15 Books

A shelf on which books can be stored.

Not A Punk Rocker posted a list of “15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you.” Since nothing of excite has been happening of late, I’m stealing it. Like NAPR, I’m not tagging any of you, because screw that. If you want to steal, steal. If you don’t, don’t.

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me so I can see which books you love. (Mine are in no particular order.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy By Douglas Adams

This book will always land on my favorite books of all time list, because, obviously, it is one of the best books of all time. If you haven’t read it by now or you don’t think it’s one of the funniest books ever written, you’re probably under the age of twelve or a robot.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

This was the first book I ever read by Buk, which is fitting since it was his first novel. I’d never read anything like it before and it was love at first read. I made it my mission to read as much of his work as I could. It’s a huge undertaking since he wrote a lot. I own over 20 of his books, which seems like quite a few, but it hardly scratches the surface. He wrote every damn day.

One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I read this book in high school, and like Buk, it opened a new world. I’ve since read most everything he’s written and I own a lot of them:

There are more that this picture didn’t capture.

One Day In The Life is not the best book by Solzhenitsyn (that honor goes to The Gulag Archipelago) nor even the best fiction (that’s The First Circle), but it’s still one of my favorites.

One day, I hope to remember how to spell his name correctly on the first try. It’s not very likely though.

Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

This and A Light in the Attic were two of my favorite books as a kid. I read them more times than I can count. Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout would not take the garbage out.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I read this book in high school, too. Then I tracked down most of Camus’ other works. For a brief period as a teen, I was a Camus fan and fancied myself an Existentialist until I decided that I didn’t want to follow anyone else’s ideas, but would rather form my own. Still, I have a dog-eared copy of this book and a few others by Camus, as well as some Sartre in my house.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

For a long time, I was a book snob. I wouldn’t read anything unless it was at least fifty years old and preferably written in another language. I figured that any book that had stuck around that long was probably worth reading. I’ve since relaxed my standards, because I kind of ran out of classics to read and, well, that’s just dumb.

Neuromancer was one of the first modern science fiction books I read and it blew my tiny mind. This book is still groundbreaking.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

And, speaking of mind-blowing, modern, science fiction, Cryptonomicon is my favorite. It is obscenely long, didactic in parts and dated in others, but it’s rare that I read over 400 pages of something without stopping. I could not put it down. I love this book so much that I’ll probably never re-read it.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Gogol was part of my Russian phase spawned by reading Solzhenitsyn in high school. What struck me most about this book and why I will always remember it is because it’s funny. Yes, funny. Not in a Douglas Adams, laugh out loud way, but in an understated wry way. It was amazing to me that a book about serfs (a “soul” here means a serf, so the title of this book refers to dead slaves) written in Russian in 1842 could be droll. It made me realize that comedy is timeless and universal.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Another mind-blowing book. Burgess invented his own language in this book and it totally works. I read the version without the glossary in the back (honestly, I think everyone should read that version since having a glossary is lazy). Burgess was such a talented writer that he was able to imply meaning on context alone.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Another high school read. I think everyone read this in high school. It perfectly blends surreality and reality together in a believable way. You identify and sympathize with poor Gregor Samsa. This was probably the first book I read that made me realize that was even possible.

1984 by George Orwell

I am pretty sure that I first read this book in the year 1984, or close to it anyway, when I was a wee lass. Like Burgess, Orwell created his own language for the reader to suss out based on context alone. It’s not quite as broad as Burgess’ language, but just as effective. 1984 and Animal Farm are brilliant allegory. I still love this book, though nowadays, I prefer Orwell’s other books like Down And Out In Paris And London and Keep The Aspidistra Flying.

Journey To The End Of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

This was a Charles Bukowski recommendation actually. Buk often talks about “poor Céline” and writing “one perfect book” that he was never able to surpass. This is Céline’s perfect book. It follows an itinerant protagonist (himself) around the world through various adventures on several continents. It is a fascinating snapshot of the era.

The Woman In The Dunes by Kōbō Abe

I love the sparseness of Japanese fiction. Japanese authors never waste words. They intentionally arrange them much like a Japanese rock garden. The Woman In The Dunes is one of the best. Just like The Metamorphosis, it blends surreality with the real world in a way that is entirely believable. You never question the facts for a minute. Honestly, the movie version is just as good, but I would recommend reading the book first.

As far as Japanese fiction, I also highly recommend Fires On The Plain by Ooka Shohei, which almost went on this list.

Under The North Star trilogy by Väinö Linna

Within the last decade or so, I got on a Finnish literature kick, since they’s my peoples. Among the very best Finnish literature I read was Linna.* The trilogy starts with one man, Jussi, in 1880 and follows his family through the First World War, the Finnish Civil War and the Second World War. It is an absolutely fascinating and entertaining read. I mention it often on this blog.

*The other very best were The Unknown Soldier by Linna and Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, the national author of Finland.

Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

This was also a high school read, or shortly thereafter, when I was still in my snobby lit phase. I could pretty much recite the intricacies of the plot verbatim. I could tell you the characters and what happens, which is rare for me, since my memory problems don’t usually allow those kind of details. Rubashov and Harelip will always be stored in my memory banks. I haven’t re-read this book in a long time, but I still think of it very fondly.

So, what’s on your list?