Books to Read in 2005

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  1. The Shining Stephen King It's not a contest, but I definitely preferred the book to Kubrick's movie adaptation. To portray Jack as a person who snaps rather than looney tunes from the get-go is much more chilling, and the grittier atmosphere more disturbingly satisfying.
  2. The Puttermesser Papers Cynthia Ozick Combines satire and magical realism, like 100 Years of Solitude, but more philosophical and following the constricted life of a New York lawyer rather than the bizarre history of the Buendia family. It works best if read as a series of short stories, each on a different stage of Puttermesser’s life (“Her Work History, Her Ancestry, Her Afterlife”). Best: “The Muscovite Cousin” and “Puttermesser in Paradise.”
  3. Death in Venice Thomas Mann I really wanted to prove Nabokov wrong here and emerge a Thomas Mann fan, but I was irritated by the cumulative, junky purple prose. Maybe it's partly the translator's fault. What I did like: the use of the human body as a metaphor for form and beauty in art, the atmosphere of German pre-war decadence, and the insights, especially the imagined Socratic dialogues.
  4. Ada Vladimir Nabokov A literary millefleur of arcane vocabulary and labyrinthine prose. More of a virtuoso performance than Lolita, and (therefore?) not quite as affecting, but the detachment enhances our appreciation of the word play, I guess. I still prefer Lolita and even the equally dispassionate Pale Fire.
  5. A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson Describes scientists like extinct birds: rare, a little outlandish, and known for things other than reproducing. Bryson is particularly good at explaining things I either dimly understood or vaguely remembered from science classes (Einstein’s theory of relativity, continental drift, the discovery of DNA). Most definitely a worthwhile use of several of my allotted 750,000 hours or so (knock wood).
  6. Complete Short Stories Oscar Wilde
  7. Picnic, Lightning Billy Collins Sane and gentle and witty and inventive. Nabokov fan that I am, I'm also jealous that he thought of that title first. Like with my favorite albums and novels, I find myself continually changing my mind about which part I like best (currently it's "I Go Back to the House for a Book").
  8. Alternative Alices Ed. Carolyn Sigler
  9. The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell
  10. Age of Wonders: Exploring The World of Science Fiction Eds. Kathryn Cramwell and David Hartwell
  11. Ulysses James Joyce I read this for a class, VERY quickly and with a high fever. Somehow, I think it might deserve to be read attentively at 98.6.
  12. Middlemarch George Eliot Ditto the above, minus the high fever.
  13. Blonde Joyce Carol Oates Every so often, I have to check in with Oates to see if she's written anything as good as Marya, a Life or Son of the Morning.

Middlemarch is also on my bookshelf to be read list, but I don't know that I'll get to it anytime soon. However, I do have on video (which I picked up cheaply) Middlemarch by George Elliott, a BBC six-hour mini-series, but I've not watched that yet either.

I saw part of that and liked it (at least, I think it was the BBC version)--maybe I'll look into it, especially if I don't get around to the novel this year. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries is another pretty good miniseries adaptation.

If I hadn't read a Stephen King novel before The Green Mile is not what I would start with.

What would you recommend?

In my opinion the majority of his recent stuff can't hold a candle to his older stuff although I haven't read The Dark Tower series. I was waiting for him to finish the series first.

As far as his early titles go I think The Shining is probably his best. Other very good titles are Salem's Lot, The Stand and The Dead Zone. Carrie is also quite good although it's a first novel.

With Firestarter he sort of entered a middle phase. A good middle phase title is Different Seasons, 4 novellas which take place in seasons throughout the year. Most of the middle phase stuff is very readable and enjoyable I just felt the small start of a downward trend here. Firestarter is probably the best of his middle titles.

For me his books left Must Read territory around It. His books started getting much thicker but he seemed to be grasping for strawrs in terms of the story he wanted to tell. He's a great writer but he can go on ad nauseum.

Since, but not including, It titles worth your time are Misery, The Dark Half, Gerald's Game, Insomnia and The Green Mile. But this is not the cream of his crop. Your mileage may vary.

Thank you. I'll take a look at the early books you mention.

I considered starting with The Dark Tower series, but I also think it would be better to wait until it is finished.

Well, The Dark Tower series is finished now. Or so I've heard.

According to this site, it is finished! All that remains are the paperback editions.

I'd disagree with both Misery and Gerald's Game. Gerald's Game particularly was horrid and torturous to get through.

I'll second the recommendation for The Stand though. And I've liked volumes 1-5 of the Dark Tower series. 2 more left to read :)

I'm not sure if I agree with Nabokov about Mann, but Death in Venice is probably the worst of his major works.

Ada, however, is wonderful, and I hope you enjoy it.

From what I remember, Nabokov didn't care much for any novel of ideas (he also disliked Dostoevsky, which I find hard to understand). I'm looking forward to Ada.

So which Mann works do you prefer?

I think Doctor Faustus is defensible as a masterpiece, although I found parts of the novel lacking. I actually really liked The Magic Mountain, although it isn't nearly as approachable as Faustus or Venice.

Nabokov did hate Dostoevsky (and I've been reading about a rather enjoyable row he had with Edmund Wilson over Pasternak) but he was an admirer of Borges, who you may consider an author of "ideas" literature.

I suspect he gave Borges a pass because he wrote fantasy, just as with Gogol, but that's purely a guess -- trying to find a consistent pattern in Nabokov's curmudgeonly literary taste is beyond me. He did have a problem with a lot of his fellow Russian writers, didn't he?

Did you finish Bill Bryson's book already, or are you still working on it?

I'm still working on acquiring a copy, actually. Thanks for asking, though. I'll definitely post my thoughts when I finish it.

I'm pretty much dropping a note on every '2005 reading' list on Listology to recommend The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and yours is no exception! :-)

Trying to start your own positive social epidemic, are you?

Are you by chance a Connector or Salesman?

Going off of what I’ve picked up by skittering through the book, possibly a Sales…uh…man. (Gladwell seems awfully nonchalant about the p.c. hawks.) I sometimes pretend to be a Maven, with mixed success. You?

I'm always just a lowly Maven, I think :-)

I have much the same problem regarding Billy Collins (with the delightful exception of "Litany".) But "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'" makes me sag at the knees every time I hear it.