The chief objection to new books is that they prevent us from reading the old
-- Jou bert
The bookstores of the 21st century stock not only books but porn mags, espresso, DVDs, CDs, and children's toys. However, the main attractions are still the books themselves. And there is nothing quite like being uber-cool and reading all these lovely tomes that none of your friends would read, thus making you smarter than you already are. You can even read them to your cats while they sit in their carriers in the back seat of your stolen hearse on their way to the vet. These books are also ideal to be read in bubble baths, 1924 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, luxury yaughts, L.L. Bean pet beds, etc.
Click on book covers to buy them.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
This book is three stories going on at once, and all are related (though the relation is not evident until the end). One story is the autobiography of Iris Chase, the eldest daughter of a Toronto button manufacturing tycoon.
This autobiography technically begins before her birth, but, for the reader's purposes, begins with the birth of Iris's younger sister, Laura. Laura is not a typical child and Iris is constantly having to look out for her, making sure she doesn't bring home homeless people and whatnot. Iris's life includes marrying a man much older than she is who doesn't love her, dealing with a snooty sister-in-law, and having her daughter and granddaughter taken away from her. The second story is that of Laura's posthumously published book The Blind Assassin. The final story is that of an aged Iris penning her autobiography. This is a fine read on "days gone by," although as Iris constantly seems to tell us, nostalgia can be very overrated.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
This book is over 1,000 pages, but one easily gets lost in its fascinating plot. My first attempt at becomming enthralled with the Vampire Chronicles failed, and some of Rice's other books just never caught my eye, but this one appeared to be an easy winner - it spans three centuries of the Mayfair Witches, from Deborah in 1600's Scotland to Rowan in 1990's San Francisco. Rowan doesn't become aware that she is a witch until adulthood as she had been adopted on the day of her birth. According to documents on her family, she is also the most powerful Mayfair Witch to date. Never mind the explicit sex scenes with her 48-year-old lover; get a load of the sex scenes she has with Lasher (the devil)! Rice does an excellent job with detail in this book, from the mattress Rowan's excruciatingly ill biological mother died on to the dolls made of the hair and skin of all the dead Mayfair Witches. This is truly a masterpiece, and a perverse one at that. Enjoy.
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
Anne Rice's beautiful (yet, alas, gay) son Christopher has written two novels to date. The first of these, A Density of Souls, does not include any vampires, witches, or ghosts, but it's pretty haunting just the same. It's about four childhood friends who start high school at a ritzy New Orleans private school, Cannon. It's a world of model students, girls who throw up after lunch, gay-bashing, football, and expensive cars. I personally enjoyed this book because I read it in my freshman year of high school, and the book begins with our four friends starting high shcool themselves. I could relate to a lot of things, except for being gay, rich, loved by guys...well, at least I was fourteen and so were they.
The Prodigal Women by Nancy Hale
This book's title may not ring as familiar, but never mind that. This book, like the others mentioned, spans a life. Leda March's life begins for us at the age of fifteen. She is attending the birthday party of a girl she hates, knowing that she will be treated as a cat treats a spider - cruelly. We learn that Leda is astonishingly beautiful but seemingly lacking in social graces. She spends her life trying her damndest to be seen as a Somebody, and actually doesn't fail. While she at first appears to be a pathetic loner, she evolves into one who befriends people based on status, a surefire way of gaining status herself. OK, so she's really a selfish bitch - but there's a little Leda March in all of us. Besides, this book takes place in my hometown of Boston, so there was an extra attraction for me in that.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This book has vocabulary no more advanced than the Sunday comics - but in that lies its perfection. The story comes to us directly from the lying, immature mouth of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, veteran expelee of various boarding schools. We meet him about to leave Pencey Prep, and we meet a couple guys he hates. Then, the "meat" of the book, if you will, takes place in New York City. Holden buys liquor, prostitutes, hotel rooms, and an afternoon of ice skating - and all the while we hear his biting commentary of society. Most people are phonies, and children are better than adults. Holden is a guy for whom one doesn't necessarily feel sorry, but definately a guy to whom one can relate. Holden is also a guy who merrily gives the finger to all those book lists who label his story as a "banned book." Read this, damn it, and don't bother bringing this one up at Confession. Or better yet, bring it up...lower your priest's libido lol.
Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford
OK, OK, so this isn't exactly a book that belongs on a list of highly reccommended reading. Yes, I admit, it is merely a trashy novel that may or may not be true. However, it is true that Joan Crawford adopted four children and that she was a neatness fanatic. Christina's autobiography of sorts is three times as melodramatic as the campy 1981 movie on which is was based. Mommie Dearest is a great read for those lazy days during which the concept of getting up and doing something makes you break a sweat. It will also makes one infinitely grateful for a decidedly plebian childhood.
The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice
This is Christopher Rice's second book. It begins with freshmen in college as opposed to high school. The thing I love about his books is that they're all about rich kids who appear to have it all, but they're so oversexed, over-drunk, and over-drugged that their lives are miserable. In this particular novel, beautiful Park Avenue Prince Randall Stone has an affair with his art history professor (Eric Eberman); this affair links Randall to the death of Eric's wife, Lisa. Lisa's death hearkens back to the death of a student who died on the school's campus nearly a generation earlier, also having to do with Eric. The other thing that was cool about this book was that most of the characters were gay. I'm straight, but I like the idea of the author being so open about his own homosexuality as to give his books so many gay and lesbian characters. Maybe that will be a step in tolerance for people, as his books have proven to be very popular.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Call me pathetic, but I happened to like this book, even though it was in the unfortunate position of being mandatory reading for my English class. It contained a lot of witty lines, and while the story was a little trite (and I wanted to strangle Lydia Barrett every time that wench opened her mouth), it gave a good insight into the world of love and marriage in the late 1700's. This book has a nice, merry, happy ending; maybe I'm a sucker for those, but oh well. The character of Mrs. Barrett reminded me of Hyacinth Bucket from the British TV show Keeping Up Appearances, only less comically so.
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
This book is geared for the 8-12 age group; I personally read it when I was nine. If you haven't heard of this fantabulous book before, you may be wondering how something meant for little kids could possibly be dubbed a favorite book. This isn't your typical tale of slumber parties and horses and dreamy seventh-grade boys and puberty. This is an absolute genius piece of children's literature. Cushman's first (and, IMHO, best) book takes place in England in the late 13th century. The fourteen-year-old daughter of a country knight is being set up for marriage, and she hates all her suitors - except "Shaggy Beard," whom she despises with ten times the loathing of some greasy-haired "punk rocker" regarding a normal teenager. Shaggy Beard (Catherine's name for him) is old, ugly, and hideous, but of all the other suitors, he does have the most money. This book, written in diary format, goes into great detail of how Catherine hates her father, loves her uncle, hates sewing and spinning, wishes she were a villager, how her best friend is Perkin the goat boy, etc. This book is educational, which is good, as most school curriculums for kids not of high school age don't deal with the Midieval times. Cushman wrote another novel, The Midwife's Apprentice about Midieval England that was also educational and well-written, but Catherine, Called Birdy remains an incredible masterpiece that someone of any age could enjoy. Check out the book-on-tape version, too.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
After a year of procrastination and laziness, I finally finished this tome. It was long; but more so difficult, because of the rich detail and elaborate descriptions and fancy names, etc. Anyway. Thackeray's masterpiece begins with two girls at the end of their teenage years, named Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley. They have both just ended school. Rebecca is the daughter of an opera singer and a painter (most disgraceful), and has no friends. She is happy to leave school because she was treated like a maid there. Amelia, on the other hand, comes from a wealthy English family (the book takes place in England), and everybody loves her because she's so pretty and so kind, and so sweet and loving. She is also the only person who has ever been really nice to Rebecca. After a brief stay at Amelia's fancy Russel Square house, Rebecca becomes a governess at another wealthy establishment...and from there the two girls go down very separate paths. Amelia's father loses his fortune, but she still marries the princely George Osborne (to his father's chagrin), and eventually loses him at Waterloo, becoming a widow (and a most impoverished one, at that). All she has is her son, Georgy, and makes sacrifice upon selfless sacrifice for his well-being. Rebecca, on the other hand, marries into the wealthy Crawley family for whom she had been a governess. Her marriage is more for social ascendancy than love, however, and soon she becomes a tremendous social butterfly in a great part of Western Europe. This book is a fascinating account of the lives of these two very different women, and is also interesting in that Thackeray puts his own two cents in here and there. This book is absolutely brilliant, and in spite of being a little challenging, is also great fun.