The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Top 10-ish

by Steve Gajadhar

My posts have been wandering away from literature lately, so I figured it was time for something of the literary sort. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m always being asked what my favorite book is and I never have an answer. It’s such a complex question, almost existential in how my answer immediately pigeon holes and categorizes me. Am I a patchouli smelling hippie? Or am I an SUV driving, finger giving, cigar smoking country clubber? Perhaps I’m more of a non-fiction junkie, or a history buff?

Hmmm, this whole favorite book thing might have something to it! And seeing as how an afternoon of introspection and selection is never a bad thing, I’ve decided to attempt a list of my top 10 favorite books of all time! Disclaimer: this list is subject to change and revision. This list is also subject to whimsy, emotion, and life experience. Actual order of books on the list does not indicate the quality of the work, or author, only the opinion of Steve Gajadhar.

10. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
This book makes you want to go out and club the unemployed, even if you are one. Not to mention all of those mewling and groveling co-workers! I don’t think there has ever been a more successful example of fictionalized philosophy.

9. The Book of the New Sun, and The Book of the Long Sun – Gene Wolfe
Wolfe is often called one of the greatest living writers in any genre. No argument here. His plotting and character development can be somewhat lacking, but he more than makes up for it with sheer imaginative power.

8. The Age of Reason – Thomas Paine
Paine wrote this from prison, and he quoted the scripture in the book from memory. This book is a journey and also one man’s religious epiphany. Paine then went on to become one of the founding fathers of America. Separation of Church and State anyone?

7. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
Theme? Who needs a theme! Murakami simply tackles everything in this book. He also has a penchant for cats. If only I could read Murakami in his native tongue.

6. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
From the first sentence, Marquez changed everything I thought I knew about the novel. A dazzling meditation on love, life and death that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways and yet never fully understood.

5. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
I love every one of Mitchell’s books, but this one is a masterpiece. How Cloud Atlas didn’t win the Booker is beyond me. I can only blame the somewhat bland opening. This one is also close to my heart because it features the Big Island of Hawaii. Mitchell writes individuals instead of characters. I dare anyone not to read this book twice. Then go buy the rest of Mitchell’s works.

4. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
“Slaughterhouse Five” seems to get more attention, but this one deserves to be canonized. Bokononism and satire, woven together with beautiful and simple language that makes me hateful and hopeful at the same time.

3. Watership Down
Those darn fuzzy little bunnies. I’ve read this book four times now, and it only gets better. Great literature knows no age groups. This book should be a primer on types of government and it should be read in all college curriculums. After Marx. A story about getting where you are going.

2. White Noise – Don Delillo
Prescient. A must read contemporary novel. I compare the reaction of Delillo’s protagonist to the airborne toxic spill - and its aftermath - with the reaction of an ant to the shadow of a magnifying glass wielding eight year old. Then there’s the writing. Word after word of genius.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Who writes this as a first book? It’s completely unfair. Boo Radley exposed the judgmental nature of humanity better than any other literary character. Why do so many kids just gloss over their high school reading? It’s books like this that can change the world.

And since 10 is really never enough when it comes to fiction, here’s some more that could interchange with almost any book in the official list:

Catcher in the rye – J.D. Salinger
The collected fantasy/sci-fi works of Clive Barker and Stephen King
A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway - The ending is the best literary rain ever to fall.
Going After Cocciato – Tim O’Brien - How come I’d never head of this guy?
Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie - A Nobel lock. Book it.
The Inheritors – William Golding
The Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan - Sagan shines a light on the unexplained. If this book doesn’t make you stop checking your horoscope, nothing will.

I hope some of you will share your own lists. It’s a great way to populate my wish list!


Blogger jsnider said...

Thanks very much for your list. I have read some of these books, but there are lots of new books I can sink my teeth into.

I figure I can never have too many books on my to-read list.

Tue Feb 19, 10:03:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I think Cloud Atlas lost the booker because it was up against one of the other three great recent British novels- what a great year for novels that was! The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. I love both those novels and don't know which I'd have picked if I was on the Booker Committee. Perhaps, like Alice's dodo, I'd have said, "All have won, and all must have prizes!"

Tue Feb 19, 11:27:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I took up your challenge and made a list of my 'tops'! I couldn't stick to ten and I couldn't leave out short story collections:

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and Ghost Road by Pat Barker
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Beauty of Men by Andrew Holleran
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
American Tabloid by James Ellroy
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
Kindergarten by Peter Rushforth
Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Washington Square by Henry James
My Life as a Man by Philip Roth
What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates
At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner
Dubliners by James Joyce
Bluebeard’s Egg by Margaret Atwood
Open Secrets by Alice Munro
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Tue Feb 19, 11:45:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

Thanks for the list Steve. I love lists of books, even though I never seem to get around to reading many of the books on them.

Below is a list of the books that made the biggest impressions on me when I read them. I haven't reread any of them, I think, so I don't know what I'd think now (no particular order).

1. The Loved One - Evelyn Waugh
2. Wise Blood - Flannery O'Conner
3. The Fall - Abert Camus
4. The Idiot and Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
5. July's People - Nadime Gordimer
6. Absolom, Absolom - William Faulkner
7. El Senor Presidente - Miguel Angel Asturias
8. 100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera
10. Beloved - Toni Morrison

And the first collection of stories I read by Raymond Carver -- I don't know which one it was.

There are, no doubt, others, but either because I was more impressionable when I read these or they really were more powerful for me, they are the ones that stand out in my memory.

Tue Feb 19, 04:54:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Who hoo! Good lists, folks. Keep em coming, I can feel my credit card burning in my pocket. Look out!

Andrew, I'd vote for Cloud Atlas, but I'm partial to quality SF. I have Line of Beauty, but still haven't read it. Looks like I better.

Tue Feb 19, 11:49:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Ruth, I forgot "The Loved One"! That's my favourite Waugh book. And Steve, I think you'd appreciate "The Line of Beauty" even if you didn't like it. It's about the furthest thing away from Sci-Fi as possible. It's set in Thatcher's England. The writing is magnificent!

Wed Feb 20, 10:45:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

And I forgot the short story The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol. One of my all time favourites.

Wed Feb 20, 01:18:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I LOVE that you listed Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. In high school, I couldn't get enough of her. I wanted to build a railroad and skyscrapers and make love with other budding capitalists. It's hard to list favourite books. I can only think of those that had lasting impact on me: Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, A tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Brothers Karamazov, The Handmaid's Tale. So many more.

Wed Feb 27, 08:44:00 pm GMT-5  

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