My Favorite Books
These books have resonated within me like no others.
Before the main entrée, perhaps it's worth noting my favorite authors in alphabetical order, a go-to list that I only expect excellence from every time:
Gabriel García Márquez
If you haven't tried them, now's the time!
The Autumn Of The Patriarch - Gabriel García Márquez
Seven chapters comprised of seven glorious sentences tell the reader any and all that could be possibly said of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Decrepit in a way that only Gabo can master.
Brave New World - Audous Huxley
A great poke at a possible future of mankind. At what cost, utopia? Is utopia even worth pursuing in this sense? Is this the logical extent of political correctness?
Don Quixote - Miguel Cervantes
So amazingly ahead of its time, this satire of nobility written over 500 years ago feels apt today. That's why they call it a masterpiece, by the way.
Dune (series) - Frank Herbert
A sci-fi take on messiahs, but with so many beautiful twists and leaps of mind and creativity that one can skip past the ridiculous religious overtones of christ and monks in another guise. To complete the series: Dune: Messiah, Children Of Dune, God Emperor Of Dune, Chapterhouse: Dune, and Heretics Of Dune.
El General En Su Laberinto (The General In His Labyrinth) - Gabriel García Márquez
Nothing says decay in Latin America like this! My personal favorite in the beautifully decrepit caudillo canon of Gabriel García Márquez. A stylized end for the legendary Bolivar.
The Good Soldier Svejk and... - Jaroslav Hasek.
A great Czech wit needles the witless in the form of a soldier who finds the good in all of the bad, which causes endless consternation to those who want to get this round peg into that square hole.
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The socialist masterpiece that speaks to all of the injustice done in the name of selfish profit. A recurring story of a particularly Twentieth Century scale. Man takes advantage of man cruelly.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The idle rich masterpiece of the 20s, here is the jazz age writ upon the manse via a glimpse into the surviving animal that is man.
The Hobbit (and its ensuing The Lord of the Rings) - J.R.R. Tolkien
Fantasy's standard-bearer: all of the others look up to this, and with good reason. A mix of magic and purpose, predestination and free will under the benign glow of King Arthur's aura. This is so well-woven a tale of fantasy that it made me swear off of the genre as "done". Legend, lore, language - this most English of books actually puts King Arthur in a very small place indeed. It speaks to great deeds, good vs. evil, and a longing for better times that were and can be again. It bleeds nostalgia, plus a return to our higher ideals that come in the form of the elves - but in their passing, acknowledges that it's our age now. Beautiful, and every bit worthy and satisfying for the decades that came between my readings of it. The Lord Of The Rings series is The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return Of The King.
Immortality - Milan Kundera
Kundera always plumbs the depths of the shallowness which surrounds us. Everyone wears a mask on some level.
I Served the King of England - Bohumil Hrabal
This affirmation of life and optimism is contagious. The hero's sense of adventure and his witless capacity to turn the worst into the best is quite a feat.
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
A book to confirm the worst fears about mankind, and how we can truly be animals. A telling story of the horrors of immigration which instead led to a backlash against its sidestory, the gruesome world of meat processing filth. Irony, indeed.
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Someone better keep an eye on the kids, because when these group is found alone on an island it's the law of the jungle. Not pretty, but often referenced for good reason.
The Mosquito Coast - Paul Theroux
A genius cracks up under a watchful eye. Even with the best of intentions, or the most noble of thinking, ego has a way of getting in the way.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Character studies at this level are rare indeed. Phenomenal. This is the source of Kesey's acclaim, an unforgettable look into the insane asylum and one man's bucking the system.
One Hundred Years Of Solitude/Cien Años de Soledad - Gabriel García Márquez
The phenomenal story of Macondo, the imaginary town in Colombia that serves as the vehicle for this stunning and epic tale of a family. The color, the history, and the taste of this one has no equal as it takes on mythic and mystic proportions, a fairy tale woven in the blood of the caudillos of Latin America. The saga of one hell of a family in turn tells a story of Colombia, and the stifling experience that Latin America has lived for so long.
Pastoralia - George Saunders
Absolutely twisted, and playing strongly to the fringes of modern culture (and the lack thereof). Pop culture gone mad, and the most American of books.
Shadow Country - Peter Matthiessen
A fictionalized work that tries to tell the non-fictitious story of Edgar Watson, a colorful character who figures into the history of the remote Thousand Islands area of SW Florida at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. The story is interesting in itself, that of a rogue and a gentleman on the frontier who ultimately is blown to pieces by a posse of his neighbors, but it is the telling in three voices over three different tales that makes this unique. It is additionally a sophisticated primer on race relations in the south after the Civil War. Mathiesson's opus, I believe, and his library is not a shabby resumé.
Sophie's Choice - William Styron
What does it mean when one is faced with the most cruel of choices in the most hopeless of situations? A heavy, ponderous look at the fallout of the Holocaust.
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
America's darkest history - "race" relations - is exposed here under the aid of a child's eye. Stunning, not least of which the voice of the narrator.
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test - Tom Wolfe
A reallife messiah of sorts was Ken Kesey, and Wolfe brilliantly describes the movement and the emotion from the inside of the 60's Merry Pranksters.
The Great Railway Bazaar - Paul Theroux
If ever there was a book to get one on the road, this might be it. Trains from London to Viet Nam to Japan and the Trans-Siberian back. Cultures are needled as Mr. Theroux suffers increased discomfort, but never with an idle eye.
The Innocents Abroad - Mark Twain
The wit that is Twain is trained wholly on the pretension of the "Grand Europe Trip" and then it's on to the "Holy Land". Twain spares no one, least of all himself, in getting to the heart of the matter. And a corrupt, overpaid, and false heart it is indeed when one compares the buildup of a travel brochure to the reality of experience. The master at work.
A People's History Of The United States - Howard Zinn.
U.S. history told from everyday people, and from the view of the press of the time, as opposed to the "Great Man" view of history. Bleak realities on which the empire has been formed make for sober but fascinating reading - this should be required reading in school!
The Right Stuff - Tom Wolfe
A hero's hero kind of book. The story of the US space program, unvarnished yet still magnificent in many senses. A tale told with it's blemishes properly explored.
Strunk & White's Elements of Style - Strunk, White
Because it pays to write well, and succinctly. Were I only to learn to do so!
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