Saturday, November 7, 2009

Unforgettable Books

Once in a while I have the impulse to create a top-ten-all-time-favorite book list, but it always turns out to be an impossible task.  Moods change, seasons change; some books belong better to winter by the fire, others to the shade of a beach umbrella, some to upbeat moods, others to sadder times, etc.

Last week I picked my brain to write down every book I’ve ever read, omitting of course childhood sillies and unworthy pulp paperbacks picked up in a previous life when my oodles of spare time did not require careful choices in reading.  From that list I came up with these unforgettable books.  Yes, unforgettable is the best word.  No matter how many years have passed since I have read them, they still have power over my thoughts.

Dates are first reading.  I will probably add more as I think of them.

Twenty Years a Growing (Maurice O’Sullivan): a novel of life a hundred years ago in County Kerry; oh to be young again, oh to be Irish (oh yeah, I am Irish) (about 2000)
The Virginian (Owen Wister): Eastern decorum comes West in the form of Miss Molly Stark, and meets the untamed frontier personified in the Virginian (about 1980)
Sometimes a Great Notion (Ken Kesey): Powerful chronicle of an Oregon logging family (1972)
Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner): A painful story, first read for a Western American Lit class; I agonized over it for the next 25 years, then reread it and saw the characters from a much different perspective (1975)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): The good, the bad, and the unjust through the eyes of a child (1970s?)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): Austen’s 18th century world skillfully brought to life (1969)
Helter Skelter (Vincent Bugliosi): Expos√© of 60s Manson clan’s drug and murder culture; best book on a crime that I’ve ever read (1975)
Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott): Romantic tale of Medieval England complete w/ gallant knights, lovely ladies, and also, the unworthy (1975)
Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt): A modern Irish life revealed to the world; more Irish than non-Irish can probably swallow, but so precise in mood and temperament and tragedy (2002)
Bleak House (Charles Dickens): My favorite Dickens and so typical w/ countless interwoven plots; some characters have all the goodness it seems, others only the appearance of goodness; Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce:  “Case dismissed!” (1983ish)
Cataclysms on the Columbia (John Eliot Allen): an examination of the Ice Age Bretz Floods which were largely responsible for the formation of the Columbia Gorge as we see it today; a slow careful reading combined with a field trip or two is an eye-opener (about 1995)
Cold Mountain (Charles Fraser): y’all know the story based on Homer’s themes (2001ish)
Undaunted Courage (Stephen Ambrose): Lewis & Clark’s journey West; Ambrose captured the frustration and despair and elation and triumph of this super-human crew of men who did the undoable (2008)
Icon of Spring (Sonia Jason): life in an ethnic coal-mining settlement in Pennsylvania (2000)
Names On the Land (George R. Stewart): an exploration of the origins of American place names (1986)
The Great Mortality (John Kelly): intensive history of the Black Plague and a thorough examination of 14th century society (2008)
From the Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple): author recreates the epic journey of John Moschos (AD 500) through the Middle East, recording observations and comparing his experience to that of J.M.


  1. Wow! Excellent mini book reviews. I want to read all of them. Today.

  2. You need to get on GoodReads. It will help you categorize all of these better. Good list!