Friday, July 15, 2011

book worship, part 1: because you never asked

Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading; he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.

--From 'Of Human Bondage', by W. Somerset Maugham

there's something incredibly comforting to me about bookshelves full of books. it must be why libraries and bookstores are two places that i can walk into and feel suddenly both calm and excited, both soothed and inspired.

you can tell a lot about someone by thier bookshelves - one reason why the first thing i'll do when entering someone's house is to stand in front of their shelves and see what's there.

in fact, if i can't sleep, if my brain is whirring and won't shut off, if i'm feeling sad or alone, i'll go out and stand in front of my bookshelves. and the presence and the weight of all those words, of all those pages, of all those thoughts that have at one point in time completely engulfed me, made me think or feel or change, eases my heart. and i'll pull down a book, a printed bowl of macaroni & cheese, a paper warm glass of milk, to help my head and heart quiet down.

just because no one has ever asked, but i've always wanted someone to, here's my absolute earth-shatteringly favorite books of all time, in no particular order. the books that changed me and the people that i worship in a distant, foreign way - in reverence to something unknowable, unachievable, incomprehensible in beauty & perfection. or, what you'd see if you stood in front of my bookcases with me in the middle of the night.

The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, and Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham
Slaughterhouse-five, Breakfast of Champions, and many others, Kurt Vonnegut
On The Road, Jack Kerouac
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, and others, Jane Austen
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
Independent People, Haldor Laxness
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Factotum, Charles Bukowski
High Fidelity, Nick Hornsby
Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O'Toole
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler
Native Son, Richard Wright
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemmingway
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson

The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, Orlando Figes
A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn
The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer
The Battle for Butte, Michael Malone
Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner
Gulag: A History, Anne Applebaum
A History of the Indians of the United States, Angie Debo
Young Men and Fire, Norman Maclean
Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose

hm. what do i notice about my own list? a definite dearth of non-english-writing authors, and a slightly scary under-representation of women.

who's got some recommendations for me?!


  1. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin.
    Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.

  2. Dennis - will definitely check those out, especially the LeGuin. Lathe of Heaven and Left Hand of Darkness almost made the list, and probably lathe of heaven should be on there.

  3. hey, i believe i asked for such a list from you before!

    there's a few, but my memory is fading, so i'll recommend jonathan lethem's 'fortress of solitude,' & for your female author: donna tart's 'the secret history.'

    and thanks for that list, by the wayu.


  4. Chris, you're so right. I should've known I had the idea from somewhere! Shit. Thanks for the recommendations though.