Today Wolfe and I read his current favorite book, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it features monkeys banging on drums. Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum. Wolfe’s also a big fan of another literary masterpiece called Moo Baa La La La. The twist in that book is the singing pigs, who “La la la” instead of “oink oink oink.”
This made me think of my favorite books. Trying to come up with a top five or top ten list is an exercise in futility. Every time I think I have it nailed down, I remember this book or that book and I’m right back where I started. So in lieu of “best books ever,” which fluctuates so much, here’s a list of five books which impacted me in some major way. I’d like you, if you’re so inclined, to leave your own favorite(s) in the comments. I’m always looking for more good reads!
- Carrie by Stephen King: I’m a huge King fan, and this book is what started it off for me. I think I was around 13 when I read this. It was one of my first forays into the “grown up” section at the public library, and I was drunk with the power. In this book, King does a great job capturing the alienation and awkwardness of the teenage years. Plus I had a new euphemism for breasts–“dirty pillows.”
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien: this was a big part of my childhood. I remember spending an all-nighter reading it over summer break, and when I was done feeling like at any moment I might be conjured along on some magical quest. It was one of the first books I can recall reading multiple times. One thing I could never figure out, though, was why Tolkien needed all those initials in his name.
- The Wrestler’s Cruel Study by Stephen Dobyns: I discovered this gem shortly after I finished high school. I was drawn to it because it was about one of my favorite things–pro wrestling. Dobyns tricked me, though, because this is really a literary masterpiece about metaphysics, religion, and the nature of good and evil. (By the way, as a former pro wrestler I have to say the pro wrestling in this book is highly entertaining but not very realistic.)
- McTeague by Frank Norris: Norris was a naturalist writer at the turn of the century. This novel is a great example of setting, as San Francisco almost becomes a character of its own. This really impacted me as a writer, though. It reads like a much more contemporary work, and the plotting is excellent (even if the ending is a bit absurd). When you read it, picture McTeague as Brock Lesnar. It makes the book so much better.
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: this book is at once hilarious and sobering, because it gives a true representation of the absurdity of the human condition. Ignatius J. Reilly is a great character, a blundering blustering egomaniac who bounces from one predicament to the next, oftentimes unwittingly leaving chaos in his wake. This book also reminds me as a writer to never give up (Toole committed suicide before the book was published–and subsequently won the Pulitzer prize).
There you have five books that affected me in a big way. This list could go on and on. Have some favorites of your own? Leave them in my comments.
One last thing. If you like short fiction (from many genres–horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance) and/or dislike cancer, consider buying the anthology Hazard Yet Forward. This is a project by folks associated with Seton Hill University, where my wife and I met (and also where we got our MFAs). All the proceeds go to a fellow alum, Donna Munro, who is battling cancer. Thanks for your consideration.