Sunday, February 13, 2011

Favorites: Volume I.

One of the issues my friends are constantly running into with me, is that I have a tendency to make people lists of books that I am convinced they MUST READ. I know they probably won't, but in the moment I create that list (one which starts out as five or ten and quickly spirals out of control) I am convinced I am offering to them a life-changing list of such monumental proportions that they will almost explode with gratitude and either fall madly in love with me or bake me cookies. So far, none of this has actually happened. Usually no one even reads what I recommend to them, at all, actually. But now, via the internet, I get to reach a wider audience. A wider audience of people just on the brink of falling madly in love with me or suddenly acquiring a desire to bake—go for it audience. Read away and we'll see what happens. Wink.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger

It's everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so—I don't know—not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and—sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much only in a different way.
Not the real cover of any edition, but it should be.
If you've never read anything by J.D. Salinger, it's probably best for you not to start here. Do The Catcher in the Rye, or Nine Stories (which both belong on this list as well, but since F&Z is about a senior at Smith College I'm partial at the moment) and then take this on. I feel like you already have to get a hold on what Salinger's up to for this to be fully appreciated. It's two stories: Franny' Glass's break down and then her dealing's with her brother Zooey (Zachary Martin Glass, or “Z. Martini Glass”—Oh Salinger! You sly and handsome devil.) Everything to do with the Glass family is particularly wonderful (including the film The Royal Tenenbaums, which is rumored to be based off the fictional family,) all a dash of Eastern mysticism mixed in with a dash of the problems facing the overly-educated human condition. He's overwhelming fun to pick apart, if you're into that. I am.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

There’s something about that tunnel that leads to downtown. It’s glorious at night. Just glorious. You start on one side of the mountain, and it’s dark, and the radio is loud. As you enter the tunnel, the wind gets sucked away, and you squint from the lights overhead. When you adjust to the lights, you can see the other side in the distance just as the sound of the radio fades because the waves just can’t reach. Then, you’re in the middle of the tunnel, and everything becomes a calm dream. As you see the opening get closer, you just can’t get there fast enough. And finally, just when you think you’ll never get there, you see the opening right in front of you. And the radio comes back even louder than you remember it. And the wind is waiting. And you fly out of the tunnel onto the bridge. And there it is. The city. A million lights and buildings and everything seems as exciting as the first time you saw it. It really is a grand entrance.
Never going to figure out why this color.
It will the only thing on my mind if I ever meet the author.
Before I say anything else, let me just say that when I googled “Chbosky” to make sure I was spelling it correctly (I wasn't) I was led to the knowledge that they're making this into a movie with Emma Watson and apparenly Oprah? This is one of those books I read in a single sitting in high school and then just sat there in a corner, quietly whimpering, because I basically felt like the top of my head had been taken off (which is what Emily Dickinson, who, incidentally, good 'ol Salinger like to make fun of in F&Z, says a good poem should do.) I really don't know if there's some sort of age limit for enjoying this, but I'm inclined to think there isn't (though if there's another book there is one for, it's probably Salinger's Catcher.) Freshman in high school Charlie narrates this coming-of-age through a series of letters to an anonymous friend, and that friend is you—enjoy his sparkling naivete, subtle wit, and sometimes profound (and sometimes hilarious) musings.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.
Rawr. That's my sexy growl.
These stories have been collected a million different ways, and though I'm usually seriously against big collected works it's the only way you can be sure you've read all of them, chronologically. Which, trust me, you'll be happy about. It's not that it matters for understanding, the development is just more interesting that way. It's like House was in the beginning—the personal stuff that would make chronology important was just a fun plus, not necessary to enjoyment. On that note, House is actually loosely based on Holmes (there's some fun wordplay there)—Watson/Wilson, drug addiction, logic above all else, aversion to women, etc. This might subvert your whole deerstalker-capped, mild-mannered Englishman with a gooseneck pipe image you have of Holmes, and so will actually reading the books. Holmes is a badass who eschews rules and social mores and is subtly hilarious, addicted to cocaine, brilliant, and all while solves crimes. How are you not already reading this?

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer

If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does.

Grandfather became very melancholy, and also, he says, blind. Father does not believe him, but purchased Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior for him nonetheless, because a Seeing Eye bitch is not only for blind people but for people who pine for the negative of loneliness. (I should not have used "purchased," because in truth Father did not purchase Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, but only received her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real Seeing Eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged.)
I would show you the cover with Elijah Wood,
but it scares me.

Pick up whatever you see by this author. Seriously. This particular book is my favorite as it weaves three stories together—letters in this amazing and hilarious (yes, I have used hilarious in this post three times, whatca gonna do about it?) broken Russian-English, a fairy-tale-like, yet still grounded in reality story of the past, and a man's journey to research that past with the writer of the letters. Sounds complicated? Oh, it is. And it's beautiful and ridiculous and painful and mesmerizing and you have to read it for anything I say about it to make sense. Those two quotes up there really came from the same book, a book that's partially about the Holocaust but somehow manages to sound like nothing else I've ever read about the Holocaust. I know, I know! I don't know how he does it either. He's the writer I wish I could be.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It's resentment of another man's achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone's work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal— for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you'd give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don't know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear.
Don't be confused, this has nothing to do with 30 Rock.
Ayn Rand is tricky, because she showed up on the literary scene fully-sprung from the detritus of the Bolshevik Revolution and is reacting against that. She's throwing this theory called Objectivism at you over and over and over again in a way that makes you almost angry—but it's mostly because there's something about it that is going to seriously appeal to you, even though you feel kind of horrible about it. She presents objectivism as democratic, but your liberal heart is going to bleed all over it. Okay, I'll let you get to it by yourself, because God knows she's going to repeatedly pound it into you. Including an 80-page speech that took me an entire week to read (the same time period in which I read the entire Millennium series.) I'm making this sound horrible, but the fact is, it's a 1000 pages of rich prose and an interesting way to view the world, all while being based around some of my favorite characters in literature: Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden. It's worth the struggle.

Get to reading, my, uh, readers. All types of cookies appreciated and my ring size is a 4½.

Book covers found here, and here, and here, and here, and here, as well.  


  1. Atlas Shrugged + Being a Wallflower on one page? NO!

  2. In the graduation post I was going to guess Smith! It must be, now that I read this. My friend went there. I only visited, but I LOVE Northampton, and I participated in the push from the steps thing since I didn't do the graduation thing with my school (and friend insisted on company.)

    Umm, sorry... I'll just get back to reading now.