Dave’s Top Ten

I didn’t care for reading when I was younger, and was only turned on to reading after realizing that espresso and hand rolled cigarettes alone didn’t make you an intellectual. I have since jumped right in, studying creative writing and English education. I enjoy a good story, but only when it is backed up with good writing and morale. On a scale of Cory to Luke, from fun-page-flipping-and-adrenaline-drinking to deep-thinking-Russian-Braille-perplexing, I’d say I’m like a Zach. A five on the reading scale.

I like characters that struggle and then redeem themselves. I like plots that are not predictable. I like endings that I can remember, even if it isn’t what I wanted to happen. Most of all I like a book that moves me, one that challenges my world view and causes a little discomfort in my all-knowing soul. I think books should have a purpose in being written that is deeper than an entertaining joy ride.  Books should move you; and the great books, the classics, they usually do.

Dave’s Top 10 (In no particular order)

1.  Blindness
Jose Saramago
1995

This is a plot driven book. It is fast enough and creates a world of wonder that keeps the reader curious. I love how the dialogue is written, I love how the characters develop, and I love the tension in the asylum. What makes the top ten for me is the nature of the extra characters in the book. It is anxious and upsetting at times, and it is hilarious at times. It is a great picture of our human kind.

2.  The Dharma Bums
Jack Kerouac
1958

Many favorites, in general, are rooted in nostalgia; this book is no exception for me. I read this when I was 19 and trying to find myself. This book traveled with me for a few years and was a catalyst for me to start writing. It exposed me to my curiosity. This book got me thinking about religion and higher education and relationships and addiction. Clearly, it is on my top ten for kick-starting deeper thinking, but it is also a great read. I think it is better than Kerouac’s more famous book, On The Road. Its narrative is more cohesive and the characters are less messy (so to speak).

3.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
1884

Again, my biases come out of the closet. When I was a kid I lived near a creek and had two heroes: Robin Hood and Tom Sawyer. Enter: Mark Twain. This book is aptly an American classic. It’s a story that kids and adults can find meaning in. It’s an ultra manly adventure tale (try taking a wooden raft down the Mississippi with a runaway slave) and written in a way that makes me want to cut my jeans into shorts and go fishing. I love the dialogue in here too. Mark Twain takes the voice of the people, the voice of the streets, and turns it into literature. It is in the same vain for literature as Whitman is for poetry, and at the same time is a snow-cone-eating, state-fair-going nostalgic American novel.

4.  East of Eden
John Steinbeck
1952

When it comes to an American classic, nothing beats this book. Nothing. This is one of the best authors to ever write and this is the best book (that I’ve read) written by his hand. Steinbeck is a thaumaturge (looks this word up, because it’s true). He illustrates characters that you can hear and see. He creates towns and families that are real. He makes things appear and disappear… okay, I’m taking this a little too far. But I agree-to-strongly-agree that you should read this book, then should tell your friends to read this book, then blog about it, then tweet about it, then blog about tweeting about it, then tweet about blogging about tweeting about it, then tell your friends to retweet your tweet about blogging a tweet about…. You get the picture.

5.  The Road
Cormac McCarthy
2006

Grab a box of tissues, a vile full of pills, and prepare to have you heart shattered time and time again. Some people think this is the saddest book ever written, and they are probably right. It is on my list for its difference. I read it differently, at a slower pace, and I expect things from it that I don’t want in other books. I am not asking for redemption from the characters in this book, I am looking for hope. The way the story flows, the way the characters are introduced, the way the dialogue is written, and the lack of punctuation, it all forces a slow and trudged reading. You read this book as if you are walking through mud, or heavy snow. It is slow and hard, but rewarding.

6.  The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
1925

As the ink is printed alone, this is a pretty standard book. It is a no frills novel about a no frills place during a no frills time. You read a predictable story of crisis of an upper class group of people. There is climax, and tension, and resolution. There is character development and character digression. There are relationships grown, and relationships broken. Everything about this book is pretty basic, pretty simple, pretty…. PERFECT. I must state that I was brainwashed by this book, and taught that it is a perfect novel. This book is the blueprint that all novels should strive to be. It is about 200 pages and there are about 40 scenes; the first conflict, the second conflict, the climax, and the resolution… it’s all perfectly placed and perfectly timed. All the characters are well rooted, well relationed, and well developed. This book by bias alone is on my top ten, though it carries itself properly as a wonderful novel worth the time of reading. There is a reason that Fitzgerald is one of the great American authors and this book is evidence.

7.  The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho
1988

This is book for the discovering man. It’s the book that forces you to make a decision to find yourself and pursue your dreams, or settle in and bear it. It is enchanting and romantic and gives you a desire to become a shepherd. It lives on my list for its innate ability to cause me wonder, to desire a more beautiful world, and to shatter my tendencies for complacency. This book moves me.

8.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Richard Bach
1970

I have a few books on my top ten that aren’t quite the girth and density of proper classics. This is one of them. It’s 128 pages with lots of pictures and can be read without struggle by a fourth grader. You could pick this book up and finish it before your Easy Mac is done, and get this: (SPOILER ALERT!) It’s about a seagull that likes to fly… that’s it. It is perfect in its simplicity, teaching the fundamental lessons of Buddhism and Christianity and Islam, and it’s just about a bird. It resides on my list alongside the others rooted in one of my fundamental beliefs of a book: when you finish reading the pages of a great book you will carry them around with you for days and months to come.

9.  The Old Man And The Sea
Ernest Hemingway
1952

Here is an even shorter book, and one with fewer characters, less of a plot, and less of an obvious moral. It’s about a guy going fishing. But I also find perfection in the simplicity. This book is so well written that you’d struggle to stop reading. It is a one sitting read that borders poetry in its style and motive. There is so much more written in the pages than the words you see.

10.  A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
1980

This book is for awkward laughter, and I’ve learned that it doesn’t always reward the reader on the first try. It is brilliant in its character development and the relationships between the developed. The protagonist is unbelievable and his girlfriend is unnecessary. His mother and her friends require pity and the street people of New Orleans are a spectacle to read. The plot is obscene and ridiculous, and the reader is hit with page after page of painful hilarity that matches pity with grimace and realism. Imagine being thrown into the Renaissance wearing a toga. Is this uncomfortable? This is the Confederacy.

About dave

When he isn’t free-soloing the crags of Yosemite or taking his homemade rafts down waterfalls, you can find him wrestling black bears in Alaska. When he isn’t doing that, or sun tanning in Antarctica, or snorkeling for ruins at the bottom of Crater Lake, you might find him 2,000 feet deep in a Mexican cave, breaking ground on a new sump. He is an adventurer at heart, though his home life consists of more gentlemanly activities. He is an expert at chess and backgammon, a connoisseur of fine cigars, and he owns two robes made of the finest Egyptian silk.

Currently Reading
-Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
-These poems
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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Comments

  1. I’m not so sure that I would rate you as a 5 on the scale with me. I’d put you right in the middle of me and luke, at 7.5. Maybe your not huge into russian lit, but you certainly don’t have any purely action/plot driven Ludlum-type books on your list like I do. Agree?

    • I think there was a translation error to the editor. I meant to say that I am a Zach.5 (Zach point five, like Zach-and-a-half.) If 1=thrills, 10=Russians, and 5=Zach, the equation should look something like this: Given Zach equals five Cory’s but only half a Luke, and Dave=Zach.5, how many novelletes would fill the amount of Haikus needed to fill the first quotient of literary genius?

  2. The Road is one of the toughest (emotionally) and most depressing books I have ever read. I agree that it is well written, an certainly not written for any redemption it offers mankind. However, I read it in an 8 hour car ride to a funeral. After reading your description of how I should have read it, I am wondering if it is worth a second go-round…slower this time of course.

  3. I definitely think it’d be worth it, but the thing about books (while limiting, also makes books so great) is this: the baggage that you carry while reading influences the interpretation.
    I imagine that the emotions of that drive will still effect a second read, but it’s still a great book, and according to me: ONE OF THE 10 BEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN!
    Unrelated: we ought to document our top tens every five years and see how they change.

  4. Where’s Hunger Games? Ain’t gonna lie, I’m gonna need a little Katniss Everdeen on this list…

  5. Blake Osborn says:

    This top-ten list kicks ass. That’s all. Huckleberry-style, let us light out for the territory ahead!

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