Friday, March 2, 2012

Ten Favorite Books (At This Particular Place and Time)

Hello, friends!

So, numbers 1-3 I consider ranked.  The rest could be in any order.

I think it's telling (depressing?) that of my authors; five are British, one is a British Indian, one is Irish, and two are American.  Anglophile much?

Much of this list explains my love of Downton Abbey.  Somebody really enjoyed their Modern British Lit class in college and that somebody is me.

TWO are by the same author! Which surprises even me.

1.A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
I don't know how many times I've read it.  Five?  When I was fourteen I attempted to make my own audio book of it.  I can't remember if I saw the movie or read the book first, as the movie is such a great adaptation.  I wrote a paper on it in high school and again in college. 
This is a love story for the smart girls.  All we're asking is to meet a handsome noncomformist socialist in Italy willing to run around naked in the forest who will say things like, "I want you to have your own thoughts even as I hold you in my arms."  Oof. 
It's also a comedy of stuffy manners and snobbiness -even of the good- and I think it's responsible for my inward resistance to convention.   Oh, how I love this book.

2.1984 by George Orwell
Not much to say about it that hasn't been said before.  O'brien says, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -forever."  That's pretty much the entire book right there.  The exploration of controlling the populace by controlling its history and the distribution of information is so deep that we still commonly use words like "doublespeak" today.  The first time I read 1984 (in high school, I think), the idea that you could an erase an idea by erasing all the words that could describe it blew my mind and chilled me to the bone.  The concept that a system desiring power in and of itself would destroy you only after you had learned to love it is even bleaker.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Sigh.  I'm sorry!  I can't help it!  I'm such a girl.
Like A Room with a View, Pride and Prejudice fondles the egos of many the brainy chick.  Liz Bennett is all wit but subject to the mores of her husband-hunting era.  You know the score.  The thing is all charm.
Plus it contains phrases like "insufferable presumption" and that's what I call a good time.*
*Dowager Countess agrees.

4. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
And thus we chug onward via the Merchant Ivory adaptation train.
Good God, this book will break your freakin' heart.  The man of duty who will sacrifice not only a chance at real happiness, but the well being of the innocent (at times) or his own morals, for the good of...well, duty.  Or is it just fear of change? How very British, yet universally human.

5. Howard's End by E.M. Forster
I really don't know what to tell you. It's like at the Oscars when the same movie wins trophy after trophy.
Worth noting that these days I'm reading sci-fi and fantasy almost exclusively.  Although, even back in high school when I fancied myself high minded and read Moby Dick and Kerouac and Thomas Hardy, I was also reading a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels (anything with Data or Q on the cover).
Bringing to mind Helen Bonham Carter (AGAIN) and Emma Thompson (AGAIN) and Anthony Hopkins (Hello, Clarice), this is a gorgeous heartbreaking book of the new rebel Schlegels versus the old school Wilcoxes and the poor schmucks of a lower caste who get caught in the middle.  Just that image in my mind of lowly Mr.Bast chasing Helen through the rain after the Beethoven concert to get back his umbrella has probably cemented all my girly ideas of bittersweetness and romance.
"Only connect."

6. The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Oh, geez!  Finally!  At least we're moving further into the 20th century.  Let's see, how to do describe this book...
Well, basically it's a post-colonial variation on the Orpheus myth with rock stars that takes place in a slightly different universe than ours (oh, one of those again?).   It's about rock music and India and love and death and lots of craziness.  It's pretty awesome.  It's also got a U2 connection, which might be why I read it in the first place.  There's a band in it that Rushdie considered a sort of homage to U2.  Then U2 recorded a version of the song "Ground Beaneath Her Feet" (which is in the novel) and put it on the soundtrack for The Million Dollar Hotel (which is a horrible movie, but a solid soundtrack).
Anyway, the book is epic and beautiful.

7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Finally with some genre already.  Hard to pick a favorite Potter (because there has to be one on the list).  I'll go with this one because it got me emotionally more than any of the others (even the last!) with the death of a certain character.  Which I'm still not over.  I mean c'mon, he fell through a curtain!  Obviously, he's just waiting backstage somewhere! 
Seriously, that character death DESTROYED me.  Not since Buffy...
Also, it's got rebellion against fascism and that's always a good time.  And I liked angry angsty Harry.
Also, Luna.  'Nuff said.

8. A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man by James Joyce
Reading this and studying The Modernists (with a capital M!) in college may have done more harm than good.  Because after -mo there's po-mo and there's nothing after that but an abyss of deconstructed e-waste and Mr.Brainwash installations.
I mean it's not the kind of book that you feel warm and fuzzy about necessarily, but the whole non servium "I will not submit" thing will really mess with your head in college. And then you promise that one magical day you will get all the way through Ulysses and then you're really screwed.
So maybe I should've gone with Dubliners.
If you want to know where to point the finger per my manic rambling Five Sentence Fiction stories, it goes right up that Irishman's nose (not necessarily because of his direct influence, but because Joyce begat all those po-mo whippersnappers who instilled in me a bottomless obsession with the semi-colon).

9. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Board certified as the book that I most often stare at on my shelf while muttering, "I gotta read that again."
Granted, as a little gentile from Eagle Rock, I had to look up "gollum" because I hadn't seen that episode of "The Simpsons" yet. 
It's been years now and my memory is fuzzy, but what I remember is that this book had me invested in the characters in a way that few contemporary novels do.  At least for me.  Also, I'm constantly rereading the first chapter just to get an idea of "a perfect first chapter."
Chabon is badass.

10. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five is the kind of book that if you read it at the right age the thing will blow your hair back with the power of a thousand winds. 
Freakin' Vonnegut, man.
Maybe the thing you think most often while reading your first Vonnegut is, "Oh, you can do that?"
The book reads much like a snarky anti-war memoir.
Except it's science fiction.
You can do that?
Vonnegut's the kind of guy I forget is a sci-fi author.  I don't think of him as "sci-fi" or even "literary fiction."  To me, he's Vonnegut.  Class by himself.
Cat's Cradle could easily have made this list.  It definitely scared the crap out of me more than any other novel.

And there it is!  I reserve the right to change this list at any time!


  1. this list is so wonderful I could break into song! Erin, from this one post I have learned more about you than I have in the many days (lol) since we've been connected on the twitter. I'm checking out the Rushdie book pronto.

    the list is so different (except for Vonnegut) in flavour than I would have chosen for you...which in itself is magnificent! Well done you!

  2. Erin, that's a GREAT list. I've read four of your top ten, and watched the movie for your number one pick. I'm also a huge Star Trek fan, with just about every STTNG book sitting in boxes on the floor beside me. One day I'll have a real office with a library again. ;-)

    Nice job, and thanks for pointing out a few that have somehow escaped me.

  3. Jo-Anne -It's such an English major's list :-P
    It's weird, as I've gotten older I've learned to read more for fun. College really instilled in me what I call an English Major's Sense of Duty. I must read the classics! I must read Dostoevsky! And then some Harry Potter. And I do love those classics.
    But now I'm reading more the fun stuff (which is not to say that fun stuff can't be deep too), like sci-fi and fantasy etc.

    KD Rush
    Thanks! I have fond memories of ransacking the Burbank Library for TNG books in high school. Especially the Peter David novels. I think "Q-Squared" is probably responsible for the YA book I'm writing now. Ah, good times.

  4. Awesome list! I've read several of these (1984, Pride and Prejudice, Portrait of the Artist), and we overlap with Harry Potter. I love the Merchant Ivory movies, so I'll definitely put your top choice on my to-read list, and I've been meaning to read Slaughterhouse Five for a while now.

  5. Oh, Room With a View. Bliss...great list, m'dear!