Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Challenge: Your 10 Favorite

One of the difficulties in determining a good book is the intersection of the literature and the film: I love Harper Lee's book, but I love the film as well, and it's difficult to know if I love the book or the film most, the same with Gone With the Wind (well, actually, I haven't read the book for that one, so that's easy to determine) and then, there are some books that have been adapted so many times, like Tom Sawyer and Alice In Wonderland, it's as if those films erode the quality of the literature. 
Not all of us found the ice bucket challenge appealing to participate in (although it is an infinitely worthy cause and a tremendous boon for the fundraisers!). A new challenge has been making waves, and I post my response to the challenge I received so that you, too, will be challenged and spread the love of your favorite books. It's my understanding it doesn't matter the genre (fiction, non-fiction) but that it is a book, not a poem or novella.
One of the books I have always wanted to read, but couldn't find an edition which translated the Russian narrative and the French dialogues (I believe there is one now, so I will have to make time for it).
Finally, there are too many excellent books to make it upon your official top ten favorite, but just because they are not on your list, doesn't mean they are not excellent examples of writing (such as The Hobbit, and The Lord Of the Rings, Frankenstein and Dracula, or Tom Sawyer and Margins Of PhilosophyAlice In Wonderland, The Good Earth and To Kill A Mockingbird and The Summa Theologica, to name a few of those I couldn't get in) this challenge, rather, is about the books you love, those that have influenced you in some way, those you think about or changed the way you think:
This is the book which I have learned the most from, and which I would probably pull from the shelf as my house was burning down if I could only grab one thing, but it doesn't make the list.
1). The Divine Comedy (complete) Translated by Dorothy L Sayers: no other book has formed my understanding of human relations to the Divine, and the perfection of the Divine the way Dante's three part epic journey depicts the grand scales of justice against the individual virtues and sins of humanity.
2). Moby Dick by Herman Melville: I know I must have read it in high school, but I couldn't remember a thing about it; last summer, I took the hefty volume and was determined to read it; about 300 pages in, I seriously thought about quitting, I was barely half-way through. Having never been defeated by a book before, I resolved to finish, and the last sixty pages were some of the absolute best in the English language, mostly because Melville had the courage to write the first part of the book exactly the way it should have been so the last sixty pages would be able to stand out. It's a favorite now.
This is what I have on my Kindle right now, desperately trying to finish, but it's so tragic and depressing, my soul grows heavy reading the narrative of these people and the time during which they lived. I will finish, it's just taking a very long time. I must say, Harriet Beecher Stowe is a masterful communicator.
3). The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: the younger we are when we read a book, the more likely it is to make a lasting impression; I think I was a freshman in high school when I started reading Hemingway. This is, by my estimation, his most depressing (many would argue with this) even though I really like A Moveable Feast and feel it's more optimistic, everything about The Sun Also Rises has stayed with me, like the sun burning into the desert sand.
4). One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: the book was given to me by my uncle for Christmas one year, and it meant as much for him to give it to me as it did for me to receive it. Marquez was my first introduction to "magical realism," and he opened up an entirely new world for me, especially the one which lead to reading the poet Pablo Neruda and the great Octavio Paz.
Another I haven't read, but need to.
5). The Flounder by Gunter Grass, Translated by Helen Kurt Wolff: Awa and her three breasts. The surreal narrative describing the battle of the sexes has no equal. Also a gift from my uncle, no other work of fiction has been such a catalyst for probing what I believe regarding the interaction between men and women; it's an encounter like no other.
6). Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: I read this on accident. It was the summer before I went into high school, and I had signed on for my first semester of debate; the resolution for that year was how to decrease the prison population. Erroneously, I had picked up the book thinking it would help me with debate; it didn't help me so much with debate, but it certainly did with life. Countless times, after I had fallen away from Christianity, in a quite moment, Dostoevsky and his faith would tap me on the shoulder and remind me that there was something greater: "If there is no God, than I am God," but that "If" is a greater mountain to scale than Everest.
If you were going to read just one book by the mind who did more to shape the 20th century than any other individual, it should be this one. Freud was attending a conference with a colleague in New York City, and, getting into the elevator at his hotel, he saw the elevator boy put down a book to take them to their floor; Freud was curious as to what the boy was reading and saw it was this book. Freud looked at his colleague and said, "This is the greatest compliment of my life." Taking such difficult subjects and making them accessible for the masses was an incredible achievement and, as you can guess, there isn't a day that goes by during which I fail to employ some of the techniques of interpretation which I first encountered in Freud's work. If you do read it, skip the last part: he was trying to form what would become his theory of the ego, super-ego and id, however, he was fifteen years away from understanding what he wanted to say, and the last part of the book is confusing.
7). Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman: Lightman is both a professor of Physics and Creative Writing at MIT; this book demonstrates why. To some degree, the book was a detriment for me because Lightman's effortless weaving between narrative and physics made me believe that's how Academia was, or at least, should be; I was wrong. I wanted to bring everything I had learned from all my other classes into whatever class I was taking at that time, and professors didn't appreciate it. I still prefer Lightman's way better, and, without a doubt, I am always conjuring to my mind the images of alternate worlds that he was the first to introduce me to.
8). The Diary Of Anne Frank: It's not the brutal world of the Nazis, or the suffering and sacrificing that I remember, it's her hope, and how incorruptible her determination was to believe in the very best of humanity and of the world. She's a martyr for the human condition, and I could never possibly forget all of what she taught me.
It's hard to pick just one work by Dostoevsky, and impossible to pick just one by Dickens, or by Shakespeare, or any myriad of writers in "the canon" of literature; there are common books written by authors no one will remember, but maybe that wrote something at a time that you really needed to read it, and it made a difference in your life. My sister was talking to me about the books she would like to list for this challenge, "But," she said, "I don't want to list Why Men Marry Bitches. I don't want anyone to know I ever read it!" She was going through her divorce and needing some counseling and that book provided what she couldn't get anywhere else. While she isn't proud of having read that book, she wouldn't have survived that time of her life without it, and we all have books like that. It's not that some books are "better" and more "worthy" to be on a list than others, rather, there are books which have a greater propensity to speak to a greater number of people in a deeper way; that doesn't mean you are included in that number, or that books who speak to only a limited few don't have some valuable to say.
9). Beowulf, Translation with commentary by JRR Tolkien: It's the great story of the soul and it's obstacles, it's triumphs and downfalls, which forms the basis of the metaphors for all other stories of the soul's progress. It's fantastic, but incredibly practical, monstrous, but intensely human.
10). Smiley's People by John Le Carre: we all have guilty pleasures. I first came across Le Carre's spy novels when I happened to get a copy of The Russia House that was on sale at a local grocery store. I was getting ready to start my sophomore year, and wanted a book that would be good, but sophisticated, in that, it wasn't a romance novel. I liked the book, but wasn't quite a good enough reader at that stage to pick up on Le Carre's writing skill; I was given Smiley's People, which I read several times, and became an addict after that (if you are familiar with the Gary Oldman film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the original book for that film was written by Le Carre, and TTSS is part 1, whereas Smiley's People is part 3 of the story, The Honorable Schoolboy coming before it; so, basically, I read the end first, then went back and read the beginning). It was encouraging, however, to see Le Carre's name at number 22 on the list of 100 Greatest English Writers of All Time! Pretty good for a spy novelist.
At least for me, books often serve as a landmark at a particular point in my life: 5 Faces Of Modernity was the first real theory book I read that provided me with the concept that there was always more to a work of art than what meets the eye. The books authors give us, they give us, it's a gift, and each person receives the same gift differently; there are books I have enjoyed more than others, but I am grateful for every single one that I have read.
There are so many books! If there are kids in your life--especially if they don't read--this might be a great time to introduce them to some of your favorite books. Reflecting on your favorite books helps to reflect on yourself, and how you have become the person you are, and why. If you are in a mind to make your own list, be sure to post it on Facebook, or whatever media you socialize on: you never know who might be inspired to take it up, so it becomes one of their favorites, too.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner