It’s one of those memes spreading across Facebook, but one that actually has some merit (to my mind) in that it is designed to engage folks in conversations about books they love:
Rules: In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.
I like that. I like that it specifies “books that have stayed with you in some way” rather than your all-time favorites. “Ones that have touched you.” I wouldn’t even start trying to list my favorite ten books of all time, but I’m happy to list a few favorites that moved me and now come to mind.
I also like the exercise well enough to share it here, for posterity, rather than as just a mote of data washing by in the social media stream. And I won’t simply list the books, I’ll tell you something about them, and about what they mean to me. (This also fits in with my recent pledge to get back to regularly reviewing books I read).
And I’ll do it now. Here they are, in no particular order:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury — This one would be on my list of all-time favorites if I ever made it. A tale of two small town boys, friends, born on opposite sides of midnight Halloween night, facing the surreal and terrifying threats of a dark circus that comes to town one chill night. This is a book about childhood and magic and dreams and libraries and laughter and books. Ray Bradbury was the writer who inspired me to officially decide I was going to be a writer, and this is his very best. It also makes me think of my best friend of many years, Rusty, the Will Halloway to my Jim Nightshade in the dyad of our youth.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin — Another wonderful book, an epic tale of fantasy and magic realism which explores New York City and life from all sorts of whimsical and tragic directions. I don’t know much about Mark Helprin as a person (I do know he supported and wrote speeches for Bob Dole, which deeply disappointed me at the time but seems a nearly insignificant fault in light of the monstrous Republicans who replaced Dole on the national scene), but he’s a brilliant writer. This book made me laugh out loud (there’s a brilliantly cartoonish gang of ne’er-do-wells in its pages), fall in love, and cry. It’s an overflowing treasure chest of literary wonder. (Apparently it’s now a movie, but I guarantee you should read the book before, or instead of, seeing it.)
Looking For Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker — Many of you will know the private detective Spenser from the old Robert Urich TV show Spenser: For Hire, which, as such adaptations go, was pretty good; Urich was personable, growing into the character over time, and his costar Avery Brooks was the definitive Hawk. I wanted to have a Spenser book here because Spenser — and his creator — have been great personal and professional influences on me for years. But there are a lot of Spenser novels, so the question was, which to feature? I decided to go with the very first I read, in which Spenser, manly man with a poet’s soul, is hired to bodyguard a rabidly feminist lesbian writer who most definitely doesn’t like having a seeming brute like him around. The interplay between the two as they intelligently argue sexual politics, along with Spenser’s relationship with his beloved Susan Silverman and the easy action of the tale, hooked me for life. Spenser is the thinking man’s gumshoe, big and brawny but just as quick with a Yeats quote as he is with his fists, and Parker rarely fails to deliver the goods.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry — This gigantic Pulitzer Prize winner is not just an epic western, it’s an honest-to-gods great American novel. McMurtry gives us a tale of two aged Texas Rangers, now ranchers, who decide to have one last great adventure by taking a herd of cattle from Texas to the new territories of Montana. As they travel, we see the Old West, like them fading into the past as the modern age overtakes it. It’s a powerful, rich, poignant book, full of excitement and interesting people; Augustus McCrae alone is one of literature’s finest characters. There is also, of course, a great miniseries which is one of the few adaptations of a novel which I’d say you can watch before reading the book and not miss out in the experience. Read it, because, aye God, sometimes you just want to kick a pig.
Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber — Fritz Leiber is a true grandmaster of fiction (I consider him the Shakespeare of fantasy), and his books featuring the swordsmen Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are his very best work. I list Swords and Deviltry because it’s the first of the series, but all of them are fabulous, and my favorite is the fifth book (and only full novel; all else is short stories and novellas), The Swords of Lankhmar, which is full of intrigues and wizardry and wererats. In Swords and Deviltry, we meet the soulful-yet-hulking barbarian Fafhrd and the clever-and-small Gray Mouser, and they meet each other, and literature is never the same. By turns whimsical and dour, romantic and dark, surreal and gritty, the escapades of these great heroes are fantastic literature at its very finest.
The Island Within by Richard Nelson — The only nonfiction volume in this list, Nelson’s book is a powerfully written account of his personal explorations of nature and spirit on an unnamed isle somewhere along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Like a contemporary Thoreau, he goes to the wilds to learn about them and, in the process, learns about himself. I’ve read a great many books about the great outdoors and our various attempts to invade and/or commune with it; The Island Within is one of the best.
Santa Steps Out by Robert Devereaux — I’ve been hyping this fucking book since 2000, first in a review on Amazon and lots of personal recommendations (the year I discovered it, all my friends got it for Christmas), then on my blog pretty much every Christmas season. And when I call it a “fucking book,” that’s exactly what it is: a book about fucking. Santa Claus fucking. The Tooth Fairy fucking. Elves fucking. The Easter Bunny fucking. Various mortals fucking. But you know what? The book is also an in-depth exploration of human romantic and sexual relationships, deeply wise and compassionate and insightful. It is one of the most out there, profane, outrageous, grotesque, and pornographic novels I have ever read, but it is also one of the most imaginative and moving and, dare I say it, sacred fantasy tales I know of. Devereaux is an outstanding writer with a big, swollen, throbbing imagination. If you’re not a prude, or even if you’re a prude with a sense of humor, let him poke you with it; you may just love this book as much as I do.
The Beasts of Valhalla by George Chesbro — The second private detective novel on my list, this one is very different from the first. It stars one Robert “Mongo the Magnificent” Frederickson, a PI who shares both sharp intellect and deep compassion with Robert Parker’s Spenser, but, as a dwarf, has nowhere near the physical power. Mongo is an ex-circus acrobat, professor of criminology, and black belt in karate, and he’s a wonderful hero starring in a series of books of which this one is by far the best. Beasts of Valhalla starts as a detective novel but winds up somewhere in a dark, science fiction/horror territory, with Mongo acting as the daring hobbit facing dread evil in a modern day Lord of the Rings. This book ROCKS.
Those who want to read Mongo’s series from its start, find yourself a copy of Shadow of a Broken Man and enjoy. The books are all great fun, though in the later ones Chesbro builds a team of phenomenal comrades for Mongo that is so competent they diminish the resonance and humanity of the small man in a big world. It’s like he has the Avengers backing him up.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King — I read this when I was a teen, roughly thirty-five years ago, and it remains my favorite vampire novel and possibly my favorite King book. This is him at his best, a page-turning, scary-as-hell, leave-the-light-on-at-bedtime masterpiece, cleverly echoing and referencing Stoker’s Dracula. If you only know the story by either of its televised adaptations, you don’t know the story. Read the book.
Shadowland by Peter Straub — And closing out the list, Peter Straub with his own masterpiece. This is one of those books I can read over and over again and never tire of it. A tale of two boys, apprentices of sorts to a magician whose creepy estate, Shadowland, is gradually revealed to be a surreal kingdom, haunted by horrors and creatures from fairy tales. The book also plays some interesting literary games (most notably referencing John Fowles’s The Magus, which tells its own similar tale).
Oh, what the heck, I’m gonna throw in another. I’m a rebel.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire — My favorite first line of a book is from Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. My favorite almost last line, which I won’t share as it’s a spoiler, is from Wicked. It’s a line that kicks me in the gut every time I read it (and if you peek without reading the book, you’re an idiot). This book is a literary tour de force, a look at Oz and its characters through a much more complex and sophisticated and adult filter. It, naturally, has a lot in common with its Broadway adaptation, but it’s richer and deeper and a whole lot darker than the Great White Way’s showrunners would allow. Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, is a grand character, and the world of Oz is a far more political and complicated place than you may have realized.
That’s my quick ten plus one. How about you? What books have stuck with you, stayed with you, stirred you…? Let us know in the comments below…