Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ten Books I Can't Live Without

Someone sent me one of those "What one book would you take to a desert island?" things the other day. Naturally, my response was Boat Building and Navigation for Dummies, but apparently that's not a real answer. So instead I started thinking about it, and realized that there are so many books I love, and which one I need the most really does depend on my mood. Sometimes I want something that requires no thought at all - some kind of romantic romp with good looking men, feisty heroines, and hot sex. Other times, I want something that's going to make me think, questioning my very existence. Still other times I crave information and facts.

So I decided rather than commit myself to That One Book to take with me when stranded, I'd cheat a bit and put together my list of ten. Technically, since I have an e-reader, if I was stranded somewhere I'd have about 300 books in hand, at least till the battery died, but then I'd be hosed. These, therefore, are the ten books going in my tote bag when I board Oceanic Flight 815. And Sawyer, I'll gladly share many things with you on that island, baby, but my reads ain't part of the deal.

In no particular order:

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a World War II combat nurse, who finds herself transported back to Scotland shortly before the battle of Culloden. Once there, she's pushed into marriage with the delicious Jamie Fraser, who is one of the sexiest beasts ever to populate a page. The two of them marry, eventually fall in love, and have adventures that span a couple of centuries, several continents, and at least eight books. Read the whole series. They're more than just romance, and you'll fall in love with Jamie and Claire.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre' Dumas.

The ultimate tale of revenge and redemption. Edmond Dantes is a poor sailor who just wants to marry the lovely Mercedes. His best friend, Fernand Mondego, wants to marry Mercedes too. Dantes is accused of high treason, and banished off to prison for ever, but Mercedes is told he is dead. Once Dantes escapes, he recovers a treasure, thanks to an old friar in prison, and reinvents himself as the ostentatious Count of Monte Cristo. Once he's established his place in society, he begins exacting his vengeance upon those who wronged him.

 3. Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I know, I know, it's practically blasphemy, but Persuasion is my favorite of Jane's novels. I love how Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old spinster (with a dreadful family) who has lost her bloom, finds herself thrown back into the company of the man she rejected nine years ago. Meanwhile, Captain Wentworth is back in town with a fortune in hand, and everyone wonders which of society's eligible young ladies will scoop him up - because certainly, that boring old Anne must be beneath his notice. Austen's wit and wisdom shines in this one, and Capt. Wentworth writes one of the best love letters of all time. Who wouldn't swoon for a man who says, "You pierce my soul...." ?

4.The Carmina Gadelica, compiled by Alexander Carmichael.

Back in the 1800s, a census taker named Alexander Carmichael roamed around the Scottish highlands on foot, jotting down names and birth dates. More importantly, he collected stories, poems, songs, and incantations in Gaelic, and what he assembled was an oral literary history of the Scottish countryside. What's fascinating about the Carmina Gadelica is that Christian prayers and hymns sit side by side with Pagan rituals and charms. There's something in the CG for pretty much any occasion, whether you want to bless your cows, marry off your sister, or celebrate the vanquishing of invading Sassenachs.

5. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was a really bad time to be a member of the English aristocracy stuck over in France. The story of Charles Darnay and his lovely (if somewhat dim) fiance, who find themselves trapped in the middle of the French revolution. It's a true story of redemption, though, in the form of the degenerate Sydney Carton, who - conveniently enough - looks an awful lot like Charles Darnay. Carton has been a dreadful person all his life, but when he finds love, realizes he can find absolution for the sins of his past.

6. The Stand, by Stephen King.

Thankfully, this was written back when Stephen King was still drinking, because it's probably his finest work. A killer virus takes over the world, and a ragtag band of survivors try to stay alive. But! There's another band of survivors, and they're led by the skeevy and scary Randall Flagg (who may or may not be Evil Incarnate), and pretty soon it's a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies.

7. Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor.

You know how everyone has that one book that they love to read, but they don't want anyone else to know they love it? Yeah. This is mine. I first discovered Amber St. Clare when I was about thirteen, and remembered thinking at the time OMG THIS IS RAUNCHY STUFF MUST READ MOAR. Written in the 1940s, it's so hot it was actually banned in cities across the country. But it's FABULOUS. The ultimate bodice-ripper, Forever Amber follows the evolution of Amber St. Clare from some podunk village in England to the stages of Drury Lane to Newgate prison tothe court of King Charles. It's rich in historical detail, the characters are fascinating, and every time I re-read it I love it even more. Excuse me while I go feel shamed.

8. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.

Lonesome Dove is probably one of the last true epic western novels, and it's brilliant. It's the story of two aging Texas rangers, Gus MacRae and Woodrow Call, along with their friends, enemies, and women. It doesn't take long for McMurtry's rich imagery to draw you into the story, and takes even less time to make you truly care about the characters. When Lorena is kidnapped, or Newt questions his parentage, or Gus and Call have to hang an old friend for horse thieving and murder, you genuinely feel for everyone involved. It's the long, final adventure of a couple of men who have led a rich and fulfilling life.

9. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Ender's Game is now required reading at some high schools where I live, as well it should be. On the surface, it's the story of poor little Ender Wiggin, who is a Third (as in third child) and therefore worthy of pity and not much else. However, when he gets invited to the elite Battle School as a student, people begin to take notice of Ender. He's good at what he does, which is killing aliens in the simulator. However, after a while Ender and his friends realize there's more to Battle School than they thought. It's a stunning commentary on war, childhood, and everything in between.

10. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

OK, this might be a "cheat" because it's actually got a ton of stories in it, so it's not just a single book. However, Doyle's tales are as awesome today as they were when he wrote them over a hundred years ago, and Holmes is the ultimate anti-hero. He's a bit sociopathic, not terribly friendly, pompous, and most likely a drug addict. He's also brilliant, and Dr. John Watson serves as his perfect partner when Holmes takes on the evil Dr. Moriarty.

So there you have it. These are going in my carry-on bag, so when I end up on my desert island I'll have reading material along with my toothbrush.


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  2. Love love love Lonesome Dove and The Stand! They would be on my top 10 too! Although I always seem to get a cold when I read The Stand! LOL Also...your information on has been valuable and inspirational! Thanks!