As a young man teaching both day and evening when we had three young children, I used to fantasize about how, due to a tangle of circumstances, I could be sentenced to prison federal minimum security for a year and could finally catch up. reading.
Now that we are all in “solitary confinement”, thanks to the corona virus, there is a luxury of time to read good books, as part of our rehabilitation therapy.
Below is a list of my top ten recommendations based on three criteria: 1. The book is fun to read. 2. The book is a long-term personal investment. 3. The book is an award winner, but we probably haven’t read it yet.
About that first standard: I’m frustrated with book reviews more concerned with impressing with depth than endorsing enjoyable reads, resulting in lists with head-butts like William Faulkner and Thomas Pynchon: geniuses, of course, although insufficiently attentive to audience and readability.
The second standard means a book you never forget; a book that influences your thinking because you associate its passages and themes with real-life situations long after reading it; a book that enhances your education; and a book you didn’t want to finish, and may even decide to read it again.
The third standard means that a particular gem may have been, in its time, overshadowed by blockbusters.
Here are my recommendations:
1-winter in the blood by James Welch is as close to perfect as a novel as any I have read. A member of the Blackfeet tribe of Montana, Welch writes with such power and clarity that the awareness of its protagonist living on the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana remains with the reader for days after completing the novel.
2-Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is the best antidote on this list to “social distancing” and empty shelves. The reader escapes for more than 400 pages in the sometimes dangerous and above all breathtaking wild nature of Florida, while feeling as close to the characters of this book as to the members of his own family. Such is Rawlings’ gift.
3-In Tell me how Long the train left by James Baldwin, the reader finds herself the confidante of an African-American theater actor, who reflects, in an intimate, often hypnotic first-person narrative, on his fears, his joys, his frustrations and his insecurities, while navigating an unwelcoming world. 20th century America.
4-The rabbit is rich by John Updike makes this list as one of the titles you might not have read from the American novelist who should have won the Nobel Prize in just one of the years from 1981 to 2008. That’s 27 time that the Nobel committee missed it.
5-The capricious bus by John Steinbeck is a classic allegorical journey whose characters, portrayed in Steinbeck’s inimitable manner, become a part of your life for the week or two you read. Steinbeck has an idea of linguistic rhythms that hit the sweet spot of our reading process.
6-Story of a castaway Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Alongside Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Wind, sand and stars) I can’t think of any other writer whose work translates so brightly and gracefully into English. It’s a true story and among the most vivid and thoughtful timelines we have of man versus nature.
seven-To have and not to have by Earnest Hemingway is the perfect combination of romance, danger and reflection, focusing on the behavior of a Key West fisherman, as well as his love, friends and foils, all making their way through the era of the Depression. Bonuses are its contemporary relevance, and, of course, lean, master-carved phrases that grab you by the throat or the heart.
8-The passage by Cormac McCarthy, though less famous than The Road or All the Pretty Horses, nevertheless has the author’s word paintings of the American Southwest, and his frighteningly real characters so indelible and artfully drawn that you come to recognize each by the words used in the dialogue, without having to see their names.
9-Reading the wildlife by Richard Ford, you will find that you force yourself to put it down after brief periods, in order to prolong the tragic beauty of the story, seen through the eyes of a 16-year-old, of the collapse of his parents . Our most gifted and thoughtful novelist, Ford is next on the Nobel Committee’s list of scandalous neglect.
ten-vagaries of time Traveling by Joyce Carol Oates is a personal secret pleasure. As a slow reader, I have always viewed science fiction, especially dystopian novels, as a waste of valuable time when there was so much “important” realistic fiction to tackle. But when one of our most prolific literary artists, known for her believable creative perspectives on real events like Chappaquiddick (Black Water), applies her multiple gifts to the science fiction genre, the result is a masterpiece.
David McGrath teaches English at Florida Southwestern State College and is the author of the novel SIEGE AT OJIBWA. David.McGrath@fsw.edu