Monday, April 02, 2007

What I'm (Not) Reading

I usually dread the "what's your top ten favorite...?" questions. I get them all the time, being both a lit professor and a film professor. I cop out always, saying, "There are too many for me to list."

So I'm not really sure why I'm responding to Jenny's meme-tag asking for my ten favorite books. I had to go back to the person who tagged her to find that it's really "ten books I can't live without"; nonetheless, I'm taking Jenny's approach to the first set that comes to mind, in no particular order. Catch me tomorrow and the list might be altered somewhat.

  1. If on a winter's night a traveler, Italo Calvino. I was mesmerized by this the first time I read it and my passion for it grows each time I read it. I assign the book whenever I can because it's that fantastic.
  2. Kiss of the Spider Woman/El beso de la mujer araña, Manuel Puig. It combines some of my favorite things: Latin American chamber thriller and the ecphrasis of old-school Hoolywood genre movies. Also assigned whenever possible, and I learn more with each reading.
  3. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge this book that I picked up early and turned me into not only a reader but a die-hard consumer of hair gel (which is what I'm sure those Oklahoma boys would have used on their tuff hair in the 80s). Has never been assigned for class, although I'm toying with showing Rumblefish next year.
  4. Stars, Edgar Morin. Lovely high concept theoretical stuff about movie stars, yet as readable as a novel -- although maybe I love it because he also has a James dean fascination, writing in the late 50s as he is.
  5. Scissors, Paper, Rock, Fenton Johnson. Along with Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, an inspirational text for the creative side in me. Johnson's novel is really a set of linked short stories, though the whole that results from reading all of them paints a brutal family portrait.
  6. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie. A formative book for me, given that I wanted to read it after seeing a Newsweek review in Lima -- right before the ensuing fatwa allowed me to justify importing the book to Lima for a major project in 12th grade social studies. That was the first of four papers I would then write throughout college on the book, culminating in a senior thesis on Rushdie.
  7. The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Actually, if heading out to a desert island, I'll be taking my honkin' big Riverside Shakespeare, thank you very much. But Shakes' near-final work is so fascinating, I eat it up every time.
  8. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. Along with Salvador Plascnecia's The People of Paper, this is one of the best pieces of contemporary writing I've read in a while. My class currently is writing about Mira Nair's adaptation of her novel The Namesake (which I have yet to read), but I would love to assign this as reading at some point, just so that I can have added reason to read it myself again.
  9. La ciudad y los perros, Mario Vargas Llosa. No English version here: it's one of the first Peruvian books I tried to get through in Spanish and, given the stylistic acrobatics throughout the book, this wasn't easy at the time. 'Twas highly rewarding, however, and I still go back to it every so often.
  10. The Bachman Books, "Richard Bachman" (Stephen King). I am something of a closet Stephen King fan, although I haven't read his most recent work (yet). Many of his books -- Carrie, The Shining, 'Salem's Lot, It -- got me through the first months of my time in Peru when I knew nobody. King's collections of novellas, however, are particularly well-written: if my copy of Four Past Midnight isn't falling apart, my copy of Different Seasons (with "The Body" and "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") definitely is in pieces with the cover completely gone. His collection written as Richard Bachman, however, holds a particular place in my heart, perhaps because I tried my own hand at adapting two of my favorite stories there: I used "Rage" (somewhat) as inspiration for a script for my (somewhat useless) high school film production class and still have some ideas in mind for an adaptation of "The Long Walk," ideas which old friend Matt Strauss and I bonded over at Michigan. I also like that King "gave" these stories to an alter ego to see if "he" could establish himself as an author, which almost worked.
What's fun here: I linked all the titles to Amazon and found you can get a used copy of some of them for as low at 8 cents. While that may be depressing in some ways for writers, it does make it worth your while to check some of these out -- for just 8 cents plus shipping, after all.

Who gets tagged? Hm -- who is still reading who has a blog of their own? Heh, despite my desire to see people like Patty K and Señor Pájaro answer this one (and feel free to do so in the comments), I may have to pass the meme on to KC (who might have one for me anyway) and Joel (because I should know what he's reading in addition to what he's listening to).


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll bite (is there a word limit to comments? I'll try to make short annotations). This is unofficial and off top of head and in no particular order:

1. To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, T. S. Geisel. First Seuss I read, first Seuss he wrote.

2. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand. Utopian, imperfect, but what a story. Blew my mind in high school, and I still love it.

3. Dead Souls, Gogol. Witheringly funny, blew my mind in college, and I still love it.

4. Watership Down, Richard Adams. Can't come up with words to express right now -- this and Fountainhead are probably tied for #1, if this list were in order.

5. 1984, George Orwell. Sadly, increasingly relevant again today in America.

6. Catch-22, Joseph Heller. Has to be brilliant, to make war this bittersweetly funny.

7. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Not really a "thriller" but a great psychological..something.

8. Dartmouth Songs/Songs of Dartmouth, 1st through 5th editions (1898-1936). Fascinating to see the development of college songs (especially from pre-to-post-Richard Hovey eras).

9. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson. Dizzying, fascinating and lengthy mix of history, math, physics, humor. Need to read more of his stuff.

10. Jason's Women, Jean Davies Okimoto. Great, funny-with-a-message lesser-known teen novel.

Currently reading, and liking, James Baldwin's Go Tell It On A Mountain. Books on Jeff's list I have read: Tempest and Outsiders.


Middento said...

See, it's fascinating to read your list. Some of it I would have guessed (Geisel, Heller, Dostoevsky), some I would not (Okimoto)> I guess that's why these queries exist, hee hee.

What I have read on Pájaro's list: To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (my first Seuss was If I Ran the Circus, which I still need to re-acquire), Watership Down, 1984, Catch-22, Crime & Punishment, Dartmouth Songs. (OK, I may not have read all the editions, but I have seen several and sung different versions of those songs. He's right: it is great fun to see the changes.)

Anonymous said...

From Patty K:
The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles
On the Road - Jack Kerouac
History of Art - Anthony Janson
Dune - Frank Herbert
Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis
Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving
The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter Thompson
Deutschland Umsonst - Michael Holzach
The above are not in any order. As to what's on your list, I read The Outsider. Currently reading The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe