Books, A List

So that’s my list. Like I said, I think it’s an interesting reflection of my own personality in a way: Lots of dark perspectives, lots of humor, lots of the fantastic. I did have to prune a few to make it to an even ten so here’s my short list of honorable mentions, just to round it out a little. These are in no particular order.

  • Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller No other book before or since has permitted me to make huge leaps in my ability to reconcile my often conflicted thoughts on human spirituality and the role of God in our lives. Donald Miller’s introspective, often rambling account of his own spiritual journey is honest-to-a-fault, funny, insightful and in many ways beautiful. He actually helped me understand the very terrestrial nature of jazz music as well, and solidify the notion of altruism and how it can be practically applied. BLJ didn’t quite make the cut mostly because I don’t know that I would feel the need to read it again but it may be telling that I vividly remember long passages from this book better than some of the others that appear above. A great book regardless of its status in my top ten and one I’d recommend to just about everybody (regardless of spiritual orientation).
  • Moneyball – Michael Lewis Even though I’m a born and bred San Francisco Giants fan, I don’t have the sort of juvenile loathing of the across-the-Bay American Leaguers that are the Oakland Athletics some do. Unless they’re facing the Giants in the World Series, I guess. Anyway, I never really followed the A’s that closely but I paid enough attention that it was kind of cool to read a behind-the-scenes book about them. Then about 1/3 of the way through I realized Moneyball isn’t about the A’s or even really about baseball. It’s about solving problems that people think already have solutions. It’s about not accepting that closed systems have to remain closed. It’s about not listening to the old guard just because they exist. Moneyball is a well-written, strangely exciting book for what amounts to a pseudo-biography of an otherwise unknown ballplayer who did nothing more than keep a perennially underfunded ball club competitive just by thinking outside the box (scores). Moneyball barely missed the cut just because, like any moment-in-time nonfiction book, the real-life epilogue was so much more disappointing than the book’s finale.
  • Where The Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls I read this book in fifth or sixth grade and to date it is the only book that has ever made me have to put it down because I couldn’t keep reading through the tears. I’m not sure what it says about me that the death of two dogs moved me to tears where even the most emotional demise of a human in other books could not, but I know it says in part that this is a beautiful account of the relationship between best friends. Rawls’ tale of Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann and their raccoon hunting adventures is poignant, poetic and obviously more than a little sad. I left it off the master list because it’s one of those that I don’t know if I want to revisit not because of how it affected me the first time but because I’m afraid it won’t stand up. I kind of want my one truly emotional connection to remain untarnished by my now-adult’s viewpoint and that kind of disqualifies it from the list on a technicality.
  • The Odessa File – Frederick Forsyth Somehow I managed to get assigned this book in high school and was delighted to find that in spite of most assigned reading books being dull and plodding, this was a modern thriller with a spectacularly cool hero, a riveting mystery of a plot and, you know, Nazis. This is one book that fell off the list because I actually did go back and re-read it, fairly recently, and found that while it was still pretty good it wasn’t as devastatingly brilliant as I recalled it. I guess context was everything and while I still find no true fault with the novel, my memory elevated it beyond its status as just a really good thriller into this kind of idealized adventure. In truth, it’s more like The Da Vinci Code, if The Da Vinci Code was written by someone with a working command of creative writing skill.
So, what’s your favorite book of all time?


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2 comments on this post.

    What a great list! I think some of my favorites are Pride & Prejudice (obviously), The Master and Margarita (a hilarious Soviet-era political novel), and The Phantom Tollbooth (this lovely imaginative children’s book). One contender is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, although I’ve read that recently enough that I’m not sure it will stay on the list forever.

    I will never read Where the Red Fern grows by choice ever again; I haaaaaaate books where terrible things happen to animals. In contrast, I should read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy again because I loved it.

  2. ironsoap:

    @Julia: I loved the Phantom Tollbooth as well, although I have a hard time remembering much of it other than the fact that I was so, so jealous of Milo’s awesome electric car. It did come back when reading a recent article about it from the New Yorker since it’s coming up on its 50th anniversary and is getting a new edition, but I had a hard time including it since it didn’t really stick with me the way some other children’s books did.

    Like many guys I’ve met, I have a hard time getting over the “but it’s for Giiiirls!” stigma of Jane Austen. I do have one of her novels on my Kindle (it’s probably even P&P) because I have liked several of the screen adaptations and hopefully I’ll get over myself one of these days and actually give it a legitimate chance.

    I’ve added the others you mentioned to my painfully long to-read list.

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