Friday, September 19, 2008

The Top 5 (Fiction)

I have this hang up. I feel like a failure if I don't finish a book. But there are so many unlovable books out there, and it's so hard to find the great ones, that I find myself with a huge pile of books by my bed that have never been finished. I have every intention to finish each and every one of them, even if I don't love them, but I never do, and my self loathing grows and grows until I take all fifty eight books I've started and put them back on the shelf. Then the cycle begins again.

The very worst is when someone you regard highly tells you to read a book...and then you don't like it.

A few months ago, my favorite Professor, Dr. Sanborn, gave me a list of must reads. I was in literary heaven, I tell you. I dove into the John Steinbeck, which/whom I have a special affinity for, and then jumped into Cormac McCarthy's The Orchard Keeper, and promptly ran out of steam. I could practically hear my guilt bubbling up inside me. Dr. S has written an entire book on Cormac McCarthy. Why was I not enthralled?

Then last night I had a Brintervention. I shared my dilemma with Brian, asked him if it was OK to not finish the McCarthy. He said, "Of course it's OK. You're just not in a place where you're ready for that book right now." And all my guilt disappeared. Of course! Maybe later, but now now. So this morning, with little ceremony, The Orchard Keeper went back on the shelf next to Outer Dark and All The Pretty Horses. Cormac, I'll return to you someday, just not now, my friend. Not now.

As I put the book back on the shelf, I looked over my other books and saw some old friends there, and thought I would share with you my top 5 favorite far.


This one is a bit of a stretch, since it's actually non-fiction, but I couldn't leave it out. This book is part of a series, and since you can't pick a whole series in your top five favorites list (I made up that rule, by the way) I chose this one. I first read this book when I was in junior high, and, of course, was absolutely enthralled. If you like England, farms, peculiar country folk or especially animals, you will love this book/series.


"I rang the doorbell and instantly the afternoon peace was shattered by a distant baying like a wolf pack in full cry. The upper half of the door was of glass and, as I peered through, a river of dogs poured round the corner of a long passage and dashed itself with frenzied yells against the door. If I hadn't been used to animals I would have turned and run for my life." -James Herriot


I also read this Newbery Award Winner as a youngster, and it left a lasting impression. Travel to the Chesapeake Bay, where you will be introduced to Louise, an elder twin, who struggles to find her own niche (as a waterman!) under the heavy shadow of her beautiful younger twin, Caroline. An excellent read for any youth or adult who has felt inconsequential at any time.


"I was sitting there, basking in the day, thinking how pleased my father would be to come home from crabbing and smell his favorite soup, bathing my sister and grandmother in kindly feelings that neither deserved, when Caroline said, 'I haven't got anything to do but practice this summer, so I've decided to write a book about my life. Once you're known," she explained carefully as though some of us were dim-witted, "once you're famous, information like that is very valuable. If I don't get it down now, I may forget." She said all this in that voice of hers that made me feel slightly nauseated, the one she used when she came home from spending all Saturday going to the mainland for her music lessons, where she'd been told for the billionth time how gifted she was."


I picked up this book on a whim a few years ago and struck gold. This one is about the rise and fall of a Chinese vegetable farmer, Wang Lung. A good picture of village life, it also has a few moral threads running throughout. For instance, don't be a jerk to your wife, and, oh yeah, don't be a greedy little pig, either.


"When he had eaten all that he wished he went to the door again and she called to him to come in and he went in. The odor of spilt blood still hung hot upon the air, but there was no trace of it except in the wooden tub. But into this she had poured water and had pushed it under the bed so that he could hardly see it. The red candle was lit and she was lying neatly covered upon the bed. Beside her, wrapped in a pair of his old trousers, as the custom was in this part, lay his son."


Here is a book that kept me up for an entire night. I wanted to BE Jane Eyre by the time it was finished, and after it was over, I found myself thinking of the characters over and over again. In short, I am in love with Mr. Rochester. Also? I made vocab cards for myself from all the words I didn't know in this book. Expand your vocabulary, everyone! Read this book!


"Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared, and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will..."


My favorite book of all time, and I only know two other people who have read it, my mother and grandmother. If my home were on fire, this copy would be one of the things I would grab as I ran screaming from the house. I must confess that I would choose Rhett Butler over Mr. Rochester, if given the chance. The only bad thing about this book? I become totally incapacitated while reading it. One terrible time in particular, I went to Lake Powell with Kim and did nothing but read this book. Kim would have been better off bringing her pet rock for all the fun I was on THAT little vacation.

This is me, back in what, 1996? On the way to? from? Lake Powell. Poor Kim took the picture. She had to sit in the back of the van with me for like, six hours. Again, the pet rock would have been a better choice.
"He drew a short breath and said lightly but softly: 'My dear, I don't give a damn.'"
Thank you for indulging me and my little show and tell, dear readers. Now, go get yourself a cup of tea (or something) and go get in the bubble bath with a good book. And if it's not a good book, don't waste your time, maybe you're just not ready for it yet.
I would love to know what YOUR top five are. Please share! Lurkers, that includes you!


Brian said...

I'll be your Rhett Butler....

Jack & Lindsay Chang said...

LOL:)! I love Brian's comment!
Thank you for sharing your top five. I keep meaning to pick up a book that I want to read each day, but I struggle between reading a classic or reading a book from a new writer. In fact, I hate to say it, but I am curious about reading the Twilight series...BUT everyone has read it and...oh, this comment is too long. I'll just e-mail you!

Abby said...

Lol Lindsay! I know, I read the first one in the Twilight series, and did really like it, but I haven't read the other what...three? yet. I'm not sure if I will. I have a sort of snobbery for classics. Lame, I know. But I can't help it.

Tanya said...

i am picking one and reading it! can't wait! thanks.

heather said...

I love this. I am always wondering what book to read. I am going to give Jane Eyre a try. My list would pale in comparison to yours so I'll just refrain from listing 3. One of my favs though is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Kjersti said...

Your blog feels like a guilty pleasure for me because I love it so much! You are such an amazing writer, your personality comes through so much in what you write. I love that. Anyway, we've talked about favorite books before, but my top two are "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Leslie said...

I love Brian's comment as well. What a cutie. Your list has inspired me to pick up Jacob Have I Loved AND Gone With the Wind. I love Jane Eyre and The Good Earth is one of my fav's as well. I remember reading it in High School and I loved it from day one.
Here are some of my favorites in addition to Jane Eyre and the Good Earth:
Pride and Prejudice
The Secret Life of Bees
Memoirs of a Geisha
Peace Like a River (Enger)
The Goose Girl (series...I love YA books)
I used to be a snob for classics as well but when I branched out I just found NEW favorites!
Loved this post. You're a doll.

Abby said...

Heather, I've always wanted to read that book, but haven't had the opportunity to pick it up yet! I will read it and report back!

Abby said...

I remember you named your cat Scout from that book! That is a good one. I also remember you telling me about Everything Is Illuminated, which I have not yet read. I did see the movie though. Doesn't that author have another one out that you love? This is so fun because I'm getting a great list of books to read from you all. Thank you so much.

Abby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abby said...

Heather, I'm so excited for you to read Jane Eyre. It was slow at the beginning for me, but it definitely picked up after a bit and I just couldn't put it down.

Les, I can't wait for you to read Gone With The Wind! I am nuts for that book. And, I googled Peace Like a River and guess what came up? Kim's blog! I guess she did a review on it back in '07 and liked it, too.
Thanks for sharing your list, and expanding mine!

Abby said...

My mom emailed me her favorite list, and, though she totally cheated, I am posting it here.

My five favorite books of all time is a fluid list, but at present is as follows in no particular order:

To Kill a Mocking Bird
Gone with the Wind
Moby Dick
And Ladies of the Club
A Tale of Two Cities

Another of my five favorites
All of Jane Austin
All of James Harriett (My list rules are different from yours)
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Clover by Dori Sanders
Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex

Oh and my other five favorites includes
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Kimba said...

Brian, I thought you were Brad...

Ah yes, the infamous Lake Powell trip. :) I think I managed to drag you away from it a few times. That place does have it's pull.

Do read Peace Like A River, I did love it. :)

I also have this tic though, I've not finished two books in my entire life, and it kills me. Loves Music, Loves to Dance (Higgens-Clark) and Reading Lolita in Tehran. I think that last one is also a "it's not for me right now" read. I haven't given up.

Let's see, I hate narrowing down things to top fives, it's so difficult for me. I shall try though, just cause I like ya. :)

House of Spirits - Allende (though I've loved ALL of her books...)
Like Water for Chocolate - Esquival
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Thurston
The Joy Luck Club - Tan
and....I'm stuck. I love so many. One fun read was The Sex Lives of Cannibals - Troost (I love me a good travelogue)

But seriously, I could list a billion. I tend to love most books I read.

Heather said...

I get that same guilt over an unfinished book.. I actually have it over 'The Good Earth', I took it with me to Hong Kong on a business trip with Brad a few years ago thinking I would be so inspired reading it while surrounded by the culture. But no... guess it just wasn't for me right then.

Jon and Michelle said...

It's been so long girl! I miss you and I love your blog! Thank you for making me feel less guilty about not finishing a book someone recommended just recently... it feels like a small torture every time I pick it up because it is so uninteresting and boring really, not what I was looking for at all in a book. My birthday is coming up... you are good!! It's funny how birthdays slip by you when you get older though, and really I can never remember how old I am, just that I am over 21 and not 30 yet!! Love you lots keep up the fun blogs I love them!