Thursday, June 04, 2009

Fifteen Sticky Books

This week’s Booking Through Thursday suggests the following: “Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

That’s exactly the way I approached this – making a list of books in less than 15 minutes and then taking a few more minutes to explain why these books are the ones I chose. It was much easier than I thought it would be, and I think that doing it quickly is what makes it an accurate representation of some of the key books from my years of reading.

· Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – This Pulitzer Prize winner is arguably the classic western of all time and is destined to be the book that keeps McMurtry in print forever. Who can forget Gus, Call, and the rest of the crew?
· To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This is another modern classic, one that made a huge impression on me as a young reader and is the book chosen by the city of Houston for The Big Read 2009.
· Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – one of my all-time favorites despite the way Dickens caved in to his critics and changed its ending.
· Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – Another one that had a great impact on me as a young reader because of how easily I could picture myself under similar circumstances.
· Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle - I picked this one up in paperback in Nashville while there on a three-day pass during Army basic training at Ft. Campbell, KY (1968). I read the whole thing on the bus back to Ft. Campbell and had to sneak it into the barracks and hide it for four more weeks because books were forbidden to us during basic and I couldn’t bear to part with it. I still have that paperback, in fact.
· Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates – This is the book (1990) that convinced me that Joyce Carol Oates is a national treasure, one of the most talented and important novelists of my lifetime.
· The Greatest Game Ever Played by Jerry Izenberg – Game Six of the 1986 National League playoffs between the Houston Astros and the New York Mets, and I was there for all 16 innings. I am even quoted by name in this one, so how can I ever forget it?
· Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin – My lifetime admiration of Abraham Lincoln went up another notch when I read this one about Lincoln’s idea to appoint his three biggest rivals to his first cabinet. Goodwin makes this one read almost like a novel.
· Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson – This is the most complete, and easiest read, one volume history of the four years of the American Civil War that I’ve ever found – a great combination.
· Deliverance by James Dickey – I read the book before seeing the movie, thank God, and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Its story of four city boys who find out the hard way that the world is not what they think it is.
· From Here to Eternity by James Jones – Jones, a WWII veteran, wrote what I still consider one of the best novels ever written about that war. I don’t have fond memories of the movie, but the book is one of my favorites.
· Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Just when I thought I had this one all figured out, everything changed and it became a whole different book.
· Resistance by Owen Sheers – I love alternate history (when it is done seriously) and this is one of the best alternate histories I’ve read in years. It is completely believable, one of best “what ifs” about WWII I’ve ever read.
· This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust – This history book explores America’s 19th century ideas about death and it puts the massive death toll of the American Civil war into perspective.
· In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Probably the first “true crime” book I ever read, one that I will always remember because of how Capote was able to mix elements of the novel with elements of nonfiction, effectively creating a whole new genre.


  1. I love that story about your copy of Planet of the Apes! I don't think I've read From Here to Eternity. I'll have to seek out a copy, thanks.

  2. Really interesting list. It's funny you mention In Cold Blood. I wouldn't have thought of it only because it scared me so much but it's true, it's definitely a sticky one! And can anybody feel the same about certain banjo music after Deliverance?!!!

  3. I am currently re-reading In Cold Blood. You listed great books in there!

    Stuck forever and ever!

  4. Great list of books! I agree with you on Lonesome Dove, Great Expectations and The Life of Pie. I thought those books were amazing. I am going to have to rad a few more on your list!

  5. This is a great reading list. Good stuff and a wide variety. What would have happened if the army had caught you with the book? It might almost be worth it just to have the story to tell these many years later.

    I've been looking at James Jones for a little while now. I'm intimidated by the length. Is Eternity a better read than the Thin Red Line?

  6. Because It is Bitter is on my TBR list, and you've just bumped it up a notch - thanks!

  7. Glad you enjoyed that little story, BookFool. I'll have to tell you someday about the evening I got caught sneaking over to the "garbage truck" (a mobile sweets vendor) that was parked near officer's quarters about half a mile from my barracks.

  8. Rhapsody, that's why I'm glad that I read the book before seeing the movie. I think if I'd seen the movie first, the book would have been a whole different experience...not nearly so sticky.

  9. Your list is interesting, Gautami. I've read almost everything on your list and have to agree with you that they are all memorable. It's amazing how many lists include "To Kill a Mockingbird."

  10. Thanks, Myza, I hope you do read some of the others and enjoy them.

  11. C.B., the punishment would have been fairly light, probably something like being ineligible to leave the post again before the end of basic...and that would have caused me to miss two more trips to Nashville, so it would have been a crushing blow to my morale, I suppose.

    As for "From Here to Eternity," you have to take into account how young I was when I read it. I'm not sure that I would rank it above "The Thin Red Line" if I reread each of them today.

  12. I'll look forward to your comments about that one, Biblio. I've only read it the one time, so I may have to revisit it soon.

  13. I like reading this kind of stuff... your list, I mean.
    It has made me think of what I would answer.... hmmm....
    1) Pillars of The Earth / Ken Follett
    2) Anna Karenina / Tolstoy
    3) Slammerkin / Emma Donoghue
    4) David Copperfield / Dickens
    5) Gormenghast Trilogy / Mervyn Peake
    6) Alias Grace / Margaret Atwood
    7) Hamlet / Shakespeare
    8) Death of a Salesman / Arthur Miller
    9) On Chesil Beach / Ian McEwan
    10) Tess of the D'Urbervilles / Hardy
    ......... You've got me reminiscing, Sam.......

  14. The fun part of writing that bit, for me, Cip, was when I began to realize that the books stuck with me for so many different reasons. A lot of their "stickiness" came from the time in my life when I read them, etc., in addition to their quality. I did a lot of reminiscing myself.

    Thanks for your list.

  15. I haven't read any of the books on your list but of several of them are on my TBR list. I really want to read In Cold Blood after the great things I've heard you say about it.

  16. "In Cold Blood" is one of those books I don't often recommend because people react to it so differently. For every one person who loves it there seems to be one who hates it or finds it very dull. It was so far ahead of its time - I suppose that was why it struck me the way it did. Let me know, J.S., if you read it because I'll be interested in hearing what you have to say about it.