Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Limited and Biased Top 50

I will say that list is more like the 50 books that had the most profound and lasting effect on my rather than a favorites list per se. The common denominator here with these books is that I read each and everyone of them at a time that I felt they were needed. Some of these books have become less and less significant as a piece of my world but nevertheless are still in some ways near and dear if only for nostalgia. Some of these books listed had an embarrassing amount of sway when I was younger and now I sort of wonder how. But my memory for things is ridiculous so even if I would wish to forget the fact that some of the books that really got me passionate about reading I can barely get through a few pages of now—every Stephen King book on this list would be an example of that—which comes with more mature tastes in literature as well as life experience. Another few oddities that I am sure have to do more with who I was when I read them as opposed to who I am now are books that I have read multiple times and either surprised me at how I hadn’t liked it so much the first go around but rocked my worldview with another inspection but the reverse has also been true a couple of times. An example of the latter that is still very fresh in my mind since I finally got around to rereading it after tracing it back to more or less the instant I decided I wanted to major in English and write for a living instead of doing something I would have hated. This book is that of Fahrenheit 451 which just about caused my head to explode as a sophomore in high school but when I read it again after living ten years and a couple of months, in which time I changed schools from the crappy public school that made us read it, to the dream-come-true-those-kids-are-so-lucky-to-go-there private school across town (praise the Lord I had an outstanding jump shot and an ability to de-cleat kids with extreme prejudice); went to a good college I never would have thought about going to had I not an absurd affinity for books; taught at a high school where I pushed postmodern literature on my kids to get them to care about books as I do, some of whom at least tell me that my strategies worked; went to grad school at another good school and read and read and now I write professionally (among other things). But last week when I read Bradbury again, I found his work to be pretty juvenile. So it goes I guess, but I think that was the start of my interest in “serious fiction” so it has a higher spot than I would at first want to place it because I try to take a book’s impact on my person as a whole from childhood until another one come along to drastically alter the way I see the world. Some of my selections aren’t even real books either, some are poems and plays and oral histories record much later. Others, like the Bible for instance, I have left off because I am not sure as to the extent it has over my being because it is interwoven into the American fabric—for good or bad I am not going to judge—and to include it is sort of a cop out eliciting basically a “no duh” when someone responds to my questions directed at knowing them better. That said, here it goes.

1. The Divine Comedy
2. Infinite Jest
3. Paradise Lost
4. The Canterbury Tales
5. Fahrenheit 451
6. King Lear
7. The Stranger
8. Macbeth
9. Hamlet
10. The Everlasting Gospel
11. Consider the Lobster
12. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
13. Lord of the Flies
14. The Life and Times of Michael K
15. The Aeneid
16. The Brothers Karamazov
17. Beowulf
18. Death Be Not Proud
19. The Corrections
20. A Clockwork Orange
21. As I Lay Dying
22. Brave New World
23. A Confederacy of Dunces
24. Bhagavad-Gita
25. To the Lighthouse
26. Waiting for the Barbarians
27. How To Be Alone
28. Timbuktu
29. The Catcher in the Rye
30. White Noise
31. The Magician’s Nephew
32. The Book of Illusions
33. The Medium is the Massage
34. Mr. Vertigo
35. Crying of Lot 49
36. The Iliad
37. The Hobbit
38. Ulysses
39. A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again
40. You Shall Know Our Velocity!
41. Catch-22
42. Slaughterhouse-Five
43. Doctor Faustus
44. Things Fall Apart
45. A Farewell to Arms
46. Billy Budd
47. An Enemy of the People
48. The Grapes of Wrath
49. Darkness at Noon
50. The Green Mile

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