A list of the books in which I've found comfort, entertainment and insight
|1) The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion). No one does memoir like Joan, and the time jump structure is amazing.|
2) The Hobbit. Tolkien.
3) Boys of My Youth (Jo Ann Beard). A funny, sad, insightful memoir voice.
4) Any essay collection by Cynthia Ozick. She does essays that stay in your mind and bear revisiting.
5) Any essay collection by Robert Benchley. The master of self-deprecatory and satirical humor back in the 20s, 30s and 40s.
6) Any essay collection by Jean Shepherd. Storyteller extraordinaire and laugh-out-loud funny. The author and narrator of the 1983 film classic, “A Christmas Story.”
7) The Stand (Stephen King). Like “Carrie,” King gets everything right in this epic- even religion! And also the best of his movies-made-for-TV.
8) On Writing (Stephen King). Part memoir, part textbook, but all of it valuable storytelling examples and advice from a master craftsman.
9) Ushant (Conrad Aiken). It’s a memoir. No- it’s an essay. But at a couple hundred pages in length, it’s really stream of consciousness prose, where the clouds part every so often to reveal unforgettable scenes from Aiken’s tumultuous life.
10) Perelandra & That Hideous Strength (CS Lewis). Being the second and third parts of Lewis’ “Space Trilogy,” it’s a mixture of Sci-fi, mythology, adventure, religion and mystery, with a little horror thrown in for good measure.
11) The Great Divorce (CS Lewis). The tale of a bus ride from Hell to Heaven, and what happens to the passengers along the way. The surprise ending will never keep any reader from taking the trip again and again.
12) The Pilgrim’s Regress (CS Lewis). Modeled after Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, this is the tale of a young man who sees it all, and is never the same again.
13) The Book of Mormon & The Bible: KJV (various authors). I’ll never finish reading these two books, which intertwining messages and history. Too deep to ever master in this mortal lifetime.
14) The Magic of Shirley Jackson (novel and story collection). Containing a generous helping of unforgettable stories, and a novel about a girl who’s suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder, she is the master of economical word usage.
15) The Haunting (Shirley Jackson). One of the classic ghost stories, made into a classic black and white movie, as well.
16) Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky). To what lengths must a sinner go for redemption? Fyodor shows us, in a story as timeless as the struggle between good and evil.
17) Elements of Style (Strunk & White; original or early edition). Sure, it’s a textbook, but it’s fun to read, and proves that some “rules” of good writing never change.
18) Zen in the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury). Want to learn to write better? Want to find out where Ray got the ideas for all those great tales he spun? This is where you find out. Something special this way comes…
19) Any book by Doris Piserchia. A staple of TOR books back in the 70s, Doris told Sci-fi tales that were unpredictable and unconventional. Compelling reading.
20) It’s Like This, Cat. Emily Neville won the Newbery Medal in 1964 for this coming-of-age story of a fourteen-year-old boy growing up in New York City. Though I was only an eleven or twelve year-old country boy when I read this book, it left a lasting impression. Not only did it have a cool cat in it, but I got a vicarious thrill every time David, the main character, got close to having a real girlfriend in his life. The story is so well-told and crafted that I was David, absorbing all the details of his journeys through the big city, his trials and tribulations, his first love. But then again, isn’t that what any good book does- puts you there in the world the author has gone to so much trouble to create?
21) Harriet the Spy. Coming out about the same time as “It’s Like This, Cat,” this wonderful tale by Louise Fitzhugh follows the adventures of Harriet, a girl who would rather watch people surreptitiously than interact with them. Her spying on others fit right in with my introverted nature, and inspired me to start keeping a journal- a habit I maintained for some thirty years. But like Harriet, I leaned that there are drawbacks to sitting on the sidelines of life. Also, like Harriet, my journal eventually fell into the wrong hands, much to my anger and embarrassment. But the main character’s trials and tribulations push her toward becoming more social and outgoing- something that took me much longer to learn.
22) P.G. Wodehouse books, from 1930-1950. They never fail to make me laugh- especially poor old Bertie.