There are too many books. There. I’ve said it. Stop writing books please. I’m only halfway through The Iliad and now David Mitchell has another fucking book coming out? C’mon Mitchell. Give me a break. Sure, your books are in turns puzzles, elegies, adventures, and epics–but can you slow down a little bit? I haven’t even read Mill On The Floss yet. How has this happened? I mean, it took me weeks to read Middlemarch nearly twenty years ago and I just haven’t had the time to get back to Eliot. And Marilynne Robinson has a new one coming out, too? It’s just generally very uncool of her to put out another book when I’m still thinking about Housekeeping. Bogus move, Robinson. It’s like all these writers are trying to say more words than the world needs. Stop putting your words together. It’s annoying and rude. I’m going right now to start a Facebook group that will demand all writers stop writing books for at least two hundred years so the rest of us can catch up. All except for George R.R. Martin. If that guy doesn’t hurry up and get Daenerys Targaryen up on a goddamn dragon, I’m going to lose my mind.
A lot of lists on Facebook about books right now. List ten books that stuck with you! Don’t think too hard! Just hit the first ones that come to mind! I did it. A good first list, but a flawed top ten no matter how you look at it. I left too many off. These deserve mention.
The White Mountains by John Christopher because I read it when I was twelve and I was so worried I’d never be able to find a copy of my own that I started copying out the pages.
Splinter in the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster because we didn’t have a bookstore in my hometown until I was a teenager. My bookstore was the drugstore book aisle and the shelves were packed with sci-fi. Alan Dean Foster was my favorite.
Shogun by James Clavell because it was twelve hundred pages of adventure.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky because it was the first book I ever wrote in. I scrawled “Intense” in the margins during a scene in which Raskolnikov is questioned.
The World According to Garp by John Irving because it let me believe I could write.
The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison because she writes lyrically about ugliness.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien because that last story/chapter completely changes what I thought the book was about.
The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser because, whoa.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf because everyone who dislikes this book says nothing happens. What are they talking about? Everything happens in this book!
A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block because although it’s filed under mystery in the bookstore, this bloody book is literature, pure and simple.
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James because he writes such long sentences.
In Search of Lost Time (Volumes 1-3) because Proust writes even longer sentences and every single thing is important.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner because of that simple, killer last sentence.
Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis because what in the world is she up to, anyway?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell because the world is a puzzle.
Absalom, Absalom by Faulkner because its the exact opposite of Go Down Moses–two sides of one brilliant writer.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf because it’s the antidote for despair.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because you’d never expect a story written as a powerpoint presentation to be powerful, but damn.
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri because of her quiet amassing of details.
Hunger by Knut Hamsun because nothing will make you grateful for bread like this book.
Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan because in his invented town of Arrow Catcher, he finds all that is good and bad in the south.
Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio because what could a Catholic poet from the 13th Century have to say to me? Everything, that’s what.
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz because tell me you aren’t in the hands of a master.
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor because of how that first sentence echoes throughout the entire novel.
The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim because it’s the single strangest book I’ve ever read but when I turned the last past, nothing strange remained.
To the Wedding by John Berger because how could a blind jewelry merchant in Greece tell the story of a young couple, one of whom has Aids, getting married far away even though he only met the couple once? Because Berger says he can, that’s why.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley because “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.”
And still the list is incomplete! And I haven’t even got to the poets yet! Good lord, I’ll be here all day. I have to get back to the book I’m reading. And prepare for the one after that. I need to do a list like this at least once a year.
I was reading about authors and the books that changed them or if not changed them, then at least stayed with them over the years, captured some part of their imagination and wouldn’t let go. I have many books like that. Many of them look like this:
I loved this book. Polaris. And I don’t remember a single thing about it aside from the cover and the title. Before I wrote this post, I hadn’t seen the cover since probably 1984 and yet I could conjure it very clearly in my mind. I felt very comforted when I went searching for the image and found it quite easily. I’m sure the book–5 & Dime Sci-fi at its finest–is no great shakes. But I bet I’ll remember that cover until I’m old & demented.
There are so many great books I’ve never read. I keep writing, trying to add more books to the pile (unsuccessfully, to date) and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it be easier to try to read the great books instead of laboring to add a tiny voice to the pool? I doubt I’ll quit, at least not this year. A few days ago, I started reading Henry Miller. He is both profane and sacred, vulgar and cerebral, deadly serious and gut-busting funny. Here is a paragraph t makes me laugh every time I think about it. It just seems so ridiculous and perfect that he says “fuck a duck” here. Enjoy.
Today has been tough on writing. The desire to write has been there. But the daily life of connections and chores has taken most of the time. Stupid time. Hate it so much. When I write these days, one of our bookshelves is in front of me. I look up and BAM–books. So many books to read. So many books I’ll never get to read. And I keep trying to add one of my own to the pile. Some days, I wish I was simply a reader. Or a writer who could write normal, marketable manuscripts.