Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Five Best Books I've Ever Read

I realize that this is a very subjective list, and I'd be lying if I said that my list doesn't move around a bit. Or that there aren't some serious exceptions (putting Stephen King's entire body of work into one spot, for example) that might be playing it fair exactly.

But here they are, with brief explanations ... and in no particular order (since, again, it changes so much).

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Perhaps I just hold it a bit dear because I'm an insufferable tomboy and my father is a lawyer that tried in his way to stand up to some pretty horrific things, but there's no doubt that this is one of the most powerful books ever written. Plus, it managed to (briefly!) make me want to go to Alabama, just to see what it was like. Then there's the added bonus of Lee's portrayal of Truman Capote as a boy (embodied, if you didn't know, by Dill Harris). Makes me laugh, makes me cry, and I've read it over two hundred times.

2. The Dark Tower by Stephen King
When I get my Ph.D., it will focus on Stephen King--I'm a freaking aficionado like very few people are. With that established, I'm going to sneak in that not only are there seven books in the DT series, my argument is that every single book, short story, and laundry list King ever wrote falls under the DT umbrella.

3. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
It's very rare for a book about people who go around killing each other in a family feud that is of Montague/Capulet proportions to allow you to actually care about the characters. When Sonny Corleone was brutally shot down by a hundred bullets after being set up by his brother-in-law, I cried ... even though I'm aware of the death and destruction Sonny rained down on countless others. Puzo's masterpiece also gives secondary characters a far richer role than most authors afford them. It makes a difference. A huge difference.

4. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
I've never been a fan of the "they all lived happily ever after" brand of love story. I mean, that's just not the way real life goes. McCullough's Meggie Cleary and Ralph de Bricassart love each other with more passion and feeling than any sappy hero and heroine from the supermarket bodice-rippers, yet their love is forbidden in many and varied ways. That their love endures (well, kind of) despite these obstacles makes it seem real ... and all the more heart-wrenching for that. It's also a very interesting statement on the role humans play in their own destiny, on whether we have a choice at all, and whether we can walk away from that which seems to be eternally waiting for us.

5. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
This was a tough one, considering that I adore many of Irving's books (notably Garp, Owen Meany, and Hotel New Hampshire), but I really liked the way Irving was able to take a polarizing issue like abortion and present both sides in a rational yet sympathetic manner. I don't think anybody going in supporting choice changed their mind, nor do I think the pro-life contingency suddenly had a change of heart, but I think it was an eye-opener--a small one, but still an eye-opener. And if you've seen the movie, it doesn't count. READ THE BOOK.