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