Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In Which I Make a Meme, Part the First

Inspired by a "15 Albums" meme that Mike did on Facebook, I've decided to start one of my own: 10 books. The idea is to create a 15 book reading list that will encapsulate and summarize my taste. A lot of them are my favorites, but not all the choices are my "desert island" favorites; I went for a representative corps, rather than the outliers. But the idea is that if you read this list, you should be able to go out and make an intelligent decision if you decided to, say, buy me a gift. (Which would be very nice of you. Thanks for even thinking of it!)

You'll notice that I sneak in a lot of other titles from the pool of work that each item represents. I'm cheap; sue me. Also, the post was really long, so this is the first half. More to come.

Okay, here we go!

1. In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden. This book is representative of a few overlapping categories: nun books and detail books. In sci-fi and fantasy, there's an element of storytelling called worldbuilding, in which the author gives you the details you need to understand the world in which the story takes place. The details of day-to-day life in this nun book are exquisitely well-drawn, and a world as foreign as any imaginary one just springs to life. Most nun books (I'm not sure if this is a category acknowledged anywhere else in the world, except privately among readers of nun books) have as part of their appeal the sweet simplicity of a life outside of the world, and also the rigorous inner journey of someone who has chosen something difficult and meaningful to devote themselves to. (As the Mother General says in The Nun's Story, by Kathryn Hulme, my first and most cherished nun book, "In many ways it is a life against nature.")

Audrey Hepburn brought me to the movie The Nun's Story, which brought me to the book, which brought me to this book. Some of them are memoirs, some novels. And I'm not interested in racy exposés; though I don't demand all roses and sweet smiles, I'm in the nun books for the focus of these lives, and that's what I love to read about. I love to read about a life that is hard and worth it; as John Adams said (or something like it), there are only two kinds of people worth anything--those with a commitment, and those that require the commitment of others.

2. Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, by Judith Martin. I am an advice junkie. Part of it is a creepy kind of voyeurism--other people's problems are titillating--of which I'm not proud. Part of it is the bald fact that great writing is great writing, and Judith Martin has a simple grandeur and vicious dignity that is pretty thrilling. And part of it is just the catharsis of being told exactly how one might go about living the perfect life, even if that is totally unattainable. Also, the question-and-answer format is very digestible. Fun fun fun.

3. Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs. Chick lit: I'm a female, and my taste in literature can in no way be defined as highfalutin', so there will be some chick lit. But I'm seriously picky about chick lit, since I secretly kind of hate anyone I see wearing sharp-pointy-toed shoes, even people I like. Which means I kind of hate a lot of people in chick lit books. But there are some books that make the cut--Megan McCafferty, some Elinor Lipman, the Bridget Jones books. Susan Isaacs takes the cake, though, and Shining Through is the best of the bunch. The life and loves of a sassy World War II secretary-turned-spy. Can't get better.

4. Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman. It’s so pedestrian of me to pick Sandman to represent comics in this lineup, but it’s incredibly famous and popular and classic for a reason. Besides graphic novels, this is also great fantasy, and an excellent example of a plot-driven story that is still full of and very much about important ideas--duty, honor, history, storytelling. It is so intensely up my alley (and, I guess, everyone else’s) that I can’t even articulate it, except maybe to say that this is one of those works that not only wish I could have written but feel lives in my brain as though it was there before I read it. You know what I mean? I love Hellboy, Castle Waiting, and a lot of great one-offs (The Last of the Independents, by Matt Fraction--anyone?), but The Complete Sandman would definitely be at the top of my desert island list, so I think it has to make this one.

5. Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck. If there is a compendium of all Peck’s Blossom Culp books out there, I’d pick that, but if I had to pick one, you have to go with the original. I twiddled with this part of the list a bit—I wanted to include some quality YA fantasy (Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale), and some indulgent Pez-type stuff (I actually wrote an explanation of why Goodbye, Stacey, Goodbye is my favorite Babysitter’s Club book), and I recently fell in love with something else again (Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer), but if I want to boil it down, I think my desert island choice in this category would be Blossom Culp.

I’d like to say I keep up on the kids’ stuff because of my hoped-for youth librarian-future, but the truth is, it’s the other way around. Librarianship looked like a good place to go, since I was already reading this stuff. I think fantasy writers and YA writers are doing some of the purest storytelling out ther; they can’t afford to lose the story--the characters, the plot, the events—to their ideas and themes and statements about life, but they have to include those elements. I think it makes for disciplined work, and I think that’s why so much YA material appeals to me. I’m a little surprised, actually, that it only got one spot on the list, but here you have it.

Okay, this is more than enough for now. Six through ten, coming at you soon. Stay tuned!


humanrocketjlb said...

Preludes & Nocturnes, huh? I think I'd go with A Doll's House or perhaps Season of Mists. I always thought that Preludes & Nocturnes was good but not necessarily representative of the Sandman series as a whole.

LibraryHungry said...

You know, you're absolutely right--I jumped the gun a little with that one. I knew I wanted to choose Sandman, and for every series I thought of for the list I put down the first volume just for representative purposes. I'd have to go back to figure out which one I'd really choose, but my readers can consider this an addendum. Thanks!