"Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness."
I had my head in the clouds at work today. I was lost in thought, thinking about my current novel-in-progress, and generally just letting my mind wander.
For one reason or another, I began thinking about Doug Walker's "Top 20 Movie List."
Which can be viewed here, [link]
I began to think try and categorize my top 20 favorite movies, and realized that when I was younger, I could rattle off my top 5, top 10 or top 20 movies easily. Now with age and perspective, my view on movies has become kind of muttled. I don't know if I even have a one, singular, favorite movie anymore.
But upon further reflection, while my love of cinema has become more cloudy with age, my love of books and literature seems to have sharpened.
This is due, without a doubt, to my decision to pursue being a serious novelist.
I spent a full year writing the rough draft to my first novel, and I'm well beyond the 365 marker with the current piece. And with so much time and energy invested in writing prose, it was only natural that my immersion into matters literary deepened.
Naturally, I had a much easier time compiling a list of my 20 favorite books than I would have if I tried my 20 favorite movies.
But then I thought, even though I've compiled my list, why should I have all the fun?
I've yet to write a new journal this year, and why not kick off 2010 by creating a DA journal meme of my very own?
I've never created a meme before, so if any/all of you are willing to help by spreading this in your own journals, I'd be forever in your debt.
So, without further ado, I hereby present to you, my 2010 creation of "The Literature Meme!"
1. Post these rules in your journal
2. Pick your favorite books, any books of any genre. Fiction or nonfiction.
3. You can choose to list your top 5, top 10 or top 20 favorite books. (as long as it's a round number)
4. You MUST write at LEAST one paragraph, (four sentences) for each book, explaining why it has earned this spot on your list.
5. Tag 5 people and spread this meme.
6. Post a comment on the profile of everyone you've tagged with a link to the journal
Lets do this!!!
Number 20: "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
I count the trilogy as one book, as that was how it was originally written. I must admit I love the books but I put them at the bottom of the list for a reason. As brilliant as they are, they do tend to meander and be a bit monotonous, particularly in regard to character lineage and the long, drawn-out scenes of travel.
But for what the books lack they more than make up for in memorable characters, fantastic settings and grand themes.
And I must give the series credit for being my main inspiration for my first novel, a sprawling, pre-industrial fantasy saga of heroism and mysterious journeys.
Whether you're a Elija Wood-loving movie goer or a literary purest, Tolkien's masterwork will remain a benchmark of geekdom and literature for generations to come.
Number 19: "The Odyssey" by Homer
I will admit that as brilliant and timeless as the story is, digesting it can be a bit of a challenge. There's also the conundrum of the adaptive work vs. the original translations. The adapted work is more approachable, but looses something of the classical feel for being adapted into modern terms. And by any rights, the original translation is a TOUGH read. You thought "Paradise Lost" and "The Divine Comedy" were tough to plow through? Try this olympian epic on for size.
But lack of brevity aside, "The Odyssey" remains in circulation and relevant today precisely because of it's brilliance. Anyone who's ever struggled against seemingly insurmountable odds can easily identify with Odysseus as he battles the perils of the wild imaginations of the Ancient Greek storytellers.
It's a story that's lasted 2,800 years, and will surely outlast us all far into the future.
Number 18: "The Time Machine Did It." by John Swartzwelder
If you grew up in America in the 90's and had access to a TV, John Schwartzwelder had a lasting impact on your life. And you'e probably never even heard of him. One of the most prolific writers "The Simpsons" has ever known, Schwartzwelder penned over 60 episode of this, longest-running current comedy. But Schwartzwelder's written muse is not limited to the small screen. Beginning in 2002, the reclusive writer began to churn out short novels at a rapid rate, his first and in my opinion best was "The Time Machine Did It."
Schwartzwelder's books are a pure laugh riot from cover to cover. Fearlessly funny and irreverent, Schwartzwelder unquestionably makes his permanent mark on written fiction with his contributions to the genre.
Number 17: "A Walk In The Woods"/"The Life And Times of The Thunderbolt Kid." by Bill Bryson
A justly famous and successful author, Bill Bryson has an intellectual yet infinitely approachable style for nonfiction that's truly all his own, and is always a joy to read. I know it's kind of cheating to have 2 books in one slot, but in all honesty, I love both of these pretty much equally. "A Walk In The Woods," is perhaps his most famous work, documenting Bryson's attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, with many scientific insights and humorous antics thrown in as an aside. And "The Life And Times of The Thunderbolt Kid," is a memoir of Bill's Childhood in the 50's and early 60's, growing up in Iowa with near-equal parts personal anecdotes, witty observations and historical facts thrown in to make the perfect blend that goes down smooth for the reader.
One of America's greatest living literary sons (Now O.B.E. [link]
) Bill Bryson, for now, forever.
Number 16: "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare
I just had to get the bard in somewhere in on the list. And I had a hard time choosing just one of his plays to represent him. And again I was forced to put Shakespeare pretty low on the list, mostly, like most of us, because I was forced to read him in High School.
And I do at least find it mildly ironic that pop entertainment that was nearly obliterated by the religiously pious in the 1500's is largely despised by the common man and is treated as the most sacred of sacred cows to the agents of the status quo.
My main problem with Shakespeare is that the best way to enjoy it is to VIEW it. On the page and ESPECIALLY in the classroom, the antiquated language and poetical flourishes can feel flat and dead. But when truly given life by a masterful performer or even with a lively imagination in the confines of a quiet room, one of the English Languages great masters shines in all his refulgent glory, lingering in our minds and winning our hearts every time.
Number 15: "Harry Potter" by J. K. Rowling
Which one? Any one. Each and all have something entertaining and compelling to offer, although I do think "Goblet of Fire" is still my favorite. And while I may face reprisal for putting the Sorceress of Edinburgh over the Bard of Avon, I really don't care. Had I not picked up Harry when I did I might have never dived into the series, but it came along at just the right time for me, and I shortly became hopelessly hooked.
Although the criticisms regarding it do have merit, I.E. Formulaic plots, predictable story lines and such, the series makes up for it in my eyes for creating a vast and varried fantasy world of magic that's all but impossible not to believe.
In High School and College I was hopelessly hooked on the series, and even as an adult I can still find reasons to enjoy even the first chapters of the series for the simple joy of a well-told, fun story.
Number 14: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson
Okay! This is the last Bill Bryson book! I promise! But this one is my absolute favorite of his. Sometimes referred to as "The Atheist's Bible," "A Short History of Nearly Everything," delivers very nearly what it's title promises, documenting the history of scientific discovery on earth from the subatomic to the movements of the heavens.
Of the books I've read, this perhaps had one of the biggest impacts on me on how I view the world around me. It helped me appreciate the substance of things and the scale and variety of life on our tiny planet with articulate grace and knowledgeable, approachable text, deeply and permanently expanding the mind and world view of anyone who reads it.
Number 13: "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut
To me, Kurt Vonnegut was one of those authors like Anthony Burgess who enjoyed popularity among the savvy, young intellectual crowd, yet wasn't something far or wide-reaching among the mainstream population. If you wanted to know why all the cool kids dug this author, you had to go and find out on your own initiative, and goddamn I'm glad I did.
With an approach to storytelling intertwined with social commentary and creative flights of fancy that transport the reader into a whimsical realm of thought, Vonnegut's best-known and seminal novel is a must-read for anyone looking to hang with the cool, literary crowd, or just anyone who adores verbal acrobatics and a visionary take on the human experience.
Number 12: "Nothing's Sacred" by Lewis Black
The only book written by a comedian on my list, "Nothing's Sacred" is Lewis' 2005 foray into publishing, and hit me at just the perfect time in my College days when true profundity and insight could impact on my malleable, young mind.
Essentially a memoir, "Nothing's Sacred" looks back on Lewis' turbulent High School and college years as a Baby Boomer in the late 60's and early 70's.
It's the story of a young man searching for his place in the world, discovering truths and laying down of the long path that would ultimately lead to his ascension to the throne of the National Comedy Spotlight.
Love Lewis or hate him, the power of his life's story is undeniable.
Number 11: "Contact" by Carl Sagan
Yeah, you knew a stargazer like me had to get Carl in here somewhere. And while I love Carl's nonfiction work to death, "Billions and Billions," "Daemon-Haunted World" and "Pale Blue Dot" Particularly, it was the emotional drama of his novel "Contact" that truly won me over.
While I love the movie perhaps a bit more, as Jodie Foster delivers a powerhouse performance, the book is still a glorious representation of Carl's vision of life, humanity and the voices from beyond the stars.
Dealing with the themes of love and loss, the search for a higher power, the quest to understand the nature of the universe and the age-old struggle between science and religion, the archetypes touched upon by "Contact" make it that much more a personal and beautiful story. Whether you have faith or not, "Contact" will make you believe in something bigger than yourself.
Number 10: "Medstar II: Jedi Healer" by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry
There are countless Star Wars books out there, and almost every one of them is like brain candy to me. I can't get enough of them. But Reaves' and Perry's book was not only fast-paced and entertaining, but touched me on a deeply personal level.
Aside from brilliant characters, a compelling plot and wonderful dialogue, "Medstar ll" has two anchors gong for it: Firstly is the confrontation of ethical issues as analyzed in the personal struggle of Jedi Padawan Barriss Offee, and the moral dilemma she's forced to confront when faced with a staggering dilemma.
And on a more personal note, the book also explored an issue I've dealt with in my own life, but I've seen portrayed seldom elsewhere. The pang of being in love with someone from a different culture than your own, and the deeper pang of knowing the age-old barriers that stand between you and the relationship.
The job of any good piece of literature is to hold up a mirror to reality, to reflect the drams and struggles of real life and present them so we might see our own struggles played out and, perhaps, to give us guidance.
There may have been more artful handling of the latter issue in other literary works, but to be able to pull it off convincingly in a Space Opera makes it all the more impressive.
Number 9: "Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty." by Nancy Etcoff
An in-depth look at the role aesthetic beauty plays not only in our society but in our psyche's as well, the book is lively and is one of the more astute and socially relevant books of scientific inquiry on the market today.
In a country where the average woman spends more on makeup every year than she does personal reading material, we learn it might behoove us to take a closer look at who we deem beautiful and why, and how it effects every human relation we have from cradle to the grave.
When a book can open your eyes and change your life, it's truly a wonderful thing. And when that book can teach you things about not only the world at large but about yourself that you didn't know, it's an even more wonderful thing still.
Number 8: "Welcome to the Monkey House." by Kurt Vonnegut.
Once again Vonnegut braces my top 20 list, this time with his compilation of short stories, all compiled under the title of perhaps one of his best ever "Welcome to the Monkey House."
Although the quality of the stories on display here is admittedly kind of hit-and-miss, some of the stories are simply very dated or otherwise not the late Vonnegut's best effort. But when the stories are good, they are REALLY, arrestingly good.
My favorites are "A Long Walk to Forever," "Miss Temptation," "The Hyannis Port Story" and, naturally "Welcome to the Monkey House."
Again, when these short stories are good, they are really, REALLY good.
Witty, insightful and masterfully written, the legend of Kurt Vonnegut is left behind to us, in the stories he left behind for us to treasure forever.
Number 7: "Lies My Teacher Told Me, Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong," by James W. Lowen
There's a problem in American History Courses. There is demonstrable evidence that American History is the only High School class that students grow less knowledgeable about the more they take it. Beyond that, our histories are often changed and distorted, even in clear contradiction to historical fact.
If you're like me, and went to an American Public School, the uncompromising and disillusioning text in this book is not only eye-opening but may, in fact, be entirely necessary.
Drawing all of his facts and assertions from firsthand Historical accounts, Lowen tears through many a preconceived notion on the history of the American republic.
Not pandering to any political leaning or special interest, Lowen is only concerned with the truth, and how our High School History textbooks are emphatically not presenting it.
Although well over fifteen years old, the book is only diminished slightly by it's age, it's insightful observations as relevant in 1995 as they are today.
This book is an absolute must-read for not only any lover of history, but every American citizen.
Number 6: "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea." by Jules Verne
Perhaps not only the first Science Fiction story but the first Steampunk Story ever written, "20,000 Leagues" still holds a special place in my heart, as one of the first books my mother read to me, and beyond that, one of the few books I've adored from my childhood that I can appreciate equally well as an adult.
In what would turn out to be an incredibly insightful and prophetic vision of underwater travel, Jules Verne lays out his masterwork that, even 141 years after the fact, still has the power to move audiences with it's scientific brilliance and wide, impossibly imaginative settings.
Rightfully ranked among the cannon of classic literature, Verne's classic tale of the sea stands alone, even among Verne's other brilliant pieces as embodying the spirit of adventure and exploration through the eyes of scientific discovery.
Number 5: "1984" by George Orwell
Yes, I know it's a bit of a cliche to put "1984" so close to the top of the list, but here it is anyway.
I recall 2004 as being a particularly ugly political year. Most memorably for me, many of the leftist intellectuals were comparing George Bush's America to George Orwell's dystopian nightmare of "1984." I soon realized if I wanted to know if my brainy friends were full of shit or not, I would actually need to sit down and read the book for myself.
My fragile little eighteen-year-old mind still hasn't quite recovered six years later.
Dark, grim and bleak beyond description, the hellscape Orwell's prophesied would engulf our world ensnares the mind and causes you to feel the sheer, abject terror you would if you were living under the thumb of Big Brother yourself.
This book forced me to think about the role of social class, mass-consumerism, war and conflict, hierarchical societies and the malleable nature of the human mind for the first time in my life, and effected the way I viewed leadership and civilization forever.
Number 4: "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley
Where Orwell threw down the gauntlet, Huxley picked it up as far as I can see.
Once again, this dystopian satire creates a terrifying new world that humanity might turn into. But whereas Orwell's word was terror, Huxley's world was a utopia, but a utopia which bore the cost of humanity doing terrible, unspeakable things to obtain it.
I know I might catch a lot of flack for this, but I think that where Orwell brought Dystopian drama to the public forefront, it was Huxley (who's dystopian drama predated Orwell's) that really perfected it. Journalist Christopher Hitchens already pretty much summed up my opinion in an article.
"Orwell's was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley ... rightly foresaw that any such regime could break but could not bend."
Once again, this novel forces you to confront social issues and take a look at the larger scheme of things, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable you might find the though.
Once again, this novel changed the way I look at society forever, and will always have a proud pace on my bookshelf.
Number 3: "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain
It is a bit of a shame that most of Mr. Bourdain's notoriety comes from his Travel Chanel show "No Reservations," as his TV presence seems to have eclipsed the fact that he's a singularly brilliant author, and his breakout success "Kitchen Confidential" is still by far his best work.
A memoir and tell-all life story of years spent in the Restaurant industry, Tony unhesitatingly spills his guts over the many varying grotesqueries he has been witness to and part of, of what it really means to be a Chef, of the sacrifices one has to make if they want to work in the restaurant industry and cook at production volume as a career.
I won't go into too much detail about how this book altered the course of my life, but suffice it to say that there's always a part of me that's proud that me and Tony share the same Alma Mater.
Full of funny stories, unadulterated accounts of sex, drugs and alcohol abuse, and even with tips on how the home cook can make their cuisine shine like the pro's, "Kitchen Confidential" is a mainstay among the world Restaurant industry, and would do well to be on every restaurant patron's coffee table as well.
Number 2: "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"/"The Writer's Journey," by Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler
I know it's cheating to include two books by two different authors, but I clumped these two together because these two tomes are essentially the same book. Where Joseph Campbell discovered the secret of the Monomyth, it was Vogler that refined it and made it approachable and understandable for a general audience.
In a poll, most authors and historians agreed that perhaps the most important book of the 20th century was "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," on the strength that it told the profound, universal truth of mythology and storytelling and the significance of myth and religion in the human psyche.
If you've read other of my journals, you know I love to pontificate on Campbell and his theories, so I'll be brief here.
Outlining the principals not only of the mythic structure and the psychological development of man, Campbell's seminal masterpiece is as relevant and important to us today as it was when first released some sixty years ago.
Cutting through to the core of all humanity, Campbell and Vogler have left storytellers, writers and the common man a legacy of brilliance for the boon and benefit of all.
And my number 1 favorite book is...
"Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith." by Matthew Stover
God. Damn. This. Book.
And for those who might decry my decision for my top spot bad taste.
A: I never let such inhibiting factors interfere with my love of literature.
And B: You haven't read the book.
The novelization of the final chapter of the Star Wars Saga (or was it the third chapter? Yeah, George is fucking with us numerically.
) Is everything the movie was, but taken to an entirely new level, due entirely to it's author: Mr. Matthew Stover.
Sharp, articulately barbed and utterly uncompromising, Stover's prose leaves the reader nowhere to hide and makes them not only experience, but LIVE the story. It's so good that I'm still jealous of it, and like all of the top three books on my list, I own not only the hard copy but the audio book as well, and I could do an entire commentary on the 13 plus hour audio novel.
Finally, and most foremost, this book was perhaps the chief driving factor for me to get up off my ass and actually take the time and the effort to actually sit down and WRITE the stories I came up with in High School that I kept telling myself I was going to make into novels some day, but never did until I picked up this book.
Well, anyway, that's my top twenty list.
And to truly christen this new meme... I must find five people to tag...
Happy trails, everyone!
"If literature isn't everything, it's not worth a single hour of someone's trouble."