Monday, December 16, 2013

Top Ten Books

A thing going around Facebook right now asks you to post your top ten books, or at least the top ten books that come to mind immediately. My brain "immediately" listed about 40 books, so I pared the list down to just the ones that influenced my reading habits, and sometimes made changes in my life. It was very difficult to cut out the Harry Potter books, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brideshead Revisited, The Handmaid's Tale, a lot of mystery and sci-fi books (a LOT), St. Dale (hilarious), the Tom Clancy and James Clavell books, as well as Into Thin Air and The Art of Racing in the Rain, but...

Well... I guess I just added them! LOL

So what are your favorites?

 Gigs's Top Ten
  1. Black Beauty
  2. N or M?
  3. Exodus
  4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  5. Pride & Prejudice
  6. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  7. Ender's Game
  8. Mists of Avalon
  9. Little Dorrit
  10. The Girl with the Crooked Nose

1. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
I remember reading this about a  thousand times in elementary school. In 5th grade, I was like a lot of little girls and absolutely enthralled by horses. I watched horses in the movies and on TV (specifically, the Chinese-dubbed version of Bonanza -- which was hilarious), I read about them, and I played with my plastic Palomino at my friend Sandy Phillips's house. And then my school did some sort of library incentive thing which gave us credit for reading -- you could check out the same book, but only if you read something else in between the check-outs. So, I read Black Beauty every other check-out. For about the entire year! I re-read it again recently and it still holds up! I also read the Narnian chronicles and probably a lot of Enid Blyton, but what I remember most was the beautiful, sad, yet uplifting autobiography of a horse called Beauty.

2. N or M?, Agatha Christie
It's all my Dad's fault. Growing up, my Dad had several book shelves stacked with mystery novels -- Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and many more. "N or M" was the first Agatha Christie I ever read and I fell in love with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. I didn't know it at the time, but Tommy & Tuppence had already been chronicled as youths in several short stories in "Partners in Crime." I loved the relationship between the two of them as well as the intricacy and believability of the crime (and solution). It was exciting and scary and just wonderfully written.

I think this book is what made me start my "thing" of having to read everything by a new-to-me author in chronological order. I went back and pulled out my Dad's copy of "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and worked my way through everything she had written. It took a few years and I had to take some side-trips into other authors' realms as well as "working" trips for school, but I eventually caught up. I kept deferring "Curtain" until I had definitely read everything else she had written, because she had said before her death (in 1976) that it was Poirot's last case. There were two books published after Curtain but they were Miss Marple cases, and I just thought it all had to end on a Poirot case.

But this was the book that started it all: my slavish affection for mystery novels, especially of the "cozy" variety, my love of historical fiction, and my tendency to read everything by one author all the way through, chronologically. It also started a respect for women authors. It was very difficult to be a woman author in those days, and the ones who made it were so very clever!

3. Exodus, Leon Uris
I read this during the summer between 10th and 11th grades, when I was 15. I had just spent 10th grade in a suburb of Atlanta and was finally back in Hong Kong, spending my summer working as a "kitchen assistant" for the Laan Tau Mountain Camp. I was completely entranced by the thrilling adventures of Ari Ben Canaan as he helped found the state of Israel. I think I had already seen the movie by then, but if not, I definitely knew that the gorgeous, blue-eyed Paul Newman played Ari in the movie. I could barely put the book down!

One week during the summer, they let a bunch of us kids stay together in Cabin #9, "chaperoned" by the two 19-year-olds, Rodney Ingram and Jo Daley. I was sleeping on the bed/couch in the living room, so my things were stuffed into one of the cubbies nearby. At one point, I was reading my book and someone (probably Rodney) stole it from my hands. A laughing race around the cabin ensued, with me yelling, "Give me back my BOOOOOK!" in the thickest Southern accent possible. That became a laughing refrain for the rest of the summer!

Reading Exodus led me to read more books by Uris (of course), which led to my great affection for historical novels. It's a little sad and funny how much "history" I have learned by reading fiction! Part of it though is that I get curious about how much is true and how much is fiction, so I look it up. Curiousity is really good for becoming a "Queen of Useless Knowledge" ya know?

4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
My final year of high school, I had signed up for 1.5 years of English credits (only needed one) because I signed up for Expository Writing and Advanced Placement (AP) English. This was really good for me because AP required a lot of reading, followed by discussions and writing. I wasn't a very good writer at the time, so I took Expository Writing to learn how to write a paragraph, and much much more. Mrs. Chern was the wonderful teacher of both classes, so when we had the parent-teacher conference early in the year, she addressed my performance in both classes and suggested that I drop AP. Why? Because I couldn't write my way out of a paper bag!

So I dropped AP English and was left having to find another English class to get the extra semester of credit. I had a choice between Russian History and Literature (Yeah, right! NOT) or Science Fiction. The SciFi class was already full and I really didn't have any interest in SciFi, but at least it wasn't Russian! I batted my eyes at Mr. Grzskowiak and he let me join the class. And BOY was it fun! This was the first book I read for that class and I had to write a report on it. I hadn't actually finished the book when I turned in my paper, but I got an "A" on it anyway. When Mr. G asked why I didn't include what happened to Mike at the end of the book, I schooled my features into a blank and said, "I thought about it, but I didn't think it affected my point." He let it go, but inside I was REELING! WHAT happened to Mike?!? Talk about the worst way to get a spoiler!

5. Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
By the time I got to college, I had already established a deep love of reading so I was slightly surprised to realize that there were a LOT of classic books still out there to be read. The first book we read in English 101 was Pride & Prejudice. I laughed at the first line and just fell in love with the wonderful story, the beautiful writing, and the crackling wit. When we discussed it in class, I think I was the only one who "got" it -- I was definitely the only one who liked it. I couldn't believe that anyone who read it could NOT like it!

And then, a few years down the line, they came out with that WONDERFUL mini-series of it with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy... *THUD*

6. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I think it was my second attempt at a Junior year in college when I watched the wonderful TV series "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" on PBS. I was dating Dave Morton, and I know Megan was living at McGill, so it must have been her Senior year. A bun of us McGillites sat in the lounge and laughed uproariously at the silliness and absurdity of the show, but it was the follow-up that cracked me up the most. After the show, Dave, Megan, Rick(?) and I went over to the "Good Woman" - the bar in the basement of the Towers (dorm), and we ordered carafes of Long Island Teas... beause that was the "closest Earth equivalent to a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster"! I think it was after the fifth (litre) carafe that the four of us decided to form the "Society for the Mass Consumption of Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters". With MUCH laughter and silliness, we hammered out by-laws, qualification standards, and everything.

Over the next few weeks, we gathered more members (who had to drink a litre of Long Island Tea each to qualify) and even grander intentions. We ended up with a page in the Vanderbilt yearbook as a "club or association", with a photo taken at the bar of The Good Woman of a bunch of drunk idiots grinning like loons.

So yeah, this book had some influence on me. I've since read all of the other books in the increasingly misnamed trilogy, plus all the Dirk Gently books. I've seen the movie (eh), listened to the radio play (great book on tape to drive to!) and mourned Douglas Adam's passing in 2001. When I turned 42, I celebrated because it meant I now knew everything. Life, the Universe, and Everything. I love dolphins because I figured it is good to suck up to our lords and masters (you're welcome for the fish!). And I've always wanted to be able to write a sentence as well-structured and beautiful as "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't." And "“The Guide says there is an art to flying", said Ford, "or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” "

Also, "Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job." WHICH IS SO TRUE!!!

7. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
I read this after I had dropped out of college (finally), lived in Atlanta for a few years and then ran away screaming to the DC area. I had already gotten completely into a sci-fi/fantasy bent, but I had never heard of this guy. I think one of the guys at the bookstore recommended it, so I tried it out. And was BLOWN away!

The book is set in a future with population control and a history of a brutal war against aliens, and where children are sent to Battle School at the age of six so they can be trained to fight the possibly-returning aliens. It qualifies as sci-fi, but it is also a brilliant discourse on the philosophical and ethical conundrums of war, peace, government, and just life in general. It's clever in that it uses the main character and his siblings as stand-ins for good vs. evil, and shows the yin/yang of the ideas. The book is just outstanding, so I (as usual) went looking for anything else the author had written... and was very disappointed. His Ender sequels were good, but not nearly as brilliant as the original. And his Alvin books were basically a fictionalization of the Mormon creation story... so yeah, not that interested!

He returned to form with the Shadow books (Ender's Shadow), which were again great, but for different reasons (maybe because Bean was always such a fantastic, complicated character). And then they recently released the Ender's Game movie, which had so much hype -- partly because of the book, but also because of  Card's insatiable need to preach. The movie wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't good. It became just a sci-fi movie vs. a sci-fi movei and philosophical treatise.

8. Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
My sister, Karen, "lent" this to me several years ago because she knew how fascinated I am by the Arthurian legend and she absolutely loved this book. I devoured it, then turned around and read it again! It's a brilliantly different take on the story we all know and love, just by looking at it all from Morgaine's point of view. Maybe she's not such a villian! Maybe it was all fate, and no one could change it, no matter how hard they tried. And maybe, just maybe, it's all true. It's really long, but I think I read it about five or six times in the first three years I had it. So much so, in fact, that I sent my sister a new copy of it because they one she gave me was so dog-eared and torn! Yes, I love this book.

I've also read the sequels and some of MZB's other books, and found she likes to write somewhat feminist fantasy fiction - feminist in that they generally involve strong women who can deal for themselves. She edited a short-story series called "Sword & Sorceress" which was fun and introduced me to a lot of other great fantasy writers, but I never really got into her Darkover series.

Still, this book has had a serious impact on my life!  (Thanks Karen!)

9. Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
I remember in 1990 when I worked at the Erol's Video Store, there was a huge package of the Little Dorrit mini-series VHS tapes that was really awkward to shelve because it was so big. It was about six hours long, so everyone was a little afraid of it. At that time, I had decided I didn't like Charles Dickens because all I had really read was "A Christmas Carol" and well, frankly, I was sick of it! So, I didn't watch it.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm in college (again), taking a course called "Literature in Movies and Television" in which we read a book and discuss it, then watch a video of it/discuss, then discuss/compare both. GREAT CLASS, with my favorite teacher at UMUC. And one week, he assigned Little Dorrit. I groaned heavily and then procrastinated as much as possible (of course), untilI realized I had two days until we were discussing it and it was about 900 pages long! ACK!

So, on Saturday I turned off the TV, unplugged the phone and computer, closed the curtains and locked the doors, and laid down on the love seat to read. My cat Jamocha jumped up onto my stomach to sleep because I was still for so long. I finished reading after about eight hours of pure delight. It was interesting that I basically caged myself in my apartment to read it because the general gist of the story is imprisonment, both physically and metaphorically. Well-written and extremely descriptive and it made me think, "who is this guy? and why haven't I read more of his works???"

The class discussion made me love the book even more and the bits and pieces of scenes we watched (from that huge long mini-series) were excellent accompaniament to the themes we discussed.

I went on to read everything I could find by Dickens, and now I'm a HUGE fan! All because of that ridiculously long book and mini-series I refused to watch!

10. The Girl With The Crooked Nose, Ted Botha

This book is non-fiction, and I'm not really sure how I came across it. One of my friends had recommended that I read "The Great Influenza", a well-written, compelling book about one of the worst pandemics in modern history. After that, I went on a bit of a binge of reading non-fiction, and ended up with this true story about "Frank Bender, a gifted, self-taught artist who can bring back the dead and the vanished through a unique, macabre sculpting talent." (from

So why this book vs. The Great Influenza? Well, it's absolutely fascinating, and it combined my love of a good mystery with art and my "helping people" gene. The work he does is stunning, and he basically started a whole new forensic field that seems commonplace now. I'm not sure why it touched me so much, but it did. I had moments of absolute horror while reading it, as well as times when I cried my eyes out. It's just that good.


cc18 said...

Well, first, you need to get a job reviewing books. Second, how on earth was I not the one to recommend Mists of Avalon to you? Third, love your list. Not all the books, but love the list. It is so you. Go ahead, review the rest of the books. You have time! LOL

Giggles said...

Thanks sis! I'll see what I can do. Maybe I'll just start posting book reviews...