I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started this post only to make major changes, delete those changes, make others, only, in the end, to delete the whole thing. So, in the end, I just had to go “full dumb” with it and turn it into seven words:
Books are good. You should read them.
I’m going to talk about some books now.
If on a winter’s night a traveler… by Italo Calvino
I probably tried to read this book seven times over five years, each time being thwarted by my desire to “figure it out” rather than just letting it “happen to me” and waiting to understand it. Keep in mind that this is not a big book- it’s about 250 pages with large margins and font. What it is, is a challenging book. Every other chapter is about a man’s search for a rare book. The other chapters are about the books he comes across in his search. Well, actually, they are chapters from these books. Each one is compellingly written so that when you come to the end of it and return to the “narrative” you are disappointed because it’s over and because you know that, after another chapter of the narrative, you will move on to a chapter from another book altogether. Confused? That’s why you can’t try to figure it out, why you just have to let it happen to you. The feeling of accomplishment and cumulative enjoyment after finishing though, was worth sticking with it.
The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
Speaking of books that are giving me a rough go of it… I’ve had this book for a decade and still haven’t been able to complete it. I will. I’ve made it through The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, The Prague Cemetery, Foucault’s Pendulum, and I’ve even read his companion books History of Beauty and On Ugliness, but there’s something about this book… I think I need to bring it to a desert island where there are absolutely zero distractions. Someday…someday. The crazy thing is that it’s a good book- a historical novel- I LOVE historical novels!
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
Do not see the movie. Don’t. That being said, when all of the caveats and qualifications are set aside, this is probably the best novel I’ve ever read. I wish I could tell you all of the reasons that I love this book and why you should read it but I don’t know if I can do that without revealing too much about that. So, in lieu of that, I’ll just say this: you will never read a better-written book. Every word in this book has been carefully and lovingly chosen and every sentence is as well-composed as the finest symphony. You will delight in the quality of the writing even as the plot leads you to places- and in ways- that you never imagined.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
You probably think you don’t know this book, but you do- it was the foundation for the recent movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis. Lincoln was a great movie and the book- which is much more expansive and detailed, as books tend to be- is even better. Not only will it give you an entirely new view on one of the most important periods in American history (and that’s hard for me to say as a died-in-the-wool Europeanist), but it will forever dispel any notion you had of Abraham Lincoln as some sort of country bumpkin crossed with Forrest Gump. But of course, that’s exactly what he wanted people to think about him… Also, Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Red Sox fan.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I am sure that people have written books about everything that can be found in this book- the historical context, how its author’s racial identity (did you know Dumas wasn’t “white?”) informed its creation, what it had to say about European culture as the last remnants of the Old Word gave over to the modern world- and all of that is here and is important. What’s also here, however, is a literary adventure and mystery story set on an epic scale. How good is this book? Despite being the size and weight of a toaster I carried it in my pack for two weeks on one of my trips to Scotland- even after I finished it- and I didn’t regret it once. Oh, and in this case, watch the movie (the Jim Caviezel/Guy Pearce one), it’s great!
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azzerad
Are you of a certain age? Did the words “show” and “scene” mean something different to you than they did to your peers? Was there a punk or indie band that just meant everything in the world to you? If you answered “yes” to those questions you will love this book- love it! This book is made up of profiles of 13 bands from the early 1980s through the early 1990s and the author not only understands their importance, but respects their influence as well. There will be a few profiles that will help you understand why your best friend loved a band that did nothing for you, a few that will confirm what you thought you knew about the bands, and a few that will make you want to turn up the stereo and scream!! (In my case the latter would be the chapters on Minor Threat, Husker Du, Big Black, and Fugazi).
You should also read anything and everything by Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, and Ross MacDonald. “Hard-Boiled Fiction” (late 1920s through early 1960s) is probably the most unde-rread and under appreciated American fiction genre there is and you should do your part to fix that.
Here are a few more…
You should choose a book from this list and read it.
Then you should email me about it and we should write a post about it.