As a new feature on Panorama of the Mountains, I’m going to create some all-time lists of things I like (music, movies, tv, etc) and post an installment each Friday. First up, books! Since I recently turned 35 and now have about 30 years of reading experience under my belt (not to mention cataloging every book I’ve ever read on Library Thing), I figured that this is as good a time as any to reflect on my favorite books.
Please note that I use the word “favorite” to describe these books. This is in no way an attempt to make a definitive list of the best books of all time, just my personal favorites. If a book you love doesn’t make this list it’s because I didn’t like it enough, or more likely never read it or maybe never even heard of it. So don’t razz me for the books that don’t make the list, but if you’d like to suggest a book I should read, post a comment on my Book List page.
Before I start the countdown, I want to award a couple of ‘honorable mentions’ to books I love that aren’t exactly the types of books you read cover to cover:
HM#1 The World Almanac & Book of Facts
Every year from about 1982 through about 2000, I looked forward to getting the new edition of the World Almanac that usually came out around the time of my birthday (the perfect gift!). I must’ve been destined to become a librarian because as a child I could spend hours flipping through this reference book to learn about city populations, facts about all the states and presidents, famous peoples’ real names, and the world’s tallest structures. These days I get my cravings for trivia satisfied by the internet, but there will always be a place for the World Almanac in my childhood mythos.
HM#2 Rise up Singing by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson
This song book compiles the lyrics for over a thousand songs – popular, folk, children’s, traditional, religious, and even a little rock & roll. There are tabs for guitarists as well, but as a vocalist I just like to break out this book to sing – with friends, with family, or even on my own. I think if I were stranded on a desert island I’d want this book with me, because singing helps keep me sane (and I can never remember the lyrics to songs).
100 Puff: A Novel by Bob Flaherty
This novel really tickle my funny bone, and combines a lot of things I like into one narrative – Boston, the Blizzard of ’78, and dysfunctional Irish Catholic families. It reads as if Dude, Where’s My Car were written by John Irving if he’d been raised Irish-American and Catholic.
99 The Grand Complication: A Novel by Allen Kurzweil
Speaking of books that appeal to my interests, this comic novel is set in New York Public Library and the hero is a nerdy, eccentric librarian. There are a lot of bizarre twists & turns in the mystery at the center of this novel, but I like it mostly for the characters and
98 The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young
This historical work does a couple of things I’d like to see historians do more often. First, it explores an historical event from the point of view of an ordinary person, in this case the 1773 destruction of tea in Boston Harbor from participant George Robert Twelves Hewes. Second, it examines how the popular memory of historic events is created during and after the life of an events participants, and how that popular memory diverges from the actual history. A lively and accessible work for anyone interested in the process of history.
97 Stalemate Icchokas Meras
So far, Stalemate is my favorite book read for my Around the World for a Great Book project. Set in the Vilnius ghetto in Lithuania under Nazi occupation, this book is a compelling account of ghetto life and stark exploration of power and its abuses.
96 King Lear by William Shakespeare
In my opinion this is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, a mature dramatist’s character study of how vanity and selfishness destroy a family. I hope to see this play performed one day because I’ve only read it as a book thus far.
95 Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to Nicholson Baker’s Assault on Libraries by Richard J. Cox
One of my favorite books I read in graduate school (and it wasn’t even assigned) is Cox’s response to Nicholson Baker’s Doublefold. Beyond addressing the specific issues of Baker’s book, Cox ably describes the roles of libraries and archives in preserving material. It’s an excellent book for educating students in a library/archives program as well as a public relations piece in defense of the importance of libraries and archives.
94 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
As an English major and wannabe reader I’m insanely jealous of Dillard in that she’s done what I’d love to do – live in a remote cabin and write about everything she observes in nature – and she’s done it so well with such brilliant prose. It’s one of those books where one can just read a sentence over and over again and just say “Wow!”
93 Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
A fascinating study of global human civilization and how development of human societies relies on the topography of the continents on which we live. This theory underpins the historical account of how societies in Europe & Asia were able to amass the resources to grow and eventually dominate other parts of the world. It’s a popular work that clearly explicates some very big ideas (albeit sadly without any references).
92 The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This is a book that took me several readings to like – first in high school when I didn’t get it at all, then in two different college courses, and I ended up reading the book twice in a row the second time around. I guess in this case familiarity breeds affection, and I can’t help but think of Quentin Compson each time I walk across the bridge on the way to work.
91 The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: A Novel by W.P. Kinsella
I became enamored with the baseball fiction of Kinsella in my youth, and this totally weird book about time travel, mystic visions, and a 40-day baseball game (with a stone angel in the outfield!) may have been my introduction to magical realism.
Check in next Friday for another ten books in my list of all-time favorites.