Friday, January 30, 2009

My Top 10 (Plus) Books.

So my writers group presented our top ten books this past week. This is, with one slight alteration, the list I submitted.

1. Crime & Punishment – This is my favorite book. Genius.

2. V. - This is the alteration. For my writer's group I suggested Against the Day. Both are Pynchon. Both are fantastic. It's been a long time since I've read V., but I remember loving it, and I'm gonna read it again once I'm done with the bar.

3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – The best spy novel I’ve ever read. John Le Carre naturally. I’ve enjoyed many of his books, but this one was by far the most gripping.

4. The Master & Margarita – I’m going to steal (and thereby endorse) what Keith Law wrote about this book: “An absolute masterpiece, banned by the Soviets for decades for its subtle yet severe indictment of communism’s many, many failures. The Devil comes to Moscow and exposes its society for all its vapidity, running into the frustrated author The Master and his faithful girlfriend Margarita, a story intertwined with a dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, all stacked with allusions to the Bible and major works of 19th century Russian literature. It is a work of unbridled genius, of acrimonious dissent, and most of all, of hope and faith in humanity.”

5. The Things They Carried – This is a book that should be read by anyone who wants to use fiction as a tool for revealing things about the real world. A Vietnam war book by a vet. Really really powerful. Also gets bonus points because the author is a Minnesotan.

6. Egil’s Saga - Yeah, I know, an Icelandic saga? Seriously? Seriously. These are so much fun to read. This is probably the best of them.

7. Thus Spake Zarathustra – As far as prose goes, it isn’t the greatest. As far as ideas go… it’s easily among the best. Read this hand in hand with Crime & Punishment. Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche are a perfect complement to each other, though they both deserve to be read in their own right as well.

8. Remains of the Day – This might be the best first-person novel I’ve ever read. It’s at least among the best. It’s subtle and powerful. A Booker Prize winner in 1989. So not all that long ago, compared to the rest of my list.

9. The Great Gatsby – I don’t apologize for including an early-highschool book on this list. It’s just a fantastic read, with supremely compelling characters and wonderful pace. Also, bonus points b/c Fitzgerald was from Minny.

10. Demons – Pynchon almost deserved two places on this list. Dostoyevsky does. I had an awfully hard time deciding between The Brothers Karamozov and Demons, but went w/ Demons because it’s the lesser known work. Brother’s K might be the single greatest literary and philosophical/theological accomplishment in history (other than, I suppose, scripture), but you’ve gotta root for the underdog, and between the two, Demons is the underdog. It’s basically the story of the communist revolution. Only it was written years before the communist revolution ever happened. Anyway, read all the Dostoyevsky you can.

DQ’ed from list because they’re not novels:
The Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor – Perfection of the short story. They’re all complete little worlds, with very real and compelling characters. For short stories they can be quite profound, but more than anything, they’re fun to read.

The Areas of My Expertise – John Hodgman. A hilarious fake almanac of complete world knowledge. This is the book that launched him onto The Daily Show and Mac commercials.

He doesn't look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentleman


Jacob said...

I'm guessing from the title "Thus SPAKE Zarathustra" that you didn't read the Walter Kaufmann translation. If you didn't, you might want to pick that one up. His prose is more modern and natural.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Actually, I did read the Kaufmann (almost all of the Neitzsche I've read has been Kaufmann's translations). I've just always been partial to the use of "Spake".

patric said...

i have read none of those. ha!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed THE REMAINS OF THE DAY and MASTER & THE MARGARITA. Regarding the latter, it inspired Mick Jagger to pen SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, one of the Rolling Stones more popular songs.


AGJ said...

Uh, you forget to mention that "The Things They Carried" as an early-highschool book. This stated criteria should not exclude a book, although it is great.

No Ayn Rand references? C'MON! We The Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged (I now understand 9 words in that book). No Rand books in your top ten?

What about the quintessential 1984? Talk about "early-highschool" readings.

You are either reading the wrong books or subscribe to the wrong influences...

I now see where we have diverted pathways.

Shame on you Matthew! No Ayn Rand?!?

Matthew B. Novak said...

I've never read any Ayn Rand, and I have little or no intention to. My understanding is that her writing is hackneyed and heavy-handed, and I reject her philosophy entirely.

Once I'm done with this bar stuff, we'll need to have a nice long chat about philosophy and government and so on and so forth. I think you'd be surprised how a great number of the attributes you prize are actually better achieved through philosophies other than self-interest.

AGJ said...

Wow, I never thought you to be one to brush aside such literary achievements. I am beside myself.
Not all of her writings demand much time or intellect; in fact, Anthem is but a mere 100 pages. The writings of Orwell pale in comparison to the precise work of Anthem.
How can you reject such a philosophy, as you claim, without reading a single work?
Yes, Rand's work is about self interest; and yes it pertains to a philosophy. However, are you arguing her prescribed philosophy is not relevant in regards to the law that you hold so dear?

I am not as academically educated as you have strived to become, but I realize that a balance must be maintained in order for this Great American Experience is to continue.

I will be more than happy to sit down and have this conversation over a few beers. It just may take more that one session of beers.

I urge you to read not only Anthem, but Atlas Shrugged as well. As you are reading these, keep in mind the circumstances and happenings of the western culture of the time.

By the By: I am awaiting the MKart face-off. You Mii holds no chance vs my Mii and the StarCruiser.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to come off as pretensioius or anything, just meant to say, "hear me out on my philosophy." Sounds like you're willing to do that. Over beers sounds really good. Perhaps this summer sometime.

As far as brushing aside... I haven't just brushed them aside, I've considered them and dismissed them for reason. And yeah, I'd argue self-interest fails in regards to the law. But that goes exactly to the core of my philosophy, so... I won't get into it here.

Kart can happen after I take the bar exam. The 26th or beyond. I'll probably get beat pretty bad since I haven't played in ages, but maybe that'll just make victory sweeter!

AGJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AGJ said...

I will agree that you cannot base law primarily on "Self-Interest" alone. In our capitalist society, however, it should be a guiding principle.

Overlying principles of Individual Rights and Reason according to natural law do play a major role in the founding of our nation. This is at the core of most of her writings.

With the backdrop of her world as it was where Nationalism, Socialism, Communism, and Fascism were in direct opposition to the beliefs of our founding fathers, she promoted these three principles (Individual (Self) Interest, Individual Rights, and Individual Freedom). How can one argue against such virtues in the Free-Markets?

If it were not for these three principles, what is the left to drive the individual? What would happen to the want to succeed?

I will agree that Rand may be a bit too conservative for most, but if our previous administrations as well as the current administration relied more on this philosophy, we would not be in the positions that we are today.

We would not be in Iraq. There was no need to invade this country based upon the pretenses of 9/11.

We would not be in the current economic condition. The Free Market would have been left alone to balance itself out. However, the Free Market was bound by too many regulations that afforded individuals, corporations, and Government entities to grow without constraint; that is until nearly every economic bubble burst over the last 10 years.

I believe that you must leave each individual to guide itself and develop its own gifts and talents as God has prescribed. That is where Rand and I differ. She believes that reality is unto nature and the individual as it perceives it to be.

I await our discussions and the butt-kicking that I will dole out on my Star-Cruiser.

Good Luck on the upcoming Bars. While you are being tested, I will be running a tournament.