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Q: What sort of film blog posts book recommendations?

A: The categorically awesome kind.

So, I turned 30, freaked my beak a bit, and decided to mark the occasion by declaring a Great Books Year. I was unwilling, however, to waste a Great Books Year on some list devised by the marketing team at a publishing company. I read a bunch of those lists, true enough. But then I polled friends, trolled stacks, and trusted enough in the gods of the Great Books Year to follow my nose.

I’ve dropped a few titles from the list below (including Enid Bagnold’s The Squire, Nigel Balchin’s Mine Own Executioner, and Morley Callaghan’s A Time For Judas, to name a few) because I found them fractionally less great than the others. (They are pretty darn good, though.) Besides, a list of 40 makes sense, and a list of 50 makes sense, but anything in between seems kind of silly.

A few items of note:

  • I would unreservedly recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray (brilliant), Louisiana Power & Light (enchanting), and Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (delightful) to anyone who likes to read.
  • There are a few plays here, and one screenplay (all marked with asterisks). Even if you don’t read plays, you should read The Pillowman. Seriously.
  • The weirdest book on this list is Such. You’ll either love it or want to kill me for even putting it on your radar.
  • The book that struck me as most worthy of its acclaim was Mrs. Dalloway, although Lady Chatterley is a close runner-up.
  • The biggest disappointment on the list, for me, was Pincher Martin. I really dig Golding, but  I just wasn’t crazy about this one. Actually, I was breaking a rule by including him, because I was trying to avoid authors I’d read before. (Other authors who technically shouldn’t have made the list are Wilde, Gaiman, Pinter, Mudrooroo, Shakespeare, and Winton. OK, so I forgot the rule for a while, and then remembered it again.)
  • The longest book on the list is–surprise!–In Search of Lost Time. Is it worth the thousands of pages? Heck, yeah!
  • The best beginning is in Revolutionary Road. Anyone who writes, or wants to write, needs to read it. (To be fair, The President rivals it for scene-setting. It’s almost a toss-up.) The best ending was, fortuitously, in the last book I read. Thanks to Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription For Enduring the Ending of the World, Great Books Year went out on a wicked note.

And now, here we go–alphabetically, and all tied for someplace in the top five…

  1. Miguel Angel Asturias The President
  2. Elizabeth Bowen The Little Girls
  3. Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights (thanks, Ri, for hating this so much when you had to read it for school that it took me twelve years to pick it up)
  4. Christine Brooke-Rose Such
  5. Truman Capote Other Voices, Other Rooms (thanks, Harper Lee)
  6. Angela Carter Wise Children
  7. Kate Chopin The Awakening
  8. H.D. Asphodel
  9. Joan Didion Play It As It Lays (thanks, Jennifer)
  10. J. P. Donleavy The Saddest Summer of Samuel S.
  11. Margaret Drabble The Witch of Exmoor
  12. John Dufresne Louisiana Power & Light (thanks, Liz)
  13. Anatole France Penguin Island (thanks, Marcel Proust)
  14. Neil Gaiman Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (thanks, DJ)
  15. William Golding Pincher Martin
  16. C. Y. Harrison Generals Die in Bed (thanks, Barry Callaghan)
  17. Barry Hines A Kestrel For a Knave (thanks, Ken Loach)
  18. Helen Humphreys Afterimage (thanks, Paula)
  19. Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  20. D. H. Lawrence Lady Chatterley’s Lover (thanks, Sean Bean)
  21. Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird
  22. Martin McDonagh The Pillowman*
  23. Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude
  24. Alan Moore The Watchmen (thanks, Armando)
  25. Mudrooroo Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World
  26. Iris Murdoch Under the Net
  27. Harold Pinter The Proust Screenplay*
  28. Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar
  29. Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time (as much as it pains me to say it: thanks, Harold Bloom)
  30. Yasmina Reza The Unexpected Man*
  31. Jean-Paul Sartre Nausea
  32. William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus* (thanks, whomever it was who referred to this as Shakespeare’s “Tarantino phase”)
  33. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  34. Muriel Spark The Comforters
  35. Winifred Watson Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
  36. H.G. Wells The Island of Doctor Moreau (thanks, Alisa)
  37. Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray
  38. Tim Winton Breath
  39. Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway
  40. Richard Yates Revolutionary Road

OK–so, what’d I miss?

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  • MFL

    In certain circles I am considered “well-read”. I must note that our respective circles clearly do not intersect. Your list is impressive, mostly because I've never heard of the majority of your authors or books. I stick to the aisles in Chapters that I'm familiar with and don't tend to stray too often. I'll try to make an exception by sampling from your list. My reading pace is glacial at best so I'll be commenting on this list when you are well into the next list.

    P.S. Please disregard my praise of the Harry Potter novels. On my list of recently read novels these stand out as legitimate literature. On your list these are in fact childish, like they were intended to be.

  • Alisa

    I reiterate: you big tease. I look forward to referring to this list frequently in September when I will have some time to launch my own Great Books tour.
    BTW I am reading Neil Gaiman's journal/blog and his novel “American Gods” and am on the verge of becoming a great big fanboy (are there such things as fangirls? It sounds so much less committed). Just a quick comment about the Harry Potter mention below: if you like Harry Potter I really think that The Golden Compass is SO worth the read, despite the awful film version. Picture of Dorian Gray is first on my list. Can't wait and thanks so much for sharing.

  • YFB

    Thanks for the shout out about Wuthering Heights. It's still terrible any way that you cut it. I have read 3 out of the 40 on your list, so that's pretty good. I am, however, sorely disappointed at the lack of representation from Irvine Welsh. And The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

  • YFB

    Thanks for the shout out about Wuthering Heights. It's still terrible any way that you cut it. I have read 3 out of the 40 on your list, so that's pretty good. I am, however, sorely disappointed at the lack of representation from Irvine Welsh. And The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

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