Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Books Pantheon

I don't think I've ever made a list of my all-time favorite books. I guess I'm not really a reader. Although I do have impeccable taste. So I thought I should give a shout-out to some books and authors. Partly because lists are fun, but partly because I just read a really excellent book.

Great books always inspire me in some way. Usually they make me wonder what that f@$king big-shot Irving has that I don't have, then after a couple days of writing I figure it out: patience and focus. Turns out I can't write a 21st century World According To Garp in a couple of days. But even when I don't try to emulate a book I like, I try my damndest to pester people about it. So, without further ado... let the pestering begin!

All-Time Favorite Authors
Flannery O'Connor
Ernest Hemingway
John Irving
Mark Leyner
Michael Chabon
Frank Conroy
Roald Dahl

Great, But Not Quite Favorite
Chuck Klosterman
J.R.R. Tolkien
Chuck Palahniuk
Irvine Welsh

Worth A Look
William Goldman
Haruki Murakami
Neal Stephenson
Zadie Smith
Dave Eggers
Nick Hornby (talk about jumping the shark! stick to music, pal.)
Calvin Trillin (mmm, food)

Some All-Time Favorite Books
(I can't possibly promise that this list is accurate!)

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
Mold-busting, creative, entertaining, and full of heart. Perfect memoir. But the real heartbreak is knowing that Eggers can't top it. His glacial attempt at a novel was enough to snap me out of it. Not that the world wouldn't be better with 20 more Eggers novels, but I doubt I'd want to read any of them.

Tooth Imprints On A Corn Dog by Mark Leyner
Certifiable, both as a genius and as an insane person. Tooth Imprints is his strongest and most accessible work. He knows literary conventions inside and out, and fucks them all from behind, one by one. Exhausting as hell, but just as entertaining.

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Heady praise for a book I finished four days ago. But I can't shut up about it. It's no great accomplishment that he uses reality TV and pop music as crutches for a discussion of the state of American popular culture... but to do it with respect is what makes the book ring so true.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Enormous, sprawling, and helplessly indulgent. But in the Peter Jackson way, not the George Lucas way.

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Perhaps not Irving's most impressive work, nor the work he will be remembered for. But certainly his most controlled. Not that I don't like his indulgences in Garp or Hotel New Hampshire, but Owen's story is strong enough to work without the bells and whistles. That focus is why I would give Owen Meany the nod over Cider House Rules, which is certainly more epic and more Irving-like (read: Dickensian) in tone.

The Complete Short Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Yeah, I'm a dork for including my high school English reading. But I love O'Connor. She and Hemingway were the only authors I read in high school who inspired me. In my expert opinion, she wrote the best, most evocative American fiction of the last half of the 20th century. Her prose is like the rural American wasteland she illustrates... sparse, depressing, but ultimately sturdy. That she died young, of natural causes, is not just tragic but also oddly reflective of her work.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
Chabon's attempt at the Great American Novel doesn't fall too far short. It's everything.

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