Monday, December 16, 2013

Books that stuck with me

There's a meme that's been making the rounds on Facebook about books that that have stuck with you. Your supposed to make the list without putting a lot of thought into it (ie:  don't make your list cool, or respectable, or whatever). I gave my list but thought I'd save the why for a post.

-Peanuts & Mad Magazine - When I was little we would go my Dad's Aunt and Uncle's house deep in Pennsylvania. Their children were all grown and I would always get their son's room. He had a bookshelf filled with mass market sized Peanuts collections and Mad Magazine collections. Over the course of many visits I devoured all of these books many times over. I came to identify with Charlie Brown and admire the humor of Mad Magazine. I still remember some of those books to this day.

-The Wizard of Oz books - A friends Grandmother had a collection of old beat up Wizard of Oz paperbacks. What started off as just kind of glancing at one of the books quickly became me devouring them all.

These three titles (Peanuts, Mad Magazine, Wizard of OZ) were the first books I consumed en masse.

-The Great Brain books - I can't really say how I came to find The Great Brain books only that I was enamored and obsessed once I did. I knew that there were seven books in the series. And in the pre-internet days it was damn near torture to try and track down these books but it made finding them and reading them so much more enjoyable. To this day I can still recall scenes from these books (the peg leg race, selling candy).

-The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban - I probably came to Hoban's work by way of The Emmett Otter Jugband Christmas special. The Mouse and His Child is a dark, allegorical and philosophical work. Certain ideas expressed in the book have stuck with me ("I've got this nasty sort of a huge lip with a joint in it like an elbow, and I catch my food with it. And the odd thing, you see, is that I don't think that's how I really am. I just can't believe that I'm this muddy thing crawling about in the muck. I don't feel as if I am. I simply can't tell you how I feel inside!"). The other thing that has stuck with me about this book is how high the body count is. Yep, that's right, a children's/YA book with a high body count.

-Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers - This is a book that has an experience tied to it, which accounts for the sticking with me. Walter Dean Myers came to my school in support of this book. I heard him speak, got a copy of the book, and had it signed. I also went home and read it and really enjoyed it too. But to this day whenever I see a copy I remember that experience of meeting the author.

-Watership Down by Richard Adams - I hit a point in school where my reading ability was far ahead of what we were doing in school. And that was frustrating. My oldest brother, who is six years older then me, was the first to really pick up on this (sharing a room helped I'm sure). So he started giving me some of his books to read. He gave me this book about rabbits that was the size of a brick, had a ton of pages and really small print. But once I started reading I couldn't stop, and he knew exactly what it was I needed. After I finished the book he asked me what it was about. I told him. He then asked me "what if it was really about government, and systems of government?" and blew my young impressionable mind. He made me see that a book could be about different things and work on different levels. Upon hearing this I promptly set about reading it again.

-The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck - In the pre-internet days I didn't know what genres were, I read by going through phases. I would go into a phase, read every book on that subject I could find, then move on to the next one. Forexample I went through a Beat Generation phase, a philosophy phase, and a John Steinbeck phase. To this day what I remember about this book is the section about the Congress in the Dark. It's a section that will likely stay with me until I die. 

-On the Road by Jack Kerouac - I came across On the Road at the right age, when I just wanted to get out into the world and was trying to figure out who I was. I actually concocted a plan once where I was going to sneak out and take all the lawn mower gas cans in the neighborhood, steal my aunt's car, use the stolen gas, head west and find myself, my people, and a girl. At the time I felt like I had to (I never did) and it was all Kerouac's fault.

-Lord of the Rings by JRR Somebody - I read and loved The Hobbit but The Lord of the Rings always left me cold. But I had the audio of the BBC's adaptation of LOTR and I listened to it multiple times, and that was how I came to Tolkien. 

-Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - When my daughter was an infant I did all of the late night feedings. I was also so busy that I was only able to read one book that year. And it was Perdido Street Station. I would hold her, lean towards the night light in her room while feeding her, prop up the book, and read just a couple of paragraphs a day. I literally crawled through that book. So it imprinted itself on me in a way that many others haven't.

-The People of Paper by Salvador Placencia - This is a formally inventive novel with a beating heart and both of these aspects have stayed with me.

-Last Call (and The Anubis Gates!) by Tim Powers - One of my favorite novels and my gateway Powers novel. I devour every Tim Powers book but these two I re-read every couple of years. Horrabin the Clown from The Anubis Gates is a horrific figure forever imprinted in my memory.

-Drive by James Sallis - One of my favorite novels of all time. I've read Drive more times, by far, then any other recent novel. I've broken down the chapters into chronological order, I've read the book in chronological order, I' this book a lot. The ending stays with me, some of the moments stay with me, the description of a Ford F-150 has stuck with me. At this rate I'll soon have the damn thing memorized.

-Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane - My favorite Lehane book. There are six words ("I know," he said. And died.) at the end that punch me every time, and I'll never forget.

-Cast of Shadows by Kevin Guilfoile - There's a scene at the end at the Soldiers for Christ/Hands of God Picnic Social where the books antagonist delivers a quiet speech that is one of the most chilling things I've read in a long time. His story ends and his audience sits in stunned silence ("In the quiet around the picnic table, you could hear the water spitting out the end of the pinhole barrel.") and you will too.

-Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr - This slim book is filled with little moments that have stayed with me and when I think about re-reading a book this often tops the list.

-Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff - The reveal near the end (and at the heart) of this book is so shocking (and so obvious in hindsight) that I raced to finish it and then started it over again.

-Four Corners of Night by Craig Holden - Truly one of my favorite novels. It is filled with moments both small (The two cops having their meal interrupted by an emergency call and pointing to the waitress as they run out so she knows they will pay for their meal next time) and large (the emotional roller coaster of the last third or so). There are charged moments where the fear is palpable and only a friend can held ("Mack! Mack!").

-White Apples by Jonathan Carroll - This book has a couple of memorable scenes that haunt including the barbershop transformation scene and the scene at the zoo where the noble animals sacrifice themselves (guaranteed to bring a lump).

-The God File by Frank Turner Hollon - Another "quiet" book that has really stayed with me over the years. I love the opening.

-The Gift (and Door Number Three) by Patrick O'Leary - The Gift has a haunting opening, then goes way into the past to tell the story of everything that happened before that moment, then delivers emotional body blows with reveals that hammer the the already haunting opening home.

-The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle - Another of my favorite recent crime novels. It is filled with moments that haunt and resonate and stay. For example, here is a scene that is worth taking a closer look at. The protagonist's ex-wife, whom he obviously still has feelings for, has just come to his house to tell him that she is pregnant. She wanted to tell him directly before he found out through others, you see the man that she left him for is another police officer. In tones of quiet restraint that are loaded with subtext he congratulates her. Then she leaves. It’s at this point in the scene that we get to see the strength of Doolittle's game. The protagonist's house is being staked out by two men and they will see her leaving the house then sobbing in her car before driving off. We the reader, through the eyes of these two men, will bear quiet witness to a scene that we weren’t supposed to see. Nobody was supposed to see it and it feels like we are invading her privacy, we also feel dirty because of it. There is also extra weight of subdued menace as the two men decide to follow her instead of continuing to stake out the house.

Here are some comics that have stayed with me or that have scenes that have stayed with me:

-Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
-100 Bullets
-MPD Detective
-Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

Also, I can't overstate the importance of some non-fiction books that were instrumental in my cultural education in the pre-internet age. Books like: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; The Encyclopedia of Fantasy; Spin Alternative Record Guide; The Rolling Stone Album Guide (the 1st ed. and the 1992 ed), Leonard Maltin & Ebert movie guides.

I read every line in these books (and others I'm sure) many, many times. These were my bibles. I circled, highlighted, folded in page corners. I learned from them, took recommendations from them, quoted them, and discovered a lot because of them. I made lists and went to the the mall and Record and Tape Traders hoping to expand what I knew and compare my thoughts to them.

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