A few weeks ago there was a trend on Facebook for people to share a list of the books that have “stuck” with them. There’s even been some analysis of the results by Facebook, and musings about what we can learn about ourselves from the most common books listed.
I like stuff like this, because I think it’s true that you can learn a lot about a person from the books (and movies, and music) that have made an impression on him. Girls seem to know this instinctively — the first time they visit a guy’s place they will study his bookshelves like a member of a CSI team.
So, since I love books, since I love lists, and since I love jumping on memes a month after they’re over, here are the books that have stuck with me:
– Infinite Jest: So weird it must be genius. Disturbing, tragic, and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes all on the same page. Bear in mind that I am by no means recommending this book. It’s more than a thousand pages, and it’s a tough thousand pages. In that artsy-fartsy way, it doesn’t really care about narrative arcs or tying up loose ends; it just goes on (for a thousand pages) and then stops. But it’s very different from what you normally think of as “literature.” For example, it takes place in a not-too-distant future where the United States disposes of its garbage by putting it in giant catapults and launching it into Canada. It gets weirder from there.
– Clash of the Titans (novelization): When the “Clash of the Titans” movie came out (the original, with Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and Maggie Smith… yes, this movie really exists), my dad said we couldn’t go to see it until I read the book version. As a parent myself now, I recognize that this was a stalling tactic, and he was hoping that I’d give up and forget about the movie. I remember that the paperback was about 300 pages, and I, ten years old at the time, read it in a day and a half. Dad took me to the movie. The book was much better.
– Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: I saw that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made the list of books most commonly listed by Facebook users. I liked the Hitchhikers books too, but I didn’t realize just how gifted Douglas Adams was until I read this, his novel about a private detective who solved mysteries by analyzing the interconnectedness of all things. Clever and hilarious all the way through, just like all of Adams’ stuff.
– Heart of Darkness: Probably the most brilliant novel ever written in the English language. In it, Conrad basically predicts the brutality of World Wars I and II, and basically the rest of the 20th century. Once freed from the bounds of traditional morality, where will man stop if there’s no one there to stop him? He won’t.
– Catch-22: Favorite novel I’ve ever read. Heller showed me a lot about what was possible in novels with this one. The story jumps around in time a lot, which would be confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but feels natural here. Sharp and engrossing, with lots of memorable characters. And by the way, laugh-out-loud funny all the way through.
– Mere Christianity: Lewis’ apologetics are thin volumes, but they’re so dense it takes me forever to read them. And I love every minute of it.
– The Stand: Speaking of taking forever to read, this is the only Stephen King novel I’ve every read, and one of the longest books I’ve ever read. Well over a thousand pages, I feel like it could’ve been pared down a lot. Most of the story takes place after a virus wipes out most of humanity, and I’m sure a good 20% of the book is taken up with descriptions of dead bodies. Piles and piles of dead bodies. I loaned it to someone and never got it back. Not too broken up about it.
– Men at Work: This book turned me into a baseball fan. If you know people who love baseball, but you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, read this.
– The Once and Future King: A beautiful, heartbreaking, bittersweet book. It takes all the characters from the King Arthur legends and turns them into people you can actually relate to and feel for. The first third of this book was made into the movie “The Sword in the Stone” by Disney.
– The Abolition of Man: If you don’t know why Lewis is considered a genius by people like, well, me, you will after you read this. Written 70-plus years ago, it could just as easily have been torn from today’s headlines.
– The Dark Knight Returns: No, it’s not a comic book; it’s a graphic novel, man. And no, I am not a nerd. This is the comic that gave us the dark, brooding Batman that we all enjoy so much to this day. To me, it is the perfect of example of the pinnacle of the comic book art form.