15 Books

June 2, 2009

My friend Ted Durnin tagged me on Facebook with the 15 books meme. Here’s the chain letter part:

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I’m interested in seeing what books my friends choose…”

OK Ted, here goes.  I’ve linked the titles to OCLC’s WorldCat, so, if any of these sound interesting, hopefully you can find them in a library near you.

  1. American pastoral / Philip Roth
    I didn’t expect this story from the author of Portnoy’s Complaint.  The author introduces a central theme, the perseverance of the Swede, the central character, and repeats this theme throughout, with only the barest of development.  On the surface, it’s a pastoral, repetitive in the way Schubert’s Great C major symphony is repetitive.  However, there is loss and madness in a second theme, revolving around his daughter.  I found this novel difficult, moving, and ultimately frustrating.  It sticks with me, so it’s on the list.
  2. A frolic of his own / William Gaddis
    Gaddis uses several different writing devices (a play, depositions, legal options) to tell the story of Oscar Crouch, a would-be playwright and the son of a famous judge.  Oscar is involved in several apparently frivolous lawsuits, including one in which he sues himself.
  3. Little rascal / Sterling North
    The first book I remember reading by myself…it was only 79 pages long??  It’s about a boy who has a pet raccoon, and their merry adventures together.  As the raccoon gets older, he begins to realize that he has to set it free.  Boy, did I cry.
  4. Breakfast of champions / Kurt Vonnegut
    I went through a Vonnegut phase in my early twenties, and this was my favourite of the half dozen I read.  I still have a few on my shelf that I haven’t read…gifts, mostly, from people who knew me best when I really liked Vonnegut.  I’m not sure I could go back to read the rest of his works.
  5. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin / Gordon S. Wood
    The best history book I’ve ever read, but I haven’t read that much history, so maybe that’s not saying too much.
  6. Shake hands with the Devil / Romeo Dellaire and Brent Beardsley
    This was a book club book.  I really have to get that book club going again.
  7. For keeps : 30 years at the cinema / Pauline Kael
    I’ve been reading these same articles for years now.  Pauline and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I enjoy the way she makes her case about why I should or shouldn’t like a movie.  She convinced me about Citizen Kane.
  8. Perl cookbook / Tom Christiansen and Nathan Torkington
    Clear, concise, and I like the cookbook-example format.  Maybe Programming Perl is a better book, but you’ll have a better chance of understanding it with these examples and explanations.
  9. The joy of cooking / Ethan Becker, Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, and Marion Rombauer Becker
    As I say to Kristin whenever she has a food question, the answer is in the Joy of Cooking.  Latest proof: “how should I prepare rhubarb?”
  10. My name is Asher Lev / Chiam Potok
    Additional reading for high school English.  A few years later, I read a review that said it was naive, insincere, and fundamentally phoney in its portrayal of both painting and Hasidic Jews.  As Nigel Tufnel might say, “That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?”
  11. Pride and prejudice / Jane Austen
    I liked this so much that I bought a set of Jane Austen’s works.  In fact, I’m looking at them as they sit, unread, on my shelf, and I think they’re actually scowling at me.
  12. Lolita / Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
    That Humbert Humbert is one amusing monster.
  13. Crime and punishment / Feodor Dostoevsky
    I read this on my Palm Pilot.  Really.
  14. Baker’s biographical dictionary of musicians, 7th ed. / Nicolas Slonimsky
    Where else can you find Herbert von Karajan’s Nazi membership numbers?  (He joined the party twice: once in Germany and once in Austria.)  After reading about Paul Wittgenstein in a recent  New Yorker book review, I rushed to get more details from Baker’s.  This is the only time I can remember being disappointed that Slonimsky didn’t have all the dirt, but maybe I need a newer edition.
  15. The big sleep / Raymond Chandler
    “It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

    Best opening ever.