Thursday, August 10, 2006

Part 2: Ou est la bibliotheque?

This particular question gets its own entry, because the answer is a lengthy one.

Please, please tell me your all-time favorite books! (I stole this question from you.)

That’s quite all right; I was hoping someone would take the bait, because I love pushing my favorite books on other people! In no particular order, here are my ten favorite books of all time, as well as a brief description of each one. I’ve tried to keep the synopses as spoiler-free as possible, but if you want everything to be a surprise---this means you, G---you might want to skip them.

1. As Meat Loves Salt by Maria Mc Cann: Yeah, yeah, I push this book on everyone---poor G is slogging through this one at my behest---but there’s a reason for that. It’s about a disturbed young man who flees home and winds up joining Cromwell’s army, where he becomes obsessed with a fellow soldier. Sumptuous descriptions, vivid characterizations, some scorchingly erotic scenes, and an emotionally devastating climax all add up to make this the best book I’ve ever read. What astounds me the most about this novel is that even though Jacob, the main character, does some truly horrible things, I still cared about him and I honestly wanted him to be happy. (I’m apparently not alone in this; I read an interview with the author and she said she was astounded at how many letters she got from people who said they wished Jacob was real so they could marry/be with him. If you’ve read the book, you know how utterly deranged this truly is.)

2. The End of Alice by A.M. Homes: A jailed pedophile starts getting letters from a young woman who shares similar compulsions, and their correspondence causes him to look back on the events that put him behind bars. You don’t find out the full extent of his crimes until the last few chapters, and to put it mildly, it’s a doozy. This is one of the most disturbing, uncomfortable books I’ve ever read, yet it still makes my top ten. Why? Because the writing, when it’s not splashing about in Grand Guignol excesses, is almost lyrically beautiful. I didn’t read Lolita until long after I’d read The End of Alice, but Nabokov’s influence (puns, taking delight in the way certain words sound and fit together) is clear.

3. The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder: A troubled young woman, obsessed with the Japanese atrocities committed against the Chinese during the Rape of Nanking, goes to Tokyo in search of an elderly Nanking survivor. She makes some dangerous friends and even more dangerous enemies, all of whom are determined to get their hands on a mysterious elixir. I don’t usually get frightened by books, but there are some scenes in this one that literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. However, anyone who dismisses this as just another thriller is sorely mistaken, because the ending packs a powerhouse punch that left me in tears. (Note: Outside of the North American market, this book is published under its original title, Tokyo, which is craptacular because it sounds more like a travel guide.)

Oh, and I’m very jealous of you Brits, not only because you have awesome potato chip flavors like ham and mustard and roast chicken with gravy, but because you get John Connolly and Mo Hayder books before we do. Who knows when Hayder’s latest, Pig Island, will make it across the ocean? Dammit.

4. The Green Mile by Stephen King: I’ll admit that part of the reason I love this book so much stems from the circumstances under which I first read it. Stephen King decided to publish it in serial form, releasing a volume (each one consisting of about 100-150 pages) every month until it was finished. My mom and I eagerly awaited each new release, and I can still remember our outraged screams over one major cliffhanger. Anyway, that’s not the only reason I love this book; I also love it for its rich characters and its exploration of miracles both big and small. It’s true that Stephen King has written more than his fair share of tripe over the years, but this is an example of what he can produce when he really puts his mind to it.

5. Dark Hollow by John Connolly: This is the first book of Connolly’s that I read, and it remains my favorite. Charlie Parker, the private investigator who’s the central character in almost all of Connolly’s novels, is asked to find a woman’s ex-husband and get him to pay child support. But then the woman and her little boy are killed, and Charlie, who lost his wife and daughter to a vicious murderer, is determined to track down the culprit. He’s assisted in his quest by his friends Louis and Angel, two morally ambiguous and decidedly gay hitmen, who get some priceless dialogue. It’s a riveting thriller, dark and sad at its core, but not without redemption. And if you ever get the chance, go see John Connolly at one of his signings; he’s a charming, handsome guy with a swoon-worthy Irish brogue. He’s also really nice; he even remembered my name at the second signing I attended! (Well, sort of; he was close enough that he gets full credit.)

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: I was a latecomer to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon, but my friend B-chan insisted that I would love the books, so I grudgingly picked the first one up…and I didn’t put it down, except to pee, until I was finished.

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling: My favorite of the series so far, thanks to its unbeatable combination of magic, mayhem, tragedy, humor, and adolescent angst.

8. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: Hey, if a book can make ME cry about a spider…

9. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber: Set in 19th century England, this book follows a young prostitute named Sugar as she struggles to survive and then finds herself the paid plaything of a wealthy man. This sprawling novel took the author twenty years to research and write, and it shows; the descriptions are gorgeous, and my attention never wavered, even though the book is almost one thousand pages long. (Kirsten Dunst---whose name is an anagram of Dr. Sunken Tits, by the way---is supposed to play Sugar in the movie adaptation; don’t fuck it up, Dunst.)

10. The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst: A man, grieving the loss of his wife, isn’t sure it was an accident…so he tries to teach their dog to talk, because it was the only witness to her death. There’s a part in the middle that’s a little too outlandish to enjoy, but the rest of the novel makes up for it. This book will speak to anyone who’s ever been utterly consumed by grief; have lots of Kleenex handy.