Books I Love

By huge popular demand: people! What are your favorite books?

The favorite books I don’t think I mentioned on this blog are:

La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas. 19th century, exists in the English translation, like Madame Bovary (sorry, professor, I don’t really mean it, I’m just popularizing) but a lot lot better.

Time of Silence by Luis Martín-Santos. Also available in English. The great novel of the Franco era.

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, nerds of the world, unite!

– and for something lighter, Guilt by John Lescroart who writes very solid courtroom dramas. This is his best one.

Honour Thy Father by Leslie Glaister for those who like psychoanalytic Gothic. OK, forget it, it’s just fun to read. Very engrossing. I read it a quarter of a century ago and still can’t get over it. That’s saying something. Maybe I should reread it.

Which are your favorites? But don’t give me the obvious ones. I want to be surprised.

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23 thoughts on “Books I Love”

  1. My favorite fiction books of all time are:

    Fanny, by Erica Jong
    Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
    Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
    Skinny Legs and all, by Tom Robbins
    Jitterbug Perfume, also by Tom Robbins
    The City and the Stars, (published in an alternate version as Against the Fall of Night; I am not sure which version appeared first) by Sir Arthur C. Clarke
    The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan (pseudonym)

    I am not sure what non-f9iction books to list here; I am still contemplating this question. I may possibly add more novels also.

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  2. “All Our Worldly Goods” and “Suite Française” by Irene Nemirovsky
    Read the review of the first novel here:
    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/372669108?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

    Wisawa Szymborska’s poems translated by Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh in “Poems New and Collected”

    Arthur Miller’s plays “The Crucible” (Salem witch trials) and “Incident at Vichy” (“about a group of men detained in Vichy France; and held to wait unknowingly, for what turns out to be their “racial” inspection by German military officers and Vichy French police during World War II.”)

    “Incident at Vichy” was one of the strongest books about the Holocaust I have ever read (and I have read a lot). It was so frightening and painful in the mundane way the detained Jews, for instance, blame their relatives for making them go out because of an ill tooth that I stopped reading it in the middle. The fiction made reality seem more real / condensed than autobiographical works I have read.

    For not-Russian speakers, I recommend the plays of Aleksandr Nicolaevich Ostrovsky [1823-1886]
    You can read a few of his plays online at Project Gutenberg:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/o#a2619

    “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset. You talked about planning to read it since the author looked like you. 🙂

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    1. “Wisawa Szymborska’s poems translated by Stanislaw Baranczak”
      Wisława (from the river Wisła, Vistula in English). I like some of her poems in Polish but as talented and clever as he is (which is very) I can’t stand Barańczak. Some years ago I tried to read a book he wrote on translation and a more self-satisfied author who is more condescending to every other translator alive… you absolutely cannot imagine… I dropped it less than 100 pages in).

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  3. One I love unironically is:
    Yes is Better than No by Byrd Baylor, set among a group of Papago Indians living in an Arizona city in the early 1970s. It’s neither cutesy nor overly grim and told entirely from the point of view of the Indians living in an environment that makes very little sense to them most of the time. Since the author herself is not Indian I’m sure it could never be published now and it took me about two seconds to finding someone who disliked it for just that reason….

    One I love ironically (not quite the right word, but close)
    The Big Love by Florence Aadland (as told to Tedd Thomey) A memoir of sorts…. An account of actor Error Flynn’s relationship with a teenage girl from the point of view of the girl’s mother. Not for those with weak nerves it is a dizzying master class in self-ignorance and after the fact justification by an alcoholic, abusive wreck of a mother (who seems to think that she’s a sympathetic figure setting the record straight).

    I might add more as I think of them…

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  4. Are we excluding nonfiction? In that case:

    Collected Poems – C.P. Cavafy
    To Charles Forte, With Love – Caitlin R. Kiernan (actually, all of Kiernan, but if I had to pick one, I think that would be it)
    Aegypt – John Crowley
    The Palliser novels – Anthony Trollope

    Gravity’s Rainbow was near the top of my favorite books list for years, but I’m not sure how to rate it now. In part because I lack perspective on it, in part because of age: it’s a young man’s book, in many ways.

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    1. AcademicLurker, age definitely makes a difference. Fifty years ago, I would have put Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land at the top. Now it does not make the list at all, and not because most of those on my list had not been written then.

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  5. Fiction/poetry only here. It’s too hard to think of non-fiction for me:

    Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
    Ada Or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov
    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
    The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne Rich
    Among Others by Jo Walton
    The Divine Comedy by Dante
    Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
    Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
    The Gunslinger series by Stephen King
    No Country for Old Men by Cormac Mccarthy
    Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
    Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

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    1. God, I’ve never met an American who likes Strugatsky. That’s so cool. Their favorite novel of mine is Monday Starts on Saturday. It’s super funny and it’s about the very early days of computers and people who work with them. It’s the favorite novel of all Russian-speaking coders. I highly recommend.

      People, do read this novel. It’s available in English. It’s totally Soviet but in a very good way. You won’t even notice the propaganda. I just looked it up on Amazon and it’s available.

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      1. I haven’t read that Strugatsky! Now I will. Reading the plot summary, it reminds me of Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series. Wonder if Stross was inspired by that work?

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  6. Irlanda by Espido Freire
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
    Feed by Mira Grant

    I’ve got a couple series I love, as well. I can’t always pick a favorite book right away. The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, and the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.

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  7. Baldwin.
    –Go tell it on the mountain
    –The fire next time

    For some reason those are always the books that come up for me when people ask what my favorite books are. The first novel I read randomly, not having heard of it before, and said wow; the first passionately argued essay I ever read, and they stick with me.

    Borges.
    –Ficciones.

    I read it because I was supposed to and at the time gave it a B+ but it has grown on me.

    Camus.
    –L’étranger.

    I read it because I was supposed to, liked it fine; it has stuck with me and grown on me.

    Diderot.
    –Jacques le fataliste et son maître.

    That clever narrative voice.

    Eliot.
    –Middlemarch.

    So observant on human nature and the nature of capitalism, and so funny about academics.

    Laclos.
    –Les liaisons dangereuses.

    One of the books that when I read it, I said wow! This is smart!

    There are more books I like but these are the ones that come to mind right now. Baldwin is always on my list, though.

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  8. I am in middle of Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro gives the behind closed door dealings of mid-20th century American politics a Shakespearian quality. Imagine a slightly more sympathetic version of Frank Underwood from House of Cards but a real historical figure.

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    1. “Imagine a slightly more sympathetic version of Frank Underwood from House of Cards”

      That’s exactly how I always describe LBJ! As mean and nasty as he could be (classic photo of him executing a primate dominance display over Abe Fortas) he was also kind of a hoot.

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  9. My favourite fiction books, mostly because I’ve read them many times. Perhaps it’s because I’m childish.

    Lewis, C.S. 1960. That hideous strength.
    Williams, Charles. 1965. The place of the lion.
    Garner, Alan. 1963. The weirdstone of Brisingamen.
    Williams, Charles. 1964. The greater trumps.
    Garner, Alan. 1967. The moon of Gomrath.
    Williams, Charles. 1957. War in heaven.
    Dostoevsky, Fyodor. 1959. The brothers Karamazov.
    Lewis, C.S. 1952. Out of the silent planet.
    Tolkien, J.R.R. Lord of the Rings.
    Barbery, Muriel. 2008. The elegance of the hedgehog.
    Conrad, Joseph. 1964. Under Western eyes.
    Lewis, C.S. 1964. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe.
    Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. 2005. Crime and punishment.
    Greene, Graham. 1962. The power and the glory.
    Kerouac, Jack. 1958. The Dharma bums.

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  10. Since this is the book thread, I just want to thank you for your constant Bauman recommendations. I just started Liquid Modernity (I also ordered Liquid Love, that I’ll get to next).

    At first I thought that I should order one of his more recent books, on the grounds that something published at the turn of the century would already be hopelessly out of date due to the huge expansion of the internet and social media. Instead it’s the opposite. I’m about 70 pages in and already several times I’ve stopped and thought “How can he be describing the social dynamics of twitter and facebook so accurately in 1999?”.

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    1. You know?

      I first read Bauman in 2002, I think, and much of it sounded ridiculous. And then it all started becoming reality. People say humanities can’t predict anything. Oh, yes, they can.

      You made the right choice to start with Liquid Modernity. It’s the basis for everything else. And it’s a great idea to read Liquid Love second. If you are still up for a third book by him, I recommend Wasted Lives.

      I’m very very glad people are discovering and enjoying Bauman.

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      1. \ If you are still up for a third book by him, I recommend Wasted Lives.

        I have recently finished Wasted Lives and have really enjoyed it, so thanks from me too. 🙂
        Do you think it can be analyzed together with Tortilla Curtain in which illegal migrants are linked to waste throughout the novel?

        Liquid Love I cannot force myself finish since I only have a Hebrew copy and it’s unpleasant to read a long Hebrew text when it was written in English to begin with.

        Bauman has interesting ideas, but I really loved Terry Eagleton’s dry (?) sense of humor. Enjoyed his “On Evil” and “The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction.”

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        1. The memory of Tortilla Curtain still brings a smile to my face. 🙂

          Yes, absolutely, it can. If you are working on it, check out Giorgio Agamben and his idea of bare life.

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          1. \ Yes, absolutely, it can. If you are working on it, check out Giorgio Agamben and his idea of bare life.

            Thanks for the suggestion.

            The problem is that I need several works for my final examination (3000 words paper), so ideally it would be another suitable novel and/or short stories that are united by a common theme.

            Could “Small Hours” by Jennifer Kitses be somehow used too (haven’t read it yet) ? And/or Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” (which I’ve almost finished reading)?

            I would love to find several works to illustrate different aspects of Bauman’s Fluid Modernity. His “Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World” is very suitable for analyzing the Americans in TC, while “Wasted Lives” suits illegal migrants.

            May be, you know of some suitable works of literature to add to Tortilla Curtain?

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