Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Favorite Books

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

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Comments on: "Favorite Books" (27)

  1. I have never read “Beloved”! I am definitely putting this title on my books to read list. I love Toni Morrison and would you believe that it wasn’t until I read your post that I knew of this book’s existence? Thank you! 🙂

  2. I have never read any of them, oh I’m so illiterate 🙂

    A

  3. I saw Dune A but have never read any of these either so we are both illiterate…These sound as though I probably should read them though.

  4. Reading your post makes me wish I was more of a reader ☺

  5. Laurie Blair said:

    The Little Prince.
    Angela’s Ashes.
    Wuthering Heights.
    West With The Night.
    The Prophet.

    And now I’m going to think about why. Which should be interesting and enlightening to me, I hope!

  6. Wow, I honestly can’t imagine compiling a list of my five favorite books. I think I’d have the same problem as compiling my five favorite songs; the list would vary based on my mood at the time.

    I’m intrigued by your description of “The Memoirs of a Survivor,” and will add it to my (too-long) to-read list.

  7. I have been meaning to read ‘The Stand’. I discovered Mr. King late. What an amazing writer he is. His descriptions can render me immobile. After reading his memoir, I found my freedom. I stopped worry about writing for the world, and just wrote. Before, I’d worry my voice wasn’t one size fits all and because it’s kind of quirky I thought I needed to change it. I have not read all the books you’ve listed but I did download The Stand. Ms. Morrison’s book is a gem.

    • Oh yeah. I wrote a post devoted to King and was planning to do another one There is so much about him I admire. His work ethic is to die for. Also check out his latest book of short stories “Full Dark, No Stars.” I almost literally couldn’t put it down. Morrison is so good it’s downright frightening.

  8. Wuthering Heights
    Grapes of Wrath
    Arms and the Man
    Maximum City (completely different from the above and very modern)
    The Heretic Queen (for way different reasons)

    From your list I have only read Slaughter House Five and Jude the Obscure : (

  9. Dune is definitely among my favorites, and so is Slaughterhouse Five.

    Others:

    Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle; Breakfast of Champions. Both masterpieces of subtle wit, they demand more than one reading.

    David Foster Wallace – A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
    The man was a wordsmith. Gone from this world too soon, alas.

    Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. The wordplay makes me giddy. It’s one of the best short books out there. Ever.

    Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic. Funny as all get-out.

    Viriconium, [a collection of short stories, novellas and novels] by M. John Harrison. Best “anti-fantasy” I ever read, especially the novel “A Storm of Wings.”

    The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. Michael Swanwick writes beautifully. Other fantasy authors should read him closely, he knows how it’s done.

    Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. Such terrible, decadent poetry, and yet the stench and despair of Baudelaire’s brothels, doomed lovers and Parisian winters aren’t enough to obscure a little ray of light and hope.

  10. The Stand is one of my favs, as well as his Duma Key (I’ve read this one six times).

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  12. I’ve read several of Kings books. I particularly like the books where he explores the community around Castle Rock. The last of his books I read was “On Writing”, which is both an autobiography as well as a book about the craft. I haven’t read Dune or Slaughter House 5, but I have seen the movies. Lately I have no time to read anything except the stuff directly related to my writing. But among my favorite books I would have the Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), the Harry Potter series (Rowling), and the Hyperion series (Simmons).

  13. […] this year, I wrote a post about my six all-time favorite novels. Four of them are science fiction novels. It occurred to me that there is a similarity between […]

  14. ‘Beloved’ is a fantastic book. Once I read that, I had to read all her other books too, but this one was my favourite. I haven’t read the King or the Lessing you mention here. Will have to check them out. Slaughterhouse Five, now that’s a good one… I’d have a really difficult time to make a list of only five all-time faves.

    • Morrison is my idol and like you, this is still my favorite of all I have read (which is most). “Home” is on my nightstand waiting to be next, after King’s 11/22/63. I could have filled the list a few times with these two authors alone!

      • Funny, King has never been on my radar. “Home” is on the TBR list. I’m currently reading “Burmese Lessons” by Karen Connelly. Nonfic, memoir, love story, political and historical, written in poetic and philosophical prose.

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