ALL this talk about Top 10 books reminds me of a story a colleague shared with us when she was working for a magazine. One of their regular features was to ask celebrities and famous people their current bedside reading.
To make the effort more reader-friendly, my colleague, with a photographer in tow, would interview her subjects about their choices.
Since some people read several books almost at the same time, it wasn’t uncommon for some of her subjects to bring two to three books with them during the photo shoot.
But there was one time when my colleague was floored by the antics of a former sexy actress who brought not one but nearly a dozen or so books in mint condition with her.
Sensing that the actress was just trying to impress her, my colleague began to ask her probing questions. It helped that she had probably read some of the titles Miss Pa-Impress (Miss Trying to Impress) brought with her.
“So, these are your current bedside reading,” she said. “How did you find the lead character’s motivation for doing what she did in that book? Would you have done the same if you were in her place?”
It was a pretty basic question since the supposed scene happened in the book early on. It was so integral to the story that there was no way for any reader to have missed it.
Instead of answering her directly, Miss Pa-Impress made all sorts of vague excuses about not having reached that part yet. She also came up with similar excuses for some of the other titles she brought with her.
It immediately became obvious that she had barely read or had yet to read any of her supposed choices. In short, everything she carried with her that day was just meant for show.
Well, now that she’s retired from show biz after marrying the scion of a marine canned goods owner, Miss Pa-Impress has all the time in the world to catch up on her reading, get back to and answer my colleague’s questions.
But please spare me the probing questions as I share with you the rest of my Top 10 books (see my previous blog entry for the first four). Unlike Miss Pa-Impress, I guarantee you that I’ve read every single one of them.
I may be blessed with the memory of an elephant when it comes to real and imagined insults others inflict upon me (I never ever forget), but that same memory isn’t as keen when it comes to books I’ve read. 😀
5. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – African-Americans are once again in the news after an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by a white policeman in Missouri a few weeks ago. I don’t know how it would end this time, but I’m pretty sure that such an episode won’t be the last.
Indeed, the roots of racial tensions between whites and blacks in an ethnically diverse country like America are long and complex. If big, bold multigenerational novels like “Roots” “Beloved” and “Gone with the Wind” ain’t your thing, then Lee’s one and only classic about crime and punishment, justice and retribution in the American South should appeal to you.
Unlike certain works of fiction on racial segregation, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is timeless and universal. That it was written on a personal level through the eyes of lawyer Atticus Finch and his daughter “Scout” makes Lee’s work all the more personal, heartbreaking and gut wrenching.
If you only have enough time to read one novel about blacks and whites in the American South, this book should be it!
6. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Marquez’s novel is a difficult and complex read that required me to “attack” it in fits and starts. But once I got the hang of it, his celebrated magic-realist work turned out to be a beguiling and multi-faceted gem of a read.
And unlike some novels belonging to this genre, “Solitude” has a huge cast of real, flesh-and-blood characters that sometimes get killed or die in the middle of the story. In short, much like in real life, you don’t really know who the vidas and contravidas are until you’ve reached the last page.
7. “Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Haruki Murakami – If you want to experience Japanese-style magic realism with a dash of science fiction, philosophy and “time-space continuum,” then this novel should appeal to you.
The minute you read Murakami’s opening chapter, you’d know immediately that a male writer is behind those words. And what an articulate and sensitive man he is. Thanks Jude for introducing me to the wide, wonderful world of Murakami.
Twists (and shouts)
I’ve tried reading “Honor Among Thieves,” one of Archer’s novels, but it didn’t come close to the fun I’ve had reading “Twelve.” His 12th story offers you three totally disparate endings. No matter what ending I chose, I ended up contemplating and smiling at the possibilities.
9. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera – I won’t bore you with the details, but whoever reads this novel without tearing up and stopping to savor and reread Kundera’s lines and inspired attempts at characterization should have his head and heart examined. “Lightness” is indeed such an apt title for such a sublime piece of work.
10. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling – Coming up with my last choice was hard because I was torn between Rowling’s Potter series and the late Stieg Larsson’s “Girl” series.
But while Rowling set the groundwork that would hook me and millions of readers to follow Harry and his friends’ exploits through the next six installments, Larsson started with a bang with “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” only to end up with a tangled whimper, as his next two installments became weaker, wordier and more implausible.
Not a few Potter fans find Book 3—“The Prisoner of Azkaban”—the best in terms of plot and characterization. Perhaps. But there wouldn’t have been any of these books had there been no strong Book 1 to leave both young and adult readers wanting for more “children’s” reads.
Birth of Jesus?
And how could you forget the way Rowling described the arrival of the One who could put an end to Lord Voldemort’s evil ways? With wizards coming out of the woodwork while the entire “wizarding” world goes into a frenzy, it was like she was describing the birth of Jesus Christ Himself.
No wonder certain Christian fundamentalists found her works blasphemous. To me, her books are nothing but classic good-versus-evil stories that were radically told.