Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Lucy has tagged me twice and it's time to respond. First up, my five favorite books:

My favorite book for many, many years -- probably about 30 -- has been The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I still think it's a nearly perfect novel, with wonderfully idiosyncratic characters, a thrilling plot, and laughs galore. My father read the paperback when it was first published and passed his copy on to me after reading a few choice passages aloud and seeing how enthralled I was. I still have that beat-up old paperback, along with just about every other English-language edition of the book that has ever been published. I've read it fifteen or twenty times, and I think I discover something new to love about it with each rereading. Don't think you know the story if you've only seen the movie.

Another book I inherited from Dad and have reread many times is Anne Hobbs's memoir, Tisha. In the 1920s, 19-year-old Anne moved from the bustling metropolis of Denver, Colorado to itty-bitty Chicken, Alaska with the plan of becoming a schoolteacher. Tisha is the story of the year she spent living and working in Chicken, of the incredible racism and sexism she encountered, and of the love she eventually found with a half-Eskimo (and thus unsuitable) man. It's a book that's filled with adventure, humor, righteous outrage, and love of all kinds. In her own way, Anne Hobbs was heroic and I really responded to that.

Can I count the Little House books as one choice? They, like all the other books on this list, were stories I read again and again, both as a child and later as an adult. I enjoy seeing the books mature as Laura does, changing from very simply-written to much more sophisticated books as Laura grows up. Ma and Pa were my role models: between the two of them, it seemed, they could do anything that needed doing. I loved their can do/make do approach to life -- they may not have had any other choice, but I liked their attitude. I read the books all out of order the first few times and only owned a couple of them as a kid; when I started working in a bookstore during college, one of my first treats to myself was to buy the hardback editions one at a time and read them in order.

I've been a horror fan since I was a child, and Stephen King's Salem's Lot was the first adult horror story I read -- I think I was about 13. I loved it because it terrified me, and King managed to terrify me because he rooted the story (as he does much of his fiction) in the mundane, ordinary details of everyday life. He established this workaday world in which vampires could not possibly exist... and then he made me believe in vampires. I've read many of his books since then and enjoyed most of them, but Salem's Lot is one of only a couple I've reread and it will always be my favorite Stephen King story, as well as one of my all-time favorite books.

So here we are at number five and things are getting tougher. Do I say The Compleat Practical Joker by H. Allan Smith or Maybe He's Dead by Mary Ann Madden? A Little Princess or Harriet the Spy? It's tough, but since my guiding factor in compiling this list seems to be rereadability, I'm going to go with Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything & Everybody by Charles Panati. It was published as a companion to The Browser's Book of Beginnings, which far outsold Endings but utterly paled in comparison to content. Endings is the perfect bedside or bathroom read, full of repellent, unnerving, horrifying, and sometimes just melancholy information on things like killer diseases, capital punishment, extinctions of all kinds, deaths of famous persons, bygone sexual practices, and the fascinating evolution of graveyards into memorial parks. When Norman once asked me, "I wonder if there's a cure for syphilis?" this is the book I looked in for the answer, and it did not fail me.

Lucy also is wondering what my favorite comfort movies are. My list, in no particular order, is brief:

While You Were Sleeping
Unfaithfully Yours (the Preston Sturges version)
When Harry Met Sally
The Apartment

Sometimes I also find Jaws soothing, but not always.

No comments: