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Sunday, June 09, 2002

Top Ten List

"There's more to life than books, but not much more." The Smiths

I’m not as fond of list making and favorites as most people. Upon a bit of reflection I feel that a top ten list of books isn’t a bad idea simply because it may let someone, who thought otherwise, know that books are important to some people. In a culture where books seem to be increasingly irrelevant this should be the duty of all who read. Here goes.

1) The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe

I have read this book about 8 times and I defy anyone to open the book to any page and not find something brilliant. Every chapter is a well-crafted short story and can be read as one. Wolfe is an excellent reporter and this novel is a snapshot of NY in the late 20th century.

2) La Tia Julia Y El Escribidor, Mario Vargas Llosa

It's called Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter in English. This is by my favorite Latin American author who once ran for president of Peru. Writers are actually important people in some parts of the world and not just the academic douche-bags who make up most of American letters in our time. This novel is uproariously funny in telling the tale of Llosa’s teenage romance and marriage.

3) L’Etranger, Albert Camus

The first book I read in French. I was in college and studying some boring-as-hell economics text. I was wandering the stacks trying to wake up when I came across this novel. I sat down and began reading and was thrilled that my French was adequate to propel me through this most existentialist of existential novels.

4) Kurt Vonnegut

Any and all of his novels. I discovered Vonnegut as a 17 year old kid bored to tears with school and equally bored with high school social customs. I wasn’t a geek but was disturbed by the inequality of life around me. Vonnegut made me think that maybe I wasn’t the weird one or at least it was OK to be weird. What I especially like about Vonnegut is that he is still as funny as fuck even in his 70’s. I hope I can be mildly hip and relevant as I get older.

5) Germinal, Emile Zola

Zola is Tom Wolfe’s hero and thus mine. Zola wrote this critique of the terrible conditions of the mines with an even-handedness that is rarely seen in the best journalism, let alone in literature.

6) The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

I recently reread this book and I found his racism and bigotry disturbing and disappointing. I will refrain from criticizing Hemingway because he was a product of his time, as are most mortals. I read it first when I was a hick kid of 17. It made me want to live in Europe and learn to speak French and Spanish. I did. That’s pretty strong stuff for a novel. I am grateful to Hemingway for inspiring a kid to dream and learn (often the same thing).

7) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

After Ken Burns’ biography film on Twain, I read Life on the Mississippi for the first time. Laugh out loud funny stuff just like Huck Finn.

8) Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

A vague pastiche on the life of Somerset Maugham. I have read this 800 page book three times, and each time when I finish, I am sorry it has to end.

9) The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I remember back when I lived in D.C. I went over to a friend’s house. We were meeting there before heading out for a night on the town. While the gals were getting ready I found a copy of Gatsby and started rereading it for the umpteenth time. When everyone was ready to go a half hour later, it was too late, I wasn’t going anywhere. Someone took a picture of me reading that night and that is my favorite picture of myself.

10) Charles Dickens

Like Vonnegut I have to lump everything I have read by Dickens together. He changed the society in which he lived by what he wrote. I like writers who have the desire and the ability to make a better world.

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