Monday, August 06, 2012

Five Favorite Works of Fiction

It occurred to me the other day to sit down and think of my ten favorite books. Of course, I soon dismissed that as too difficult and decided to divide this task into several smaller ones. I've now selected my ten favorite works of fiction, ten favorite books of poetry/essays, and ten favorite non-fiction books. These are the books that have made me who I am; the books I would choose if I were stranded on a desert island. What are yours? I'll start with my ten favorite novels--in no particular order:
1. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. Yes, I actually read it in high school, and yes, I actually liked it--despite being sufficiently young and innocent that I was appalled when I realized Holden had hired a prostitute. In fact, I went through a bit of a Salinger phase during my junior year of high school (similar to the Ayn Rand phase that a lot of people seem to go through in high school/college, except that it made me a more astute observer of human nature rather than a self-absorbed twit).

2. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. One of the great African novels, and a fantastic read. Barbara Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible' (which only narrowly missed this list, and which more people have probably read) is the white-girl yang to Achebe's yin. I'm not going to lie--I also just loved saying a lot of the Igbo names to myself over and over...Ikemefuna, Ezinma, Umuofia.They sounded like music.

3. Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky. I probably identified with the protagonist (who's only barely a 'pro'tagonist...) more than I ought to've, considering he's defined by his ennui, sense of inertia, and an existential awareness that leads him to consider spite the best defense against necessitarianism. Then again, I read this in high school, a time when I also discovered Camus and Sartre and it first occurred to me that, holy shit, I could CHOOSE to skip Calculus one day, or not sign up for the absolute maximum number of hours at work (I still went to all my classes and never missed work, but I think the idea that I didn't *have* to kept my tightly-wound self from going completely round the bend). A lot of people also label it the first existentialist novel. So there's that.

4. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood. Most people's introduction to the idea of dystopia comes from George Orwell, and I've read 1984 too, but as the possessor of a uterus I found Ms. Atwood's tale more relevant to my interests. What really terrifies me is that there are those (cough--Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum--cough cough) who would like to see this dream/nightmare brought to fruition.

5. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath. Plath--or 'Victoria Lucas,' the pseudonym under which the book was originally published--is the mother of crazy-chick lit (OK, maybe that was Charlotte Perkins Gilman...but certainly the mother of all mental-hospital chick lit). Kaysen's 'Girl, Interrupted' and Elizabeth Wurtzel's 'Prozac Nation,' the bevy of eating-disorder memoirs in the spirit of Lori Gottlieb's 'Stick Figure': there would be none of these if The Bell Jar hadn't been there first. As a middle-schooler with severe depression, what I wanted more than anything was my own Dr. Nolan--but absent that, this book, paradoxically, offered me hope both that I might someday conquer my own demons and that I might one day publish the story of that conquest and make some money into the bargain. 

The other five, after the jump!

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