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Old 20th Sep 2003, 3:52   #1
Lorne Guyland
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Default I've done a Top Ten favourite Books

1. My Greatest Game
Vic Marks

Vic Marks, former Somerset and England all-rounder, interviews probably fifty odd cricketers from every test-playing nation about what they consider their greatest game. Botham, Viv Richards, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Garry Sobers etc. We get it told back to us, plus scorecard and editorial comment. Magic. Used to sit in the conservatory of my house at University and read aloud from it to friends, while enjoying a coffee and a joint.

2. Money
Martin Amis

(Hence my derivative tag. having seen John Self on here, whose top ten I thought was marvellously done.)

Picaresque and moving; he hits shit hard; I almost had a child laughing at this. I was working in the City – inside the money conspiracy – as an archivist for a multinational while reading it. And then, almost in synch with the narrator’s fall from the moneyed, I was sacked (and justifiably so, for I was indolent in the extreme). And as I finished the novel, I too had “my nose pressed up against the window of money, looking in”. (That might be paraphrased, you over-zealous Amisophistos). So, to sum up, personal investment + sheer wealth of style made Money work for me. (rum pum pah lah)

3. Collected Plays
Anton Chekov

Most of these plays last three hours plus in performance; to read they are only an hour and a half. I can’t think of any short story that crams as much in - more folly and cruelty and nobility, empathy and condemnation and redemption – in that time as a Chekov play. I can’t think of many fucking novels that do in all their pages. (But I’ve never read Proust, of course. Should I, by the way?) The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard are the two best theatre scripts I can say I’ve read. And if you’re a writer and want some lacerating and soothing images of yourself, the The Seagull is open all hours.

Which translation? I like Eliveta Fen, but she is old school. Brian Friel/Michael frayn/David Magarshack. All good.

4. Disgrace
JM Coetzee

Yeah, I read it cos of the booker prize. A crime in some circles - almost inevitably a crime in this circle, to which I am fresh and toothless. But this book took desire, and ageing and the complexity of one of the toughest political damage limitation jobs – it took that, all that – and seasoned it with animism and some solid death-work. It got me weeping like some fuckstick.

5. Female Eunuch
Dr. G. Greer

Sold short by other feminism. Don’t fear her harpy Dr Hyde on Newsnight review, she’s hilarious and talks a stack of sense, striking like strychnine at the section of the conscious that pulls the wool down… as critical of the naivety and whimsy of women as men, it is really essential. Put me off porn. Don’t probably need to say else.

6. Women In Love
DH Lawrence

Rupert Birkin, am I? Or Gerald Crich? Which one do I want to be more like? Both, of course. I wanna have my cake. And eat it. And then fuck the cake. And caress it. Yeah, I want to dominate women and share in a symbiosis with them. Gotta choose, else I’ll have nothing. Even once I have chosen, the likelihood is I’ll have nothing. I could go ‘Go gay’ – Lawrence does not ignore this avenue.

He’s one of those guys who you start reading and when a chapter ends you stop, and in a quite considered fashion, say to yourself. ‘Yeah, no I am right about this, yeah. Yep. Yeah, he is Shit-hot. Mm hmm. No, yes he is.’

7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
H.S. Thompson

Everyone loves this. I’m not sufficiently well-read to have sent it scurrying down my list in favour of a Trollope or Thackery. It doesn’t crack open that frozen river beneath, or whatever the quote is. But it shits me up a treat; and it rather excitingly distils a rottenness in what people look for within secular capitalist structures.

8. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (nose, overcoat etc)
Nikolai Gogol

Anyone know BlueJam, Chris Morris? In the suicide Journalist monologue, the tramp says – ‘I thought perhaps it might be Martober’. Which is a direct reference. Thought that was pretty cool.

You’ve got to laugh at these, but you get a bit bruised while you’re doing so.

9. Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life
Andrew Motion

I simply loved reading it. Got teared when we were with Larkin near the end, and he fell over in his cramped little bungalow bathroom, his face pressed up against boiling water pipes, too weak to move. All his lady-friend Monica could hear was this absurd, high-pitched “Hot! Ooh. Hot!” Choking laughter from me, that brung.
This is a benign approach to his life from a pal. But, y’know, you feel a pal with him too. Don’t you? We all wish he liked his niggers more and Thatcher less, but so it goes.

10. Metamorphosis and Other Stories
(notably – Penal Colony, Judgement, Fasting artist)
Franz Kafka

Perhaps, it seems to me, as I finish here with my sixth or whatever incredibly well known book, that I am not using this list for identity delineation purposes, but just, as far as I can, to show what my favourite books really are.

This is a goodie.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

looked up reviews of Yellow Dog on Google, found this Thought I'd join - seems rather jolly. Potentially right up my passage.
tear into this list if you still have the will.

My 10 Films will be better when I get round to them. I actually know about films.
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Old 22nd Sep 2003, 18:11   #2
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Hi Lorne, welcome to Grub St. !

Like your top ten. Would do something similar if I ever got round to it myself.

Anyway just to take your list in order,

1. Not such a fan of the sound of leather hitting willow to read a cricket book. I never used to like the game at all, until a friend explained that the idea was largely to sit around in the sunshine, drinking beer. After that it seemed to make a lot more sense!

2. Money. Must get round to reading this. Especially given the number of Martians here. It's just haven't decided whether I get that first as recommended or buy Yellow Dog to spite the critics and make up my own mind about it, instead of just accepting the received wisdom. Also I tend to buy books 2nd hand, so the hand of fate may have a role to play here.

3. Chekhov. I really liked Ivanov though I think the ending was too melodramatic. I know that was usual for the time, and that he wasn't yet confident enough to break away from that. The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull and Uncle Vania all show his increasing confidence within his own style and really capture everything you want from Russian literature. Frustration, stoicism, the futility of love and hope. etc. I got a bit lost in Three Sisters. Hopefully some day I'll go back to them.

4. Disgrace. Don't know it to be honest.

5. The Female Eunuch. I haven't read this but I've got The Madwoman's Underclothes which contains various essays, going right through from 1968 (e.g. female sexuality etc.) to 1985 (e.g. Resettlement in Ethiopia). As usual Mz Greer, uses her devastating intelligence and wit to slaughter anyone she finds guilty of sloppy thinking, hypocrisy, or double standards but the longer time frame than The Female Eunuch may give you a impression of how she (and the targets of her slashing attacks) have changed and developed over the last 40 years. If you want you can borrow this, if I can borrow The Eunuch.

6. DH Lawrence. Another as yet unread by me, though I should give it a go, as he seems to be one of the best male writers writing about women. BTW when you said that Lawrence had explored the gay avenue was that just a turn of phrase?

7. Another great book I haven't read. This is turning into a catalogue of my ignorance. I'm also probably one of the few people in the Northern Hemisphere who hasn't even seen the film!

8. Gogol. Fantastic. Maybe people didn't include him before, as palimpsest isn't generally big on plays, though I don't really know why not. After all you can either read it like a book, or see it performed like a film. Personally I'd put him in the top 5, especially as he was so far ahead of his time. Magical Realism a hundred years before A Hundred Years of Solitude.

9. Philip Larkin. Another on my To Do list. The imagery just in your little except justifies his position in your list.

10. Metamormorphoses and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. I loved the Trial. I guess most people do.
Few people do individuals struggling against a faceless bureaucracy like Kafka. The stairwells. The long corridors. The waiting rooms. But if it came to a choice between K. and 1984 which for me, is the only other book in this league, I have to say I'd go for old Eric.
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Old 23rd Sep 2003, 3:10   #3
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Don't bother with the Proust, he may be worthy, but he's dry and about a zillion pages too long.
Stick with the abridged Proust of Alain De Botton; he keeps it lively, sharp and chucks in a bit of much needed humour.
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Old 5th Oct 2003, 17:05   #4
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Default Top 10 Books (plus a couple multi-volume works, authors)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

Anything Murakami has written is worth reading. But I don’t know how to describe this novel, or anything of his, except they contain humor, magic realism, detective fiction, interesting takes on male-female relations, etc. He may be the best writer I have ever read.

The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass

More magic realism, this about growing up in the Hitler years. Oscar decides when he is 3-years old that he will get through life better if he stops growing. He goes around banging on a tin drum and emitting glass-shattering screams, while Germany, and Europe, is ground up. The third novel of the trilogy, Dog Years, is probably as good. Parts of Dog Years read like they were written under hallucogenics.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Despite the fact that Oprah recently made this a best seller in America, 50 years after it was first published, it is the best thing Steinbeck ever wrote. Sort of a Cain and Abel story in 1900’ish California. You probably should be at least 40 to really appreciate it.

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

One of the best morality tales ever written. A young man, anxious to get ahead, arranges for his pregnant girl friend to drown while they are out on an outing. Did he kill her? The protagonist does not even know. But the jury believes so, and he is executed in the end. Dreiser was one of the American social realists in the early part of the century, and this is his best work.

Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins

If you grew up in the American counter-culture of the 60’s and 70’s, you have probably read this book. If not, you probably would not like it or understand it. We named our daughter after the lead character, and later found out through an interview in Rolling Stone that many other people did as well. (Don’t waste your time on any of his other books, with the possible exception of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues).

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

In my junior year of high school the major project was to read this novel and answer a notebook full of questions. I refused, and dutifully took my “F.” I read it after undergraduate school, at the prompting of my best friend, and found it to be one of the best books I ever read. Still don’t think I would have enjoyed it in high school, though.

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

Full of humor and adventure. After reading it I was unable to understand why “quixotic” is a disparaging term. Don Quixote is to be greatly admired, in my view; in a non-heroic age he aspires to heroism—i.e., to doing the right thing whatever the cost.

Watership Down, Richard Adams

I first read it on a train ride from Michigan to Arizona when it first came out in the 70’s. About 15 years later I read it to my daughter, then about 10. I enjoyed it just as much as on first reading, and so did my daughter. The greatest adventure book ever written.

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

After about 3 or 4 attempts I finally finished this novel. It is the only book I only understood 10% of and still loved. I understand there is a passage-by-passage commnentary available, so sometime I intend to get that and see if I can understand it a little more.

The Adventures of Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

This audience is, apparently, mostly Brits, so you must have read it. If not, I don’t know what to say.

A couple multi-volume works:

Freddy the Pig, Edward R. Brooks

For children at heart, or those with children: Brooks wrote 26 volumes about the Bean farm animals, in upper New York, from the 20’s through the 50’s. I read them all while growing up, most of them several times. They are all in print again. (Go to for more information). Freddy was variously an explorer, detective, magician, space traveler, head of the First Animal Bank, founder of the First Animal Republic, cowboy, football player, and the worst poet you have ever read. The books all have some mildly bad guys that the animals have to deal with, but they are mostly about friendship. Rereading them to my daughter, I discovered how much humor they contain which was not apparent to a child.

Lord of the Rings, Tolkien

This is an English site, so there is nothing I can say about them you don’t already know. I probably did not need the grass I usually smoked while reading them in the 70’s, to enjoy them as much as I did.

Finally, my favorite humorists of all time, whose works are too numerous to mention:

P.G. Wodehouse
David Lodge
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Old 31st Mar 2014, 9:37   #5
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Default Re: I've done a Top Ten favourite Books

Fascinating lists, people! May I add mine?

- Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark.

Clark, who during the Second World War befriended Isaac Asimov (who wrote the foreword to Ignition!), wrote an engaging and easy-to-read cultural and technical history of liquid rocket fuels, a topic now gone in desuetude except for "Scud" missiles and their derivatives in the Pakistani, Iranian and North Korean arsenals. But before and during Clark's tenure as director of the liquid rocket fuels laboratory at the US Navy's Naval Aviation Rocket Test Station in coastal New Jersey (since disestablished and its activities transferred to Picatinny Arsenal), the decades-long quest for the ideal rocket propellant became an epic of singular personalities and incredibly volatile and toxic molecules that no one but John Clark could tell as entertainingly as he did.

Ignition! is a modern technical classic, copies for a while selling for as high as US$200 each on (I got my copy for fifty cents back in the 1970s and BARELY retrieved it from my circle of fellow chemistry enthusiasts at Louisiana Tech - it sits in a place of honor in my library). Hopefully with the consent of the Clark estate, Ignition! is now available online in a .pdf version, scans of the book's original pages.

- The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

STILL the standard history of the human catastrophe perpetrated by Josef Stalin and painted over by the Western press until Solzhenitsyn rubbed the world's noses in it, told with carefully channeled passion and outrage.

- That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength is the final book in C.S. Lewis's "Space Trilogy," but stands on its own as the most masterful work of Gothic/occult horror written in the twentieth century (and I include the entire Stephen King canon in that estimate). It also shows a strong influence by Lewis's friend Charles Williams, himself no stranger to writing occult-themed novels (such as War in Heaven). One day, if we're all very good, some talented screenwriter and producer will team up to adapt this novel into what will be a classic horror film.

- The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower.

The stars came together as Brower, a talented author, befriended George Dyson, son of nuclear weapons physicist, polymath and would-be spacecraft designer Freeman Dyson, and shared the story of this singular father and son; the son a outdoorsman who made the Queen Charlotte Sound alongside British Columbia his neighborhood, navigating it with Brower in kayaks and canoes, eventually to perfect the art of kayak and baidarka building with modern materials before settling down to document the history of his father's Project Orion (which nearly gave us spaceships of unprecedentedly huge size and power, propelled by nuclear detonations). Brower also gave us a very good look at Freeman Dyson, who is an intensely interesting man (and the son of British composer George Dyson).

- Disturbing the Universe and Weapons and Hope by Freeman Dyson.

These are unique entities - both biographies (Disturbing the Universe partly a biography of Professor Dyson himself, Weapons and Hope partly a biography of Dyson's composer father George Dyson) and ruminations on why nations acquire nuclear weapons and how they deploy them, as opposed to the official version of why and how they do so. His prose is not simply readable, it is enjoyably conversational as few other authors' writing has managed to be, and perhaps the best demonstration of the worth of the British university system, which trains whole minds, not just technicians.

Freeman Dyson is very uniquely positioned to explain the truth of how and why nations build and maintain nuclear arsenals, having been one of Los Alamos National Laboratory's premier weapons physicists during the heyday of nuclear weapons design in the 1950s. Later, he served the United States as a nuclear weapons policy analyst with the JASON group of the Institute for Defense Analysis. He is now a professor emeritus of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and has most recently been active in developing corrective measures for global warming (such as trapping atmospheric carbon in vast tracts of fast-growing trees such as firs and pines).

One of Dyson's more famous achievements as a JASON analyst was a paper co-authored with Steven Weinberg explaining why using nuclear weapons in Vietnam would be an extremely bad idea (he and Weinberg stuck to the technical aspects of the problem, delivering a detailed debunking of the idea which had strong advocates in Washington that the US ought to have used nuclear devices to burn out the Ho Chi Minh Trail and otherwise solve our military problems there quickly). The two books of his on my list are full of just such analyses and rebuttals of commonly-accepted myths regarding nuclear weapons policy.

- The Whole Earth Catalog, Millenium Edition, by Howard Rheingold (editor).

A worthy successor to Stewart Brand's original catalog, full of tools for living the examined life (actually, there are tools in this book for any number of examined lives - there's no single doctrinaire position on how one ought to live or which tools might be useful). And, like Stewart Brand's original Whole Earth Catalog, it's a well-crafted book full of surprises (like a psychedelic cartoon "movie" you can watch by riffling the edges of the pages).

- George MacDonald Fraser's "Flashman" novels

Fraser has won what I hope is immortality by adopting the conceit that the craven bully Harry Flashman (from Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes) went on to achieve, through no personal valor or aptitude of his own, accidental military success in the East India Company's forces and the British Army as both a traditional military campaigner and a "political," winning the Victoria Cross by being the last man left alive after a massacre in which he pulled no triggers nor made any heroics, then following his over-active libido from episode to episode of Victorian-era military history. These are very well-researched books and ought to be read by any student of the era's military history, but are also immensely enjoyable reads, full of humor and occasional poignancy.

- Vol de Nuit (Eng. translation Night Flight) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I haven't read the English translation and cannot comment on it - I read the original in French as part of a course in French Literature offered by the French department at Louisiana State University to validate two years of advanced placement test credit in college French. It is a novel of two pilots for a South American air-freight company, one of whom orders the other to fly into nasty weather over the Andes to deliver cargo, and the consequences of that act, told profoundly and grippingly. The author managed to capture the feeling of solo piloting at night in bad weather amazingly well and convey it to his readers.

- Airborne, by William F. Buckley, Jr.

The first and best of Buckley's reminiscences on his experiences as a sailor of small craft, Airborne is very engagingly told. Buckley was a great storyteller, a reflective and very readable essayist, and perhaps most enjoyable when relating the absurdities of yachting, for no one conveys bemusement at absurdity as funnily as Buckley once he's warmed to the task. The book details a transatlantic cruise by Buckley and several of his friends and family on his yacht Cyrano. Not least of the delights of the book are passages written by Buckley's son Christopher, now an author in his own right, then an undergraduate. It's a funny, literate, satisfying book which also ambitiously undertakes to teach its readers who are inclined to do so how to navigate by dead reckoning.
"The proper study of man is everything." C.S. Lewis

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make ridiculous." P.J. O'Rourke

Last edited by loupgarous; 3rd Apr 2014 at 3:41. Reason: forgot to italicize a book title
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Old 31st Mar 2014, 18:21   #6
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Default Re: Top 10 Books (plus a couple multi-volume works, authors)

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

One of the best morality tales ever written. A young man, anxious to get ahead, arranges for his pregnant girl friend to drown while they are out on an outing. Did he kill her? The protagonist does not even know. But the jury believes so, and he is executed in the end. Dreiser was one of the American social realists in the early part of the century, and this is his best work.

I agree completely - Dreiser's portrait of Clyde Griffiths, All-American Boy Gone Bad, and his landscape of the early roaring Twenties is easily his best book. That it includes some very candid anti-Semitism makes is a book of its era, not an evil book as such. But no one really put his reader inside the head of a sociopath as well as Dreiser before in American letters.

In fact, I praised this book earlier here (in the thread "Top Ten Literary Villains"), but it's an honorable mention compared to the books I listed above in my own top-ten list.
"The proper study of man is everything." C.S. Lewis

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make ridiculous." P.J. O'Rourke

Last edited by loupgarous; 31st Mar 2014 at 18:52.
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Old 3rd Apr 2014, 3:48   #7
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Default Re: Top 10 Books (plus a couple multi-volume works, authors)

Originally Posted by Winston99 View Post
Lord of the Rings, Tolkien

This is an English site, so there is nothing I can say about them you don€™t already know. I probably did not need the grass I usually smoked while reading them in the 70€™s, to enjoy them as much as I did.
My aunt/doting godmother gave me a paperback set of LOTR (the authorized Ballantine edition, if anyone's fretting) in time for me to be laid out with the London Flu for two weeks while in high school (actually, the epidemic caused classes to be suspended at my school, to the delight of unaffected students and the general disgust of their parents).

Reading about Gandalf's battle with the Balrog in the Mines of Moria while running three degrees (Fahrenheit) of fever definitely gave me value for money. All considered, I'd rather have read it after toking.
"The proper study of man is everything." C.S. Lewis

"Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make ridiculous." P.J. O'Rourke

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