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It's a listing-related book meme, and we all know how I feel  about listing. And books. There are several on here I am coming out of the lit-hipster closet about. No, I've never read Catch 22. I have been planning to for a long time. Also it seems I fear and avoid Russian lit. Maybe I should remedy that.
These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded.

Bold the ones you've read,
underline the ones you read for school,
italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.
add * beside the ones you liked and would (or did) read again or recommend. Even if you read them for school in the first place.
Edit: on [profile] helpimarock's suggestions, books I'm most anxious to read but am quite interested in reading are in red.

The Aeneid
*
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay*
American Gods [I've heard it's good...but I love Gaiman the graphic novelist, not so much Gaiman the prose stylist, so I never got to it]
Anansi Boys
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir
Angels & Demons
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged
Beloved*
The Blind Assassin
Brave New World
The Brothers Karamazov
The Canterbury Tales
The Catcher in the Rye
Catch-22
A Clockwork Orange
Cloud Atlas*
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Confusion
The Corrections*
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
Cryptonomicon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
David Copperfield
Don Quixote
Dracula
Dubliners*
Dune
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Emma*
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Fountainhead
Frankenstein*
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
The God of Small Things*
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
Great Expectations*
Gulliver’s Travels
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius* [I know, I know, people love him or hate him. I actually liked this book. Sue me.]
The Historian: a novel
The Hobbit*
The Hunchback of Notre Dame*
The Iliad*
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences [Okay, yes, I know. I'm not sure how I haven't read this one yet. It's on the damn list.]
The Inferno*
Jane Eyre*
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell*
The Kite Runner
Les Misérables*
Life of Pi: a novel [I absolutely despised this book.]
Lolita************ [Absolutely one of my favorites. Because it's brilliant, not because it's dirty. Maybe also a little because it's dirty.]
Love in the Time of Cholera
Madame Bovary
Mansfield Park

Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlemarch
Middlesex
[It's on the list. I am pretty sure I'll love it when I get there.]
Mrs. Dalloway********************  [Transcendent. And I wouldn't use that word lightly.]
The Mists of Avalon
Moby Dick* [Okay, honestly, I'd probably skip the cetology stuff the second time through]
The Name of the Rose
Neverwhere [This book is one of several reasons I in fact did not read American Gods.]
1984
Northanger Abbey*
The Odyssey*
Oliver Twist*
The Once and Future King
One Hundred Years of Solitude*
On the Road
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*
Oryx and Crake
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present
Persuasion
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Poisonwood Bible
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man*
Pride and Prejudice*
The Prince*
Quicksilver
Reading Lolita in Tehran
The Satanic Verses
The Scarlet Letter*
Sense and Sensibility*
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Silmarillion
Slaughterhouse-five [It's on my nightstand. Soon.]
The Sound and the Fury******************** [Faulkner's finest, and one of the most important books in my life]
A Tale of Two Cities
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Time Traveler’s Wife[profile]
To the Lighthouse
Treasure Island
The Three Musketeers

Ulysses*
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Vanity Fair
War and Peace

Watership Down*
White Teeth*
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
Wuthering Heights*
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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The library I work for recently printed a bunch of little tags that say "Ask Me What I'm Reading!" You can then print an image of the book you want to talk about in the space beneath, and pin it to your nametag. They're very excited about this as a way to foster conversation and find new opportunities to provide a reader's advisory.

On Friday I had a conversation with one of the young hip youth services people about why I hated, loathed, and scorned this idea. Okay, to be fair, it was less a conversation than a diatribe on my part. But it was still sort of an interesting exchange.

Zenithblue: It just opens a can of worms that's not really practical to open while at a public desk. I mean, what if I'm reading something sexually charged or violent or philosophically challenging or religious in nature?

Youth Services Babe: (giving me a sort of are-you-stupid look) But...you don't have to put what you're actually reading on the tag. I mean, I have The Memory Keeper's Daughter just because it's a good recommendation, not because I'm reading it right now.

ZB: Well, I know, but I think having a conversation about books at a public desk, as a clerk, is kind of a bad idea. Any books. I mean, we're not supposed to "see" what other people are checking out, we're not supposed to comment on someone's choice of books, but suddenly we're inviting them to invade our intellectual space and reveal something about ourselves? Don't get me wrong, I love talking about books. I love it. But I'm there trying to take care of their accounts and handle their fines and how much are they going to trust me to do my appointed government-official work if I tell them one of my favorite books is about a love affair between a thirteen-year-old girl and her stepfather? I mean, Portland is pretty permissive, but there are lots of people here nonetheless who'd flip out.

YSB: Well sure, but you just try to pick something fairly safe.

ZB: ...and that's my main problem, the idea that there are "safe" books. All books should be safe. All books should be dangerous. I have no interest in a guarded and euphemistic thirty second conversation with someone about a book.

YSB: You're awfully passionate for someone who works in a bureaucracy.

The whole conversation was fueled by my early Barnes and Noble trauma, the summer I worked at the really lousy Anchorage location. The idea that we were supposed to speak glowingly and excitedly about the one book they were trying to push, even though we hadn't read it: I refused and ground in my heels. This feels like the opposite of that, a move towards a self-censoring conversation about a book I possibly feel passionate about (or else a half-hearted suggestion about a book I found mediocre). Anyone who's read more than one of my posts knows I love talking about and recommending books. I've recommended plenty of books even in my capacity as a library clerk, but only after I get a feel for where the patron is coming from and what they're interested in. I'm not going to put out a generalized, democratized, bland, middle-of-the-road and wholly unoffensive book on my chest for anyone to ask about. I won't have that hanging by my heart.
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Sometimes it feels as though family dramas are so ubiquitous as to be impossible. With family life and its dysfunctions and failures and disappointments chronicled so frequently, it's inevitable that certain tropes sink into the morass of cliché and bland haven't-we-been-this-way-before recycling. This isn't to say there aren't splendid examples—no one wrote the humorous tragedy of the family quite like Raymond Carver, for example, and of course writers like Jonathon Franzen and Charles Baxter write the family with an attention to detail which makes them stand out. But sometimes it seems there's a sea of bland domestic novels to wade through before finding one that glints.

Like Never Before is a novel-in-stories by Ehud Havazelet, each tale of the collection a singular story but all of them pivoting around the Birnbaum family (and specifically, David Birnbaum, a man we see across three decades). If there's an epicenter to the tales, it lies in the strained relations between David and his father, and the way David struggles beneath the weight of family history. David, over the course of his life, rejects the Orthodox Judaism of his father (a Holocaust survivor) and grandfather (a rabbi) out of little more than a willful desire to throw off the expectations of his family, and out of a child's desire to hurt his temperamental and sometimes abusive father. Of course denying your roots is never so easy. 

Havazelet's prose is graceful in the extreme, inventive and beautiful. Even better, in spite of the bleak subject matter--pain and dysfunction and the Holocaust--the novel doesn't get dragged down by bathos or pathos either one. The stories are about life, and they are lively. They are about the failures of family, but there's also tiny vivid successes, human beings finding some part of love, finding ways to get by. They're also funny, with a great sense of the little absurdities that mark our path through pain. 

One of my favorite aspects of the work are the incredibly deft endings to the stories. There's never the pat "epiphany" that passes for closure in a lot of contemporary short fiction; instead he leaves us with complicated and nuanced moments of connection or convergence. Some of the pieces are astonishingly good on their own merit; "The Street You Live On" and "Leah" were simply breathtaking tales. Put all together, they make a detail-rich and deeply touching picture of a the old world casting its seed into the new.

If you liked The Corrections or The Ice Storm, or are looking for a very satisfying and literate domestic novel, I highly recommend this one.
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Deborah Eisenberg was one of the writers I tried most fervently to emulate when I was younger. When I was eighteen I read an article in Harpers' by Francine Prose, about the set of expectations readers bring to female writers of fiction. Prose mentioned a number of contemporary women who write savage, intelligent, complex fiction (as opposed to the aching domestic novels that Prose claims many people think of when the phrase "woman writer" enters a conversation). Two of those writers, Mary Gaitskill and Deborah Eisenberg, have been incredibly important to me over the years in different ways.

My emulations were pretty feeble, honestly. This is because Eisenberg writes some of the most complicated short stories I have ever read. They're long, they're densely layered, and plot typically fades into the background of something more nuanced. One of the blurbs on the back of her newest book, Twilight of the Superheroes, says this: "Ms. Eisenberg writes big, risky, quick but thickly textured fiction that has the energy, breadth, and social imagination we associate with large seriocomic novels." A pompous way to say it, but it's true. Her short fiction is as ambitious, as rich, as, say, Franzen's Corrections or Moody's Ice Storm. In my opinion, this is absolutely no exaggeration.

Her stories don't work the same way most short stories do; for one thing they're incredibly long, some almost sixty pages. This means you can't consider the story a flirtation, a brief affair. Most short stories are appealing because you can read them in a sitting, while waiting for the bus or on a lunch break or what have you. You really have to clear your schedule for Eisenberg's (and it's worth it). There's never some easy to swallow "epiphany" at the end; the fiction is much more interested in experience than some kind of moral lesson or unveiling or pat bow-tied ending. The stories in Twilight of the Superheroes come from different angles: one charts the internal territory of a man whose love for his schizophrenic sister contorts his feelings about family in general. In another, a group of young New Yorkers are about to lose their sublet (an extravagent penthouse that, only a few years earlier, became an image of hell looming directly over the Twin Towers). The story explores the diminishments of maturity, the struggle of youth meeting a world that doesn't match expectations. In "Window," a young woman recalls her intense relationship with a gun-peddler who lived in a cabin, both the intense glittering highs of their relationship, and the brutal culmination.

Describing the subject matter seems to deny her work justice. At heart, what works in an Eisenberg story is the way the internal world collides with the external. It's sometimes funny and sometimes horrible and sometimes very sad. Innocents are abroad in her stories, and not-so-innocents as well. We don't watch her characters or follow them so much as sink directly into them, like it or not.

She's a hard damn person to do a brief critique on. If you're a fan of Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, or Jennifer Egan, some of the same things that I love in all those writers are things I love here. But then too there's something just intensely specific about Eisenberg, some idiosyncracy that's hard to touch upon but that makes her fiction incandescent.
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By the time Suzan-Lori Parks even sat down to write Getting Mother's Body, her very first novel, she'd already won the Pulitzer and a handful of Obies for her playwriting. What a bitch.

No, not really.
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Last night I went to a lecture by Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright and author of the novel Getting Mother's Body. It wasn't a very formal lecture--she mostly talked about her creative processes--but it was fun. She was incredibly kind and funny and generous and real, and I bet you anything she's a kickass teacher.

The thing she said that stayed with me the most was something she said she learned from James Baldwin, whom she studied with at Mount Holyoke. She said the thing she learned that was the most important was how to behave in the presence of the spirit. That you treat the spirit like you treat an honored guest, invite it in and offer it something to drink. You treat it like a lover, with gentleness and appreciation. That you treat it like a volcano, as a thing unpredictable and mighty. That you don't question the form it picks--that however ludicrous or banal or whatever you shut up and listen to what it's doing. I'm paraphrasing a lot here. But essentially, what she was saying was that you have to entertain all your most far-out ideas, that you can't dismiss any of those voices that come to you. Or that you shouldn't.

This is something I've learned from writers like Haruki Murakami or Aimee Bender or David Foster Wallace or Mary Gaitskill. The idea that you tell the story that's living the most vividly on the inside of your eyelids, and don't worry about who is going to care about urban fetishists or junkies or child tennis prodigies or who is going to believe in a thing like a cat flute or a boy with a pumpkin for a head. Your job isn't to worry about that, at least not on the first go-round. Your job is to shut the fuck up, and listen to the spirit. You can worry about the people who will be listening to you later.

So tell me: how do you entertain the spirit? How do you all invite it in, with a welcome mat or a red light outside your door or with a big open house barbecue? Let's drop the metaphor. When do you feel most in sync with your creative selves? How do you get to that place where you feel like this is really, really happening?
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One of the earliest compulsive habits I can remember is my Book Stack. Every time we went to the library, I’d come home with twenty or so books. I would then spend the next few hours of my life executing an elaborate ritual to decide the order the books had to be read in. It involved multiple rounds of “Eenie Meenie Meinie Moe” eliminations, supplemented by a baroque series of rules. This used to drive my mother up the fucking wall. I’d come in all upset out that I had to read three less exciting books before I could get to my Lloyd Alexander or Roald Dahl, and she’d be like, “Why don’t you just read what you want?” She always sounded a little more hysterical asking this; she was afraid she was going to have to take her eight-year-old to a shrink for OCD. I can’t blame her. My response to her question was usually “Because of the Book Stack! The Book Stack, Mom!”  If the Book Stack got knocked over or mixed-up by accident, it was devastating, like this profound dread down in the pit of my stomach. My mom was probably…probably a little bit right about me, actually.

In any case, I weaned myself off the Book Stack by the time I got to junior high. Something about reading in a more analytical way took the place of my creepy ordering compulsion.

These days I have a nerdy little booklist I keep (which, it seems, isn’t as nerdy a booklist as I thought, because fully three-quarters of my lj friends have similar nerdy little booklists, and by the way I love you people). Mostly I keep the list because when I graduated Reed I was overdisciplined and didn’t know what to do with myself—it was hard to read something and not want to write a paper or babble at someone. Setting up my little “reading goals” list helps me find new books and keeps me reading diverse things, and also fulfills my crazy little messed up OCD thing. I usually decide on a "challenge" book once a year (this year it was Moby-Dick, so mission accomplished), and then I make a little spreadsheet with a number of slots in each category. Look, at least I don't have tissue boxes on my feet, okay?

In any case, here is "Book Stack 2006." Things that I've reviewed or talked about are linked, for anyone burning to know my opinion.



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It may be obvious to many that I have a certain obsession with 1) the social psychology of bullying and 2) crimes perpetrated by adolescent girls, so it should be no surprise to anyone that my most recent read was Under the Bridge, which chronicles the true story of the murder of Reena Virk in Vancouver B.C. Reena was beaten by a large group of teenagers; when they finally let up, two of the teenagers went back to murder her. It was pretty much the kind of stupid-ass impulse-control crime that you'd expect from a teenager with rage issues, much less a gang of teenagers (who amusingly think they are Crips, even though they are resoundingly white and living in Vancouver B.C.). The tragedy is that they were too young to realize the very good reasons a person would want to control those impulses.

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I am not even going to say that woman's name today; never mind that I'm actually sitting here shaking with rage, holding the newspaper in my hand and watching it violently wave back and forth. I'm not going to shriek, or pull my hair (though I may rip up the newspaper later). I am in fact going to ignore her, because she makes money off of people like me losing their shit. Fuck Conservative Barbie. She will prove herself mean, pointless, and ugly without any help from me.

Besides, Cuteness will overcome all. So instead of pitching a fit, I'm going to pitch a book! Today's book recommendation is entitled And Tango Makes Three.

This picture book tells the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who "fall in love." When all the other penguins are pairing off into mates, Roy and Silo become attached (one fact not included in the children's book, is that the zookeepers decided to test Roy and Silo's attachment by exposing them specifically to different male and female penguins, to see if they could tell the difference. They could in fact tell the difference, and they in fact did not care.). Roy and Silo find a rock that is vaguely egg-shaped, and while the other penguins lay eggs and trade them back and forth on their little penguin feet, Roy and Silo attempt to hatch their rock. (By the way, cuteologists, how great an image is that?)

Intrigued, the zookeepers decide to give the lovebirds an egg that had been abandoned. The penguins care for the egg together and hatch it. They enact the same family drama that the other penguin pairs do. The baby is born, and the zookeepers name it Tango. Both daddy penguins take turns caring for baby, effectively nurturing the little tyke into adolescence and then adulthood.

This is the cutest book ever. The art is great, and the story is told simply and lovingly. In addition to being adorable it contradicts the stupidity surrounding March of the Penguins. You know, all the Focus-on-the-Family "God's will is the bond between a man and woman" hype. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it amuses me to no end that the same people who refuse to believe themselves descended from monkeys are willing to find proof of family values in a waddling flightless bird. How selective we are. (My other issue with this movie is that it's one of the worst nature documentaries I've ever seen--the penguins are very cute and fun to watch, but the science is bad. The documentarians are more interested in the noble struggles of the penguin as a story than they are in the identifiable and measurable facts, but that's besides the point here.) So anyway, if you are in the market for a picture book that will make you smile, And Tango Makes Three kicks the total shit out of lesser picture books. But you don't have to take my word for it...


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