Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Five favorite books

Heidi did this a while back, and I always meant to do it as well. Then Christmas happened and I lost track of it and I thought why not now? What she did was very simple - she picked her five favorite books. When I sat down to do it, I found out that it only seemed simple. I thought I'd give it a go anyway.

1) Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

This is hands down my favorite book. It's not a high art. It's not great literature. It's not even particularly original, borrowing its structure liberally from Salinger's A Catcher In The Rye. But nonetheless, this book spoke to me. New York City in this book spoke to me. The unnamed narrator spoke to me, adding countless lines to my vocabulary ("there's a certain shabby nobility in failing all by yourself" is one of many.) Without this book, I would be without "men don't trust other men who don't watch the Super Bowl" which started me down the road to being really interested in the nature and definition of masculinity. Add to that it reads like a train running down the track at breakneck speed. To borrow from the book itself, it is decadence, debauchery, and drugs and how one man finds redemption from a world spinning out of control. Highly HIGHLY recommended.

2) And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts

This book literally changed my life. Randy Shilts harrowing account of the early days of the AIDS epidemic was the first thing I ever read on AIDS that really crystallized the reality of it for me. It reads like something you hope is fiction, as otherwise healthy young gay men start dropping like flies from obscure illnesses. It also chronicles the incompetence of the federal government, scientists more interested in notoriety than in curing sick people and the deafening silence of a man named Ronald Reagan. Reading this book made my walk past the Stonewall Inn in New York and through "gay New York City" in 2008 a very somber affair. I read this book every couple of years - you should too.

3) A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

Although I haven't been able to read anything by Irving since A Son of the Circus, I knew he'd be on this list. It came down to this one and The World According To Garp, and Owen Meany won by a hair. Like all of Irving's books, it is sweeping and covers decades and is chock full of tragedy and enormous amounts of what appears to be insignificant detail. But it's also funny and amazing and I love how everything that's happened in the previous 400 pages all comes together for an ending I really didn't see coming. This really was Irving at his peak. He's become pretty much insufferable now.

4) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

I didn't think I gave a shit about mountain climbing, and the fact is, I don't. But I sure did while I was reading this book. A first hand account of an attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Everest that goes terribly wrong, this book grabs you by the shirt in the and doesn't let go. Krakauer's writing is top notch and even the technicalities of mountain climbing are become not only interesting but also important in understanding the story. It topped his Under The Banner of Heaven which I expected to like more than I did and even Into The Wild. The man was truly humbled by his experience on the mountain.

5) The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

Heidi cited The Adventures of Kavalier & Klay in her list, and I enjoyed that book tremendously as well. But for me, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has the edge. I think that the fact that I am male and she is female made all the difference here. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is really a book about guys. It's about how they relate to each other and how women affect that. It's about unrequited love and lust and the crazy things that you can only do in your youth. I expected it to make me a bit sad for missed opportunities, but really it didn't. It sometimes tries a little too hard to be literary (a trap Kavalier & Klay avoids), but I somehow managed to forgive that. Six months after reading it, I have a hard time remembering what actually happened, but I can remember how it made me feel. And that's a sign of a good book.


Bess said...

now i want to read them all! so many books, so little time.

Myfizzypop said...

I'm familiar with most the authors on this list, but not read any of these books :/ I have read the Mormon massacre one by Jon K though... my favourite book? Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Read it first over 10 years ago and multiple times since...

P.Viktor said...

I really loved Bright Lights, Big City, but then two of my all time favourite books are Catcher in the Rye and Plath's Bell Jar (have you read the latter?) so it was a no-brainer. I'm very keen to read the Randy Shilts book since you gave it such a high recommendation, esp. as it ties in with a short story I am thinking about writing. Great list! P

mary35 said...

Love Owen Meany, and I was also amazed how things came together in the end.

I've read Into the Wild and Kavalier and Klay. I may have to try Into Thin Air and Mysteries as Pittsburg as well.