books tell stories

A few years ago, a friend and I sat down one summer night and watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It was the first in a these-days-aborted attempt to watch all the movies on AFI’s top 100 movies list. I’d seen a good chunk of them already, he’d seen another batch, and there were about 30 that were new to both of us. We got through “Singin’ in the Rain” (#10), “Maltese Falcon” (#23), “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (#30), “Network” (#66) and a few others with the help of Netflix queues and the AFI Silver Theatre, but somewhere along the way we stopped actively attacking the list. (“Rebel Without a Cause” (#59) is playing tomorrow night at Screen on the Green.)

The lesson here? I approach top 100 lists with enthusiasm, and then that enthusiasm wanes. The lists, in short, are like many other aspects of my life.

The last time I tried similar project for books, I settled on the Time 100. It came out in 2005 and had a few main advantages over other lists, such as the good sense to include “Watchmen” and the noticeable absence of Ayn Rand and  James Joyce (I’m looking at you, Modern Library).  That’s as far as I got, though: settling on the list. I think that was about four years ago.

And so, inspired by someone else’s attempt at that good old Time list, I’m trying again. As this journey of 100 books begins with a list, a few thoughts emerge already:

— Two books (“Grapes of Wrath” and “Watchmen”) are already part of my book project photo set.

–Several authors (William Gibson, Willa Cather, Evelyn Waugh) are well-represented on my shelves, but I’ve somehow skipped the particular books on this list.

–I Do. Not. Want. to read “Revolutionary Road.”

–Speaking of movies, the adaptation of James Dickey’s “Deliverance” isn’t on AFI’s main 100, but it’s #15 on the thrillers. I wonder how many other movie/book crossovers there are among these collections? For their Dashiell Hammett entry, Modern Library went with “Maltese Falcon” (#23 on AFI); Time here picked “Red Harvest.” Oh, and here’s “Gone with the Wind” on both, too (#4 at AFI).

–I swear among the 6 or 7 times I was assigned to read “Beloved” between 11th grade and graduating with a BA in English, I actually did read it at least once. But in those five years, that book was so dissected, so ripped apart, so analyzed as to no longer resemble anything worth reading. I want to try it again for fun without having to hand in a paper at the end of the semester. (No book reports here, right?)

–My favorite part about the Time collection is how few books on it I’ve read

And now, the list:

The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

American Pastoral, Philip Roth

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm, George Orwell (* but I should probably reread this)

Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

The Assistant, Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Beloved, Toni Morrison (*yeah, probably ought to reread this, too)

The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

Call It Sleep, Henry Roth

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

A Death in the Family, James Agee

The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance, James Dickey

Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone

Falconer, John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (*actually in progress now)

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (please note the Web address you are currently visiting)

A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene

Herzog, Saul Bellow

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius, Robert Graves

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Light in August, William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Loving, Henry Green

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Money, Martin Amis

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch, William Burroughs

Native Son, Richard Wright

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

1984, George Orwell

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

A Passage to India, E.M. Forster

Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

Possession, A.S. Byatt

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run, John Updike

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

The Recognitions, William Gaddis

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (ugggghhhh)

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

The Sportswriter, Richard Ford

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller (Do I get half credit for reading Anais Nin’s diary?)

Ubik, Philip K. Dick

Under the Net, Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

White Noise, Don DeLillo

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Advertisements

A festival! Of books!

September 27, 2008

, originally uploaded by erin m.

The National Book Festival is always better when Neil Gaiman is there. At least that’s what I think in the off years, when he’s off visiting other readers in other states around this day and I’m camping out in the mystery tent looking for a new author to read. This year, I felt very badly for the fans who crammed his reading, then raced toward the signing tent (stopping in the elbow-room’s-a-luxury book sales tent that ran out of his new book anyway), stood in line with hundreds of other people also hoping for a few precious seconds with him, and then got rained on when the storm that had been threatening all day finally broke. I love Neil Gaiman, but even my adoration has its limits.

My souvenir? Pretty pictures of my favorite author, like the one up there. And others, which can be found here.

Conflict resolution

September 22, 2008

During a bit of downtime at work this month, I followed a series of links (I can’t remember if it started over at Wil Wheaton’s blog or on Boing Boing. With those two, it’s a chicken-egg situation, anyway), and I ended up over at a 2006 New York Times review of Brian Wood’s “DMZ.” (Yes, Virginia, they do make comic books about photojournalists!) Volume 5 just came out last month, but I’ve managed to get along though life without ever knowing about the book, a state I’ve been trying to correct for the last two weeks.

So what does the dutiful geek do when she learns about a new comic? Well, she doesn’t rush out to support the local comic book store, which is what she should have done immediately. She feels badly for this, especially because she walks by said comic book store every single day and lives six blocks from it. Really, there is no excuse for the turn this story’s about to take.

Instead, she left her office (in the middle of a tropical storm! Can I have some of those geek points back now? For risking death in the name of comics?) to hit up the Borders across the street. The shelf was empty, but the computer promised another copy was on the way. I figured someone else saw a review of the latest and wanted to get caught up, too. A trip to the Barnes & Noble on E Street ended with my hands similarly empty.

You know how Big Box Stores came in and ruined the specialty shops? The local hardware store and main street and all that? And now no one at Big Box Store will help you pick out a hammer or something and everyone leaves without being united with the perfect shiny tool and dreaming of happier times.* It’s pretty much the same thing with Big Bookstores: a selection that runs wide–three stories! lattes!–but not very deep. They’ve got 45 copies of “Watchmen” on display (which, really, I think is great), but god help you if you’re trying to find something Time magazine didn’t pick as one of the top books of the century. Repeated return trips to Borders revealed that the book was not actually on order and that it will not be restocked. Like an infant who just has to touch the pretty red stove, I kept returning to Barnes and Noble too, hoping that on the next trip the shelves would be magically realphabetized and resemble something close to an organized system. Like much in life, I was continually disappointed.**

So, finally, tonight I walk the long way (it wasn’t through snow and ice, but it was uphill, especially after I’d started walking home the other way) to finally stop at Fantom Comics in Union Station. And goddamnit if they weren’t forced to close early for a stupid event in the Great Hall.

Someday I’ll read “DMZ,” and I bet I’ll love it.

*My mom told me recently that the former owners of Ye Olde Hardeware Shoppe in my hometown have taken to telling everyone that Wal-Mart drove them out of business. It was 15 years ago, and I guess they figure that no one around now remembers that they closed two years before Wal-Mart opened and that the reason they went out of business was because crotchety old men may be great for adding character but they suck at providing customer service.

**I also harbored a secret hope that the area would be free of That Guy, who often glares at me as though I have no right to look in the section and disturb the 15 feet of personal space he has carved out for himself next to the manga.