Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: My Favorite Reads

It was Kimberly's week to pick, but I am so down with this Thursday Thirteen. When I was little, my parents lived in South Haven and worked in Kalamazoo, which meant that we had about an hour commute each way every day. My mother hated the commute (she's always hated driving) and I was little and wanted to be entertained in the car. For obvious reasons, she couldn't read to me while she drove, so I learned to read young. Like, three. I'm still a reader.

In no particular order...

13. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy. This is an unbelievable book by an unbelivable author. It spans 80 years and two continents. Jordan Elliot is maybe one of the most conflicted, audacious, realistic characters I've ever read. I love Pat Conroy and all of his books with a sort of religious ecstacy, and the two times that I've met him, it's been all I could do to not throw my arms around him and kiss him on the mouth. I love everything he's ever written, I love to hear him talk, I love even his memoirs related to food and basketball. I think history will find that he is one of the most talented writers who's ever lived.

12. From Potter's Field, by Patricia Cornwell. Poor Patricia Cornwell. Her Kay Scarpetta novels started out so incredibly promising and with such rich characters. The last few have been such a shadow of their former selves that I didn't even finish the last one, because it seemed so...flat. Like she had a contractual obligation to write it, and couldn't have been more bored with herself. But From Potter's Field, which is about fourth or fifth in the series, was absolutely amazing, scary and gory and full of feeling and emotion.

11. The Tess Monaghan series, by Laura Lippman. Nothing says great writing to me like an author who can truly create a sense of place and time, and nowhere on earth has an inherant sense of place like the city of Baltimore. Washington D.C. is, in so many ways, just another anonymous big city, except for the government stuff and the monuments, but Baltimore, which is less than an hour away, seems to avoid that effortlessly by being dirty and working-class and colorfully eccentric. Laura Lippman's character Tess Monaghan is a former journalist turned private investigator, and Lippman's writing and sense of place in all of these books capture this strange, totally un-city-like city so beautifully.

10. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I loved this whole series growing up. I just look at the cover, and I'm 11 years old and it's July and I'm lying on the swim float at my grandparents' cottage and reading all day without interruption, until I'm totally sunburned. I would almost want to have a daughter, just so that she could discover these books for herself.

9. Bag of Bones, by Stephen King. I am not a huge fan of a lot of his stuff, I think a lot of it is gratuitously violent and gory, but I will be the first to sing the praises of Stephen King's talent. He does what he does better than really almost anybody except for maybe Edgar Allen Poe. There are elements of his work very well represented here, especially The Telltale Heart. Bag of Bones is probably the best ghost story I've ever read.

8. Anything by Beverly Cleary. I absolutely CANNOT WAIT until Max is old enough to meet Ramona, Beezus, Henry Huggins, Ribsy, Ralph S. Mouse, Mitch and Amy, and everyone else. These were my best friends in childhood. I was much less puzzled by these kids than other kids around me every day, whose behavior was totally unpredictable and therefore kind of terrifying to me.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I went a small, fairly progressive non-parochial private school for elementary and junior high school, but in the public schools in our community at that point, there was a real move to get rid of a lot of "questionable" literature. My wonderful genius of an English teacher, the late Rosalie Blanks, was extremely disturbed by this movement, and since she realized most, if not all of us, would be entering public schools and what we would be exposed to would be limited by the short-sighted nature of who was designing the public school curricula at the time, she exposed us to a lot of this questionable literature. I was in the seventh grade when I read To Kill A Mockingbird, and thanks to Mrs. Blanks, I fell in love with these rich, amazing characters, this almost gothic deep-south, and the theme of dignity and self-respect in dark and unexpected places.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I think that the Harry Potter series will eventually be regarded as more than just fantasy, but as important in the coming-of-age genre of literature as Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, and Empire of the Sun. This is by far my favorite in the series. I've read it twice since it came out in July, and it's moving and sweet and suspenseful and just takes you away like not many books can do. I am so sad that the series is over. What an achievement this series is.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I am no fan of Oprah or her book club (Oh Oprah, thank you so much for introducing the ignorant, nose-picking morons of the world to literature. I actually read BEFORE you made it cool, but whatever. You're the coolest.) but I loved Barbara Kingsolver as soon as Taylor Greer assumed responsibility for an abused, molested toddler who was abandoned like an unwanted kitten, and then fought to keep her, in The Bean Trees. The Poisonwood Bible is just lovely--it takes place in the Congo, and beautifully symbolizes the imbalance of power in relationships between people and the marks that it leaves.

4. Waltzing The Cat by Pam Houston. I am a little bit in awe of how incredibly cool Pam Houston and her characters are. We're talking about whitewater river guides, professional photographers, and hunting guides. She writes mostly short stories, with a book of essays and a novel thrown in. I love Waltzing the Cat, because there's a fantasy at the end of the book where the main character, a photographer, meets herself as a child, and the child-her shows the grownup-her a bunch of photos of herself at formative moments throughout her childhood, and tells her what the "real" story behind the photos is. This is only one brilliant moment in this overwhelmingly brilliant book.

3. White Oleander by Janet Fitch. More Oprah and her book club. Gorgeous writing in a heartbreaking story. I just ached through this entire book--for poor, unloved Astrid, for insecure Claire wearing all her feelings on the outside of her skin, for Paul, who is so normal and unscraped-away-at despite everything, and in the end, when Ingrid finally shows some real love for Astrid and allows her to break away, it's like the sun finally breaking through the clouds.

2. Running With Sicssors by Augusten Burrows. I never thought that I could laugh so hard at anything as awful and sad as this book is. It's a memoir of how a kid is abandoned by his thoroughly batshit mother to live with her psychiatrist and his family, and the incredibly high level of dysfunction that passes for normal in their house, including his sexual relationship with a gay pedophile, and how he finally breaks away. The family of the psychiatrist evidently recently settled a lawsuit with Burrows in regards to his portrayal of his experiences with them, according to his blog. I also highly recommend Burrows' followup, Dry, in which he is nearly fired from his six-figure job at an advertising agency due to raging alcoholism and drug abuse, goes to rehab, falls in love with a crack addict, relapses, loses his best friend to AIDS, and recovers again. Again, how could this POSSIBLY be funny? I don't know, but it is.

1. Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I am so late to the party with this, but I don't care. This was a fabulous story, told brilliantly, with such sympathetic and richly-drawn and complicated characters. I also saw the HBO miniseries, and it only really helped cement Phillip Seymour Hoffman's spot on my Celebrity Hump Island.


merseydotes said...

Have you read Plainsong by Kent Haruf? One of my favorites.

Jana said...

Yes, yes, yes to numbers 7 & 10 especially.

Did you ever read the Emily series by LM Montgomery? I loved that one even more than Anne.