Disclaimer: My blog is usually about bees, flowers, and gardening. This winter I decided to write a series of posts for my Left Field collection. I’ve covered everything from Cocaine Hippos to Mermaids. If you only want to read about gardens and beekeeping, please check back in the spring or browse through some of my older posts. Today’s post is being written by request of my social media friends.
My favorite question to ask people is, “What is the best book you have ever read?” How people answer this question is revealing. Some people refuse to answer the question stating that they find it impossible to pick just one. To those people I want to say, “This isn’t Sophie’s choice. This is a cocktail party and I’m making conversation. Play along.” Many of my Christian friends will say the Bible. That answer kills the conversation faster than antifreeze in a goldfish bowl. What can you say that tops the Bible? “Well Karen*, I’m glad you like the Bible but have you read Bonfire of the Vanities?” Now when I ask the question, I am careful to stipulate “excluding the Bible, Torah or Koran.”
I could tell you my favorite book, but that would make for a very short blog post. Instead, I will give you ten of my favorite books, and you can decide for yourself what that reveals about me. Are these ten books the best in the world? Probably not. I haven’t read all the books in the world to know for sure, and that is a fact that makes me a little sad. When compiling my list, I avoided books that can be found on the usual high school reading lists. Do you really need me to tell you that To Kill a Mockingbird or The Hobbit are great novels? Probably not because your high school English teacher already told you. Here is my list in no particular order.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – Bradbury was a prolific author, and this is one of my favorites. The story is about when the Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow show comes to town. The plot is wonderful, and the writing is superb. I read this book years ago. I don’t remember all the plot details, but I remember how I felt when I finished the book. I felt sad because the story was over. A great book makes you feel sad because there are no more pages to read.
- Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney – Don’t judge this book by the mediocre movie of the same title. The novel is about the cocaine fueled New York party scene in the 1980s. The genius of this book is that it is written in the second person, which is difficult to do. Most books are written with a third person omniscient narrator because it is an easy and convenient way to tell a story. Some books are written in the first person, which is hard but not as hard as second person. This book grabs you with the very first line: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – I like the book because Ayn Rand developed her own political philosophy and then figured out how to distill that entire philosophy into a coherent work of fiction. This book held my interest for 900 pages at a time in my life when I was working crazy hours and had the attention span of a gnat. For months after I read the book, I kept asking people, “Who is John Galt?”
- Native Son by Richard Wright –The book tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a black man trapped in a white man’s world. It is a gritty, unflinching story that is well written and will leave you examining everything you think you know about the world. I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – Toni Morrison is the greatest American fiction author of all time. She’s not just the greatest female author or just the greatest black author. She is the greatest of all the authors. This was her first novel, and she wrote about a young black girl who longed to have blue eyes so she would be loved like the blond and blue-eyed children. I felt like my heart was being torn out while I read it.
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – This non-fiction book examines obscure cases of why some people excel in areas when others don’t. Gladwell calls these people “outliers” because their achievements are different from their peers. The author digs deep to find all sorts of strange root causes, which makes for a fascinating read. You can read the whole book or individual, stand-alone chapters. It is one of the few non-fiction books that I would classify as a beach read.
- All The Presidents Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward –. I read this book when I was in college during a week when I was snowed in a friend’s apartment. (That event could be an entire blog post.) The book details the uncovering of the Watergate scandal. The book is a good reminder of why a free press that diligently and competently does its job is so important. Now the book seems quaint. The Watergate scandal is tame compared to the ongoing scandals of our current political class.
- Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher – Carrie Fisher will always be remembered as Princess Leia from the Star Wars movies, but Carrie Fisher was a much better writer than she was an actress. I suggest downloading this as an audio book so you can hear Fisher reading her own work. I chose Shockaholic just for the chapter she wrote about her dinner with Senator Chris Dodd and Senator Ted Kennedy. It is funny and provides insight into Kennedy and how the country’s elite power brokers operate. Kennedy is a far more interesting nemesis than Darth Vader. Before you read this, note that the book has some R rated language and subject matter, but it fits within the context of the story being told.
- Don Quioxte by Miguel de Cervantes: This book is considered a literary classic, but it rarely ends up on a high school reading list because it is so long. I love this book because it is so funny that I laughed out loud multiple times while reading. The book was written over 400 years ago in Spanish, but the author’s humor transcends time, place, and language.
- Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice: Anne Rice is most known for her gothic fiction including the classic Interview with The Vampire. After dedicating her life to Christianity, Anne Rice began writing Christ centered fiction works including this gem, which is based on the life of Jesus starting at age 7. I love this book because it focuses on Jesus’ humanity. Christians believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, yet Christians often focus more on Jesus’ deity. Failing to acknowledge Jesus’ humanity minimizes the miracle of Jesus subjugating himself to the banality of everyday human existence. It is an ambitious work on an emotionally charged topic. I recommended it to my book club, and the group’s response was mediocre, which goes to show that different books affect people differently.
What would be on your list? What do you think a person’s book picks says about that person? Feel free to use my question the next time you are making small talk with someone. Remember that if someone asks you the question, do you best to play along and provide an answer. Don’t be the antifreeze in the goldfish bowl.
* Footnote: I don’t know why Karen became the name to use for difficult people. I know several people named Karen and they are all lovely. My use of Karen is a cultural reference and not meant to be derogatory against any of the people in my life who are named Karen.