Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer reading list inspired by Nicolas Kristof’s similar list

Nick Kristof recently published a list of recommended summer reading books. He focused on novels, and all were at least fifty years old. Interestingly, he chose those with a social justice theme to them. I love the idea of focusing on great books or at least those that made a big impact on me to compile my own list.

So, in the same spirit as Kristof’s (and using him as my inspiration) I’m going to compile a like list. And, I will have some overlap in authors but am only picking one book in common (the first one). These are some of my favorite books that have also had a lasting emotional impact on me. I can’t pretend that they address social justice issues.

1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte: This is the classic love story of a woman choosing between her soul mate, who is poor, and the more appropriate man. Beautiful and haunting. The mistakes we make in life…

2. The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene: I love this book. A priest, in a country where religion has been banned, must decide whether to save himself or the souls of those in pain. A whisky priest to boot, with an illegitimate child, it raises complex questions about how society defines a “good” person.

3. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: This book inspires me with the sheer persistence of Quixote. It’s magical and always the answer I give when asked my favorite book. What’s life without faith in something?

4. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell: Sappy and not great literature? I beg to differ. This epic is breathtaking in scope and humanity. Scarlett is inspiring in her unwillingness to break, regardless of what goes on around her. Yet she’s so flawed.

5. The Idiot: Fyodor Dostoevsky: Oh, I read this book over and over years ago. An innocent surrounded by those less good? This book taught me about people.

6. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce. I recently read this book and loved the growing awareness of the young man in the title. Transitions and dealing with the life we’re given.

7. Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence: I recently re-read this book and was stunned at how lovely the language and descriptions are. I felt for the characters. And, yes, it is everything you remember.

8. Anna Kerenina – Leo Tolstoy: Beautiful and epic: Complex as only Tolstoy can do. I prefer it to War & Peace.

9. Lady Bovary – Gustave Flaubert: A perfect study of the self-obsessed. Better than any psychology book. And it’s beautiful in detail.

10. Pnin – Vladamir Nabokov: I haven’t read a better book on an ordinary, almost invisible, man. Nabokov was for years my favorite writer because of how he can so subtly use language.

And a few I’m committing to over the summer

1. Mauprat - George Sand: I’d read about it in another book and it’s supposed to be brilliant. I’ve never read Sand before so I’m excited.

2. Lawrence Durrell’s quartet about Alexandra, Egypt: Since I’m currently writing a story partially based in Egypt I’m trying to see the country through other fiction writers’ eyes. This series is set in the early 20th century in Alexandra not Cairo (my story) but I like reading various time frames; the landscape doesn’t change as much as the cityscape and while customs may fade they permeate the present. More recent Egyptian literature – that I’ve read thus far – has been more nihilistic, which is only part of the story.

3. The Cairo Trilogy- Naguib Mahfouz: Mahfouz is the most famous Egyptian writer and, again, this trilogy doesn’t take place in the present. It follows a family and neighborhood and I read it a long time ago. Mahfouz describes things so beautifully. I just read that when he decided to become a full time novelist he undertook a project to read all of the best novels to study the form. Perhaps it’s that story which made Kristof’s reading list catch my eye.

4. Under the Dome - Stephen King: I’m not a King reader but can’t argue that he’s one of the most successful current American writers. And I’ve repeatedly read that his actual prose is under-rated. The topic of this book, a dome falling over a city, seems more my speed than some of his other work.

5. The Diary of a Superfluous Man – Ivan Sergeevich Turgenov: Writing about an alienated man by one of the masterful Russians. My characters tend to be alienated so I’m curious to see how he frames that mentality across the pages.

6. Moby Dick – Herman Melville; I’ve never read this American classic!

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