-Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
Nothing I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said; the masterpiece by my favorite author, George Orwell. Still frighteningly prophetic. Runners-up: Down And Out In Paris And London and Politics and the English Language.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
For me, a close second to Nineteen-Eighty Four.
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
If you’ve only seen the film you’re missing out. Ok, the animated dinosaurs are pretty cool, as is Laura Dern in her hiking shorts, but they dumbed-down the story too much, I think. The characters in the book are much more complex and the story is surprisingly deep in its implications. Favorite quotation:
The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We don’t have the power to destroy the planet or to save it, but we might have the power to save ourselves.
I had this posted on the bulletin board outside my office at St. Mary’s.
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Slow starting but, once you get into it and understand who the characters are and how they relate to each other, fascinating. It’s a huge achievement, how Herbert has plausibly extrapolated 10,000 years of history. The six original novels make a coherent whole. Brian Herbert’s sequels are worthy as well.
The Dance Of Life, by Edward T. Hall
This anthropology classic was a life changer for me. You’ll never think the same way again. His other books are also worthwhile: Beyond Culture, The Hidden Dimension, and The Silent Language.
How To Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff
I’ve plugged this one many times before. Another life-changer. You’ll never look at a statistic the same way again. Also, a surprisingly quick and humorous read.
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, by James Joyce
The most accessible of Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness experiments. An interesting look at the Irish-Catholic experience, as well, especially Chapter III. It starts slowly and strangely but is, I think, worth the effort. Might not be for everybody, but what is?
Sex And Death To The Age 14, by Spalding Gray (R.I.P.)
One of my favorite modern authors. If you would like to feel more comfortable living with your own personal set of neuroses, this is the book for you. Impossible Vacation is a tight #2. Favorite Gray quotation, possibly paraphrased :
Without cocktail hour, there’s no shift of consciousness. Life is just AAAAAAAAAAAAAA, BED!
The Boomer Bible, by R.F. Laird
An oh-my-God work of satire... Aristophanic and massive, possibly one of the best written and worst promoted books of the 20th century, seriously. It incorporates a history of the world; the parables of the Messiah Harry, first baby of the boom; and a social commentary in its Past, Present, and Punk Testaments. Biblical in structure, style, and size... it has to be experienced to be believed.
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
What can I say, the woman who pretty much started the entire environmental movement with this one still has a message for us all.
The Trial, by Franz Kafka
Disturbing, yet the kind of book that can be read and reread. If you’re new to Kafka, you might try In The Penal Colony or The Metamorphosis first.
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
An interesting take on the inner-workings of Satan and his legions.
The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton
The story of Merton’s conversion and a good introduction to his other works. It also shows what Merton found in the Catholic Church and what some of us are still looking for there, for those who might be interested.
All right. This is getting long and I have to go. Well, it’s been fun. Maybe you’ll find a few gems in here yourself. Confederacy Of Dunces is on my must-read-soon list. Will be in touch. Hope you had a great vacation.
Your swell pal,
Love the man. Love these lists, too. If you do one of your own, PLEASE let me know. I'd love to come over to your place and read it.
TEASER: Donatello has come up with a variation on this list that may be even more interesting to some of you. I'll be publishing his take, and my own, concerning that, next week. Hope you'll be here.
Soon, with more better stuff.