Beloved (Morrison) Memoirs of a Survivor (Lessing) Slaughterhouse 5 (Vonnegut) The Stand (King) Jude the Obscure (Hardy) ;p @Book_Geek_Says
— Third Sunday BC (@ThirdSundayBC) February 9, 2012
About a month ago, I responded to an appeal from a Twitter friend to name our top five favorite books of all time. I chose books that transformed me after having read them for the first time. Although I’ve read each of these more than once, I was reminded that it’s been too long since the last time I’ve read them and I need to get back to them soon.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) is my favorite book of all time. For me, it makes profound and definitive statements on mother-daughter relationships, motherhood itself, being a woman, becoming a woman, and slavery. It’s a ghost story, with the “supernatural” portrayed as an accepted part of the culture and well within the realm of possibility. I love it because there is no holding back in this one: It’s fearless; It takes no prisoners. All of this is achieved in the most beautiful language and imagery. Morrison has the heart of a poet and writes like one. This one resonates with me on a deeply personal level.
Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) had been my favorite book until I read Beloved and remains a very close second. It’s a dystopian novel that also delves into an examination of the inner world. Womanhood, family, and social constructs are prominent themes. I love the imaginative way these topics are explored. I love the clarity, precision, and honesty of this first-person narrative.
When I think of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), I also tend to think of other novels in a category I created that could be considered mostly humorous–perhaps even absurdist–looks at modern society. Included in this category are Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) and Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985), which both are among my favorites. Of these types of books, Slaughterhouse-Five tops my list because of the innovative and fluid narrative structure. This structure makes emotional sense to me, as the most painful and fear-inspiring memory emerges gradually, insulated as it is by the story of alien abduction. Yet it does emerge, and when it does, it’s not played for laughs.
Stephen King has written millions of books, and I’m only a few short of having read them all. But The Stand (1978) was the one to convince me that King was the real deal. No longer did epic tales have to be set in a mythical kingdom of antiquity. Finally, epics could wend their way through the modern-day Holland Tunnel that connects the states of New York and New Jersey and culminate in a battle of good and evil centered in Las Vegas. And while King is a master story teller, here he also created unforgettable characters that modernize the classic archetypes.
My love of Thomas Hardy began as a loathsome high school chore that soon became an obsession to read everything he had written. Naturally, Jude the Obscure (1895) is the darkest and most startling of Hardy’s novels–and therefore my favorite of his. It criticizes the mores of society in terms of class and religion. It features the love affair of cousins, cohabitation without being married (in the Victorian age, no less), and the tragic death of children. What’s not to love? Hardy also is a master of story telling; he also is a poet.
Of all the books I was sorry to leave off the “top five” was Frank Herbert’s Dune. This is a classic of epic proportions. Similarly to all of the books I like the best, Dune is full of incisive commentary on human relationships and life in general.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012