Lady Laureates

So in case you’ve been under a rock the past week (OR maybe blissed out on some tropical island without wi-fi, that sounds better), there’s big nerdy literary news: Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Let’s all say it together: CONGRATS, ALICE! In my head, she and fellow Canadian writer Margaret Atwood celebrated with some wine and poutine.

Munro’s win made me curious about the other women writers who’ve won a Nobel… and, well, the list is depressingly short. 13, out of the 110 prizes awarded since 1901. And please don’t anyone say, “Well, that’s because women didn’t used to write back in the day” because that’s just not true. What is true is that many people didn’t think women wrote “serious” literature — a charming little misogynistic misconception that still exists to this day.

Now, I admit, I am part of the problem; I haven’t read most of the women Nobel laureates. But I’d like to remedy that (Toni Morrison has been added to my reading list) — and I’d also like to recommend books from the women laureates I have read.

Alice Munro – Runaway

The new kid on the block! And yeah, she’s earned it in my book, based 100% on the power of one short story. “Silence” (one of the shorts in Runaway) tells the story of a mother whose young-adult daughter suddenly cuts contact with her. And never explains why. If that sounds simple… well, I guess it is, in a way. But it’s also incredibly powerful. The pain and confusion and conflicting emotions in this story are so, so real. It’s haunted me for years — and any writer who can create a story with that much impact is a-ok by me.

Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child

I will warn you, if you ever plan on having children, don’t read this book. This is an absolutely horrifying tale of a woman whose fifth child is… well, no one’s really sure. Is he demonic? Is he some weird missing link? Is he truly human? One thing’s for sure: Ben’s parents can’t truly love him — but since he’s their child, they can’t truly abandon him either. The book asks some really tough questions and doesn’t leave you with any comfortable answers.

Um, PS? If you need another reason to read Lessing’s work? This, right here:

Nadine GordimerMy Son’s Story

Gordimer is a white South African, and in My Son’s Story she pulls off a pretty tough feat: writing from the perspective of a black South African boy during apartheid. Near the start of the book, the boy discovers his father is having an affair with a white activist — cue conflict. Interestingly though, the father never came across as the bad guy — at least to me. There’s more than one secret life being led in this book. At its core, it’s about deception, and all the different ways it can manifest. I thought Gordimer did a fantastic job handling such a delicate subject (and would be interested to hear what others think, if y’all have read this one).

Ok guys, time to pay it forward — if you’ve read some of the other lady laureates, let me know where to start!

Book Review: MaddAddam

Well, I did it. I basically binge-read Margaret Atwood’s trilogy. Starting with Oryx and Crake, continuing on to The Year of the Flood, and ending with MaddAddam.

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

(Side note: how do I get that amazing cover?? Is it the Canadian version? The U.S. one is definitely inferior.)

I read the first two books in the trilogy earlier this summer, so all the back story was pretty fresh in my mind. Which greatly enhanced the reading of this book. Atwood seems fairly conscientious about getting readers caught up to speed, so I think technically you could read this book on its own — but why would you want to? It’s so much richer when you have the whole background, the entire mythology.

“Mythology” seems to be a central theme of this book — specifically, the stories we tell ourselves, both for ourselves and about ourselves, and how those stories shape us. The book is told through three distinct narrators: Toby (she was one of our narrators in The Year of the Flood), Zeb (a character from the past book), and Blackbeard (a young ‘Craker’, a new species of super-humans created by Crake). Each voice adds its own nuance to the story, its own meaning. At first, I was somewhat puzzled by Atwood’s choice of narrator in certain sections. But then I realized what a different story it would be if someone else told it.

Two quotes stood out to me while reading the book. One near the beginning:

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too.”

And near the end:

“‘There,’ says Blackbeard. ‘Telling the story is hard, and writing the story must be more hard. Oh Toby, when you are too tired to do it, next time I will write the story. I will be your helper.'”

Throughout the book, there are musings on writing, on stories, what stories mean, what’s the point of stories in a dystopian society where mankind struggles for survival. At the end, Atwood’s answer is very clear: stories do matter. Stories are important. They are a flicker of hope in what can be an otherwise dark and scary world.

I was sad reading the last chapter of MaddAddam. I was sad to leave this world, where I’d spent so much of the summer. But that’s always how a good book is, isn’t it? You want to know what happens, but you never really want it to end. And fortunately, I get to extend this out just a teeny bit — Margaret Atwood is coming to Seattle the end of October, and I’m going to her reading. So perhaps MaddAddam isn’t quite over yet.

Summer Reading List

Ok first off — I KNOW. I know summer is not over yet and it seems like an odd time for a wrap-up list. But the past week in the mornings and evenings there’s been that certain twang in the air, and I feel like the next book I read will land on the Fall Reading List. So then, here it is — the books I read this summer.

1. The Blue Blazes

The Blue Blazes by Check Wendig

The Blue Blazes is pulp fiction in the best sense of the term. Fast-paced, fairly violent, with a cast of rough-and-tumble characters with names like Mookie Pearl and Skelly. Chuck Wendig excels at creating slightly fantastical alternate realities, and this book is no exception — it takes place in a (literally) hellish underground beneath New York City. I do think I preferred Wendig’s Miriam Black series to this one (probably because I love that character), but this was still a fun romp.

2. American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This was a re-read. I hadn’t read it in a loooong time and wanted to freshen up before the Neil Gaiman reading. I’d remembered the clever storyline — downtrodden gods, an epic road trip, dark twists — but I’d forgotten something important: Neil Gaiman is a great writer. His style seems very simple and straightforward, and yet it still manages to be entirely beautiful and evocative. This time around I studied the writing a lot more closely, trying to analyze how he does what he does.

My only qualm — I somehow ended up with the tenth anniversary edition, which contains the “original” text, before Gaiman’s editor got to it. It was still a great read, but I’m a strong believer that a good editor only improves a story.

3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Of course after the Neil Gaiman talk I immediately devoured his new book. It’s a quick read (Gaiman started it with the intention of writing a short story). When people ask me how I liked it, the only word I can come up with is, “Lovely.” Our narrator is a young boy, and this book just so perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a kid — both the everyday wonder of it, and the everyday pain of it. That combination actually makes it a bittersweet, almost melancholy read — but still, it leaves you happy. And the ending… mmm, it’s a really beautiful ending that made me think about the nature of memory.

4. Boneshaker

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I had been really excited about this one. I’d heard great things from a lot of people. So imagine my disappointment when I just couldn’t really get into it. And the frustrating thing is, I can’t pinpoint why. It has a lot of elements I enjoy — alternate histories! Seattle! a cool female lead! — but somehow it just didn’t add up for me. I’ll probably give Cherie Priest another try, because the writing itself was good. But yeah. Sorry, Boneshaker. You and I weren’t meant to be.

5 and 6. Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood

These two are so entwined, it seems futile to review them separately. In short — OMG I LOVED LOVED LOVED these books. They’re the first two in a trilogy (MaddAddam, the final installment, comes out September 3), set in a dystopian future where humans struggle for survival. First up: Oryx and Crake.

Snowman is our narrator, a despairing man once called Jimmy before mankind suffered a horrible, catastrophic disaster. The nature of the disaster is not fully revealed until the end of the book, and the hints along the way lend such a sense of foreboding — it looms over everything. The hints and descriptions also make the book somewhat terrifying — it has so many parallels to our current political and environmental realities (in fact, Atwood herself always insists on calling it “speculative fiction”, not science fiction).

So of course after finishing Oryx and Crake, I had to pick up the next. The Year of the Flood is set in the same dystopian future, with roughly the same timeline, but we have different narrators: Toby and Ren, who live in a hippy-like commune called God’s Gardeners. Switching the narration gives the reader a “big picture” view of the disaster in Oryx and Crake. You could definitely read these books on their own — but man, you get so much from reading them together. Of the two, I’d have to say my favorite was Oryx and Crake — I loved the slow reveal, and also found Snowman to be a fascinating narrator. Plus, Oryx and Crake contained this, the most delicious of sentences:

It’s the fate of these words to be eaten by beetles.

Mmmm. Pure perfection. Can not WAIT to get my greedy little hands on MaddAddam.

7. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders

So technically — I have not finished this one yet. I’m about a third of the way through. But I figure it’s summer, I’m reading it, it’ll go on the list. I’d been meaning to read George Saunders for quite a while, because all my fellow English-major nerds talk about what a fantastic writer he is. And it’s true — the stories I’ve read so far are amazingly well crafted. But oh man, are they depressing. Every single story has focused on a hapless protagonist whose life spirals downwards into despair. And I mean, there’s some hope. In some of the stories. But for the most part, man. I’m sure I’ll keep reading it, because the stories are so well-written. But it does remind me why, for the most part, I’ve forsaken the path of Serious Literature.

What about you? What books did you devour in the sun this year?

Sentences That Stick

Cold it was, and dark, when the vision came to her, for in the far north daylight was a gray dim time in the middle of the day that came, and went, and came again: an interlude between darknesses. — Neil Gaiman, American Gods

My friend Hannah and I were talking the other day about sentences — perfectly crafted sentences. The ones that make you fall in love with the author on the spot, regardless of the rest of the book. The rest of the writing could be crap, the author could be a total jerk — but you’ll always remember that one, breath-catching sentence.

(Side note: this makes me think of Hemingway’s relationship with Fitzgerald. A Moveable Feast has a long chapter depicting how annoying Hemingway first found Fitzgerald when they met. Then Fitzgerald gives him a copy of The Great Gatsby: “When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.” Good writing, man — you’ll forgive a lot.)

Now, it’s one thing to be in awe of a sentence. But of course, as a writer, I want to study the Why. I want to know what makes that sentence tick and how to emulate it. Dissect it, name its components, do it myself.

The other writers are probably chuckling right now, because the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t always work that way. You can’t always pinpoint exactly why a sentence transcends its basic mechanics and works on a higher level. It speaks to you at the right place, at the right time. There’s the nutshell.

That Neil Gaiman quote — from American Gods, which I just re-read in anticipation of a Neil Gaiman talk tonight (!!!) — is one that’s hard to pinpoint. When I came upon it, I stopped and re-read it three times. Something about it is just beautiful to me. But when I sit down and try to analyze it — it all falls apart. Yes, it has a nice rhythm (“far north daylight” and “gray dim time” sync up nicely), but there’s nothing totally out of the ordinary there. Maybe it’s because I live somewhat north, and know what those long grey days are like. But that doesn’t really explain my gut reaction to it, either. No, if I try to break it down too much, it loses its magic. Better to just read and appreciate.

So how about you? Are there sentences that have ensnared you, that stick with you, that you read over and over again? Let’s share. I’m always greedy for more.

Writing Strong Female Characters

Earlier this week I wrote about women writers — today, let’s look at the yin to that yang. Let’s talk female characters.

You’ll thank me later — go read the brilliant article on A Dribble of Ink called “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative“. It’s a fascinating, wide-reaching post that tackles how women are treated in fiction — how they often just serve as the catalyst or motive for male characters. The author, Kameron Hurley, writes:

I actually watched a TV show recently that was supposedly about this traumatic experience a young girl went through, but was, in fact, simply tossed in so that the two male characters in the show could fight over it, and argue about which of them was at fault  …. She’s literally in the room with them while they fight about it, revealing all these character things about them while she sort of fades into the background.

In the end, Hurley challenges authors to… well, do better. To go beyond the stereotypes and clichés and write well-rounded female characters who don’t exist solely as foils to the men around them.

And you know? I’d like to think I do a decent job at this. But Hurley’s article made me think long and hard about a female character I’m currently writing, and whether the romantic liaison I have planned for her is necessary. Maybe it is — maybe it furthers the story. But I’m trying to take a step back and really think about it.

Of course, there are a lot of authors out there who do a great job writing female characters. They deserve praise — not only for a job well done, but to encourage other authors to do so as well. And so, I give you 3 women who stand out in my mind as particularly well-written characters — and hope you’ll share yours.

Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Unabashedly nerdy, logical, proud of her intelligence — what’s not up love? I’ve always thought Hermione Granger was an amazing role model for young readers, and a beautifully written character. And the reason she’s so beautifully written is that — well, at the end of the day, Hermione is still a young girl growing up. She makes mistakes. She gets angry at stupid things. She even, at times, toys with boys’ emotions to get back at other boys. In short, she seems like a real human being, which is why it’s so easy to relate to her.

Miriam Black, Blackbirds and Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
Miriam is… well, the opposite of Hermione. The protagonist of her own series, Miriam is brash and crude and drinks way too much cheap whisky for her own good. So why am I so intrigued by her? Because she’s no one’s foil. She doesn’t take any shit from any man — or any woman, for that matter. Her motivations are 100% her own, and if you don’t like them? Miriam doesn’t care. She’s gonna do her own thing.

Mary Stassos, Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham
This was a book I read recently, and although it follows many character arcs, Mary Stassos stood out. She marries young, has three children, divorces her philandering husband… and then, almost against her own accord, starts doing things that surprise her. She quietly but firmly embraces her gay son. She forms a friendship with a New York drag queen. She cares for her wild daughter’s illegitimate son. She is constantly pushed outside her comfort zone — and for the most part, becomes a better person for it. She’s not a loud character, Mary Stassos, but she’s a very real one.

Who are your favorite female characters? Which authors do you think do a particularly good job of writing “real” women?

Let’s Geek Out with David Sedaris

Today’s a pretty good day. I’m going to be able to touch an owl in a couple hours.

David Sedaris on Fresh Air

There are many authors whom I adore and would rightly place on my “favorite authors” shelf. But David Sedaris is the author I geek out about. Maybe it’s his literary rock-star status, or his mesmerizing lilt, or his propensity for turning everyday events into small adventures, but I am a total fangirl.

A signed copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.
One of my prized possessions, which my sister got for me when Sedaris spoke at Pomona College.

We saw him speak in Seattle last year, and when he asked if there were any questions, I thought, “THIS IS IT! THIS IS MY CHANCE! I AM GOING TO ASK SOMETHING INSIGHTFUL AND BRILLIANT AND WITTY AND DAVID SEDARIS IS GOING TO NOTICE ME AND WE WILL BE BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE”….and then proceeded to clam up. The thought of asking him anything intimidated me like whoa. But I continued to grin like an idiot, because he continued to be witty and intelligent and talk about how animals are assholes. I mean, what’s NOT to love?

(It’s pretty silly that I didn’t raise my hand to ask a question, because one of the reasons why I love him is he seems like a genuinely decent guy. The kind of person who is interested in people — really interested — and curious about the world. I can dig that.)

He has a new book out — Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls — and so has a new interview on NPR’s Fresh Air (thank God my husband is an NPR geek so I know about these things). The interview is charming and informative and…just go listen to it, ok?

If you’re too busy/lazy/ambivalent to listen right now, here are some highlights (but please, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing):

I was never the person who thought that having a job during the daytime meant that you were any less of a writer. I never thought, “Well, when I can quit my job, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.”

Isn’t that refreshing, to have a ridiculously famous author like Sedaris tell us we don’t have to quit the day jobs to be “real” writers?

You know, it used to be like I had to do my laundry every Sunday at six o’clock, and if I didn’t do my laundry at six o’clock the world was just going to fall apart. [….] Like somebody inviting me out for dinner on Saturday or inviting me Saturday, it just wasn’t going to happen because I had to clean my house. I had to do my laundry. I had to do these things on schedule at the exact same time at the exact same place, and I had to be sitting down at my desk and I had to be drinking by nine o’clock, and I had to be lighting the bong, you know, by 11:30.

And now I can do things. I can go out. I can – every night can be different, you know? And I think it’s – and I think that’s been great for me, you know, to be able to – to be able to have adventures in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to have adventures before.

As a creature who gets deeply ingrained in her habits — this is rather humbling and inspiring. A reminder that, no matter how stuck we may seem, we can change, we can grow. Everyday can be an adventure.

Do you have an author you totally geek out over? Tell me who, tell me who. (That was a tiny bit of an owl joke to end us on there. You’re welcome.)

Book Review: The Blind Assassin

I finished The Blind Assassin on the bus yesterday. I was totally that freak who was praying that all the lights turned red, so I had enough time to get to the ending. I’m everyone’s favorite bus rider!

The Blind Assassin

I don’t think I enjoyed this one quite as much as The Handmaid’s Tale — but then again, it may be too soon to tell. It seems Atwood’s books kind of need to “sink in” with me. They’re complicated, and WHOA. The Blind Assassin was no exception. First you have a narrative that spans…what, 30 years? And then you put a novel within a novel within a novel…and just, whoa. This thing gets dense fast. But it also shows what an amazing writer Atwood is, because it totally works. I admit to being 100% confused throughout the first 50 pages or so, but if you stick with it, it’s worth the payoff.

Looking back at it, none of the characters are actually all that likeable. Let’s face it, Alex Thomas? Kind of an asshole. Yeah, he’s under a lot of pressure, yadda yadda yadda — asshole. Iris herself — you sympathize with it, but she’s not exactly warm and cuddly, is she? Laura is probably the most likeable person in the book, but even she… well, admit it, if you knew her in real life, she’d drive you crazy.

(Side note: I would totally read a Lizard Men of Xenor book.)

I can see why writers love this book. Aside from the dizzying plot structure, the eloquent writing — in a lot of ways it seems to be a book about words. Laura is a literal creature, she takes words at face value. In the end, words are her undoing. And Richard — one could say that words bring about his end, too. Iris only really gains power once she gets the book published. So of course we writers like it. It validates what we do.

One thing’s for sure: I need to get more Atwood into my life. Probably won’t be my next read — these books seem to be heavy, I think spacing them out is wise — but there will be more.

Unleash the Introverts!

I’m not sure when, but at some point in my life I became mildly obsessed with the Myers-Briggs personality test. I took an oh-so-official free online test (ISTJ, represent!) and then wanted to how everyone else fit into those 16 little types. It seemed to give organization to things, a reason for why people behaved in certain ways.

Mostly I was interested in introversion vs. extraversion. I remember first learning about introverts and thinking these are my people. So when a book came along that indulged my fascination, I had to pick it up. I’m not normally big on nonfiction — I want STORY, dammit! — but Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a good one. Although my friends and family probably weren’t thrilled that I was reading it, seeing as I made them all take the Myers-Briggs test.

quiet

This “definition” of introversion rang true ::

Introverts …. may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas …. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.

Yup, that’s me. All hail introverts!

The book talks a lot about creativity and innovation (particularly as it applies to the workplace). This probably doesn’t surprise many of you, but introverts — the social weirdos — are often deemed more creative than their extrovert counterparts. The reason?

But there’s a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts’ creative advantage — an explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.

This does seem an argument for the closed-door policy — or maybe just having an actual physical door you can shut in the world’s face. Even if being out and about excites you, you need to hole up to actually get down to the business of being creative.

(Of course, I can think of examples where the “creative as introvert” theory doesn’t really hold true…Pablo Picasso was called a “vampire” by friends because he sucked the energy out of people.)

As I read the book and kept quoting sections to Byron, he grew dismayed. “I feel like this book may just be enforcing some of your tendencies,” he said. By which, of course, he  meant my tendency to avoid large crowds and crave time at home and what is this new thing you’re trying to make me do??

But the book doesn’t cast extroverts and introverts as the heroes and villains in The Battle for Universe Dominance. There needs to be a balancing act; extroverts and introverts can learn a lot from each other. Introverts don’t get a hall pass for checking out of society. Cain argues that when introverts are passionate about a project, they can push themselves in social situations and behave… well, like extroverts. And that doing so — getting out of the comfort zone — can even be good for them.

Oh, sorry — good for us. While it’s already exhausting me, I guess my Year of Yes is a good  thing after all.

Where do you see yourself on the scale of extraversion and introversion? Do you think it’s true that creative types tend to be introverts? And most importantly — does this book give me free rein to stay home all day in my sweatpants? (I think I sadly know the answer to that.)

Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 2

Because I’m a nerd, I had a lot of fun putting together my Part 1 list last week. This week? More difficult. Somehow Part 2 felt more serious, more final — when I’d decided on one book, another leapt off the shelf and cried, “BUT HOW COULD YOU FORGET ME??”

To which I say — chill out, book. This isn’t the be all, end all. There are other books I enjoy, other books I love. These ones just make the cut today. (And shout out to the entire Harry Potter series, it’s getting the honorable mention of the day.)

5. The Razor’s Edge

My college pal and fellow creative writer Val guessed that this would be on the list. Maybe I’m transparent, or maybe it’s just a really good book.

The Razor's Edge

If you’ve read one of those “Best quotes of all timez!!” lists, you’ve read a sentence by oh-so-witty Maugham. His books are more somber than his one-line quips, though. The Razor’s Edge is difficult, too, because it’s not a super direct storyline. In fact, the heart-and-soul of the novel is set-up by this:

I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of the story

I mean, who does that?? That tells you what you’re in for with this book. Rather meandering, not much action, a large cast of characters, spanning decades and continents… and so worth it. Beyond the fact that the book is beautifully written, it dives into moral grey area and ponders the meaning of happiness. No, it’s not a light read, but if you’re looking to sink your teeth into something, I can’t recommend this one enough.

6. All Creatures Great and Small

As you can probably tell from the tattered copy, this is another book that I a) stole, and b) return to time and again.

All Creatures Great and Small

I loved this book SO much that for a long time, I wanted to be a vet. (That changed after a day volunteering in a vet clinic.) But guys, James Herriot makes it sound like so much FUN! Cute animals! Heartwarming tales! You want to know Herriot’s friends, you want to meet the farmers, you want to drive through pastoral England. And you know what else? Reading this, Herriot just seems like a good guy. You can’t say that about a lot of authors, so it’s rather refreshing. And speaking of, well, not the greatest of guys….

7. Selected Poems of Ezra Pound

Oh look — ANOTHER prick on the list! Not only a contemporary of Hemingway’s, but a fascist to boot! I really know how to pick ’em.

Ezra Pound

So, yeah, Pound may have been a TOTAL nutcase, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) his poetry sticks. I was in Rome the first time I read this collection, roaming Italian graveyards and studying expatriates, so that undoubtedly colored my reading of it. But over the years it’s still the poetry I pick up most often. Plus, it contains what is probably my favorite poem ever, “Erat Hora”:

‘Thank you, whatever comes.’ And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.

8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Let me just give you a brief overview of the physical places covered by this book. Nazi-invaded Prague. Brooklyn. The Empire State Building. Antarctica.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayI mean, guys, the hero travels to Antarctica during World War II. If that’s not enough to sell this book… oh, it’s not? But wait, there’s more! This book is fantastical. Surreal. Like a portrait of New York City dipped in technicolor and redrawn a bit. Its protagonists are comic-book artists, larger-than-life men (and women!) who become superheros of their own reality. There’s adventure and heartbreak and did I mention a battle in Antarctica? Many would argue this is Chabon’s best, and I can’t disagree.

10. 1984

This book… you know, it’s fine. I see the merit of it. I see why people always bring it up. But a favorite? Nope. I honestly had a hard time getting through it. But there’s a very specific reason why it’s on this list.

1984

The night I met my husband, he asked what my favorite book was. I said I wasn’t sure, too many to name, yadda yadda. What was his? Without hesitation: “1984.” He was flabbergasted that I hadn’t read it. Told me I HAD to read it. He was even more flabbergasted (and yeah, a bit annoyed) when, on our first date, I admitted I hadn’t purchased a copy yet. So this is the copy he brought to my door on our third date. Yes, my husband’s first gift to me was an Orwell book. I slogged through it, and it’s been on our bookshelf ever since.

If you didn’t chime in last week — DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE AT GLORY! What are some of your favorite books? Why? Let’s swap tales.

Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 1

Before we get too far, be warned — I want to know what YOUR favorite books are, too. And why. Get ready.

I used to be a voracious reader as a kid. At college, I ODed on reading and fell off the wagon a bit. I never STOPPED reading… I just slowed to a snail’s pace. But I’m getting back into it. I’m rediscovering the joy of it, reading what I WANT to read, and telling myself it’s ok to give up on a book I don’t like.

All of which has gotten me thinking about my favorites. I want to clarify that this list is only current as of Right Now. Favorite books are a fickle thing for everyone, dependent on where you are in your life and, of course, if/when a new book bumps one off the list.

So here you have it, the first 5, in no particular order. Well, except for #1, which gets the place of honor…

1. Watership Down

Watership Down

Most people don’t really get this one. “It’s about rabbits?” Well, yes. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I get that — but it’s one of my all-time faves. My copy belonged to my mom, and after reading it for the first time, I stole it and will never give it back. The spine is now literally held together with tape. And I refuse to replace this copy.

Why do I love it so? Its main characters may be rabbits, but at its heart Watership Down is an adventure story. Escapes, raids, scheming, battles (YES RABBIT BATTLES). The story is well-paced, the characters well-developed…it’s probably one of the best-written book I’ve read, actually. And even just writing this, I want to re-read it again for the zillionth time. It was my first true book love. Our romance is one for the ages.

Malcolm X was quite the controversial figure (HAHAHA understatement), but his autobiography should be required reading at every school in America. Bold statement? Maybe. But this book really shows the power of accepting new information and experiences, and changing your worldview as a result of them. That’s a good lesson for any kid.
The entire autobiography was dictated to Alex Haley, and Malcolm X dictated the latter events of the book as they were happening. Which means that the reader gets to see the evolution of his thoughts in real-time. We get to see Malcolm X wrestle with new information, do some serious introspection, and evolve from a man largely driven by hate to this man:
“The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger’s side, next to me, was a white man. “Malcolm X!” he called out — and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car, across at me, grinning. “Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?” Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green, I told him, “I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?”

 

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time_Travelers_Wife
This book also happens to be one of my favorite titles. The first time I read it, I immediately fell into this weird depression that lasted for about a week. The only thing that cured it was re-reading the book.

Sounds fun, huh? Who doesn’t want a romping tale that leads down the spiral of depression! But that’s precisely why it’s on this list — it evoked a BIG reaction. Niffenegger creates this world that you dive into, a world that is at once familiar and surreal. The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it has an honest one. And that’s how I like my stories — maybe happy, sometimes gritty, but always honest.

4. McTeague

McTeague

Ok — this one’s MAYBE a bit of a cheat. The book itself — it’s good, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. Dim dentist in turn-of-the-century San Francisco goes from bad to worse. Alrighty then.

But the ending is the best ending I have ever read. Hands down. It leaves you with a dropped jaw that turns into a grin. I’ve read that Norris actually tailored the entire book around the ending, which he dreamt up before the actual story. It’s a brilliant example of an ending that doesn’t completely wrap things up but is 100% satisfying.

5. A Moveable Feast

 

Moveable_Feast

Alright, let’s get this out of the way — Hemingway was by all accounts a prick. BUT. Homebody could write, and A Moveable Feast is undoubtedly his most charming book.

If you’ve ever dreamed of Paris, read this book. It paints a picture of a city that doesn’t exist anymore — and to be honest, probably never truly existed. Hemingway was clearly in love in Paris, and he casts a rosy hue over the city and its Bohemian inhabitants. His descriptions of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and other contemporaries are entertaining, but I think the true gems of this book are Hemingway’s brief, sporadic reminisces about his then wife, Hadley. Like the city, he views their marriage through rose-tinted glasses, and his nostalgia and regret is both poignant and real.

That’s a wrap for Part 1. Part 2 will come next week (edited to add: OMG Part 2 is RIGHT HERE — now with more books!) … but in the meantime, it’s your turn. What are YOUR favorite books? Tell me, tell me (and tell me why). The 2013 reading list needs to grow.