Lists, Reviews

The True Test of Friendship: A Top Ten List

I would like to both thank and apologize to anyone who stops by FSR (I’m determined to make the acronym stick) today. Thank you for reading and sorry for recommending, yet again, that you go pick up John Irving, Stephen King, and Richard Russo (though I’m not really sorry if you’ve not taken my advice yet). I’m only trying to improve your literary life and, naturally, I want what’s best for you. And what’s best includes A Prayer for Owen Meany, Bag of Bones, Empire Falls, and Straight Man…

This week’s top ten: the books that you must read (also known as the books I recommend most – as hosted by The Broke and The Bookish).

I’m not serious about the title; we can be friends even if you don’t love John Irving.

Elia Kazan East of Eden

The true test: Do you appreciate the work of Elia Kazan? James Dean and Elia Kazan during East of Eden.

In no particular order, though I’ll warn you – I’m going to cheat:

10. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. When I was younger I strongly identified with Walter’s silent anger and passive aggression. As an adult, I simply find The Painted Veil to be a lovely story. Also, the adaptation starring Edward Norton is nothing to complain about.

9. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. I love this novel. When people ask me where to start with SK, I always suggest this one. For those looking for the scarier works of SK, I’d start with IT. If you’re not willing to commit to the page length (understandably, the hardcover version of it can be mistaken for a weapon or, at the very least, a doorstop), Pet Sematary. Short stories? Different Seasons. Dystopia? Try The Long Walk.

8. Straight Man by Richard Russo. Straight Man is his funniest novel, but Empire Falls is his best. I’d advise reading both. We’d all like to threaten to kill geese (or is this just a Colorado problem, because those have got to be the stupidest birds…), only Hank gets to do so.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I know, shocking choice. However, it is a must read (and my favorite love story); just avoid her sister Emily at all costs. I’m ambivalent about Anne, although she was influenced by the dreadful, ridiculous The Monk.

6. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollack. If you think you can handle dark fiction, then you absolutely must read this novel.

5. The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story. I’m not always dark and dreary, though you wouldn’t know it from this blog. For a light, fluffy comedy of errors (about a dead man), I suggest The Trouble with Harry. Watch the movie too. For more humor, you could also try Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.

4. Zone One by Colson Whitehead. This is another one I frequently recommend when people start talking about zombies (which happens more often than you’d think). However, the feedback has been rather dismal, so maybe it’s not for everyone.

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The 1980’s…I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves that decade (and John Hughes).

2. The works of John Irving. You have my permission to skip The Fourth Hand and In One Person. My favorite is The Hotel New Hampshire, but I think A Prayer for Owen Meany is his best.

1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. There are a great many reasons why I love this book. Here are two:

(One) The things I had come to find humor in would make your honest man swoon.

(Two) Here lies Morris, a good man and friend. He enjoyed the finer points of civilized life but never shied away from a hearty adventure or hard work. He died a free man, which is more than most people can say, if we are going to be honest about it. Most people are chained to their own fear and stupidity and haven’t the sense to level a cold eye at just what is wrong with their lives. Most people will continue on, dissatisfied but never attempting to understand why, or how they might change things for the better, and they die with nothing in their hearts but dirt and old, thin blood – weak blood, diluted – and their memories aren’t worth a goddamned thing, you will see what I mean.

The first pretty much sums me up and the second, well, you will see what I mean if you read the book. A side note, this novel lost The Man Booker Prize to Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending – a literary travesty if you ask me. It’s like Martin Scorsese winning the Oscar for The Departed when he should have won it for Goodfellas.

So there you have it, I gave you not 10, not 11, but 33 titles to consider. I’d also like to remind you that Elia Kazan was not just a great director, but a decent writer too. It rare that anyone answers my questions (not that it deters my asking them), but do you have a favorite film he directed? Mine is A Face in the Crowd.

Image found here.

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