Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Your Favorite Books


            Good responses to my recent post on favorite books. Here’s what you said:

Angie George:
I have a long list of books. I have read most of these authors' books.
·     Dalva  by Jim Harrison
·     The Shipping News  by E Annie Proulx
·     Alias Grace  by Margaret Atwood
·     Bel Canto  by Ann Patchett
·     A Prayer for Owen Meany  by John Irving
·     Empire Falls  by Richard Russo
·     The Beet Queen  by Louise Erdrich
·     Musicophilia  by Oliver Sacks
·     My Life on the Road  by Gloria Steinem
·     Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant  by Anne Tyler
·     Beloved  by Toni Morrison
·     The Daughter of Fortune  by Isabel Allende
·     One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Fleda Brown:
Thanks for putting me on your list! I just read a wonderful novel by Rebecca Makai you might like, The Great Believers. It's a finalist for the National Book Award. She and I taught at Interlochen this spring.


Doug Reilly:
This is a different type of list. If I were shipwrecked on a desert isle and allowed to have 5 books, I'd take the following:
·     Zen Flesh Zen Bones
·     The Tao te Ching
·     The Prophet
·     The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám
·     The Castle, Franz Kafka

The last can vary; the first 4 are fixed. I give this set to children of friends when they graduate from high school. Originally, I gave the set to a number of special friends. I often reread these books to remind me of wisdom therein.

Doug, your list differs from mine because yours includes books worth re-reading (assuming a long stay on the desert island). I might also want a book on obtaining food and water on a desert island . . ..)

Charmaine Stangl:
If I ever read a totally irresistible blog, it's this one.  This will be off the top of my head and also with some help from my little book of favorite quotes and recently read books.  Apologies for no italics or underlining -- I don't want to take the time.  Classics: East of Eden (almost finished re-reading after 30 years) and it's even greater than I remembered.  John Steinbeck has better insight into the human psyche than anyone since Shakespeare.  Huckleberry Finn (I always wanted to BE Huck), Jane EyreMadame Bovary, and Moby Dick (read when I was 17 and somehow identified with Ahab).  Sci-Fi -- Fahrenheit 451,  Modern Fiction:  Beloved (Toni Morrison) -- after 30 years or so there are scenes that are vividly etched in my brain, The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), The Elegance of the Hedgehog-- absolutely unique among the many books I've loved -- and absolutely brilliant, A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)  along w/ her first book, The Secret History, 2 books by Anthony Marra (magnificent!) : A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaThe Tsar of Love and Techno-- these are two of my favorites of my lifetime, The Book Thief  (Marcus Zusak) -- even if you think you know everything about the Holocaust this will blow you away.  Last category, "Precocious high school": Lady Chatterley's Lover and anything by Henry Miller -- the more forbidden, the more sought after.  Oops, I left one category out -- humor: anything by Augusten (sp?) Burroughs, especially Running With Scissors.  I also love David Sedaris.   What a great pleasure to escape into a good book!


Jeff Belth
Nice list of books!
But it seemed a bit short on non-fiction, so here are a few of my non-fiction favorites (although a few of these have some fictional elements) and "travel":
·     Arsenyev, Vladimir K. Across the Ussuri Kray  (or, the earlier edited/compilation version from the 1930s, Dersu, The Trapper, basis for the wonderful Kurosawa film Dersu Uzala, which I assume you have seen?)
·     Archie Carr, The Windward Road: Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores  (one of the absolute best!)
·     Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa  (soooo much better than the movie)
·     Howard Ensign Evans, Life on a Little-Known Planet  (my favorite general introduction to insects)
·     Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac  (and Round River, a later compilation of additional essays)
·     Peter Matthiessen, Wildlife in America
·     Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man was Born
·     Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
·     Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Trout and Old Men
·     Robert Michael Pyle, Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land
·     Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands
·     Bertram Thomas, Arabia Felix: Across the "Empty Quarter" of Arabia
·     Henry D. Thoreau, Walden (of course! and the Journal was one of the most moving experiences of my reading life) 
·     John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (and the sequel, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan)
A few fiction favorites:
·     Jean Giono, Joy of Man's Desiring
·     Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (my favorite of "recent times" until The Overstory  came along...although not as "uplifting" as TO, but oh, the language...! I just love anything, fiction or non-fiction by Matthiessen. His other fiction is wonderful too--At Play in the Fields of Lord, Far Tortuga, etc.)
·     Herman Melville, Moby Dick  (probably my favorite "classic." Just drove back from a family reunion in Massachusetts. On the way home we stopped by Melville's farm Arrowhead and stood in the room where he wrote MD, pretty amazing!
·     Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country
·     Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders
and one short story...
B. Traven, "Assembly Line" (from his short story collection, The Night Visitor)

And finally, for us artists: Walter Linsenmaier, Insects of the World. A "reference" book, not necessarily a "reading" book, (for that, see Evans above), but I consider it the greatest illustrated insect book of the 20th century (or maybe that should be expanded to greatest illustrated natural history book of the 20th century). Simply a classic. Some of the images have been engraved into my mind since I first discovered it when I was about 10 years old.

I guess mine is a bit short on women too. Okay, here is another one....Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter yes, Iceland, Vikings, etc., is another one of my side-interests). Speaking of Iceland, Halldor Laxness is worthwhile: Independent People  and Iceland's Bell  are the two I've read.

PS--I never did get around to responding to the TV series query, but two that we've enjoyed are Leverage  and White Collar. Another one is Longmire. I think our all-time favorite though (mine at least) is Lovejoy Mysteries  (a British series with Ian McShane). I don't think it is streamed anywhere though. 

Rex Rowan
I didn't create any categories. If I had, they'd probably be off-puttingly narrow ones like Best Birding Book and Best Novel About The Food Chain.

CLASSICS
·     Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
·     The Red and the Black - Stendhal
·     Jane Eyre  - Charlotte Bronte. My ideal for narrative prose, or perhaps prose of any sort.
MORE CONTEMPORARY
Pigeon Feathers - John Updike. It was his second short-story collection, and I also admired his first collection, The Same Door. He made his fortune as a novelist, but I think his best work was in his short stories, which better fit his lyrical sensibility, and in his book reviews and essays, which showcase his intelligence and his enormously wide reading.

The Time-Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. It's like a seizure, coming on him unexpectedly. But instead of collapsing into unconsciousness, he finds himself in another time. He meets his own wife - several times - when she is young and he is older, so that when they meet in the normal timeline she has known him for years and he has no idea why this complete stranger is so ecstatic to see him. He meets his daughter several years after his own death. A brilliant novel, my favorite of the 21st century so far.

The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling. The first two (of the seven) were children's books. But beginning with the third they started getting longer, more adult, more dramatic, and more gripping. My wife and kids and I went to midnight book-release parties at Borders and stood in line to buy the latest novel, got home after 1 a.m., read the first chapter aloud, went to bed, and got up the next morning to start again, spending the entire weekend doing nothing but reading it aloud all the way through. We loved every minute of it, and I would definitely consider the Harry Potter series one of the great reading experiences of my life. As novelist and critic A.N. Wilson wrote when the seventh and last novel was published, "We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children's stories ever written." P.S. Stay away from the movies. Apart from providing gainful employment for some first-class English actors, they're worthless (though the third, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is a flawed exception).

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell. In the mid-1930s the Durrell family, a widowed mother and four children, moved from their native England to the Greek island of Corfu. Ten-year-old Gerald found the island a paradise, populated by friendly and eccentric Greeks and swarming with wildlife. Twenty years later he wrote about his youth with nostalgia, a professional naturalist's eye, and a hilarious sense of humor. He was the younger brother of the great novelist Lawrence Durrell, and he clearly got a good share of that literary gene, because he's a terrific writer.

I could go on (and on and on), but I'll spare you.

Tom Albani
A great catalogue.  Let me add:

Relatively current books  (many of which read like novels) about historical figures. For example when I began the last 100 pages of Grant  I remarked to my wife: This is sad; I’m going to miss old Grant.

  • Grant by Ron Chernow
  • Churchill, Walking With Destiny  by Andrew Roberts
  • Without Precedent, Chief Justice John Marshall  by Joel Richard Paul
  • Leonardo Da Vinci  by Walter Isaacson

Current books about current issues:

  • Hillbilly Elegy  by J. D. Vance
  • Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup  by John Carreyrou
  • The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels  by John Meacham
  • The Billion Dollar Spy  by David E Hoffman
  • Red Notice by Bill Browder

I’m struck by the fact that there is no fiction in my favorite current reading.  Perhaps my reading choices are influenced by a rush to understand the past before it is expurgated from bookstores, libraries, universities, etc. by the overwhelming wave of political correctness, trigger warnings, safe places and the other forms of wokeness determining the morality of historical actions through the application of current mores. 

Well, off to celebrate America’s Birthday wearing my new Nike Betsy Ross flag sneakers and listening to Kate Smith’s God Bless America.  Happy Fourth of July.

Steve Smith:

FAVORITE “CLASSIC” NOVELS
·     Tale of Two Cities            
·     Last of the Mohicans 
         
GUILTY PLEASURE
·      Certain Women  by Erskine Caldwell(read when I was 13…and should not have)

WHEN I WAS IN MY TWENTIES
            Seems like I just read college assignments and then the law.

WHEN I WAS A KID
·     All the Black Stallion books (Blood Bay Colt, Son of the Black Stallion, etc. by Walter Farley 
·     The Hardy Boys by F.W. Dixon and a committee who actually did the writing
·     Augusta Stephenson biographies  (John Wannamaker, Ben Franklin, Clara Barton, etc.)
BOOKS RECOMMENDED BY MY SONS
I have no sons, but my daughter has written 11 novels, a trilogy published by Random House and 5 other YA novels, which I have read; and 3 romance novels that I am not allowed to read.

BOOKS I RECENTLY READ AND LOVED
·     All of Nelson DeMille’sbooks
·     Most of John Sanford’s “Prey” books

Precocious High School Reading
            See above.

Author in Whose Book I Don’t Want to be a Character
            John Updike - He would see right through me. I tried his stuff but didn't like it.

BOOKS YOU PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF
            I’ve never heard of many books.

I LOVE AMERICAN HISTORY
·     Washington, Hamilton and Grant by Chernow
·     John Adams by McCullough
·     James Madison  by forget who…
·     Scandal by ? about the Jefferson – Adams campaign
·     Team of Rivals by? about Lincoln’s cabinet
·     Treason  by? about Burr trying to start up a new country in the southwest            
·      Blood and Thunder  by ? about Kit Carson and the opening of the southwest (FANTASTIC)
·      Two books about Gettysburg (can’t remember – think one was calledGods and
Generals, 
orDevils and Demons) There was a movie based on this book.  I think the movie was titled “Gettysburg” of all things.
HUMOR
·     Anything by David Sedaris
·     Anything by Bill Bryson
·      Anything by Dave Barry

That’s all I got tonight


Gil Schmerler

Feel free not to use my thoughts in any follow-up blogs you might or might not write about books, but I was inspired to write by my reading-of-the-moment: Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.

I've always disproportionately enjoyed Roth, beginning with Portnoy's Complaint  and then his earlier novels and short stories, but ending after his fifth or sixth novel. Maybe because of the current political climate or because of his death - but more likely out of boredom - I picked up The Plot Against America. I'm about two-thirds through and enjoying it immensely and admiring it, and its author, extraordinarily.

I also was struck by your Books By People I Know category: My favorite is a recent one by my old roommate, Paul Levy '65: Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence. (It's the brilliant account of his search - remarkably successful! - to track down the moment of the death of his uncle in World War II. In fact, I failed in my attempt to get the Amherst Alumni News to run the story of two 50-years-ago roommates unknowingly publishing within two years their books about dead relatives.)

In the category of Books by Professors Some of Us Had (not me) is English Papers: A Teaching Life  by William H. Pritchard. I loved it, as an Amherst English major, an English teacher, and a college instructor. If you haven't read it, Dave, you should.

In the category of Baseball Fiction That's Not Famous, I'd highly recommend David Carkeet's The Greatest Slump of All Time.

In the less exotic category of Recent Fiction I Enjoyed a Lot and From Which I Learned a Lot is Munich, by Robert Harris.

I won't bore you with the many other books I've admired through the years, particularly those years when I used to read a fair amount. This is enough for now.

Bill Lavery

The book I had to mention is by Carl Rovelli, entitled Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity.  He just wraps his arms around the mystery and gaps in knowledge that is delightful.


My pleasures in reading the suggestions that folks sent in:
·     contemplating all the good reading in my future (just bought The Time-Traveler’s Wife - thanks, Rex)
·     remembering how much I enjoyed reading many of the works you named, even though I left them off my list
·     hearing your joyful, bookish tones of voice.