Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, August 01, 2008

Much Ado About Books

by Kerry Blair

As it turns out, I will not be able to die anytime soon. Due to the response here and on Now & Here to the question “What ten books would you recommend I read before I die?” I now have a list that must approach three or four hundred not-to-be missed books. This includes all the volumes from several series mentioned by name, and is approximate – and so lengthy – mostly because three or four respondents listed authors rather than books. (Looking up and counting the collected works of more than two dozen prolific writers would take more time than I’m willing to devote to this project; possibly more time than I have left.)

I have however compiled a list of 200 individual titles—including series as one work in most cases, and authors’ collected works as one in several cases. It’s much too long to post, but I’d be happy to type it up and send it out as an attachment if there’s enough interest.

I can't decide if our Top Ten surprised me or not. There were a few hairy moments when I worried what it would say about us if Harry Potter drew more votes that Mormon. But in the end, Mormon scored twice Harry’s number. (Whew!) A little later today I plan to write to the tenth place winner, O. Scott Card, and tell him that while Shakespeare and Hugo were a little ahead of him, he handily trounced Milton, Tolstoy, Dickens and their ilk. I shall also ask for a guest blog from one of the only two living authors to be honored here. (I’d ask J.K. Rowling, but I seem to remember that Rob already interviewed her and I hate to be a pest.)

Here are the top ten works you think I should read before I die. (I’m still mostly good to go, by the way.)
1 - Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Hurray!)
2 - Harry Potter and the Anything of Everything – J. K. Rowling (You just had to, didn’t you? That's okay, I guess. I loved them, too.)
3 - Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen (I agree, whether it makes my list or not!)
4 - Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery (It’s the message, isn’t it? The After Many Days collection is my personal favorite.)
5 - Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (Lovely book. Not in my personal top ten, but I do know why so many of you chose it and admire what that says about you.)
6 - Tie: Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien and Chronicles of Narnia – C. S. Lewis (I prefer Silmarillion and Letters from Santa for Tolkien and Screwtape Letters for Lewis, but I wouldn’t put Harry Potter on this list at all, so what do I know? Only Lewis made my top ten, but I will be the very first to admit that Tolkien is one of the most truly brilliant men I’ve read. I’d just personally hate to have to wade through Middle Earth while in the valley of the shadow of death. I have two children who will disown me for admitting that in public.)
7 - A play by William Shakespeare (His plays split his vote six ways – five tragedies and one comedy – but I gave it to him anyway because he’s, you know, Shakespeare! I like Macbeth best but, admittedly, it’s only because of the Lady and the witches. Oh, no! My thumb itches! Probably because I’d put Hamlet higher on the list than Anne, Harry, or even sweet little Beth.)
8 - Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Bravo! To be perfectly honest, the vote that put him ahead of Twain was cast for Hunchback, but since this book is on my personal list, I cheated for him.)
9 - Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (When I was taking chemo, I re-read more Twain than anything else. He kind of reminds me of Rob. Or perhaps vice versa. When I read his the hilarious recommendation to do away with beds because more people die in them than anywhere else, I got up and moved to a lounge chair. Love that man! Huck and Finn are great, but my personal hero is Pudd’nhead Wilson. Every author here should read the brilliant treatise Twain wrote on writing that novella.)
10 - Ender’s Game or Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (If I’m going to give Shakespeare a break and cheat for Hugo, I figure I should combine Card’s votes as well. I hate to admit I’ve never read Speaker—an oversight I will rectify just as soon as I can get to the library.)

Books or authors that/who received four votes: Gone With the Wind, Grapes of Wrath (Sorry, Jeff. I’m dealing with the Rowling thing, you’ll have to deal with Faulkner), Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ray Bradbury, Dr. Seuss, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Michael Shaara, and Stephenie Myers. I’m going to brag here that I got enough votes (mostly over on my blog) to beat out Austen and almost tie Mormon, but they were from people who are roughly as objective as Rob’s mom, so conscience made me throw them out. That said, I will never, ever forget the very kind folks who listed them. Thank you.)

Before I announce the winner of this site’s drawing, I want to note a few honorable mentions:

Marnie Pehrson for listing Return from Tomorrow, a book about life-after-death. Could there be a more appropriate recommendation for a book to read before you die? I laughed out loud.

Meredith Dias for her list of “cautionary tales.” Everyone should read the books she suggested. All of them. Go back and read her comment. She put it so much better than I ever could.

Just_Me for including comic books in the stack she’d lend me. Three cheers for this often-overlooked genre of American art/literature. Bring them on!

Michael A. Cleverly for the absolutely, positively strangest suggestion: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. A little light reading for a dying woman, Michael? Really? (I do have to admit I’ve missed that one. Love it!)

Edje, Hilary & Deb for including poetry and/or poets on their lists. If there is anything that soothes and feeds the soul more than great poetic works from women such as Dickinson, Barrett-Browning, or Snow I don’t know what it is.

Jeff, Rob & Stephanie for tactfully, eloquently, creatively, and courageously pointing out that my list and your list and his list and her list of “meaningful” books are essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of things. We may be judged someday by the books we read, but we will surely be judged by how we judge others—especially over nonsense like this.

I do recognize that these lists were intensely personal and I am grateful to everyone who put his or herself “out there.” I now have a list of three dozen or more probably-incredible books of which I’d never heard! I’ve already started reading them. (But I’m saving Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs for last, hoping I’ll die before I get to it!)

Without further ado, the Frog Blog winner is . . . Janice! (I didn’t rig it, I swear! It is merely coincidence that she has impeccable taste in literature.) Janice can choose any book from our Top Ten or a book from my list and I’ll see that Amazon sends her a paperback copy . . . just as soon as she e-mails me her address. The rest of you are welcome to drop by and borrow anything on my shelf. Except Farworld. I wouldn't loan that to my mother for fear of not getting it back.

Again, a million thanks to everybody who played, and those of you who read along! If you’d like a complete list of the best of books, let me know and I’ll compile it this weekend.


At 8/01/2008 3:01 PM, Blogger Janice said...

I win!!!! Wahoo!!! It's true. I do have impeccable taste in literature. It's something I inherited from my mother. (Although she doesn't like Card so I think literary tastes improve with every generation.)

At 8/01/2008 3:42 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Well, crap. I just realized that I never ended up posting my top ten. That's what I get for being stupid.

Here they are, late and ineligible (which is okay, because I don't think many of mine will affect the total top ten):

1. The Standard Works. Of course.

2. Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

3. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

4. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown

5. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

6. Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy

7. All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

8. The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

9. The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell (The whole series--The Warlord Chronicles--is great.)

10. Anything by Tony Hillerman

In regards to the actual top-ten listed Kerry compiled, a few thoughts:

I continue to not understand the Jane Austen thing. Granted, while I've seen all the movies--probably all the versions of all the movies--I've only ever read P&P. And, meh.

I like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter a lot, and they'd probably be in my top twenty, but not top ten.

I know that this is practically blaspheme, but I really don't like The Chronicles of Narnia. I never read them as a kid, and reading them as an adult just didn't do much for me. They're obtusely didactic, and just plain weird.

I really like Shakespeare performed, but I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed reading any of the plays. Ever.

I love Les Mis, but I think I prefer Hunchback.

At 8/01/2008 4:12 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks for the address, Janice -- she chose a Harry Potter book for her son -- and thanks for the list, Rob. As far as the tally goes, it put Twain above Hugo and added six new books to the list. Fun.

At 8/01/2008 4:46 PM, Blogger Just_Me said...

(hugs her comic books)

Huzzah for a list of books no one has heard of! I've heard of the classics, and unless we're talking Classic Calvin and Hobbes I dodged. I'm either young at heart or just silly, either way I'm happy.

At 8/01/2008 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brava, Kerry!


At 8/01/2008 9:05 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I can't believe you guys still associate with RW - Meh to Jane Austen? I mean, I'm all for not judging, but that's just a ridiculous position!

Well, maybe Jane is better for people of higher intelligence. That would explain it. ;)

At 8/02/2008 9:46 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

Wow! For once I agree with Rob--on the Jane Austen thing anyway. I've read better Harlequins than any of the Austen books and I think, Jon, that puts Rob and me on the higher intelligence scale. He listed a few other good choices, Hillerman, Twain, and Clancy, but Thoreau? Now there's a real cure for insomnia. I think every literature teacher I ever had insisted I had to read Thoreau which left me with a real aversion to his opus.
Fun contest, Kerry. I wonder how many of our current favorites would still be on our lists a year from now.

At 8/04/2008 9:18 AM, Blogger pwells said...

If all you want in a book is romance, then by all means read a Harlequin. But Jane Austen's books are filled with delicious wit and satire, elegant language, and characters so finely described as to make them come alive. These books can be read over and over again because the language is such a delight.

At 8/04/2008 11:22 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

I can't believe I'm defending Harlequins, but some are really well written, have "delicious wit, satire, elegant language, and characters described as to make them come alive." Others are garbage. (I read a lot of them when it was my job to buy them for the library where I worked) Maybe I was too young when I read the Austen books, high school then again in college, but I was just plain bored. I truly can't bring myself to wade through them again to see if they've improved with age. That's one of the great things about books; different ones appeal to different people. Some readers like to dig around in a character's head and others are looking for strong plots and plenty of action. Fortunately LDS fiction has now reached the level where one book doesn't need to be in the "one size fits all" category either which is better for readers and writers.

At 8/04/2008 1:30 PM, Blogger christina pettit said...

I don't understand not liking Jane Austen, but I have never liked Dickens. Ever. And what the heck Rob?! You don't like Narnia? You are so fired. Now who's gonna babysit your kids?

Some one needs to add Ella Enchanted by Gail Carsen Levine, and Beauty by Robin McKinley.


Post a Comment

<< Home