Yesterday, I was idly scrolling through my Facebook home page when I happened upon an interesting post. A woman I know, who is a well known and widely published author herself, had been asked to list her ten all time favorite books and authors.
I was surprised that not many of my favorites were on her list. Oh well, different strokes for different folks, as they say. But reading her list set me to thinking about my own list. Limited to no more than ten, who and what would I choose?
In no particular order, I give you my ten:
1) Isaac Bashevis Singer, A Day of Pleasure. Also, Satan in Goray, Shosha, The Magician of Lublin and just about every other story Singer wrote about the lives of the Eastern European Jews before WWII. His later stories, set in New York, have never interested me as much.
2) Loren Eiseley, whose books I still carry around as if they were holy writ. Perhaps they are. If I could only take one book with me to a deserted island, it would be The Invisible Pyramid, although my first encounter with Eiseley was at age 18 when my father mailed me a copy of The Night Country. Eiseley's memoir, All the Strange Hours, is probably my favorite memoir.
3) Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha. Don Quijote was my father's favorite book. It took me a while to understand the depth of Don Quijote. When I was young, I could not see the tragic yet heroic sense of life beneath the comic buffoonery of the old knight. But in my mid twenties, I dipped into Don Quijote again and the tragedy of Don Quijote became, for me, the tragedy of every man. The fictional character of Don Quijote was and still is more real to me than many people I've actually known in the flesh. And of course, the wisdom of the quotes and proverbs of Don Quijote are as well known in Spanish as are Shakespeare's in English. Like Shakespeare, Cervantes had an intimate understanding of the human heart.
4) Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain. I could read Cold Mountain over and over (and I have!) for the beauty of the language. Set in Western Carolina, which is geographically and culturally much the same as my native East Tennessee, the imagery and language of Cold Mountain delight me. And the richly drawn characters, depicting humanity in its entire depraved and noble panoply, are both particular and universal.
5) William Faulkner, Light in August. I love the unrestrained stream of consciousness in this book, and Faulkner is, I think, the quintessential southern writer. His observations on the false moral rectitude of a certain class of white southerners and the ugly legacy of slavery in the American South is unparalleled. (By the way, you can listen to the very brief speech William Faulkner gave upon his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature at this link: https://soundcloud.com/rahrens87/william-faulkner-nobel-prize-1
6. Hans Christian Andersen, Andersen's Fairy Tales. An old copy of Andersen's Fairy Tales was my first favorite book. I read those stories over and over, curled up in the rocking chair downstairs. My favorites were The Little Mermaid and The Swans. The book had been my mother's when she was a child, the only book she owned, a gift inscribed with Merry Christmas in the 1920s. The essential quality in all of the Andersen stories is, I think, a tender, sympathetic heart for the suffering of others. In that sense, Andersen's stories are Biblical. A little while back, I wrote a set of piano pieces for children based on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. You'll find them on The Listening Room page of my other website, Lily Cat Music for Kids.
7. And speaking of Biblical, I would have to include the King James version of the Gospel of Luke, the physician who relates the story of Jesus and his disciples in such moving and poetic, yet plain spoken, language.
8. Gabriel Garcia Marquez!!!! I think I read One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1972 or 73. I read it straight through in one weekend, stretched on the couch, laughing uproariously at times. Marquez's gift is to make the fabulous and absurd apparent in the ordinary. Like Singer's A Day of Pleasure, and Eiseley's All the Strange Hours, Marquez' autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, is a revealing, beautifully written memoir of a keen observer (Marquez was a journalist before taking up the novel.) But my all time favorite among so many favorites written by Marquez is his masterpiece The General in his Labyrinth. Like Beethoven's 9th symphony, it is the product of a titan working at the height of his powers.
9. Stephen King's The Stand. I read The Stand one summer in the 1980s when I lived alone in a hot apartment on Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville. I still associate that book with open windows, curtains wafting in a hot breeze and the sound of traffic and lawn mowers. I'm not really into horror-fantasy anymore (old age, I suspect) but I've always thought that Stephen King is the unparalleled master of the genre. The Stand is about as good as horror-fantasy gets. And honestly, I'm not so sure that the premise of the plot, a pandemic that kills off ninety nine percent of the human population, isn't prophecy instead of fantasy. As our deluded sense of invincibility escalates, I wonder if we won't finally be humbled as a species by a microbe (ebola?)
10. Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five. Cat's Cradle is essentially about scientific hubris. There was (and is) a lot of that in the little Secret City where I grew up, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city founded on and sustained by the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Slaughterhouse Five (The Children's Crusade) is a an anti war polemic which should have been required reading for every chicken hawk in the Bush/Cheney administration who thoughtlessly thrust the children of others into harm's way for what? Hell! I still don't know. "And so it goes."
I just hung up the phone from talking with my friend, Barbara, who tells me she's been seeing a lot of 'Ten Best' lists on Facebook lately. Oh well, as usual, I'm late to the party. But so far, I've only seen one book list and besides, not everyone is on Facebook.
I'd love to hear about other people's favorite authors. If you have some recommendations, I hope you'll share them in the comments section below. I just turned the blog comments back on today in hopes that the spammers will have gotten discouraged and gone away.
Note to Spammers: NO, I do NOT today or ever want to buy any Louis Vuitton or Nike knock offs!
As always, I ask you to please share Dogwood Daughter. I'm an indie artist and dependent on kind folks like you. Thank you!
Be Well and Good Luck,