Sunday, March 15, 2009

that 100 books meme

This meme has been floating around facebook and I'm sure beyond, but I've felt oddly dissatisfied after completing my list, as so many great titles were missing. Even after the list was "exposed" (thanks, for the link Markin), I still have been thinking about missing books. A bibliophile? You bet. So here is my stab at some if the most important books in my life to date.

1. D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire - has a no-nonsense approach in its prose but also doesn't back away from the intricacies and sheer craziness of Greek Gods' romances and antics. Pair that with the incredible lithograph illustrations and it's simply an amazing book. I have been scooping up all of this husband and wife team's titles for my daughter (and me) which are thankfully coming back into print.

2-4. A. A. Milne - The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, Now We are Six - Everyone knows Disney's Winnie the Pooh, but I first met Christopher Robin and Co. through the originals - my mom's childhood books, which I still treasure. The words and the Ernest Shepard illustrations are wonderful.

5-8. Garth Williams - As wonderful as E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan are, what ties them together for me are the illustrations of Garth Williams. I even love his Golden Books like Baby Farm Animals.

9. Norton Juster The Phantom Tollbooth - Where else can a kid learn a word like dodecahedron and love it? One of the best books ever with wonderful illustrations by Jules Pfeiffer.

10. James Thurber Many Moons - the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin add to this wonderful alternate princess tale.

11. Richard Scarry is another of the best children's books illustrators around. Any of his books are a delight, but I grew up loving the collection Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever! which is still in print.

12-15. Dr. Seuss - The wonderful use of language, the fantastic drawings - Dr. Seuss is beyond compare. The Sneetches has always been a favorite, but of course The Cat on the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Lorax are tops, too.

16-19. Louisa May Alcott Little Women - I devoured all of these one summer, but the first book is the best one. I'll never really forgive her for Bess or how she sloughed off Laurie on the annoying Amy, but that shows how involved I was. (Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins)

20-21. The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Classics, and for a good reason.

22. T. S. Eliot Complete Poems & Plays - My mom used to read us poems from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (no, I've never seen the musical).

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.

When I was in college I borrowed it when we were reading The Hollow Men.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Now after getting into the Plantagenets I look forward to reading his play about Beckett and Henry II, Murder in the Cathedral.

23-28. Agatha Christie - Originally my mom's books, I probably borrowed, kept, and then read all of them more than once, but am particularly fond of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. Escapist puzzle fun for sure, but what makes me reread them is the microcosm of British society and mores of the 30s, 40s and beyond as viewed through her upper-middle-class eyes. A society that no longer exists, but is fun to visit from time to time. Plus, a lot of her books feature artists as characters. Favorites include The Hollow, And Then There Were None, After the Funeral, Towards Zero, Five Little Pigs and The ABC Murders.

29-31. Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series. I got the Agatha Christies from mom and the grittier mysteries from my dad. Scudder prowls the very familiar (to me) New York and Brooklyn streets, continually battling the bottle, crime and his own history. Block uses real locations, which is satusfying for any reader with a knowledge of the city. Burglar Bernie is in the same New York, but with light fingers and a lighter touch. Favorites include When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Burglars Can't Be Choosers.

32. Also inherited from dad was a love of sci-fi and short stories. Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man. "The Veldt." Nuff said.

33-34. Mary Renault's Theseus series is a perfect retelling of an ancient myth, making the characters believable and human. I would love to write book like The King Must Die and its successor, The Bull From the Sea.

35-39. I recently came across historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman and her The Sunne in Splendour and I haven't looked back. Her Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II trilogy When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and Devil's Brood, is excellent. Happily there are more books for me to read, including a historical mystery series, starting with The Queen's Man.

40-44. Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur is a wonderful read and gave me a background I could bring to such diverse favorites as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Another couple of favorites along this line are The Lais of Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes's Perceval and Arthurian Romances.

45. I read Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams for an art theory class in college and had some of the most vivid dreams of my life. The book also reads like a mystery in parts, other parts just plain interesting.

46. Claude Levi-Strauss The Naked Man is an anthropology classic, but is also very interesting for a fan of mythology.

47. Arthur Rimbaud Illuminations has some gorgeous poems, in French and English.

48-49. I also read Voltaire's Candide for French class and then bought Tartarin de Tarascon while on vacation in southern France years later. The only two books I've read in a foreign language and really felt like I could get into the "head" of the language. They both happen to be very funny, which might have helped.

50-51. Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth. I've read most of the plays, either for school or for pleasure, but these two are the ones that have stayed with me. The language is just amazing.

52-53. Robert Graves I Claudius and Claudius the God. More great historical fiction, meticulously researched, which has changed how we view the early Roman emperors.

54-74. Alexander McCall Smith is just a delight and beyond prolific. His entire Ladies #1 Detective Agency series is wonderful, with heroine Precious Ramotswe gently guiding the reader and the books' characters through life's deeper questions. He continues the philosophical trend in his series set in Edinburgh, The Sunday Philosophy Club. And his installment-driven 44 Scotland Street series is just as engaging. We recently picked up one of his children's books, which also looks to be lots of fun.

75. Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is an amazing collection of short stories based on fairy tales, including the wonderful "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves."

O.K. There's 75 for a start! Obviously I've read more than 100 great books. I've tried to start cataloging my books in LibraryThing, but found it too daunting and time-consuming. As much fun as it's been to try to put together this list, it's a lot more fun to read the books. And I haven't even scratched the surface of my to-read pile yet...


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