I’m loopy from a vacation flight back and will not get much done in the next few days. Therefore off and on I’ll write a blog. I haven’t skated in almost two weeks, and I think I’ll fall back on my vast knowledge of literature. Online networks like facebook and the defunct myspace made lists super popular. I have no clue how to get people to look at my blog, so I might as will try lists.
I thought of doing a list of my ten favorite books of all time while I read a couple of books on vacation. But glancing at my goodreads logged books, this would take some effort to narrow down, and perhaps some type of system. I don’t feel like finding my research methods textbook, so I decided to simply do a list of my ten favorite classic authors, and at the end add some contemporary authors. Most of the books that had an impact on me as a reader and a person were classics, or books that stood up to the test of time. To the best of my knowledge the authors are listed chronologically.
I’ve read three Dostoevsky books: Crime and Punishment, Notes from the Underground, and The Gambler. In college I failed my attempt to read Crime and Punishment but was amazed by it in my mid twenties. I think the build up mystery and his guilt is powerful stuff even though the actual trial takes up about 100 pages making it long. I’ll probably read this book several times in my life. I was amazed by the shorter works Notes From the Underground and The Gambler. I’m interested in unreliable narrator prose, and this is the best I read. These two books show that mania can be conveyed by words.
Here’s my hackwriters essay on Dostoevsky: http://www.hackwriters.com/Gambler2.htm
Tess of the D’urbervilles and Jude of the Obscure are two of the most powerful books I have ever read. Tess has this character that goes to moral extremes, for parts of the book he is an energetic preacher, and at other points he is a wicked sinner and abusive husband. When I read that in my early to mid twenties I thought that insightful because I’m observed that myself in other people. I think it is good advice to be weary of passionate people that believe in extreme things and are judgmental with people that don’t have the same viewpoint. Five years later that same person might be arguing just as adamantly for the other side. Basically Hardy observed the natural trait of a hypocrite that will always be part of humanity. For Jude the Obscure I thought Little Father Time was the saddest thing I’ve ever read, when I got to that part I was shocked and I read those few pages about five times.
This is for The Jungle which I found kind of hunting. The end does go on and on, but the first three fourths of the book horrifically show the immigrant factory worker experience in America. In parts of it he goes to pubs because patrons could eat if they bought just one drink.
I read Razor’s Edge and I enjoyed it but do not remember much of it. But Of Human Bondage is one of my favorite books. It’s basically a character’s life in his attempt to be an artist and then marriage. Sometimes when books drop literary or art names it comes off as pretentious, but in this book it comes off as informative. Also the love interest that fell from grace and brings him down to a dark world interested me. Jude the Obscure also has an evil woman in it, and somehow that plotline has an effect on me.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I must have read The Great Gatsby in high school but do not remember it much at all. However in college I took a class that concentrated on Fitzgerald that I enjoyed immensely. When I was 30 I read it again and wrote about an essay about it that was on hackwriters. I think Gatsby might be the closest thing to the perfect novel. I remember a family friend in a conversation about Fitzgerald said that he got it, he understood how things works, he’s not simply writing suburb prose. Also in that college class we read Tender is the Night which I read several times and is one of my favorite books. At the beginning you think the characters are simple frolicking on the French Riviera, but by the end in has a complexity. Also I think the ending is great where in the last few pages it perfectly sums up the ruin of the main character Dick Diver. I believe the professor of the class pointed that out, and each time I read the ending it is a banger. In that class we read several short stories but not his second novel The Beautiful and the Damned because it was considered his worst. Several years later I read it and was amazed how in the second half of the book he sums up alcoholism so well in a character. I pointed out to someone that I really liked it even though it was considered Fitzgerald’s worst and my acquaintance responded ‘the worst of the best is probably very good.’
Here’s the Hackwriters essay on Fitzgerald I wrote: http://www.hackwriters.com/Gatsby.htm
Old Men and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Farewell to Arms I read and thought good, but always compared Hemingway less favorable to Fitzgerald. The writing is different, and I guess I liked long flowing sentences instead of compact writing. The Sun Also Rises I enjoyed more, the setting and characters interested me. My view point on Hemingway’s fiction now is that it stands apart from Fitzgerald. Aside from Paris, and some wealth themes they should be separate. They had personal squabbles, and lived in the same time, but their writing and focus were different. What really made me realize Hemingway was not simply hype was his memoir that might have been fictionalized, A Moveable Feast. Here he talks about Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s. He name drops a ton of writers including Fitzgerald, and talks of his own writing life. I think anyone interested in literature or writing needs to read this book.
In grad school I did a banned book project on Tropic of Cancer and really got into that book. It has a dark and abusive humor that I found appealing. A lot of it is judgments of the people around him, but he goes on a lot of digressions. On my second reading I got more out of it than my first reading. I think you could read this every five years of so, and get something out of it on each reading. It’s not necessarily dense writing but busy writing. This book is unique, censored for almost thirty years and the writers of today are too politically correct to write anything this hateful. Also he talks of writing, and a passion that one should have. I think anyone that has tried to write seriously would get something from this. I have also read Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring and if you were a critic you could say that Miller wrote the same thing over and over. But those are enjoyable and full of gems. At some point I’ll read the Roxy Crucification trilogy but that seems like such an undertaking.
This is for one book which is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Shortly after I moved to NYC I read this and have already read it for a second time, and will read it again in about ten years. I think anyone that has grown up should read this. It tells of the immigrant turn of the century experience in Williamsburg Brooklyn. The character, Francie Nolan, goes through all sorts of trials but it ends on a positive note with her going to college. This is the best coming of age story I have ever read. Also anyone that has lived in the outer boroughs will take delight when they recognize names of Brooklyn and Queens.
This is for Native Son because I found it amazing. At some point I will read Black Boy. The first paragraph of Native Son draws you in with the ringing of an alarm clock and the smashing of a rat. It takes on poverty with the mention that in poor areas groceries cost more in Chicago. I learned that there was a communist movement in America. Also race relations play a major theme. Bigger Thomas murders a woman he drove, and the story turns into a Chicago Crime and Punishment. Wright really conveyed disparity and anger in this character. I remember at one point Bigger Thomas contemplates what it would be like to be Hitler, how would that power feel. Everyone should read this book because it really shows how uneven American society was. February is Black History month, and there is plenty of literature to read written by African American authors. I also recommend these classics: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Invisible Man, and Manchild in the Promise Land.
I felt The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was an amazing book. McCullers tells of a poor southern family and town. The characters come to life, and you should read it.
Those are ten classic authors that I recommend, however unless I wanted to save this a couple times and add more to it, I need to end this soon. I think blogs should be written in one night, and stuff you spend more time on perhaps should be crafted for submission. So I’ll end this by recommending in one paragraph six authors that are alive.
I have read Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murikami and at first I thought they were hype, but as years pass part of the stories have stayed in my memory. So now I’m convinced that he is an original, and a good story teller. A lot of people think Dave Eggers is overrated but I’ve read three of his books: The Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity, and What is the What. These three books are distinct from one another, two of them are superb, and I’m okay with Eggers proclaiming himself a Genius. I’ve read three Salmon Rushdie books and am impressed by the depth of vocabulary in his prose and the mythology in his books. I’ve only read American Pastoral, and Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth but I plan to read more. My roommate is on a Roth kick and has recommended several. Louise Erdrich is still my favorite contemporary author. I think her prose is poetic, and like the Native American mythology and lore that she incorporates in her writing.