Tag: top 50

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 15-1

We’ve arrived at the end of our journey. These are my top 15 books of all time, and as such, they deserve a little more love. I’ll include not one but two whole quotes for each book, because they deserve it. As always, series count as only one entry, and any book that I have reviewed here have links to those reviews in the title of the book. Enjoy.

15. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

“Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides… I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”

“As many truths as men. Occasionally, I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach, it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent.”

This book is so new to this list that I hadn’t finished it yet when I added it. By the time I’ve gotten around to doing a write up here, though, I have finished it and it is glorious. The structure is great, the first half of six stories, each interrupting the one before it and interrupted by the one after it, followed by the back halves in reverse order. And each story is remarkably different in style. From nautical journal to post-WWI letters from one friend to another, a 70’s style pulp novel, then a prison break-out short, then a strange corpo-future, and finally a post apocalypse oral history. It’s a huge book in it’s scope and Mitchell pulls it off beautifully. His prose is wonderful to read, and his themes are diverse and well developed.

14. Bone – Jeff Smith

“CONTROL MYSELF?!! I’m a MONSTER! Monsters don’t control themselves! That’s the whole IDEA!”

“Here’s your problem Fone Bone! We’re off the map! Get a bigger map!”

Bone is an odd duck. It starts off as a total kids book (or series of books), full of slapstick and over-the-top-ness. But as it goes along it turns epic (the collected book is massive) and despairing. It’s an anti-war book and a journey to save a land. It’s a great demonstration of what comic books can do, and the black and white art is real pretty.

13.  Macbeth – William Shakespeare

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

“I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

Such a bloody play! I love the violence on display here, it really heightens the mood. It’s a horror story, really, full of ghosts and witches and moving forests. Macbeth is a man whose insanity is matched only by that of his wife. When the bodies start to pile up, they continue to break down. I love the connection between the rulers and the state of nature, to the point where it even uproots itself to rid the land of the contaminated king.

12. Slaughterhouse V – Kurt Vonnegut

“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

How did a sci-fi book about a man taken to be in an alien zoo alongside a B-movie actress. As he lives on exhibit he becomes unstuck in time, able to see all points of his life at once. This forms the structure of the novel, as the story jumps around between his time on the alien planet and the rest of his life, including his time at Dresden during WWII as a POW before the city was fire-bombed. It’s not exactly anti-war, though. The thesis here is that everything that happens happens, the best thing to do is to go along with it. That’s kinda nice.

11. Blankets – Craig Thompson

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.

I gorged myself until my tummy ached.”

“And slowly the snow began to melt. First, doing a number on children’s constructions; Then retreating to the foundations of barns and other buildings. Mangy grass poked through the receding snow. Patches of white were swallowed up in the till of the fields. New shapes emerged. Areas of the forest became INACCESSIBLE now that the snow no longer weighed down the weeds and brier. …Nothing fits together anymore.”

Blankets is a memoir disguised as a comic book. It tells the story of Thompson’s adolescence, his first love, and his loss of religion. It’s a deeply heartfelt book, often dealing with very straightforward topics in very straightforward language. It can do that, though, because what he’s saying is so true, and the images he matches the words to so beautiful (again black and white only) that they elevate to true art.

10. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami

“Unclose your mind. You are not a prisoner. You are a bird in fight, searching the skies for dreams.”

“Once, when I was younger, I thought I could be someone else. I’d move to Casablanca, open a bar, and I’d meet Ingrid Bergman. Or more realistically – whether actually more realistic or not – I’d tune in on a better life, something more suited to my true self. Toward that end, I had to undergo training. I read The Greening of America, and I saw Easy Rider three times. But like a boat with a twisted rudder, I kept coming back to the same place. I wasn’t anywhere. I was myself, waiting on the shore for me to return.”

Half sci-fi adventure, half fantasy mystery, this book is all great. Murakami is distinctly Japanese, but writes with an impeccable sense of American pop culture. It’s two disparate stories that might not be so disparate as they seem. It’s magical realism, my favorite genre, and it’s the best of what Murakami can do.

9. The Giver – Lois Lowry

“For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.”

“Always in the dream, it seemed as if there were a destination: a something–he could not grasp what-that lay beyond the place where the thickness of snow brought the sled to a stop. He was left, upon awakening, with the feeling that he wanted, even somehow needed, to reach the something that waited in the distance. The feeling that it was good. That it was welcoming. That it was significant. But he did not know how to get there.”

I was assigned this book to read in middle school and I took it home and finished it in one night. It’s a beautiful book, a utopia that isn’t quite what it seems. There’s no color, and no lying, and no history. Jonas is picked to be the receiver of memories. As he is given these memories of love and death and war and music and color, he discovers how much the rest of his community is missing. It’s a great book, the best of the YA dystopias.

8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop”

“Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
“I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

Alice is one of literature’s greatest characters. She navigates the insanity of Wonderland, taking all of the oddness in stride. What happens when people mean what they say and say what they mean? It’s a book about language and logic and learning and growing up and it’s devilishly funny. Talk about subversive!

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”

“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don’t really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.”

A family history told in three parts by three different characters, this book is a deeply emotional work about love and loss. It incorporates 9/11 without exploiting it, the main story is of young Oskar’s search for the hole which is unlocked by a key left behind by his father, who died that horrible day. Foer weaves in the terror of WWII and the breakdown of a long marriage as well. It’s a huge book crammed into a relatively small number of pages, messy and all over the place. And that’s why I love it.

6. The Sandman series – Neil Gaiman

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”

“October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or of shutting a book, did not end a tale. Having admitted that, he would also avow that happy endings were never difficult to find: “It is simply a matter,” he explained to April, “of finding a sunny place in a garden, where the light is golden and the grass is soft; somewhere to rest, to stop reading, and to be content.”

The Sandman series follows the titular character, one of 7 Endless who each reign over a different aspect of the human condition. There’s Death and Destiny and Destruction and Despair and Desire and Delirium and Dream. Dream is the master of stories, and the series often deals in metafiction, stories about storytelling. It’s a huge work, complete with gorgeous artwork and some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read. There’s nothing like it.

5. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

“That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride.”

“That’s the one trouble with this country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land: opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating the life of man in its implacable and brooding image.”

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know where he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.”

Here’s an experiment of a book. A family goes through rough times in the south following the death of the matriarch and must bring her body to a town a distance away. Each member of the family gets some chapters to narrate for themselves, including the youngest, who muses that his mother is a fish, and the mother herself, post-mortem. It’s audacious, a quality matched only by its emotional breadth and depth.

4. Dubliners – James Joyce

“It was cold autumn weather, but in spite of the cold they wandered up and down the roads of the Park for nearly three hours. They agreed to break off their intercourse; every bond, he said, is a bond to sorrow.”

“He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a verb in the past tense.”

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Short stories are too often neglected when it comes to literature. You read some in school and then you move on to more adult novels. But short stories can accomplish things just as Igreat as novels can. Joyce’s Dubliners is the ultimate example. Each story is set in the same world, though they tell very different stories. His language and sense of place is perfect. The final story in this collection, “The Dead”, is the very definition of literature. It should be given to you at birth and read every year on your birthday and then finally on your deathbed. It’s affirmation and melancholy rolled into one miniature piece of perfection.

3. Calvin and Hobbes – Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes were a force throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. Watterson masterfully captures the joy of childhood, the ability to question and go along with things at will. The imagination and the limits placed on children become who we grow up, and Calvin and Hobbes is that at its best.

2. A Song of Ice and Fire series – George R.R. Martin

“You’re mine,” she whispered. “Mine, as I’m yours. And if we die, we die. All men must die, Jon Snow. But first, we’ll live.”

“It all goes back and back,” Tyrion thought, “to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

Martin is a man of certain abilities. He can create a superbly realized world. Westeros is by far the best fantasy realm I’ve ever read. He can write with many voices. Each book is filled with numerous POV characters, some noble, some shrewd, some insane, some broken, some proud, some shameful. And more importantly, he allows each character to be a real person. They grow, change, live. And die. That’s his other ability. He kills without remorse. Nobody is safe, and that makes everything mean something, even in the fourth book, where things slow down for a time. It’s a war of good and evil when nobody is truly good or truly evil. It’s remarkably complex.

1. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”

“I know one thing for certain; it is much harder to tell whether you are lost than whether you were lost, for, on many occasions, where you are going is exactly where you are. On the other hand, if you often find that where you’ve been is not at all where you should have gone, and, since it’s much more difficult to find your way back from someplace you’ve never left, I suggest you go there immediately and then decide.”

“I don’t think you understand,” said Milo timidly as the watchdog growled a warning. “We’re looking for a place to spend the night.”
“It’s not yours to spend,” the bird shrieked again, and followed it with the same horrible laugh.
“That doesn’t make any sense, you see—” he started to explain.
“Dollars or cents, it’s still not yours to spend,” the bird replied haughtily.
“But I didn’t mean—” insisted Milo.
“Of course you’re mean,” interrupted the bird, closing the eye that had been open and opening the one that had been closed. “Anyone who’d spend a night that doesn’t belong to him is very mean.”
“Well, I thought that by—” he tried again desperately.
“That’s a different story,” interjected the bird a bit more amiably. “If you want to buy, I’m sure I can arrange to sell, but with what you’re doing you’ll probably end up in a cell anyway.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Milo helplessly, for, with the bird taking everything the wrong way, he hardly knew what he was saying.
“Agreed,” said the bird, with a sharp click of his beak, “but neither is it left, although if I were you I would have left a long time ago.”

This was the book that made me a lifelong reader. It’s a journey through a fantasy land where Conclusions is a place you literally jump to and you must be careful to avoid The Terrible Trivium, or else you’ll spend all your time moving grains of sand from one pile to another. It’s a place where the colors and time of the day is played by an orchestra which should not be disturbed. It’s a place where a little boy bored by everything can go and be interested in anything. That’s what literature does.

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 30-16

You’ve seen my 50-31 books of all time, now it’s time for the next 15. Get ready for 30-16. Remember, series only count as one spot. Click on the titles that are links for fuller reviews.

30. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

“It’s like when you put instant rice pudding mix in a bowl in the microwave and push the button, and you take the cover off when it rings, and there you’ve got ricing pudding. I mean, what happens in between the time when you push the switch and when the microwave rings? You can’t tell what’s going on under the cover. Maybe the instant rice pudding first turns into macaroni gratin in the darkness when nobody’s looking and only then turns back into rice pudding. We think it’s only natural to get rice pudding after we put rice pudding mix in the microwave and the bell rings, but to me, that is just a presumption. I would be kind of relieved if, every once in a while, after you put rice pudding mix in the microwave and it rang and you opened the top, you got macaroni gratin. I suppose I’d be shocked, of course, but I don’t know, I think I’d be kind of relieved too. Or at least I think I wouldn’t be so upset, because that would feel, in some ways, a whole lot more real.”

I reviewed this book a few weeks ago and it won’t even be the most recent entry onto this list. Just go read that review to find out why this books is so awesome.

29. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

“Soul is the music people understand. Sure it’s basic and it’s simple. But it’s something else ’cause, ’cause, ’cause it’s honest, that’s it. Its honest. There’s no fuckin’ bullshit. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there’s a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.”

A hilarious novel about trying to form a soul band in northern Dublin. Doyle writes music better than anybody else I’ve seen. It’s hard to do but he pulls it off.

28. Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl

“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.”

This story is the definition of ‘wonderful’. Roald Dahl is one of the best kid-lit authors there ever was, and this charming tale of a boy and his dad and their pheasant-snatching escapade is top notch Dahl.

27. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke

“I mean that two of any thing is a most uncomfortable number. One may do as he pleases. Six may get along well enough. But two must always struggle for mastery. Two must always watch each other. The eyes of all the world will be on two, uncertain which of them to follow.”

This, like the Magician series in the previous post, came out after the Harry Potter boom. It deals with magic and magicians, although in a completely different manner. It takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and it is written to emulate the literary style of the time. There are two magicians with wildly differing points of view on how magic can be used to beat the short Frenchman which, of course, builds to an epic rivalry. It’s a large book but completely worth the length.

26. Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

“People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”

What starts off as a man on a quest to write about the invention of the atomic bomb becomes the funniest post-apocalypse story you’ll ever read. Vonnegut does the sci-fi and the humor perfectly, as always. And the Koans of Bokonon, some guy who made up his own religion, are delightfully insightful while also making fun of the idea of religious living.

25. The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

“A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.”

I first heard this series as my father read it to me every night before bed. Then, when I got older, I read it myself. I went back and reread it again semi-recently and it was just as good. Lewis’s Narnia is a vast and intriguing universe with all kinds of different stories to be told within it.

24. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories – Dr. Seuss

“And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”

This is basically a stand-in for all Dr. Seuss books. They formed such an important part of my childhood that they must have a place on this list. His felicity with the English language is something all writers should strive for.

23. Maus – Art Spiegelman

“Sometimes I don’t feel like a functioning adult”

This book (or pair of books) is a memoir and a family history of the author’s father and mother and their fight to stay alive during the Holocaust. Also, they’re all mice. The device of making each nationality a different species is the hook, but the meat is probably the best Holocaust story I’ve ever encountered in any medium.

22. The Lieutenant of Inishmore – Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh is growing his talent. He started by writing plays, then he moved on to short films (he won an Oscar for Six Shooter), and this year he’s releasing his second feature film, Seven Psychopaths. All of his stories, regardless of medium, share a dark sense of humor and a distinct sense of place. There’s also a surprising amount of heart in each of his stories. It’s quite a feat to get so dirty and then pull out an emotional climax.

21. Watership Down – Richard Adams

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

This is the story of talking rabbits. It should not, however, be confused with kid-lit. It is a very adult book, full of allusions and philosophical musings. It’s a road book and a settling book and a war book and an escape book. It’s a book about talking rabbits that is as profound as anything else on this list.

20. Hamlet – William Shakespeare

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

Shakespeare is a funny guy. Even his tragedies have wordplay and clever little exchanges like the one quoted above. I don’t know why, then, I don’t like his comedies all that much. He’s a master of tragedy (historical or not), but the comedies never come together for me. Give me Hamlet’s sarcasm any day of the week. Also, ghosts.

19. Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino

“I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.”

Here’s a strange book. A collection of short stories, some with an idea of a recurring character, though he takes different shapes depending on the story that is being told. Each story takes on a scientific concept and extrapolates it out into a kind of fairy-tale. Calvino’s mixture of science and fiction is unlike any other sci-fi you’ll read.

18. Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it.

It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.”

Pooh is a bear of very little brain. That doesn’t make him useless. He’s a vital part of our cultural heritage and the world would be a better place if everybody read this collection of short stories every five years. Sometimes it’s important to remember how things really work, and how to have fun, and what’s important, truly. Pooh, despite his very little brain, remembers.

17. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder.
Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.
I spent my life learning to feel less.
Every day I felt less.
Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”

Both of Foer’s fiction works have been adapted into films. Both films lose large chunks of the story in order to fit everything into a two hour package. It is those missing chunks that are vital to the power of his stories. They are about everything. Love and loss, happiness and sadness, history and family. This book incorporates two timelines, a diary, a fictionalized version of the author, and a magical realist book that tells the history of a small town in Eastern Europe. It’s beautiful.

16. The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King

“Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home.”

I could have just as easily picked another quote from this series to stand in for all seven books worth of writing: Go, then, there are other worlds than these. It is a eulogy of sorts in the book, but it gets at the overriding idea of the series. It connects most of King’s works into a grand universe unparalleled in fiction. It’s a huge series, full of pulp and profundity, like all of King’s works.

Top 50 Books List (2012 edition): 50-31

According to Goodreads I’ve read exactly 300 books. There must be more than that, but that’s a pretty ok number to work from. The following list of 50 books represents 1/6th of all the books I’ve read/ranked on that site, which happen to be all the books I can remember. I really like all the books on this list, and only the top 15 or so should be considered to be in any kind of order. If it’s on this list, you can take it as a hearty recommendation. Any time the title of the book is a link, click it to bring up my full review. Here’s the first part of the list.

50. The Thurber Carnival – James Thurber

“Let me be the first to admit that the naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts. Senor Dali has the jump on me from the beginning. He remembers and describes in detail what it was like in the womb. My own earliest memory is of accompanying my father to a polling booth in Columbus, Ohio, where he voted for William McKinley.”

This is a fun collection of essays and short stories from throughout Thurber’s career. Thurber lived in my homestate and there are some fun thins to spot. Some of the short stories are really great, as are the stories of Thurber’s time as an intrepid reporter.

49. The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

Ah, another note. Any book series will count as just one spot on the list. Here we have the mega-hit series which is quite amazing in how it grew up along with its readers. It’ll be interesting to see how the series ages, now that they are finished and the movies are done (for the moment). It’s a great story and well told, one that touches upon many themes and ideas among a world filled with fantastic characters.

48. Orland0 – Virginia Woolf

“To put it in a nutshell, he was afflicted with a love of literature. It was the fatal nature of this disease to substitute a phantom for reality.”

Here’s a daring piece of work. Orlando goes through a bit of a change from the beginning to the end of this book, as most protagonists do. In this case, however, the change is physical as well as mental. Orlando seemingly doesn’t age, and he becomes a she. Interested? You should be, it’s a great book.

47. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods – A.S. Byatt

“He was beautiful, that was always affirmed, but his beauty was hard to fix or to see, for he was always glimmering, flickering, melting, mixing, he was the shape of a shapeless flame, he was the eddying thread of needle-shapes in the shapeless mass of the waterfall. He was the invisible wind that hurried the clouds in billows and ribbons. You could see a bare tree on the skyline bent by the wind, holding up twisted branches and bent twigs, and suddenly its formless form would resolve itself into that of the trickster.”

This is a small book with a big idea. Take the Norse mythology of old and retell it in the very nature-tuned way that Byatt has and then wrap it with an autobiographical framing story about WWII and the potential horrors and depression it caused. You can read it in an afternoon, and you should.

46. IT – Stephen King

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

Stephen King formed a large part of my middle childhood, that transition between kid lit and serious books, both of which you’ll find on this list, so why not some King as well. I don’t think he gets enough credit as a good author, which he is on occasion. IT might be his scariest book, as well as one of his most ambitious, though there are some coming up that are even more so.

45. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

“Then you compared a woman’s love to Hell,
To barren land where water will not dwell,
And you compared it to a quenchless fire,
The more it burns the more is its desire
To burn up everything that burnt can be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives. ”

And herein lies the English degree. I took a whole class on this book and it was really interesting to delve into each tale both separately and as a part of a whole. And it’s further proof that remakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing (take that, Boccaccio!).

44. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue – Maurice Sendak

“”Is that all

you have to say?”

I don’t care!

“Then I’ll eat you,

if I may.”

I don’t care!“”

This is a full on nostalgia pick. I had it in a little 6-book hardcover box set, each of which with a different color on the dust jacket. It was my first introduction to serialized books, something you’ll see all over my list.

43. Y: The Last Man series – Brian K. Vaughan

“No. No, first comes boyhood. You get to play with soldiers and spacemen, cowboys and ninjas, pirates and robots. But before you know it, all that comes to an end. And then, Remo Williams, is when the adventure begins.”

An epic sci-fi road post-apocalyptic comedy/drama thing. Maybe the most outstanding element in this world with only one man is the community theater. There exists an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross .

42. The Odyssey – Homer

“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”

Another full semester spent on this classic. It’s such a classic story and it informs practically everything that came after it. For some reason, I think of nearly all George Clooney characters as some version of Odysseus.

41. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”

The above can be seen as a kind of thesis for the book. When immigrants came to the US they brought their gods with them, but now those gods are being replaced by technology made corporeal. This is a book that works really great up to a point and then gets considerably worse. But those first 3/4ths are really great.

40. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go- We’ll eat you up- we love you so!”

How great is this book? So great. Under 50 sentences, but true and real and sad and imaginative. And the movie adaptation is great, too.

39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”

Joyce is such a hard guy to crack. This book and another that will appear later are normal in length and, mostly, technique. But then Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake have such a big shadow that I’m terrified of approaching them. I’ll wallow in my relative ignorance until I have the time an inclination to take on such titanic works.

38. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

“I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me. I want to steal something.”

Atwood’s dystopia is about controlling women and taking reproduction out of their hands. It’s interesting how that one change could ripple throughout society. What makes a woman a woman and how can that be used against them? And what role does religion play in oppression and repression? Very interesting.

37. The Stand – Stephen King

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

King does his best work when he goes very big or very small. His epics and his short stories are where he can expand to talk about everything or focus like a laser on one thing. This is the former. After a disease wipes out most of humanity, the rest pick sides (or are picked) between good and evil, and then there’s a battle. But before that there’s rebuilding society and the horror of decay. It’s terrifying and deeply human.

36. Kraken – China Mieville

“I know, I know,” Moore said. “Mad beliefs like that, eh? Must be some metaphor, right? Must mean something else?” Shook his head. “What an awfully arrogant thing. What if faiths are exactly what they are? And mean exactly what they say?”
“Stop trying to make sense of it and just listen,” Dane said.
“And what,” Moore said, “if a large part of the reason they’re so tenacious is that they’re perfectly accurate?”

Mieville is my favorite working genre author. He does mostly urban sci-fi and his Bas-Lag books are wonderful, but this one takes the cake for me. It takes place in our London, but underneath hides a thousand little religions dedicated to countless objects and ideas. Star Trek style transportation is real and horrifying in its implications. And a giant squid’s corpse is stolen in order to bring about the apocalypse. The mix of fantasy and sci-fi and mystery along with a rocketship pace makes this a super fun read.

35. The Magician series – Lev Grossman

“That’s what death did, it treated you like a child, like everything you had ever thought and done and cared about was just a child’s game, to be crumpled up and thrown away when it was over. It didn’t matter. Death didn’t respect you. Death thought you were bullshit, and it wanted to make sure you knew it.”

This series isn’t even over yet. There are two entries so far and the second improved upon the first, a tough feat for any writer. What starts off as “Harry Potter for adults” became something grander. It’s like Narnia meets The Dark Tower, with connections to all sorts of literature and stories. The second book is an Odyssey-type story of a quest to return home and is really great.

34. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

“This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

A classic for obvious reasons. These books are so full of ideas and cleverness and characters and worlds that I’m more and more amazed every time I read them.

33. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.”

The first book I was forced to read for school and actually liked. I don’t know how anybody couldn’t like it. The quintessential coming of age tale.

32. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

“I worry about exposing him to bands like Journey, the appreciation of which will surely bring him nothing but the opprobrium of his peers. Though he has often been resistant – children so seldom know what is good for them – I have taught him to appreciate all the groundbreaking musicmakers of our time – Big Country, Haircut 100, Loverboy – and he is lucky for it. His brain is my laboratory, my depository. Into it I can stuff the books I choose, the television shows, the movies, my opinion about elected officials, historical events, neighbors, passersby. He is my twenty-four-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile. He is a lucky, lucky boy! And no one can stop me.”

It is what it says it is. The title is, of course, silly. But it is also true. It’s a memoir of the years shortly after Eggers’ parents died when he was in college and he changes his entire life to care for his brother. Along the way he tries out for The Real World and starts a magazine. It truly is heartbreaking and staggering and, perhaps, at times, genius.

31. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud

“Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction.”

Scott McCloud found a way to teach his readers how comics work by writing a comic and breaking it down and giving examples of different techniques and ideas and explaining how it works. It’s fascinating and funny and a must read for anybody even remotely interested in the artform.

Top 50 Animated Movies

I was recently encouraged to create a list of the top 50 animated movies of all time by fellow blogger Bondo of The Movie Review Warehouse. So I did! I went through Criticker and rated every movie that I had seen that was at least “known” according to them. I’m not a hundred percent sure what that means, exactly, but I came across what would end up being the most obscure films on my list under that category, so I guess it worked. Also, shorts and tv one-timers are eligible, but nothing serialized on tv. That’s a totally different thing or something. And now, the list.

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