The Ten Favorite Books Thing
My dear friend, Angie Stiepel Case, challenged me to select my ten favorite books and then I’m supposed to nominate ten other friends to do the same- like a Facebook literary chain letter. I adore Angie but I have a paranoid suspicion that this was invented by some fiendish Facebook employee as a means of getting us all to give up precious, marketable details about our literary tastes that will be exploited by aggressive algorithms that will populate our newsfeeds with ever more highly targeted ads designed to penetrate our very psyches.
So here are my ten, complete with humorous anecdotes and memories attached. Considering all the books ever written, I would say my selections reveal me to be a fairly shallow individual who was basically formed in the 70’s and 80’s and never really grew up. But I’m happy that way.
In no particular order:
The World According to Garp– John Irving: The book was better than the movie which starred Robin Williams as Garp. But the film had a great scene that lives in my memory forever. Garp and his wife are looking to buy a house and as they step out of their car onto the driveway, a small plane crashes through the roof of the place. Garp immediately puts an offer on the home asking what are the chances that happens again.
Little Big Man– Thomas Berger: The film directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman is one of my all-time favorites. Hoffman is the 104-year old Jack Crabb who recounts a life of “injuns,” (raised by the Cheyenne nation) and savage U.S. cavalry, with real life characters like Wild Bill Hickok and George Armstrong Custer. Chief Dan George was nominated for an academy award. Author, Thomas Berger, passed away last July and I bought the book and it is just as fantastic and touching as the movie. He is a terrific writer. In its day, the book and movie were considered a protest of sorts against the U.S. military during the Vietnam War era, but it stands on its own without that baggage and reads like one of the best historical novels on the American west…ever.
Contact– Carl Sagan: Another book turned into a movie starring Jodie Foster and Mathew McConaughey. They are very different works. The movie does the best job ever of depicting the moment contact is made with intelligent life. The audio representation of the contact is not scientifically accurate at all but the poetic license taken is totally justified. The movie does not have what was the mind-blowing ending in Carl Sagan’s novel. One of the best science fiction endings of all time, in my opinion. Hidden, deep, deep in the calculation of Pi, a super computer discovers a pattern that is an undeniable message from an alien force so powerful, it can alter mathematics; a force so clever that it knows its message cannot be found until a civilization builds powerful enough computing skills to demonstrate the necessary technical proficiency and advancement. Carl Sagan!
Lincoln– Gore Vidal: One of the best historical novels of all time. Vidal paints a vivid picture of civil war Washington, complete with its houses of ill repute, the dusty streets, the stench of the canal that ran behind the White House, spies that crossed the Long Bridge to enter Washington from Virginia. A masterful, memorable work.
Chesapeake, Space, Alaska– James A. Michner: Ok, three books listed as one but it’s Michner. I remember reading just about all his books on various beaches over various summers. This trio are my favorites.
Lucifer’s Hammer– Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: One of my favorite post-apocolyptic novels. Big Meteorite hits the Earth head-on. The build-up is terrific. The strike itself is well-described- like the surfers who paddle into the Pacific to catch the wave of their lives- a full-fledged tsunami that leaves one of them dying spectacularly as he slams into a Los Angeles skyscraper. Good stuff.
Rendevous with Rama– Arthur C. Clarke: Layer upon layer of imagination and mind-bending discoveries aboard a gigantic alien vessel with breath-taking detail, a master work by the greatest science fiction writer of all time.
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy– W.P. Kinsella: One of the lesser known baseball novels by the author of Field of Dreams. A bizarre, metaphysical, mysterious journey through the prism of a baseball game that refuses to end.
The Pillars of the Earth– Ken Follet: You have to love a historical novel about the building of cathedrals that stars as its protagonist a man named Tom Builder. The middle ages in a wonderful mix of palace intrigue, intimate character development and medieval architecture.
Breakfast of Champions– Kurt Vonnegut: The favorite author of my youth. I read everything he wrote and then wrote like him. And thought like him. Biting satire; humor with meaning. He was my literary hero. Breakfast of Champions is notable in my life for the following weird reason. I had a final paper due in college- a dense book review due at 8am. At 10pm, I had not written a word. But I had just read Breakfast of Champions. I plopped a coffee and a bottle of no-doz on the 7-11 counter. The cashier must have sensed I was a young college student preparing for a cram session and magically produced a couple of amphetamines. It was destiny. I swear, it’s the only time I ever took white crosses. But that was 1975 and the statute of limitations has surely run out by now.
Anyway, the journey that followed was a spirited creative frenzy, to say the least. For those who may not have read the book, Kurt Vonnegut himself makes an appearance in the novel and totally freaks out his own main character by revealing himself as his creator. I drew up a three-tiered chart explaining each reality-within-reality that Vonnegut constructed. I wrote whimsically about the hilarious diagrams Vonnegut sprinkled throughout the book like the thing that looked pretty much like an asterisk * – which was Vonnegut’s representation of an asshole. I’m sure I wrote other much more intelligent things that I’ve since forgotten because I really was on quite a roll.
I think I may have also written a review of Welcome to the Monkey House. That was a collection of Vonnegut short stories that features my all-time favorite- Thomas Edison’s Shaggy Dog. The famous inventor creates a head-phone-like device that can measure intelligence. He notices his dog looking a little nervous. Edison puts the headphones on the dog and sure enough, the IQ level is three times that of his own. The dog admits the great scam that has been perpetrated on the human race and later has to pay the price, attacked by all the neighborhood dogs who caught wind that he had betrayed the ancient secret.
I drove to school, turned the paper in at precisely 8am drove back home and passed out. The following week I got an A+. On my final. Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut. Always and forever.
I am currently refraining from naming the ten others I would challenge for their favorite books in case this really is a ruse by evil algorithm creators. I will revisit the matter at a later time. I trust this is not like breaking a chain letter and that I now have 7 years of bad luck or something.