Vacation Week: Favorite Reads

This is a vacation week. Forget getting any work done — your clients and mine aren’t here. They’re grabbing some free time, as we all should.

I’m working, but only today and tomorrow. I have a client script project due next week, so I want to get the drafts completed, today if possible. Wednesday is prep day and baking day, and Thursday is the feast. Friday I’ll rest.

I hope most of you are off enjoying time with family and friends. If not, thank you for coming by. I’m grateful for your company and your camaraderie. Without you, this freelance writing stuff would be so much tougher.

So today is fun stuff, and I’m encouraging you to join in by listing your favorite books. You can tell us why you like them, or just list them any way you like, and as many as you like. Here are some of the books I think belong on all bookshelves:

Light in August by William Faulkner. Forget what you know about Faulkner’s hard-to-read style — this book shatters that image and delivers a rich, complex, very readable tale.

Jazz by Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison is the only person who can out-Faulkner William Faulkner himself. Her writing, while nowhere near as convoluted, is complex, poetic, experimental in spots, and satisfying all around. Each sentence is something I want to chew, savor. She’s that good. This, to me, is one of her best.

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. I have a friend who hates memoirs. Too bad — she’s missing out on a fantastic story. I read this book nearly 15 years ago. It’s as fresh in my mind today as it was then. Mary Karr writes a ballsy, smart-assed version of a coming-of-age book. It’s as though she’s taken a knife and opened herself wide to her audience.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. After reading this book, I want to live in Cannery Row. I want to know all those quirky people and live in a place where weirdness is rather normal. A warm, human story that shows the tight fibers of a small community.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I love a philosophical story. I love writing that reads like poetry. I love a story that surprises. This book is all three. John Irving starts with what I think could be the best first sentence ever, and he draws you into the story of Owen Meany, the boy with the wrecked voice, and shows you just how important even the smallest among us can be.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read this in high school, and I can still smell the magnolias Lee describes, still see the scene in my mind, and still remember the details. That’s damn fine writing.

Paula by Isabel Allende. Isabel Allende started writing this story from her dying daughter’s bedside. Who knew something so tragic could turn into such a wonderful, dare I say uplifting, story? I loved this so much I gifted it to three people.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. Don’t poo-poo this because it’s a historical account of the Dust Bowl era. Read it because it’s the story of the Dust Bowl era as told by the people who lived through it and their writer, who delivers a beautifully crafted account of a terrible era.

American Gospel by Jon Meacham. For every religious person who believes God is the center of our government, read this book. Meacham gives us an unbiased account of the exact opposite of what we think is true — that God and religion were intentionally avoided by the founding fathers, and why they felt that was best for the country to survive. An excellent read no matter which side of the debate you’re on.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell. When the Durrells move to the island of Corfu, the younger son, Gerard, takes notes of their new adventure. The result: a hilarious story about a family trying to fit their habits into a new culture.

Please share some of your favorite books.

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  • Emily Fowler November 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    We don't get Thanksgiving here, s'not fair.

    Great post though, I love, love, love books. Going to try to post a link to a photo of the most romantic thing my boyfriend ever did (in my opinion anyway!) He built this for me! Hopefully that worked!

    Onto books:

    I agree with Jazz, and I'd also like to throw in Beloved and Paradise as two more of my favourite Toni Morrison.

    John Irving is also one of my favourites (I'm not copying, honest!), but my favourite of his is probably Until I Find You. I've actually just started A Prayer for Owen Meany.

    I've probably read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier about 500 times, so that has to be in there too.

    Lewis Grassic Gibbons – Sunset Song. I found the language difficult to start with, but once I was immersed in the book I loved it.

    Speaking of Scottish – Filth by Irvine Welsh. Although I thought the film was a bit 'meh'.

    E.M Forster – A Room With a View. Fell in love with Florence before I'd even gone there.

    For lighter reading I love Mo Hayder, although her subject matter can be unbelievably freaky πŸ™‚

  • Lori Widmer November 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Emily, WOW! I want that bookcase!

    Agreed on all your Toni Morrison picks. Beloved was my first foray into her writing. Great books.

    I've read Rebecca, as well, and I have Sunset Song and Until I Find You in my waiting-to-be-read pile. πŸ™‚

    Thank you for the hints on the other books. If you like Scottish books, you can't do much better than George MacDonald. Though his use of old Scots dialect in Robert Falconer is a bit of a stumbling block at first, he tells a magnificent tale.

    And I am a huge fan of three authors: William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Toni Morrison. When I want a damn good, damn quick read, I grab a Raymond Chandler.

  • Paula November 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    You know I'm a Faulkner fan, too, Lori. The Sound and the Fury will probably always be my favorite novel. Not just because of the stories, but because of it's unusual construction. Faulkner may have included a map of his invented county in some of his books, but he didn't give the readers any roadmap to following who was narrating which sections of The Sound and the Fury. (I just pulled my copy off the shelve and plan to re-read it as soon as I get my new glasses.)

    One book I had on my list over 12 years ago was Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It's the novel the Broadway musical was based on, but I loved the book so much I was afraid I'd be disappointed by the musical. (I wasn't disappointed, even though they changed a lot for the musical and downplayed most of the socio-political themes of the novel.)

    My real affinity is for non-fiction. I love character studies from people in a historical context. Devil in the White City is a must. And "Professor and the Mad Man," which is the true story behind the creation of the OED. (Years ago, when I mentioned to Favorite Editor that I was reading it she said she was envious that I was experiencing that story for the first time.)

  • Paula November 24, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Please ignore my many typos above. I'm still battling this cold…

  • Lori Widmer November 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Paula, I tried Professor and the Mad Man — I'm not a fan of Simon Winchester's delivery. It felt a bit stuffy. My cousin borrowed the book and loved it, though.

    Faulkner does have a map of that county he'd made up in one of the books. I'll dig through them sometime and let you know which one (I think I have them all).

    Typos ignored. It's the comments section — we're allowed to make mistakes. πŸ™‚

  • ChuckB November 26, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    More good stuff, Lori.