Wednesday, 6 April 2011
My forty books. Part 4: fiction
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Firstly, a little bit of housekeeping. If anyone should discover this blog with this post about 40 books, you might be a bit confused. If you read the post on "Howards End is on the Landing," or "Starting to think about my forty books," then the idea behind this might make a bit more sense.
So far I have:
- 6 plays (I have decided that I enjoy "The Tempest" too much to ditch it, and for sentimental reasons I can't let go of "Twelfth Night")
- 1 poetry volume
- 5 non-fiction
That is 12 books so far. That leaves me with about 28 fiction choices to reach my 40.
I am going to start by discounting series of books from a purely practical standpoint. I'd rather have some variety than have, say, 7 of my choices taken up by the Harry Potter series. If it can't stand alone in its own right, then I am not going to chose it. That does leave me with a bit of dilemma over Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker books, Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series or Terry Pratchett.
I also have a dilemma over whether to chose fun books that I love, or worthy books so that someone reading this might think I am smarter than I am (if you don't know me; if you do know me then you will recognise if I am being fraudulent). I'm going to try to make an honest choice of the 40 books that I would be happy - well, not exactly happy - to subsist on for the rest of my life. You need a bit of fun to leaven out the intelligent stuff.
There is no particular significance to the numbering; they are just in the order that I thought of them / saw them on my shelves.
I'm going to break it down into a couple of categories - and I am going to start numbering them from here on. I'm far better with words than numbers, and I am starting to lose count.
13 Daphne Du Maurier "Rebecca"
A really good story and Cornish too.
14 Donna Tartt "The Secret History"
I love this book. A friend gave it to me as a present - thanks Claire - and I have read it at least 4 times. I can't imagine reaching a point where I wouldn't want to reread it.
15 Elizabeth Kostova "The Historian"
Mark bought this for me and, as a fan of gothic horror with a penchant for vampires, I love this book.
16 Michael Ondaatje "The English Patient"
I haven't read this for a while, but I loved it when I first read it. Ondaatje's descriptive prose is extraordinarily vivid and imaginative, and I loved the characters of Caravaggio and Hana (more so than the titular patient). If I could wish a fictional character into existence, I would be hard pushed to chose between Caravaggio and Sherlock Holmes.
17 James Joyce "Ulysses,"
I can almost hear people thinking "What, really?" And "I thought you were going to choose honestly, and not out of intellectual pretentions?" However, I read and enjoyed "Ulysses" when doing teaching practice for my PhD. I'm not too keen on the sections with the pompous and prissy Stephen Daedalus, but I like the polymorphous Bloom and his wandering wife.
18 Charlotte Bronte "Jane Eyre,"
I've never taken to the other Brontes, but I like Charlotte a lot. I have read and enjoyed "Villette," "The Professor" and "Shirley," but "Jane Eyre" is always the one that I would want to return to the most. I'm not a Heathcliff kind of girl - never came to terms with Emily and "Wuthering Heights' - but I am quite partial to a bit of Rochester.
19 and 20 At least one Howard Jacobson - there is no better chronicler of male, middle-aged angst (not even Philip Roth). I think that I would have to pick "Peeping Tom," as this was my introduction to his writing and has a Cornish setting. Of his more recent books though, I am going to be controversial and pick "Who's Sorry Now?" and not his recent Booker winner (I think "Who's Sorry Now?" was longlisted). "Who's Sorry Now?" is a good example of what I love most about Howard Jacobson. He is very funny, but he can also take you by surprise with a moment of insight or tenderness. Sometimes to say that an author has done something that surprises you is a bad thing - it can mean that they have made their character do something inconsistent with what they have already told you about him or her - but with Howard Jacobson I always felt these moments are organic to the character.
21 I think I should have a Dickens. I read and enjoyed "Bleak House" when at university, so I think I will stick with that one.
22 Douglas Adams "The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul"
I refer you back to my comment about not choosing a series of books. I love Douglas Adams, but I don't think that you can isolate one of the Hitchhikers series and read it in the same way as you could a Dirk Gently. This might be heresy, but I think I even prefer Dirk Gently to Hitchhikers (although I might change my mind on this tomorrow) - and I would argue that it isn't so much a series as it is a couple of books with a recurring character.
23 I need a Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, but which one? I prefer the short stories to the novels, so I might pick the collection that has the majority of stories that I love. I've just trawled through my collection. It's a really hard choice. "The Adventures...' for "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and "The Man with the Twisted Lip"? "The Memoirs..." for "The Musgrave Ritual" and "The Greek Interpreter"? I think that it might be "The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes" for "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" and "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (set in Cornwall). Although even now I am starting to doubt my choice because it doesn't have "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" or "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" (both interesting insights into the friendship between Holmes and Watson) from "His Last Bow." I might have to rethink this one. But, even so, I can't do without a Sherlock Holmes, and I wish he did exist even more than I wish Caravaggio from "The English Patient" existed: the world needs a violin-playing, drug-taking, slightly sexually ambiguous genius detective in it.
24 Stephen Fry "The Liar"
His first book, and still the one I like best.
25 Tim O'Brien "The Things they Carried"
I try to recommend this book to people, but I don't think anyone has ever taken me up on it. A brilliant selection of postmodern short stories set in the Vietnam War, and worth it just for one of the stories, "How to Tell a True War Story." Tim O' Brien has written quite a few books that I enjoyed - he was in the Vietnam War, and most of his books touch on the war to varying degrees - but this is still, I think, his most effective and moving.
26 Paul Auster "New York Trilogy"
I remember enjoying this a few years ago. I have Casanova's memoirs to remind me of a holiday in Venice, and this can serve to evoke a holiday in New York last year.
Books I mean to read:
27 Nicola Barker "Darkmans"
I bought this a couple of years ago, but haven't had the chance to read it yet. It sounds interesting and odd. It was Booker shortlisted, but didn't win.
28 Cervantes "Don Quixote"
One that I feel I should read, but also which I think I will enjoy when I get around to it.
29 Herman Melville "Moby Dick"
30 A.S. Byatt "Possession"
This was bought for me by friends to read in hospital when I broke my ankle when I was 17. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read it yet. I'm now 35. I have re-watched the film recently during my current Jeremy Northam obsession, so reading this has the added bonus that I can imagine him as Randolph Ash.
31 Steve Toltz "The Fraction of the Whole"
Another Booker shortlisted tome which I think I will enjoy, but haven't read yet.
32 Thomas Pynchon "Gravity's Rainbow"
I like "The Crying of Lot 49," and want to tackle this one.
33 Don DeLillo "Underworld"
I have read and enjoyed a few DeLillos - "White Noise" in particular I remember enjoying - and want to get around to this one. This has the added advantage of being another New York book.
34 Michael Chabon "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"
Again, like De Lillo, I have read others by Michael Chabon but not yet read this one (which I believe won the Pulitzer and is one of his highest acclaimed). I also have "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" to read, which is hovering around the fringes of this list.
Now I have a problem, which isn't the one I expected to have when I started this list. I thought that I would hit 40 and be able to keep going, and have to condense the list. But actually now I have compiled all the books I feel strongly about, and have the difficult task - maybe even more difficult - of choosing a final 6 from the myriad books that I like a lot, but don't necessarily feel are indispensable. I think I need to think about this for a further day or 2 before I unveil my final 6, and I think I might also compile the entire list into one blog post. I may even change my mind about some...