Besides work (please read Sarah’s excellent piece on Iran & Twitter, by the way), it has been a slow couple of days. We’re going to Petra tomorrow, and have rented a fancy-schmancy car for the occasion. Tonight, I drove in Amman for the first time. I even rolled down my windows and played particularly trashy techno music as I ripped through Abdoun, before buying my brother dinner at Blue Fig. Together with my darker hair and my obnoxious handbag, I have become a stereotype. Naturally, I love it.
There’s a cool new meme floating around Facebook this week, and since it has to do with books, I can’t pass it up. Behold, 15 books in 15 minutes:
Instructions: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you — the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you. (In the interest of staying true to the exercise, I listed the books first and then went back and wrote descriptions)
Story of a Life by Konstantin Paustovsky. Paustovsky was a contemporary of Bulgakov’s, born in my town, Kiev. His multi-volume autobiography introduced me to romanticism, revolutionary politics, turn-of-the-century Ukraine and Russia and so many other things that matter. I’ll never forget the way Paustovsky describes his introduction to WWI. He worked as an orderly on a train and had previously only “seen” war through the prism of French poetry. His horror and disgust upon glimpsing the aftermath of a battle has stayed with me since I was seven years old. Paustovsky had an amazing life and I kind of view him as my writerly guardian angel today. I’ll never stop being grateful to my mom for introducing me to him.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. I find that this is one of those books that reads better in Russian than in English. Of course, I’ll never read it in its original French,which is a shame, but I think there is something about the Russian language that lends itself to a translation from this time period. It’s a hilarious and moving tale and people who rail against are mostly joyless snobs. The adventure of it something I hope to re-capture in the longer stuff I write.
The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike. As beautiful and heartbreaking as YA fiction gets, I think.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. There’s nothing I can say that can do this book justice. I’ve had arguments with very esteemed people over whether or not Bulgakov’s artistic intent was “fully crystallized” here. Naturally, I believe the esteemed people to be wrong. Russian religious gurus actively discourage the reading of this book. It’s not surprising, because it makes you think, and thinking isn’t fashionable nowadays.
Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. The novel that split my atom.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov wrote that some of his favourite moments in this work include the list of Lolita’s classmates, Charlotte saying “waterproof” on the beach, etc. My favourite has to be that lengthy description of Lo & Humbert on the road, embedded in the changing American landscape. Lo with her soda pop. The bad hotel showers. God damn. God DAMN!
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The conversations in this book alone contain some of the most brilliant writing ever done in English. I haaaate it when this gets labeled as some kind of “special interest book,” as in,”oh sure, you like it because some underprivileged black woman wrote it. How PC of you.” I’ve seriously had people say that to me before, and desperately wanted to headbutt them.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I like The Death of Ivan Ilyich more, but this is the book that lives in my blood. The book I can never stop quoting. I have a strange relationship with Tolstoy. I’m always arguing with him in my head. Sometimes I think he argues back. Bitches be crazy.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. You know that description of Frodo walking in Lothlórien? And how he was walking there even after it was all over? Well, I’m still reading this book. It bends time.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. My favourite of the Harry Potter books. It endured some criticism, and is widely considered to be uneven, but it’s so well-contained, I think. It am reminded of it every time I watch a particularly good football match, or remember some awkward but enchanted evening of my adolescence.
The Life of Arsenyev by Ivan Bunin. This book turned my heart to very fine ash.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. As an aspiring fantasy writer, I went through a dry and devastating patch the year after I graduated from college. This book was like a boat that carried me over dark water. I’m fascinated with its structure. I just go back and chew on it, over and over again.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I actually started using the phrase “place of power” in mixed company after reading this book. It’s a mixture of Norse myth, Tolkien, David Lynch, X-Files, the lamentation you hear in those particular Bruce Springsteen songs, and much more. It really is a Great American Novel.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. I think that in living in North Carolina, you could feel the history of slavery like the bones coming through the flesh of landscape. But this book does so much more than simply reanimate those bones. It’s remarkable on more levels than you can count. Maybe I’ll never stop counting.
A Day in the Life: the Music and Artistry of the Beatles by Mark Herstgaard has helped me build upon my relationship with my favourite band. I read it when I was far too young for it. Then I re-read it. Now it’s like a thread that runs through my relationship with music in general.