Monday, October 25, 2010

Eclectic Course of Must Reads

The Little Prince, Most Dashing in his Traveling Scarf!

A few years back, several people all at once, each unbeknownst to the other, asked me what titles I would recommend to a reader who was starting at "Go." I mulled it over some, thinking about syllabi and reading lists. More importantly, however, I went with my heart and in an hour or so of brainstorming came up with the following list of "Must Reads."

Undoubtedly, you have only to glance down the page before a thousand omissions become apparent. No Shakespeare, for example...but maybe I wouldn't recommend Shakespeare at the starting line; better to run a couple of laps first. Not necessarily thematic or consistent or even rational, this list represents the titles that came to mind that day when I asked myself "What books are you really glad that you have read?"

I hope you will enjoy at least some of these suggestions:


These were the soul - searchers:

The Fantasticks
by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

Our Town

by Thornton Wilder

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint Exupery

I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

Doctor Zhivago

by Boris Pasternak

The Good Earth

by Pearl S. Buck

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert Heinlein

The Water is Wide

by Pat Conroy


If you’re in the mood for a thriller,
I think these are all above average:

The Daughter of Time

by Josephine Tey

Summer’s Lease

by John Mortimer

The 7th of July

by Jill McCorkle

Fatal Inversion

by Ruth Rendell

The Secret History

by Donna Tartt

Turtle Moon

Second Nature

both by Alice Hoffman

The Erasers

by Alain Robbe-Grillet


As mentioned awhile back,
you should read everything by Bill Bryson;
also these American travelogues:

Blue Highways

and PrairyErth
both by William Least Heat Moon

Mama Makes Up Her Mind

and Sleeping At the Starlite Motel
both by Bailey White


Loss, sadness, and European history:

Badenheim 1939

by Aron Appelfeld

The Tin Drum

by Gunter Grass

War Time Memories

by Louis Begley

The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

How German Is It

by Walter Abish


by John Hersey

Slaughterhouse Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

The White Hotel

by D. M. Thomas


Nearly all from my classes with
Professor Leonard Orr:

The Metamorphosis

and The Trial
by Franz Kafka

The Wanderer

by Henri Alain-Fournier

Death in Venice

by Thomas Mann

The Master and Margarita

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Out of Africa

and "Babette's Feast"
both by Isak Dinesen


by Banana Yoshimoto

If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler

by Italo Calvino


Don't worry, I'm leaving out Moby Dick:

Bartleby, the Scrivener
by Herman Melville

My Antonia

by Willa Cather

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Winesburg, Ohio

by Sherwood Anderson

The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

In Our Time

by Ernest Hemingway

"Appointment in Samara"
by John O’Hara

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

by Tennessee Williams

Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger


Modern and post-modern despair:

Dangling Man

by Saul Bellow

Miss Lonelyhearts
by Nathanael West

The Universal Baseball Association
by Robert Coover

Edwin Mullhouse

by Steven Millhauser

84 Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff

Still Life With Woodpecker

by Tom Robbins

Breakfast of Champions
Cat's Cradle

and Jailbird
all by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

by E. L. Doctorow

Bright Lights, Big City
and Brightness Falls
both by Jay McInerney


by Jane Smiley


Modern British and Irish fiction:

Far From the Madding Crowd

by Thomas Hardy

Sons and Lovers
The Man Who Died
The Captain’s Doll

all by D. H. Lawrence

Brideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
by Angus Wilson

Lucky Jim

by Kingsley Amis

Hurry On Down

by James Wain

My Strange Quest for Mensonge
by Malcolm Bradbury

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

by George Orwell

The Ice Age
by Margaret Drabble


and Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
by James Joyce

The Third Policeman
by Flann O’Brien

My Left Foot

by Christy Brown

Murder in the Cathedral

by T. S. Eliot

A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

The Importance of Being Ernest
by Oscar Wilde


You can substitute other Dickens' titles if you want,
but I preferred these to David Copperfield or Oliver Twist:

A Tale of Two Cities

and Great Expectations
both by Charles Dickens


by Mary Shelley

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Favorites From 2010

Cover Illustration & Design by Roz Chast

The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books
and The People Who Read Them

Elif Batuman's amazing memoir of her years
as a graduate student in Russian Literature.

"I don't know if I ended up siding with the academics because I happened to be in graduate school, or if I ended up in graduate school because I already secretly sided with the academics. In any case, I stopped believing that 'theory' had the power to ruin literature for anyone, or that it was possible to compromise something you loved by studying it. Was love really such a tenuous thing? Wasn't the point of love that it made you want to learn more, to immerse yourself, to become possessed?" (22, emphasis added)

"If I could start over today, I would choose literature again. If the answers exist in the world or in the universe, I still think that's where we're going to find them."

For more commentary:
"Holy Connection and Coincidence Batman"


Ron Hansen's historical novel about the
notorious, ill-fated Dalton Gang

For more commentary:
"Dalton Gang"
"End of Summer Sounds"