Monday, December 19, 2011

The Most Important List of All BOOKS TO READ list.

I keep it in a little memo pad that looks like this and is dedicated to book lists entirely.
I record all of the books I've read, the ones I want to read, those that I am in progress reading and forgot about and need to return to, those worth re-reading or book-clubbing, and quotes or ideas I love from particular texts. I think everyone should keep one of these little guys and I favor the whimsical looking ones.  I've been neglecting my Book List Memo Pad lately and decided to do some housekeeping on it and boy are there a LOT of books I need to read!!

The TO BE READ list includes:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Sepharad by Antonio Molina
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns
The Day it Rained Forever by Ray Bradbury
In Dubious Battle by Steinbeck
Great Expectations by Dickens (this is one I keep starting and get stuck on, not sure if its worth it)
The Dharma Dums by Kerouac
The Metamorphosis by Kafka
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Letters From the Earth by Mark Twain
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Pilate's Wife by Antoinette May
Everything every written by Hemingway (hell of an objective, I know)

Just to name a few. There are pages and pages of books to be read!

Now for a few recommends of books I've read this past year:

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
This book is intense to say the least. It is not for the weak-minded or those susceptible to heart-palpitations. By the middle of this book you are so involved with the characters that you may stay up for 2 days straight to finish it.  It alternates between hopefulness and heartbreak and tears the American Dream facade of the 1950s to shreds.  It really gets to the soft marrow inside the bone--the horrors and secrets of everyday life and the difficulty of belonging to the adult world.
What is particularly interesting about this novel is that it was written in 1961 but has all the cynical truth of a book written in the 1980s or 90s with the knowledge of hindsight.  I found it refreshing to see the obstacles of the time period through a man's thoughts rather than just the listless disillusioned housewife. In short, this book is smart.

The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
If you are a historian or a woman or a dude who loves strong female characters or someone who needs a fire lit under their butt, these books are a must read.  They will motivate you. They will make you laugh and cry, sometimes minutes apart. They will make you drink good tea like your life depends on it.
If you want to dedicate yourself start with the first, and my favorite, The Tea Rose. It is centered around a 19th century East London beauty trying to scrape by for her family by working in a tea factory when everything goes to hell (her mom is murdered by Jack the Ripper!) and she ends up fleeing with her younger brother to America where she comes into her own and establishes herself in the tea industry and...I'll try not to include any spoilers here.
The second book, The Winter Rose, is set in the beginning of the 20th century and has all of the original characters from the first novel and introduces new ones, including a new heroine that is a brilliant female doctor trying to help the poor of Whitechapel, to put it simply. There is another main character who is my favorite, Willa, introduced in this book.  She is one bad ass chick, and that is putting it lightly.  She is a mountaineer and goes to colonized Africa to climb Kilimanjaro spoilers here!! But this book kept my up until 2 am with Eli lying in bed next to me laughing at me, exclaiming over (and sometimes to) my book, crying a lot and then laughing and then needing to tell him all about it. Lovely.
So now we come to The Wild Rose, where Willa truly becomes the protagonist. This book is centered around WWI and even has Lawrence of Arabia as a character! That is what makes these books so fun--they are historical fiction but are bursting with real people and places and events. Donnelly is an intelligent writer and knows how to research, as evidenced by her extensive bibliographies. This is not chick lit crap, I promise.

Old School by Tobias Wolff
I've been re-reading this book for years and years and I still love it and the way that his words take me by surprise.  I actually went to a launch party at the Downtown Library that Woolf attended and got to meet him (we talked about Tolstoy and it had a great influence on me).  I've long since lost that autographed book but my new copy is just as dogeared. This book is incredible!! If you love words, literature, history, or just a damn good story, BUY IT. Don't let this one get away.  It is set in a boy's prep school in the 1960s and addresses numerous complex issues (elitism, religious persecution, growing up, stealing, competition) in fresh, atypical ways.  It is written so well that even for those who aren't book freaks by myself this is an easy read that you can devour in several sittings and it is easy to get into. I love the quote that the book opens with, which sums up so many of its themes:

Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.

-Mark Strand, "Elegy for My Father"

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