My friend Eddie poses interesting challenges – some more highbrow than others. Just the other day he had me testing which one of the Tarot Cards I am (The Fool) and if memory serves, a few weeks ago it was something like “Which Macaroon Flavour are You” (Don’t like ’em – but Liquorice). camparigirl is a fan of lists and encourages me to get out of my corner when it comes to these things. So – as I love these two people dearly, and as I actually do read – I thought I would join in. This absolutely does not mean I have any intention of pouring ice-cold water over my head if you challenge me to. So please don’t, it’s not going to happen
In writing this list I realised a few things:
– All of these books are written by men.
– All of these books have male protagonists and the women characters, though finely drawn, are mostly awful (excluding Modesty and Liesel in The Book Thief).
However, I offer the list to you unexpurgated, unapologetic and in the order they popped into my mind within the 10 minute time limit. So: the 10 Books that have stayed with me are …
1. The Moor’s Last Sigh: Salman Rushdie
First book I thought of and one of my favourite books ever: Moraes “Moor” Zogoiby is the last surviving son in a dynasty of Chochinese spice merchants and crime lords. He is a storyteller and an exile, someone who lives within the breast of a passionate and volcanic family, but outside the boundaries of time and morality – he is sometimes depraved and aging faster than a normal man. The women are titans, the men are brilliant thugs, its full of curses and wit and stories within stories.
2. A Fine Balance: Rohinton Mistry
One of those books that you close and can’t believe how they ended. I read this when I took my “gap year” between jobs. I can even remember where I read it – in Chiang Mai, at a hotel called, sitting in the bar lounge while it monsooned outside. It’s the story of three people who overcome incredible odds, find each other and friendship, create a home – and lose it all. I had to go for a long walk once I had put it down. Even now, just thinking about it – I feel unbearably sad.
3. The Great Gatsby: F Scott Fitzgerald
Carelessness and gullibility. The women lost themselves. The men retreated into their money. The narrator pays with his innocence. Set work in my last year at school. Definitely informed my approach to the world.
4.Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck
From the first page you know this book is not going to end well. It is the story of two men who set out across America looking for work and a place to call home. Through a series of hideously believably events, George (an uneducated but intelligent man) feels compelled to mercifully kill his friend and companion, Lennie (a gentle, simple giant), in order to save him from a brutal death. As he does it – George understands that Lennie’s death is also the death of their shared dream. Spare, vulgar language, rough and in parts racist, it is a brutal depiction of the failure of the American Dream.
5. The Story of the Eye: Georges Bataille
A novella written in 1928, unusual for me to read something that old (I exclude Shakespeare here who I love and who, if we were doing a list of plays would probably take 8 of the 10 slots). Given to me by a man I fancied (make of it what you will), the story details the increasingly bizarre sexual perversions of a pair of teenage lovers. Horrible book. It is a series of vignettes and after I read each one I tried to imagine what the three main protagonists did afterwards. Have a cup of tea? Pick up some groceries? Take their stained clothes to the launderette? Join hands and skip home through the park? It all seemed a bit unnecessary and overwrought. But maybe that’s the vanilla in me. I threw it in a dustbin outside my hotel in Paris. And didn’t see the man again.
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Ken Kesey
Among many things, this book is the story of a friendship. One man: Randall P McMurphy – rebellious, coarse, uncontained and authentically himself: who tried to free other people, who pushed back against authority and who paid with his life for doing it. And another: Chief Broom – who said nothing, who made a friend for the first time in his life, who set them both free. Still makes me well up.
8. Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut/The Book Thief: Markus Zusak
Cheating – but two books that describe the insanity of war and the ghastly effect it has on those that survive. Written almost 40 years apart, both books tell about the last days of WW2 in Germany. Each is narrated: the former by a solider who has lost his mental balance through what he has seen, the latter by death who mourns what humans are capable of, and who collects the victims of our brutality tenderly. I think these books have become part of my DNA.
9. Catch 22: Joseph Heller.
John Yossarian – another great character. Another man caught up in the insanity of war – where as a pilot, he has realised that the army intends to keep the airmen flying bombing missions until they end in death. In his attempts to get out of flying/dying he discovers that if he can demonstrate that he is crazy – he won’t be fit to fly. There’s just one catch: you have to apply for the discharge, and applying for a discharge demonstrates that you are not crazy. Heller’s description of Yossarian’s response to this realisation is brilliant: “Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
10. Modesty Blaise: Peter O’Donnell
A wonderful series of novels and comic strips about a woman Modesty Blaise, her best friend and sidekick Willie Garvin and their brilliant James Bond style ‘capers’. Whenever I am in need of a perk up or an adventure – O’Donnell’s the man for me.
(All images found in the public domain. No copyright attached.)