Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ten Books: A personal list

It was one of those little games that get passed around on Facebook. The rules were these:

List 10 books that have stayed with you. Don't take more than a few minutes; don't think too hard. They don't have to be great works, just the ones that have touched you.

Here are my ten books, with explanations:

  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. My favorite book as a child, this story of a courageous field mouse and the amazing secrets she uncovers is still marvelous reading. This book also brought me my first taste of that disappointment that sometimes comes with the movie version.
  • The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis. I loved the Narnia series. Why does this one linger in my memory? That tray of gleaming green and yellow rings. The Wood Between the Worlds. The comeuppance of Uncle Andrew. The glorious reward of Strawberry the cab horse.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams. Like many of the books on this list, a tremendous adventure story. The perfect summertime read.
  • Emma by Jane Austen. Every Austen fan has a favorite, and this is mine. The comic matchmaking escapades of the intelligent, rich, beautiful, obnoxious Emma Woodhouse never fail to make me smile, and I love it when she gets the reward she basically doesn't deserve in the end.
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers was a serious scholar who, as a sideline, wrote the best mystery novels in the world. This one takes Harriet, a character who is very similar to Sayers herself, to a college reunion, where she reconnects with her past, helps Lord Peter solve a fascinating mystery, and falls in love.
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. One of two science fiction novels on this list, The Forever War is a reflection on the banal dehumanization of war; the author wrote it a few years after his tour in Vietnam. It deserves all of the many awards that have been heaped upon its brawny shoulders.
  • Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. Another science fiction novel, in a very different vein. Part of the addictive Miles Vorkosigan series of space operas, this is the one in which Miles is cruelly banished from the only place in the universe he thought he belonged, and discovers he was wrong about that.
  • The Ladies of Mandrigyn by Barbara Hambly. I read a lot of fantasy in the '80s, when the genre was strongly in the thrall of Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, which often meant that female characters didn't have much to do. Hambly's sword-and-sorcery adventure is action-packed and tremendous fun, and has an unusual feminist point of view as well.
  • Dog Years by Mark Doty. A beautiful memoir of the way the author's relationship with two dogs sustained him through the most grievous losses of his life. I cried for a week.
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This powerful, angry, weird little novel defies any attempt to summarize, but I’ll try. It's about an extremely unusual young woman who wants to protect, or maybe control, her agoraphobic sister. Just as shocking as the author's famous short story, The Lottery.

And who could actually narrow it down to only ten books? Here are two honorable mentions:

  • A Prayer For the Dying by Stewart O'Nan. Still one of the most frightening books I've ever read.
  • Mink River by Brian Doyle. A strange and wonderful novel of life on the Oregon Coast.

Do you have a list of favorites you'd like to share? Or do you have any thoughts about mine? Comment below!

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