Lists

 

5 Thing ThursdayYesterday I wrote about the 100 Books meme going around on Facebook. Sadly, I’ve only read 26 of them, which is nothing to write home about. But I think I deserve credit for reading some great books that were not on the “BBC” list. Today I add five books I’ve read that should be on the list. Feel free to agree or disagree, and to add your own forgotten five.

Here are mine:

The Iliad, and The Odyssey, by Homer: No, not Homer Simpson – Homer, the famous poet of ancient Greece. These are of course two separate books, but if the “BBC” can list all the Harry Potter series as one entry, then I can list these two classics by Homer under one banner. It give me more room to add more books. I have always been a fan of mythology, which the epics surrounding the Trojan War are steeped in. I think there is great value in reading old classics – they provide much of the common foundation for what is written (and often taken for granted) today.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain: This is the seminal work of arguably the seminal American author. How could it not be on the list of 100? Do you mean to tell me the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will have less of a lasting impact than The Da Vinci Code? Get real. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the Code, but in the hierarchy of works of merit there is no comparison. (I could pick many other books on the list that could be booted in deference to Huckleberry Finn rather than the Code). I first read this as a young boy and relished the adventure. It was not until later that I fully understood the deeper social commentary which was its whole point.

The Well At the World’s End, and The Wood Beyond the World, by William Morris: These two fantasy novels, dating from the 1890s, are fundamental building blocks in the realm of high fantasy. Tolkien, and many others, got inspiration from Morris and his works. I read these in the 1970s after reading The Lord of the Rings. While I still prefer Tolkien, I think these two are must reads both for fans of and authors in the fantasy genre.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White: Hello? BBC, ever hear of a little something called the Arthurian Legend? While T. H. White did not father the Arthurian legend he certainly cemented it into modern literary tradition. I’m a little stunned it does not appear on the Facebook meme, nor on any of the other lists of 100 I’ve looked at. (It did appear at place 198 on The Big Read.) The Little Prince beats out The Once and Future King? You have got to be kidding me.

So hard to pick #5 – I still have many that probably deserve mention. But I have to pick one.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: I am ashamed to admit that Ivanhoe is one of those “classic” novels I avoided like the plague in my youth simply because it was a classic. In my rebellious youth I did not want to read things I was supposed to read – I was convinced they would be boring (which is why I did not truly discover Dickens until I was in my early 50s). Once I finally got around to reading Ivanhoe I kicked myself for having put it off. What a great story, and probably just a little dangerous for its time. Like Huck Finn, there was a lot of social commentary in this book. I highly recommend it.

There you have it. My five top picks of books that should have been in the Facebook meme but were left out. What do you think? Good choices? Bad? Do you have others to suggest? Let me know. I might discover some great new reads.
~jon

 

There is a meme going round on Facebook about the top 100 books the BBC thinks you should have read and their supposed belief that most folks have only read six of them. Doubting the provenance of the stated meme, and being the nerd that I am, I armed myself with Google to try and ascertain the validity of its origin. After my exhaustive search (it lasted all of 15 or 20 minutes – am I exhausted) I have determined that while this is a fun meme, and one I fully intend to pass on, it probably did not originate from the BBC – at least not in its current form.

The list seems to be a hodgepodge (god, I love that word) of several lists. Karina, at The Guiri Dispatches,  speculates it may have originated as a variation on the 2003 BBC’s Big Read project (which was a listener’s/reader’s poll). One of her readers counters that the list may be a mutant (my word, not theirs) of the March 2007 book list from the Guardian – Books You Can’t Live Without: the Top 100. (By the way, I have not read all 100 on the Guardian list and am still living, so there might be something wrong with their list.)

Nowhere could I find a definitive link back to the BBC for the current meme. Nevertheless these memes are great good fun and I am going to participate, with bells on. tinkle tinkle tinkle Hear ‘em? So here is the meme from Facebook, despite its questionable veracity:

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.
Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES.
• Bold those books you've read in their entirety.
• Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt.
Tag other book nerds. Tag me as well so I can see your responses! (Or not, after all reading is not a competition!
I'm betting that we're all well over 6 books, and I am curious to see the common ground).

In all my exhaustive research I never was able to come up with where the “only 6″ notion came from. Nor was I ever able to determine who the elusive “I” is.

Below is my annotated response. I (me – Jon, the guy writing this post) really am curious to see which ones you have read, and which ones you know you never will. No need to annotate your responses, though it might be fun.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien: My all time favorite book.

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee: My all time second favorite book.

6 The Bible: In my attempt to read it cover to cover I made it as far as Exodus.

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte: I did not expect to like this. I loved it.

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell: Nothing like a little light reading to brighten your mood. :o

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens: I’ve read other Dickens’ stuff. How come I can’t get credit for them?

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott: Bonus points if you know what the M stands for.

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller: Read this as an adult. Must have slept through it in school.

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare: Bits and pieces, here and there. Much prefer to see them as plays.

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien: Can’t wait for the movie. Go New Zealand!

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger: Not quite sure how I avoided this throughout school.

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger: On my list of things to read.

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell: I tend not to read books I’ve already seen movie versions of. Even if the book is better the sense of discovery is ruined.

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy: As a slow reader I can tell you, size does matter. Not even tempted.

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams: I’m a failure as a geek.

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll: Dude, what were you smoking?

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame: Gorgeous.

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy: I bought this long ago, but never got around to reading it.

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis: I’ve read several, but not all. Interesting they list The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe separately.

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini: Excellent, excellent book. I highly recommend it.

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden: I listened to the abridged version.

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne: I’ve got two kids. Of course I’ve read this.

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell: I’m sure I had to read some of this in high school.

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving: Only because it was one of my book club’s selections. I never would have picked this up on my own.

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery: Maybe, maybe not.

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood: My wife read this and warned me off – too damned depressing.

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding: Loved it. Yeah, I know, like this isn’t depressing.

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert: One of the best SciFi ever written.

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens: Pretty sure I had to read some of this in high school.

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: I know, shame on me.

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon: Terrific. Read this book.

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold: As the father of two girls the concept just sounded too depressing for me.

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas: It’s all fuzzy… Maybe, maybe not.

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie: Great title. I mean that.

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville: Thank God for audio books.

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens: I may or may not have read all of this in junior high, but am fairly certain I had to read at least part of it.

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker: Holds up amazingly well.

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett: One of those “wussy” books I ended up thoroughly enjoying.

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante: I keep meaning to. Honest.

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray: Don’t you just love that middle name?

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens: While on my Dickens kick.

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White: I have fond, is somewhat sketchy, memories.

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Several times.

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery: I was unimpressed.

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams: Just re-read this within the last year or two. Still good.

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole: Got maybe a third of the way through. I could not stand it. If it wasn’t against my religion to burn books it would make good kindling.

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute: Simply excellent. I highly recommendable it.

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas: Started to read this to my daughters but they lost interest about a third of the way through so we never finished it.

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare: Again, maybe, maybe not. Does “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” count? Read that and it’s the same thing.

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl: Though I do love chocolate.

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

It looks like I have 26 under my belt – certainly nothing to brag about. I really should have read many more of these. Conversely, I have read many great books they did not have on their list, and they count for something. I’ll follow this post up with one on Thursday of the top five books that should have been on this list. Drop by then to see if you agree, or to add your own.

For links to many more 100 Best lists check out this post from Nicholas Whyte, first dated in May of 2003 and updated in April of ’07. Seems it’s hard to keep a good list down.

P.S. Consider yourself tagged.
~jon

 

5 Thing ThursdayMy friend Susan and I were talking about Westerns yesterday at work. I have no idea how we got on the subject, but it struck me that the Western as a genre has nearly died out. If your local bookstore even has a Western section chances are it’s two shelves stuck under the last section of the Romance area. Gone are the heady days of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.

A quick glance through the #FridayFlash archives only turned up ten westerns in the past year. John Wiswell posted one, ‘A Still Moment‘, just this past week. Here are all ten in handy list form:

If you missed them earlier you can go read them now.

Susan and I decided that the Western will eventually make a comeback. Things do go in cycles after all. When they do come back we think they will be different – more sophisticated, with more complex story lines and nuanced characters. Still I’ll miss the old style western, formulaic as they may have been. They were born of a simpler time when things were seen, like cowboy hats, in black and white — often on black and white TVs.

My Top 5 TV Westerns

  • The Rebel The outcast character of Johnny Yuma really appealed to me.
  • Have Gun — Will Travel I can still sing you the theme song, Paladin, not that you’d want me to.
  • Maverick Gotta love a reluctant hero, particularly when he’s dressed in black.
  • The Big Valley Because I had the hots for Audra.
  • Kung Fu My all time favorite, so different at the time, though by the third season it was getting long in the tooth.

You may have noticed the two most famous westerns, ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza,’ are not on my list. Undoubtedly this is a reflection of my rebellious youth — for these were my dad’s two favorite shows. Likewise some shows (The Virginian, and Rawhide immediately come to mind) are not on this list because they were my sister’s favorites, she being enamored of certain  male stars. I watched all four of these, and have to admit I liked them well enough, though I would never have admitted it at the time.

What were your favorite Westerns, on TV, in books, or at the movies? Do you think the genre will make a comeback?
~jon

 

5 Thing ThursdayI am currently reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It is an excellent read, if a bit depressing – but then any mystery set in Stalinist Russia is bound to be a bit depressing. It is a fairly big book, weighing in at 493 pages, and I am a slow reader, yet I am plowing right through it. I figure I’ll finish it, start to finish, in about a week which is pretty fast for me.

It struck me as I was reading how I seem to glide right through some books, even very long ones, and struggle to finish others, often taking twice as long to read some about half as long. This, I believe, is the sign of a really good writer. They are capable of weaving a tale populated with complex characters you actually care about. They write with such fluidity, such unobtrusive structure, I really do get absorbed into the story. This takes real craft in writing and real care in editing. When I find books like this, books written well, edited well, with a story I enjoy, it’s a fairly safe bet I’ll be coming back to that author again and again. Tom Rob Smith is such an author.

I read a lot of different genres, just as I write in many genres, but I tend to enjoy mysteries a lot. I think it is the fact that mysteries keep the reader on edge, keep the reader turning pages, at least when done well. Some of my favorite authors are mystery writers. Here are my top five:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – the creator of Sherlock Holmes. How could he not be #1 in my top five list? He may not have invented the genre, but he certainly laid a rock solid foundation. I cut my teeth reading Conan Doyle, and have enjoyed Holmes in nearly every incarnation since.

Laurie R. King – probably best known for her Mary Russell series, for which she is to be commended for keeping the Sherlock Holmes legacy alive. (Works like this, by the way, drive home why it is important that copyright is not eternal.) But I like her best for her other work; the Kate Martinelli mysteries, and the stand alone novels Folly (my personal favorite), Keeping Watch, and Touchstone.

Julia Spencer-Fleming – creator of the Clare Fergusson mysteries. Her first novel, In the Bleak Midwinter, is one of the best mystery novels ever written. The characters are fresh and compelling, and the method used to get an armature detective embedded into a police investigation, so often contrived, is so natural it is almost magical. Her other novels are all very good, but the contrivance pulls them down just a bit. In the Bleak Midwinter, on the other hand, is damned near perfect.

Tony Hillerman – author of many Navajo mysteries featuring detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo tribal police. Hillerman paints the desert southwest with a wordbrush that brings it to life. His characters, both major and minor, are complex and interesting. He’s one of my all time favorites.

Agatha Christy – like Conan Doyle, how could I make a top five list and not include her, the Grande Dame of mystery writers. Once you read enough of them the novels get a bit predictable, a bit formulaic, but she created such enduring characters, and an enduring style – the cozy. Or, if she didn’t create the cozy, she certainly set its foundation in stone. I am more fond of Hercule Poirot than of Miss Marple (that contrivance issue again) but both are wonderful characters if not quite as well rounded King’s and Hillerman’s.

I could go on and on, but those I think are my top five. If Tom Rob Smith continues to write to the same quality of Child 44 I can easily see him working his way up into my list. You really should read it. It’s terrific.

Who are your favorite mystery authors? What’s your favorite mystery novel? I’d love some suggestions.
~jon

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