Thursday, September 10, 2009

Guest Post: 13 Books I Will Never Forget

You may know me as B-Sol of the horror blog The Vault of Horror. But when Katie invited me to contribute a guest post to her blog, I decided it was high time to take things in another direction. Sure, I could go on and on about my favorite horror novels—which Katie herself has recently done on my own blog. But instead, I will be looking at a collection of books outside the genre I typically explore. These are all books that have influenced me greatly in one way or another, and which I will always carry with me…

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
OK, I’m going to be a completely predictable geek here and get this one out of the way. There’s just no avoiding it. Tolkien’s masterpiece of fantasy had an incalculable effect on me from the age of 12, and has continued to impress me in repeated readings over the years. An amazing work that has more to say about the 20th century than most supposedly more “literary” reality-based classics of the same era.

All in Good Time
by Jonathan Schwartz
An absolutely enthralling memoir from one of the finest radio personalities of the past 40 years. I grew up listening to Schwartz on New York radio, and share his obsession with Sinatra. This is an engaging story of his unique life, told in his own unmistakable voice. I read this over the summer of 2004 and was virtually incapable of putting it down.

The Innocents Abroad
by Mark Twain
I’m obsessed with Twain, which you already knew if you’ve ever visited my Clemens blog, Following the Equator. He was this nation’s finest writer, and I feel at his best when writing his travel books. And this first one, detailing his first-of-its-kind pleasure cruise to Europe and the Middle East, is most definitely his very best. A joy to read, and it rightly put the young Sam Clemens on the map.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Of science fiction’s “holy trinity”, I’d have to say Clarke is my favorite, and this is my top choice of the works of his that I’ve read. A brilliant novel of mankind’s modern relations with a powerful alien race from its past, this is the kind of novel that demonstrated what sci-fi is capable of accomplishing at its very best. I first read it 20 years ago, and it helped mold me into the sci-fi nerd I am today.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
I discovered Dan Simmons while working at a reference book publisher, and having to write a biographical article about him. That led me to pick up this, perhaps the greatest world-building piece of science fiction since Frank Herbert’s Dune. Simmons has a literary mind, and applies it to the kind of material that very few truly literary minds ever do.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
After deftly avoiding this one for years in school, I finally agreed to read it some months ago at the request of a friend, and boy was I glad I finally did. I’m not much for spirituality, but this is a sublime and staggering work of beauty that gave me pause nonetheless. Short but effective, it is both a novel and a fable, that is guaranteed to change the way you look at the world.

God Is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
Speaking of my lack of spirituality, this provocative atheistic work is what I’m currently reading, but I still had to include it because it is completely blowing me away. I have swayed from agnostic to atheist slowly but surely over the years, and this impeccably argued treatise states the case for the madness of organized religion better than I ever could.

Hooker by Lou Thesz
Believe it or not, I spent many years of my life as a pro wrestling fanatic, and even worked for WWE for a number of them. This criminally underrated memoir by the business’ greatest legend should be required reading for anyone who considers himself a fan, and will capture your attention even if you’re not. Thesz’ accounts of life in the wrestling game during the ’30 through the ‘60s reads like Henry Hill’s narration of Goodfellas. Great stuff.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Yes, the English major in me comes out. I can’t help it. Melville’s whale story truly is this country’s most revered novel, and with good reason. The tale of Starbuck, Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab and the rest is so much more than what it seems to be on the surface. Forget the stigma of boring classrooms and stuffy teachers. Just approach this book with an open mind, and you’ll be glad you did.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
I never was one for Joyce’s more ambitious works like Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, but I identified strongly with this more straightforward text, a semi-autobiographical novel that rings true like few works of fiction ever do. Joyce was a master of the English language, and this was the book that made me realize it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Some call Verne the first science fiction writer. I consider him a damn fine adventure novelist, and can still recall the joy of first reading this book in the fourth grade. The consummate boy’s novel, the saga of Nemo and the Nautilus still holds a fascination for me. A perfect gateway novel for a parent looking to interest a young son in the pleasures of reading.

A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Another of sci-fi’s “holy trinity”, Heinlein was at his best looking at real-life society and social issues through a futurist lens, and this, in my opinion, is the best example. Came across it in high school, and it remains a genre favorite of mine. And I wasn’t the only one, as this seminal work had a profound influence on the ‘60s generation, encompassing questions of science, religion and humanity itself.

Mozart by Maynard Solomon
An excellent biography of the greatest musical genius the world has ever known. I’ve long been fascinated by Mozart as a historical figure, and found this to be the ultimate work on his life and music. Exhaustive in its attention to detail, it is also quite moving—I found myself nearly brought to tears during Solomon’s heartbreaking account of the composer’s final moments, as gleaned from his widow’s letters.

Thanks, Katie, for giving me this chance to step outside the horror box and talk about some of my very favorite books. I look forward to leaving the Vault again in the future to contribute once again to your fine blog!


RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thanks for sharing your list.
I read & love a few of the books.
All the best,

Kwana said...

Thanks for your list! Loved Joyce.

Hilcia said...

Thanks for sharing your favorites. Love Tolkien, Joyce and Hess... :)

KMont said...

I've been thinking of tackling Hyperion for a looong while now. I need to just get it.

Laurie said...

Thanks for the list. Siddartha is a beautiful, beautiful book. Hyperion and God is Not Great are on my current list -- love Christopher Hitchens, and I've heard such great things about Dan Simmons.

orannia said...

Oh, I love it when I learn new things. I never knew that Mark Twain wrote travel books! (I'm terribly bad with reading classic authors.) Was The Innocents Abroad the first?

And God Is not Great sounds rather interesting. My grandfather would have loved it!

Great list B-Sol - thank you!

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

I have been wanting to read Lord of the Rings forever. Ah the memories of reading Siddhartha!

This list of book is truly amazing. Thanks again B-Sol!

SonomaLass said...

Nothing has ever affected me quite the way The Lord of the Rings trilogy did -- and does, every time I re-read it. I've read a lot of wonderful epic fantasy since then, but that's the touchstone for me, always.

I agree about many of your other books here. In particular, Heinlein's Stranger In a Strange Land. Wow, what a book. I read the expanded "director's cut" version when it came out, and that was good too, but for my money the real power was there even without the added scenes.