Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ten Books

A forum I lurk at (and sometimes post) posed a question: what are ten books you like and why do you like them? Not necessarily your favorite books, and they should be from different times in your life. I thought I would give it a shot. What ten books do you like and why? Here's my list:

  1. Watership Down by Richard Adams– I read this every few years. I was in the seventh grade when I discovered Richard Adams’ tale of survival, friendship and courage – told from the perspective of rabbits. I scoffed when a teacher recommended it; I was nearly crying when I finished it. I love the stories, the language, and how Adams created a richly painted world that mirrors ours; one where all you need is friends to rely on, hope to carry you through the rough times and a place you can call home.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I wish she would have written more novels. I read this twice in high school and once a couple of years ago.
  3. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John LeCarre– For me, LeCarre's best novels are about the old, burned out and bitter Cold Warriors – those who do the unspeakable so that we (the rest of the world) can sleep soundly in our beds. On the surface, Alec Leamas, the disgraced anti-hero of this novel, is sent back out “into the cold” for one final mission: bring down Mundt, his rival in the East German secret service. What always brings me back is how it’s so much more than a simple revenge story: we’re not so different from our foes, friendship and love have little place in the world of Cold War espionage, and there are no lengths a government won’t go to in order to protect its secrets.
  4. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – This one makes my “read every few years” list. I love that Tolkien created a living, vibrant world, where different cultures mix and, at times, clash. Granted, some of the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts and archetypes, but my favorite aspect of the story is how two simple farmers bring down the greatest evil in the world.
  5. The Civil War by Shelby Foote – I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to read this series again, but if you want epic, there it is. Foote starts you from the beginning – you meet the key players, the political landscape and then the battles begin. The thing I enjoyed most about this series is that unlike many history books, Foote really brings the people alive; this history is like reading a novel (a very, very, very, very long novel).
  6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – Recently, I noticed a copy of this at the bookstore; I picked it up and thumbed through it. I put it down when I started getting verklempt at the end, and tried running away before anyone noticed. Same reaction I had when I was 10. Darn sad books! If you can get through the end of this book without tearing up a bit, then I think you’re a rock, but this was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I like books that cause strong emotional reactions, and this one does it in spades.
  7. Shibumi by Trevanian – I like this book because I don’t really have to think too hard while reading it. The hero, Nicolai Hel, the world’s greatest assassin, lover, spelunker, and Go player, runs afoul of a monolithic corporation that essentially rules the world. All hell breaks loose. Damage is done. Revenge is sought. Everyone lives happily ever after. What’s not to like? The outrageous, larger-than-life characters make this book one of my favorites.
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Any book that answers the nagging question of life, the universe, and everything is all right with me. Any book that explains the myriad uses of a towel belongs on my bookshelf. The gleeful absurdity of the story reeled me in. Strangely enough, I still haven’t seen the movie.
  9. Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein – I remember pulling this out, running to my mother’s lap and getting her to read “I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor” time after time. Of course I was 22 at the time . . . not really, but giggling to the little poems in this book is one of my earliest memories and something that I treasure.
  10. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds – The key to great science fiction is to not focus on the physics, the kewl spaceships and the uber-powerful rayguns that can level cities, but to focus on the things that make a story great: the characters, the plot, the scene. I wish that more sci-fi writers (for both TV and written word) would remember that. Sure, you can throw in explanations for the cool doodads here and there, but give me a compelling mystery as told by a bodyguard seeking revenge for his (former) employer’s murder, and you have a pretty kick ass novel. This is the second, and my favorite, book in Reynolds’ Revelation Space series.


Anonymous said...

You do know that a lot of these are now movies, so you don't really need to read anymore. After all, the best books are all movies or being turned into movies, and the movies are always better than the books, so there really is no need to read anymore. Aaron

Brian said...

Ironically, I don't have the attention span to watch the movies. When I watch movies, I get really fidgety and need something else to do; however, when I read, I generally focus on the reading material and don't move around as much.

As for movies being better than books, well my friend -- I'm going to hit you with one of your favorite shots -- "The Rocketeer" is a much better graphic novel than the movie (and the movie still kicks ass -- in fact, I might watch it this weekend). Take that!