Tag Archives: A Prayer for Owen Meany

The Greatest Books – 21 for 2011

I love books and like lists.  As we roll into a new year, I thought I’d mention a list I came across recently and the top 21 books that are placed there.

The list may be located on a website entitled The Greatest Books.  Shane Sherman took 43 “best of” lists (such as Boston Public Library, New York Public Library, Great Books Foundation, Harvard Bookstore, National Book Foundation… you get the idea) and generated a website to track the lists and keep track of those read.  Shane was kind enough to share the list with the rest of us.  You can see the entire list and links to the “best of” lists at The Greatest Books.

I’ll list the top 21 to read as we enter 2011, but please go the The Greatest Books site to check it out for yourself.  I won’t include brief descriptions or links, since the site is such a wonderful resource.  Please check it out for yourself here: The Greatest Books.

It really is a remarkable work and runs 21 pages with 1005 books listed.  I’m sure many people would argue with the placement of many novels on the list, but that is exactly what makes “best of” book lists fun (at least for me).  There is also a  search function on the site, but I was disappointed to discover that it simply displays the novel, not its placement on the list – just about my only disappointment with the site – it didn’t even bother me (too much… for too long) that my favorite novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany is only #616 on this list (not even in the top half… really?).

Here are the top 21:

#21 – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

#20 – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

#19 – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

#18 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac

#17 – To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe

#16 – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

#15 – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

#14 – The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

#13 – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

#12 – Middlemarch by George Eliot

#11 – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

#10 – Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

#9 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

#8 – In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

#7 – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

#6 – 1984 by George Orwell

#5 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

#4 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

#3 – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

#2 – Ulysses by James Joyce

#1 – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Enjoy!

The Top 100 Books of the Last 25 Years

What do you consider the best books of the past 25 years?  Here are best reads from 1983 to 2008, according to Entertainment Weekly (June 2008).  Make sure you check out #73 (my favorite):

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World’s Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators’ Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Enjoy!

 

Ten Books to Read Before you Die

AOL recently suggested Ten Books to Read Before You Die

I’ve listed them here along with AOL’s comments, then posted some of my suggestions and comments below.  It’s not that I believe I am as smart or as literate as AOL’s marketing team, I just possess a different sensibility about the books I think are important.

AOL’s list:

1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind sold 50,000 copies on its first day, and two million after a year. Even though it is 1,037 pages long, readers all over the world snatched up the book. In 1937 it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Mitchell prided herself on the historical accuracy of her work. Gone with the Wind is a sweeping account of how the Civil War tore apart an entire way of life, and Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most enduring characters in American fiction.

2. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein - Lord of the Rings is regarded by many to be the most important and influential work of fantasy of the 20th century. It generated the fantasy novel industry practically single-handedly, inspiring a multitude of novels concerning elves and dwarves on quests to conquer ultimate evil despite overwhelming odds. Although intended to be published as a single volume, its division into a trilogy created the iconic format for epic fantasy literature.

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - Follow Harry Potter from his first days at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, through his many adventures with Hermione and Ron, to his confrontations with rival Draco Malfoy and the dreaded Professor Snape. From a dangerous descent into the Chamber of Secrets to the Triwizard Tournament to the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, each adventure is more riveting and exhilarating than its predecessor.

4. The Stand by Stephen King - In 1978, Stephen King published The Stand , the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. It depicts his apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil. It is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic. Those reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

5. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Robert Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci — clues visible for all to see — yet ingeniously disguised by the painter. The Da Vinci Code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightning-paced, intelligent thriller…utterly unpredictable right up to its stunning conclusion.

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird is about the crisis of human behavior and conscience arising from the racism and prejudice that exist in the small Southern town during the Depression. Scout Finch tells the story of her father’s defense of Tom Robinson, a young black man who is being tried for the rape of a white woman. Harper Lee’s only novel, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, is a much-beloved tale of growing up, as well as an exploration of heroism confronted with bigotry.

7. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown - When a canister of anti-matter is stolen from a Swiss research facility, Robert Langdon is called in to investigate. A Harvard professor, Langdon is an expert on the ancient, quasi-scientific, and widely feared organization know as the Illuminati, who may or may not be wrapped up in the mystery. Angels and Demons preceeds The Da Vinci Code.

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - Rand’s 1200-page novel Atlas Shrugged is a hymn of praise to the concept of rugged individualism, personified in John Galt. This polemic for Rand’s philosophy of “rational self-interest” has been a steady seller since it was published in 1957.

9. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - J. D. Salinger’s famous and enduring chronicle of Holden Caulfield’s journey from innocence to experience is the quintessential coming-of-age novel. Salinger’s 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye was a bestseller and became an immediate cult favorite, but it has also, over the years, been subject to criticism and even censorship because of its liberal use of profanity, its frank conversations about sex, and its generally irreverent view of the adult world.

10. The Holy Bible – The most popular and best-selling book of all time is the Holy Bible . No book has had more influence on the world. Its pages tell the story of the creation, fall, and redeption of mankind and the coming of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The Bible contains epic stories of history, heroism, and hope.

My list:

1. The Bible – Tenth on AOL’s list?  That seems like an AOL nod to the religious right after listing Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code.  Since “no book has had more influence on the world,” shouldn’t it be listed first?  Whatever.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I’m a broken record when advocating for this book.  There is no character in literature more compelling than Owen Meany.  How can you go wrong with a book that begins, “I AM DOOMED to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – AOL’s description doesn’t do it justice, but mine likely wouldn’t either.  Just read the book.

4. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein - Good choice.  I’d suggest The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis for those who would rather stay above ground.  Tolkein and Lewis were friends and engaged in a friendly competition of storytelling, so I don’t see why their books can’t stand alongside each other on a shelf (or in our hands).

5. Watchers by Dean Koontz – Although The Stand is a good one, I tend to prefer Koontz over King – although King is a GREAT writer.  Just my preference, I’m willing to be friends with King fans (I liked IT, the Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption).  Watchers gave rise to Fear Nothing and Seize the Night (with Chris Snow and friends) and caused me to want to befriend a dog named Einstein.  I also give a HUGE nod to the Odd Thomas series by Koontz.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – How could Dickens be left from the list?  Great Expectations is richly descriptive about life in Victorian England.  A historical treat about the illusions of life.  A nod also to A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist.  Just read something by Dickens at least once in your lifetime, even if it is the ever popular A Christmas Carol.

7. What’s So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D’Souza - An interesting read for Christians and Atheists alike.  It is a reluctant look at Christianity with equal skepticism toward atheism.  A fascinating read.

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A frightening look at a society we seem determined to emulate.  A nod also to The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

9. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Although I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, I prefer Ralph, Piggy, and the Savages and their loss of innocence while developing their own sense of self and society.

10. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – An excellent look at the colonization of Africa through the eyes of a tribal chief.

11. Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  An amazing tale of courage… with a twist.

I realize I have listed 11 rather than 10 and that a couple of these are not on my personal top 10, but these are the books that (I think) are more than a guilty pleasure.

I have nothing against Harry Potter, Dan Brown, or Ayn Rand (I realize I’m wandering between a fictional character and a couple of authors), I’ve just never read them and so don’t feel comfortable suggesting them to anyone else.  They are on my TBR list, I just haven’t made it to them yet – I have found other material more compelling at the moment.  Perhaps after reading them I’ll add them to a must read list.

The Beginning of My Education

As mentioned previously, twenty years ago I decided to set fifty goals (my “bucket list”) with the intent to accomplish each item over the course of my lifetime.  I will not likely list all of my goals, but have accomplished almost all of them – at least those with a termination point. 

One of the goals I set was to read a novel a week for the rest of my life – a never ending goal, but – so far, so good.

The rationale behind this goal was simple – although I received a very good education at good schools, I felt I needed a broader, more liberal education.  I wanted to expand my worldview by looking through a variety of lenses provided by a range of authors, experience great literature just for the pleasure of a good story, increase my exposure to a new and different (to me) ideas, have some background to draw from when a quote or literary work is mentioned, and, finally, to discover my own values through a comparison/contrast of what others believe.

I also discovered an additional benefit of voracious reading: less time spent watching mindless TV shows.

The result (so far) is that I have been thrilled, stretched, baffled, shaped, enlightened, amused, angered, and even left wanting… but never bored.  To me, each novel has been (and is) an adventure.  Although I have not kept a written record of the novels I have read (about 1,000), I remember the ones that had a definite impact on me.

I have often been asked to list my favorite novels, and my list occasionally changes.  However, here are my current favorites (I listed eleven just to annoy the compulsive and orderly – actually, #5 isn’t a novel, it’s a journal, but I really like it):

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

5. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr (unabridged version that includes the appendix: Twenty-Four Years After).

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  I don’t normally enjoy movies inspired by books I have read, but this is a must read if you have ever watched Apocalypse Now.  Also of interest: Conrad is considered one of the great English authors, yet English was his second language – learned in his twenties.

8. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

10. Silas Marner by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans Cross).

11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

Rather than comment or summarize any of the above works, I instead encourage you to read them and enjoy your own adventures.