Saturday, December 20, 2008

75 books every man should read

In contrast to the list of top books every woman has read, I've only read 9 from the similar list for men as compiled by Esquire. Unfortunately, they published their list in a very annoying format so you have to flip through this whole slide show thing to see their whole list. You can find it here, if you're so inclined.

Again, what makes these books essential for men? I did see a lot of books about war and/or naked women. Is that all? Can it be that simple?

top 75 books every woman should read

...according to Jezebel
  • The Lottery (and Other Stories), Shirley Jackson
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • Like Life, Lorrie Moore
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  • The Delta of Venus, Anais Nin
  • A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
  • A Good Man Is Hard To Find (and Other Stories), Flannery O'Connor
  • The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
  • You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, Alice Walker
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
  • Earthly Paradise, Colette
  • Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • Property, Valerie Martin
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
  • The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
  • Runaway, Alice Munro
  • The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  • The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  • You Must Remember This, Joyce Carol Oates
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
  • The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  • Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
  • The Group, Mary McCarthy
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
  • In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  • Three Junes, Julia Glass
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Sophie's Choice, William Styron
  • Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
  • Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  • The Face of War, Martha Gellhorn
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Harsh Voice, Rebecca West
  • Spending, Mary Gordon
  • The Lover, Marguerite Duras
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen
  • Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
  • Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
  • Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
  • Possession, A.S. Byatt
I've read 21 of them and I recognized several as ones I've been meaning to read. Any favorites on this list? What was left out? Why are these essential for women in particular?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

10 books to *not* read before you die

by Richard Wilson, Times Online September 17, 2008

10: Ulysses – James Joyce
9: Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien
8: For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
7: À la Recherche du Temps Perdu – Marcel Proust
6: The Dice Man – Luke Reinhart
5: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
4: The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolff
3: War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
2: The Iliad -- Homer
1: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

You really should read the article to see his reasoning. Some are quite funny, some are almost offensive. Take his reasoning on the number two pick, The Iliad:
The very idea that you are somehow culturally incomplete without knowledge of Homer is ridiculous. The Iliad is one of the most boring books ever written and it’s not just a boring book, it’s a boring epic poem; all repetitive battle scenes with a lot of reproaching and challenging and utterances escaping the barrier of one’s teeth and nostrils filling with dirt and helmet plumes nodding menacingly. There’s a big fight between Achilles and Hector and that’s about it.
He left out the bit about the cataloging of ships. Still, it is an amusing article. What are your most over-rated books?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

House Lights

by Leah Hager Cohen, published by Norton, 2007. 302 pages

A beautiful character-driven novel about Beatrice, a teenage girl who decides to be an actor. Her grandmother is a famous actress, but has been estranged from her family for as long as Beatrice can remember. Beatrice reaches out to her grandmother for advice, and in doing so begins the long process of defining herself separately from her parents. At the same time, her parents become embroiled in a scandal stemming from accusations on her father for sexual harassment. Both internal and external pressures help Beatrice leave her home and restrictive parents.

This is a rich book. The author has a gift for language, making descriptive passages that seem so right. The book emphasizes the need for language to have real meaning, not just sound important. (Beatrice's father is a professor who often launches into lectures that sound important but aren't necessarily meaningful.) The emphasis on truth and meaning is a refreshing change from Beatrice's childhood filled with words that cloak feeling and establish boundaries.

People who like character driven books and coming of age stories would like this book.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Then We Came to the End

by Joshua Ferris
Published by Little, Brown and Company (March 1, 2007). 400 pages.

A wonderful book about the disintegration of an advertising company. Written in first-person-plural, the reader is swept up in the action as we hear gossip, rumors, and watch our coworkers do weird or annoying things. As more people are laid off or fired and offices begin emptying, the sense of panic rises as each character anticipates the inevitable. The character development is very strong; we get a distinct impression of the people working here, their quirks, their fears. I found myself wondering who exactly the narrator was. Which of these strange people is the one telling this story? Some chapters of the book could be their own little short stories: sometimes very funny anecdotes, sometimes a scene of despair.

I highly recommend this book for fans of the Office television series, for those who like character development over plot, for anyone wanting an inside view of an American office as it struggles to survive at the end of boom times.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Plot to Save Socrates

by Paul Levinson, 2006, 266 pages

This book was recommended to me by someone who said it reminded them a bit of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. As this is one of my favorite books, I promptly checked it out of the library. I can say that yes, there was time travel and some sleuthing involved, but it wasn't humorous in the same way as Willis can be. The novel was at times a bit ponderous and loosely based on philosophic ideas rather than relying on wit and plot to draw the reader in (which was the case with To Say Nothing of the Dog).

The book opens with Sierra Waters, a grad student in New York City in 2042. Her specialty is ancient Athens, which turns out to be just ideal because she ends up becoming embroiled in a time travel quest which goal is to save Socrates from his fatal poisoning in ancient Athens.

The plot begins when her teacher finds an old lost dialog involving Socrates and his conversation with Andros, a visitor to his cell trying to convince Socrates to escape. Andros claims to be from another time, and can provide a DNA-complete replica of Socrates to leave in the cell, so no one will ever know the difference. So the mystery becomes: who is Andros? Did/will Andros succeed? What will the impact be on modern society to suddenly have Socrates living among us again?

To answer these questions, Sierra and her teacher, and a few friends they make along the way, begin traveling through time, assuming different names and roles as events roll along. This gets a bit confusing as the narration shifts from character to character, so the reader never has one character to cling to in all of the adventure. The reader is left to straggle along behind all of the adventurers and try to pick up what is happening. For a long part in the middle of the book, it almost threatens to unravel completely, but then things start to come back together. By the end of the book most things are resolved, but the reader is still left feeling a bit uncertain.

Besides the storytelling method outlined above, another technique used by the author was to tie in parts of the newly-discovered Socratic dialog as the book moves on. At the beginning, our characters had found only a page or two; by the end of the book the reader has finally been exposed to the entire discovered dialog. As the characters find the pages, they often seem to ramble on a bit in their own kind of Platonic dialog amongst themselves (especially when they get to talk to Socrates himself!). I found myself struggling a bit as this happened more and more often. If I see another character simply replying "yes" to a long question from another character, I will scream.

Last Night at the Lobster

by Stewart O'Nan, 2007, 146 pages

The scene is the last day of operation at one Red Lobster location in a run down corner of a New England mall. Manny DeLeon, the manager here for years, has come to feel the restaurant is his, and the loss of it weighs deeply on him. He takes pride in his work and cares for the employees under his supervision.

The book opens as Manny arrives for the last day of work at the Red Lobster, which is complicated by the huge snowstorm on the way, the last minute no-shows of some key employees, and Manny's lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend -- the waitress Jacquie. Also causing distraction is the fact that Christmas is only 4 days away and he still doesn't know what to get his pregnant girlfriend. He wants to find that one gift that will make their relationship better, and in a larger sense, Manny is looking for the one perfect thing that will make everything better. Despite his best intentions, the day winds to a close much the way it opened, and the book ends.

This novel is extremely poetic in its sparse way. There is a whirlwind of character and emotion in the short 146 page book. The reader comes to care for Manny and his restaurant, despite the fact that they are both, in some ways, losers.