5.03.2006

"Books, books, books!" or, "You know, the second time you read Moby Dick, Ahab and the whale become good friends."

NOTE: This list is not difinitive. I may have neglected some truly worthy books, but such is the subjectivity of the moment. Also, I know what you're thinking: "Dude, what's with the list?" But you forget, I did add the caveat that lists can be quite amusing. Plus, I needed something to distract me from work today, so deal.

Also, thank you, Patry, for getting me thinking about this list.

The 3 most influential books in my life:

1. My Name is Asher Lev: I know, I know. this was written for younger people (younger than me, anyway), but no list of this sort would be complete without a book that was consumed feverishly, in the throes of youthful exuberance. Too, the struggle for artistic identity is one creative people endure their entire lives; Asher Lev introduced me to that struggle in that he named it for me, allowing me to address it on my own terms.

2. Atlas Shrugged: I do not agree with Ayn Rand's ideas, but I love her methods. True, all fiction writers are philosophers of a kind, but she may be one of the most unabashed literary figures when it comes to displaying one's philosophical ideas in fiction. She illuminated for me the notion that a writer must be a philosopher, and my own writing has never been the same (I mean that in a good way, of course).

3. James: As in, the Book of the Bible, James. I imagine this is a stretch, given what I believe is the intention of this list, but I could not rightly complete the list without including, somewhere, at least a portion of the Bible. Anyway, I had to memorize the book of James during my senior year in high school. Doing so proved one of the most rewarding and far-reaching experiences I have ever had. I could not recite it for you now, but I feel that I have developed a connection with its words that is unique, inside my own reading experience.

3 books I've read more than once:

1. My Name is Asher Lev: That's right: twice on this list, more than twice read. What can I say? This book spoke to me.

2. The Art of War: Straight through, once. At least a couple more times, when you count the bits and pieces I've read again. I don't agree with all of it, but there is so much beauty and truth in it that I find it hard to keep it too far away. Parts resonate with the Beatitudes. Much of the rest resonates with my feeling that truth must be sought after wherever it may be found.

3. On Symbols and Society: Kenneth Burke was a genius. His ideas are mind-blowing. This book serves as an excellent primer and overview of his work, and it is always on my nightstand.

3 great books that I personally hated:

1. The Grapes of Wrath: I started reading East of Eden recently, and it made me wonder how I could have detested The Grapes of Wrath so when I read it in high school. Also, it made me wonder, if I could have loathed Steinbeck at that point, how did I end up an English major in college? I will definitely have to go back and read this one again, at which point it will qualify for the previous section of this list.

2. The Scarlet Letter: I'm not even really sure why. I might have to go back and read this one, as well, because the concept of the obnoxiously emblazoned "A" makes me think that a similar punishment should be enforced upon criminals - at least the ones who rape children, that sort of thing. The point being, I think the idea is pretty cool, and I imagine Mr. Hawthorne deserves another shot.

3. "The Death of Ivan Ilych": I know, it's just a short story. But, while reading it in college, it felt like a freaking book, so here it is. Just not my cup 'o tea, I suppose.

3 "Guilty Pleasures":

1. Any Dr. Seuss: The fact that this list centers around "great" literary works is the only reason I list this as a "guilty pleasure." The good doctor wrote what I have long felt are the best possible books for children learning to read. Plus, they have funny pictures.

2. Any Calvin & Hobbes collections: A six year old with a seemingly infinite vocabulary and his best friend is the imaginary personification of his stuffed tiger? I know it can't be found in the Penguin Classics or whatever, but what's not to love?!

3. "The New Yorker": Ok, so these three aren't exactly considered "great literature", so I guess I'm kind of cheating in this category. But the New Yorker, though wildly biased and, oddly, generally inclusive of fiction I do not enjoy, is always on the coffee table, open to an article about the Donnor Party or a Japanese animator or some such fascinating thing, which means I derive great pleasure from reading it, whether or not I "should".

3 great books I should have read, but haven't--not yet:

1. Ulysses: It's just too freaking huge and confusing. I mean, I know Joyce is (supposed to be) a genius, but I feel, as I leaf through the undisturbed pages of this book, as though I can tell the man was an alcoholic. Are sober people supposed to be able to decipher such thick, convoluted, near-gibberish prose? I doubt it. Even Joyce himself knew that people would be puzzling over it for centuries to come. Still, at some point, study aides in hand, I will tackle it. Oh, yes. I will.

2. The Brothers Karamazov: Again, just too freaking huge, only the prose (though in translation) is at least intelligible.

3. Pretty much anything by Kurt Vonegut: I know, you're asking yourself right now, "How, oh how, could you have gone through high school without reading Slaughterhouse Five?" The answer is, I have no idea. I've been told repeatedly I would love his writing, and yet still I delay. Ah, well. One day.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Patry Francis said...

Interesting list, Matt. I liked The Art of War and Atlas shrugged, too. Will have to check out Asher Levi.

Thanks for playing!

Also wanted to say I love your new look. Wish I had more technical expertise...

3:18 PM  
Blogger Emily Smith said...

My Name is Asher Lev is prob. my favorite book of all times... spoke to me too -

In fact our boy name would have been Asher - (one of those little known fact things)

1:18 PM  

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