Ten books Challenge

A facebook friend of mine challenged me to list the ten books I have read that have stayed with me. ¬†At first I was thinking that meant my favorite books but that is different from “stayed with me.” Books that have stayed with me are books that changed my reading habits or my likes or dislikes. First, I would like to start with my favorite books.

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This book was the first book I received in a series from Easton Press of the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. I wanted to acquire a library of classics at that time, and this preselected series seemed like a good way to start. I had read Moby Dick in high school English class and I was probably too young or immature to appreciate it. It is an American book and everything about it is American from the mixture of people coming to work the whalers to the Bible banging minister preaching down on the docks. I really understood how the whale and Ahab were symbolically one and the obsession to kill the whale was his inner turmoil to suppress his animalistic dark side. I also enjoyed reading about the whale biology and the aside chapters that were thrown in. I “got it” this time.

2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This is the original story that the movie, Heart of Darkness was based on. It also has a lot of psychological symbology in it although I did not like the book for that reason. The gist of it is it shows civilization’s inhumanity and Nature as evil and dark. What I like about it is the excellent writing style. Conrad was born in Poland and was taught several languages as a child but not English. He ended up in England and was working aboard a ship that had an English crew. He learned English quickly in order to pass a proficiency test in seamanship in order to get better pay. He was about 20 when he sailed on that ship and wrote Heart of Darkness when he was 30. His descriptions of the landscape and waterways are like looking at a painting they are so beautiful.It is amazing that someone who learned English as a second language could write so well.

3. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I enjoyed reading this book and others as a kid and enjoyed them all over again when I read them to my kids.

4. Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I enjoyed this book and others by Kipling when I was a kid, reading during the summer.

5. Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Tolstoy. I enjoyed a good story, historical fiction and good writing style. This was one of the first books that was ever written as a novel as we know them today. War and Peace is famous for being famously long, but I enjoyed it. It has a lot of battle scenes in it and a first, I was going to skip them and pick up the story when it moved on. That would have been a huge loss to me because it was amazing how Tolstoy would describe the battles against Napoleon’s forces as they were fought in those days. No one had a good map of the terrain, lots of people could not read, and there were no phones. The commander would tell a battalion of soldiers to show up at a certain place on a certain day, and sometimes chunks of the army would get lost or get the date wrong and not know there was a battle raging somewhere. There was a good scene that I remember on a bridge where the citizens were leaving and crossing the bridge and the army was trying to get across the bridge as well and the attacking army taking over the rear. It was pandemonium that was well described and made the reader “see” the battles and the chaos of War.

6. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Really anything by him because I love the humor of his writing and the good storytelling. He seems to break all the rules and put together a great book. It is also interesting to read the controversial book that got a fatwa put on him by a Mullah for being blasphemous. I really didn’t appreciate how some people could take offense to a very funny story, but some people have no sense of humor when it comes to religion. I am always puzzled by this but there you are. If you are interested in an autobiographical story of what his life was like under the fatwa, read Joseph Anton. It was really ridiculous what he went through.

7. Harry Potter books are on this list as a “dislike” because of a realization I had after reading them. This series made me understand that what I like in a book is good style and expertise in a writer as well as the tale. The storyline can only get you so far. I really like the story of Harry Potter and the imaginary world of Hogsworth. But the writing just was not great. An example of an A+ for spinning a great yarn but a strong B on the writing. I never finished the books since they read more and more like a comic book of dialog to me.

8. Robin Hobb books. Really good world-crafting and imagination plus good writing in the fantasy genre.

9. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Connan Doyle. The first of the type of book we now know of as crime novels or detective novels. He set the stage for many many authors to write mysteries like this and I enjoy them all.

10 Agatha Christie books. I enjoyed these as a kid and enjoyed trying to figure out “who-dun-it.” I particularly enjoy the “closed room” mystery story type. This is a situation where an event like a snow storm or something strands a small group of characters in a place where no one can get in or out. Then the crime occurs and we have to guess who the perpetrator is because they are locked in. A recent popular book used this device in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

So, that is my list of 10 books that have stayed with me. There are so many more that didn’t make the list though. I will sneak in a few more under the category of current favorites. The Book Thief for excellent use of the narrator and the style of stating what you are about to read and tantalizing us to read on. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergese for excellent use of suspense and super-skill at changing scenes while leaving the reader hanging. Historical Fiction by Bernard Cornwell because they are a pleasure. Anything by Michael Chabon because he writes well and is funny. Phillip Roth period novels because I keep thinking he is going to win a Nobel Prize someday but he keeps getting more and more out-of-date. Well, that is enough for now. I hope the kids enjoy reading my list. Mom.