Books You Enjoyed Reading

I was talking to a friend who likes to read, and I asked her what were top ten books of all-time. She said she wasn’t sure, and when I asked her to name some favorite books, she squirmed and said, “I don’t know what my favorite books are. I just know which books I enjoyed.” Sometimes choosing your favorite books, let alone your top ten, can be daunting and anxiety inducing. Hence the title and approach to this thread. Talk about books you enjoyed. It’s as simple as that. (Of course, feel free to list your top ten books of all-time or your favorites.

13 Responses to “Books You Enjoyed Reading”

  1. Reid

    Mefisto in Onyx by Harlan Ellison

    This is a book I often recommend to people, especially those people who may don’t often read for entertainment. You know how many people think Ender’s Game is one of the best sci-fi novels? Well, I think Mephisto is up there.

    I first across the book strictly by chance. I was looking for another book at the library, when this really thin, rectangular shaped book caught my eye. It caught my eye because it looked like a children’s book, and I was in the adult fiction section. What was such a book doing in this section (especially one with an illustration by comic book artist, Frank Miller.) I picked up the book and began to read the teaser. It started with something like, “Cancel all your plans for the evening because you won’t be able to put this down.” Yeah right, I thought, some cheap gimmick to get you to read the book. (It worked.) As I read more, I discovered the book was about a man who had the ability to read minds. He’s approached by an attorney friend who just defended a possible serial killer. You can guess what’s going to happen next: yep, the mind-reader is going to meet the possible serial killer.

    The book is more like a short novel, coming under a 200 pages. You could read it in an afternoon, which is another reason I recommend the book. Anyway, it’s entertaining, if a bit dark. I think Ellison writes in an introduction that the story is about as good as he can get. Well, that’s pretty dang good.

  2. Mitchell

    My parents have teased me and mocked me since I was a young boy about my having a favorite of EVERYthing. It’s true: I do. I don’t know what it is about me that has always loved making ordered lists of preferences for all kinds of things, but I can’t remember ever not doing it. I had a favorite stuffed animal. I had favorite teachers. I had favorite TV shows. Favorite books. Favorite, favorite, favorite.

    I think deciding on favorites is a great exercise in critical thinking. It’s easy to say whether you enjoyed a book/movie/meal/kiss, but it can be challenging to examine each experience, compare it to the others, and decide where it falls among them. I guess some people think it’s a meaningless waste of time: You enjoy something, so why try to quantify that enjoyment?

    I guess my answer is that I try to quantify it because it’s fun. Why is a Big Mac a better burger than a Whopper? The answer won’t change the world, but it’s fun to think about.

    On the other hand, I love guessing games for exactly the same reason, and I know people who like to make lists who HATE to play guessing games (eg: Reid). At least Grace is consistent: she hates them both!

    So here, on a name-them-as-I-think-of-them basis, are my ten favorite novels:
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
    Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
    The High King by Lloyd Alexander
    Holes by Louis Sachar
    Criss-Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins
    Beloved by Toni Morrison
    The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
    Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

    Be aware that on any other day, the list would probably look different, except for the first two.

  3. Reid

    I’m glad you like making favorite lists. That’s part of the reason I enjoy talking with you, I think. I wish more people here liked doing it, but I know that it does take time–time that many idiots don’t have the luxury of; hence, the thread “instructions” to talk about books you simply enjoyed, rather than your favorite books.

    But thanks for posting your favorite book list. (Now, I have to start thinking of mine.) I’d love to read some commentary on the picks.

  4. pen

    Wow, so Reid made a friend squirm? How atypical. 😀

  5. Reid

    Hey! If you’re going to make snide remarks, how about posting something relevant. 🙂

    But since you posted, that reminds me of a novel I enjoyed (and that someone was supposed to have read but didn’t): Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Mitchell recommended this Western about two aging, former Texas Rangers that go on a cattle drive to start a new life. If you like “buddy” stories, here are two of the most enjoyable–think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Gus McRae is the loquacious, fun-loving tough guy, while Woodrow Call is the just as tough, but opposite in temperament. There are also good side characters in the story, including Newt, who basically grew up with the two men after the death of his mother. A young whore and some other cohorts from their rangering days.

    Besides creating these likable characters, McMurty has a gift for story telling and dialogue. There are some formidable situations and good villians in this. This is a very entertaining novel, but what I really liked was the way McMurtry avoided pandering to the audience, giving the novel a realistic feeling to it. Sometimes that can be a bit disappointing, but the realism more than makes up for it, at least for me. This is a fun novel that I would recommend to people even if they don’t like Westerns. (There are also other books in the series, but two out of three weren’t as good.)

  6. Marc

    Wow, I liked a lot of the books mentioned above so I’ll see what I can do to add to this.

    I enjoyed the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, which Mitchell referenced. As an alternative, I would also offer the Belgariad by David Eddings as something in a similar vein aimed more at younger readers. For more adult readers I would probably recommend Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series.

    To take off on Reid’s mentioning *Mephisto in Onyx*, I would offer the Orson Scott Card novella *Ender’s Game* which was expanded to a short novel. I’m not a huge fan of the sequels to this story featuring the main character, Ender Wiggin. But I enjoyed Card’s alternate take on the original book called *Ender’s Shadow* and the Shadow series that sprang from that.

    Reid mentioned Lonesome Dove and I agree with that whole-heartedly. To briefly discuss the other books in the series, I would say that the sequel isn’t that great, but the prequels are entertaining with the adventures of the young Call and Gus. Lonesome Dove is the opus of the series though.

    My own random suggestions
    Favorite classics: *Les Miserables* – Victor Hugo and *Brothers Karamozov* – Fyodor Dostoyesky.

    Recent standouts that come to mind (most have been mentioned in other threads):
    -Empire Falls – Richard Russo
    -Atonement- Ian MacEwen
    -Cryptonomicron- Neil Stephenson
    -Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius- Dave Eggers
    -Moneyball- Michael Lewis
    -Water for Elephants- Sara Gruen
    -Seabiscuit- Laura Hillenbrand

    Best recent series that almost lived up the hype:
    Harry Potter

    And the sleeper series that probably nobody has heard of:
    Kate Atkinson mysteries featuring Jackson Brodie- *Case Histories* *One Good Turn*. I haven’t read *When will there be good news* yet but as soon as it appears in paperback I’ll pick it up.

  7. Reid

    I also should say that I enjoyed the Lloyd Alexander series.

    Marc, you read Mephisto in Onyx, right? Would you agree with my comments?

    I also second Marc’s enthusiasm for Ender’s Game, although I figure most people know about the book already. (Larri also enjoyed that.) I never read the sequels, mainly because of Marc’s lukewarm reaction to them. I did try to read some of the sequels like Ender’s Shadow. It was getting good, but I wanted to re-read Ender’s Game before proceeding.

    On a slightly negative side, I didn’t care for Piers Anthony’s Adept series, although I never got through one book. The whole nerd sex fantasy aspect of it turned me off.

    I do have to thank Marc for helping me survive my Freshmen year of summer away from home. I took up his recommendation of reading the Belgariad and it gave me a good two weeks. But the first book is certainly not self-contained!

    What’s the Kate Atkinson mysteries like?

    I’m not into mysteries, but I enjoyed one by Richard Hugo called, Death and the Good Life. It’s about this city detective, Al “Mush Heart” Barnes, who moves to a smaller town. Barne’s is called “Mush Heart” because he’s known for letting succumbing to sad stories and letting people off the hook. But he’s a great detective, mainly because…well, I’ll let you read it to find out.

  8. Mitchell

    You guys should join me at Well, maybe Reid shouldn’t since it’s a little book-nerdy for him, but Penny and Marc definitely qualify as book nerds.

    On the other hand, Reid’s fastidious chronicling of his movie quest is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen him do, so maybe he’s ready for something like this.

    My profile is here. Sign up and be my friend.

  9. Reid

    Are there any books that you can pick up, open it up at a random spot, start reading and get into it? The first book like that that comes to mind is The Real Frank Zappa Book (apparently there were several unauthorized biographies about him), which is basically an Zappa’s autobiography. Zappa was a “rock guitarist” who started around the 60s and wrote music until his death in the early 90s. I put rock in quotes because Zappa was influenced equally by classical music (all kinds of music), especially modern composers and the avant-garde. Guitarist is in quotes because, while he was a very good guitarist, he was also a composer and arranger (and perhaps he thought of himself as a composer before a guitarist). Zappa was a very open musician–at least he didn’t limit himself to existing categories; you could hear various styles and influences in his music. But what also made him unique was the prominence humor played in his music (albeit a humor that I found cheesy, dorky, Dada, and, at times, crass–but hey, that’s his sense of humor). I loved that a serious musician like him also embraced this idea that music can be humorous and (intentionally) funny.

    The book reveals these things (although you should also check out his music to get these elments), and there are so many parts of the book that I enjoyed. There’s the wild anecdotes of the life of a rock musician, including stories with other famous musicians. Zappa seemed to like talk with bizarre individuals that he would meet, and he has a bunch of stories about them, too. But there’s also good writing on politics and music, particularly the latter. I especially the analogies he sees between a symphony and rock band. (He mentions how viola players are failed violin players in the same way bassists are often failed guitarists.) Entertaining and interesting on so many levels.

  10. Mitchell

    Have you heard Dweezil Zappa’s album of his favorite Frank Zappa songs? It’s quite good. Dweezil’s a much better guitarist than I ever would have predicted; he’s got a nice, precise, clean style that appeals to me.

    Books I can read from anywhere and get sucked in include all of the Cecil Adams Straight Dope collections. Also, just about any of the comic strip anthologies from FoxTrot, Zits, Get Fuzzy, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, The Boondocks, Pearls Before Swine, and Bloom County. Also, any encyclopedia and just about any dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, or atlas. There is treasure everywhere.

  11. Reid

    Aww, I misread your post: I thought Dweezil wrote a book about his favorite songs from his dad. That would’ve been cool to read. I have heard only a little of Dweezil’s playing (he played on Don Johnson’s “hit,” “Heartbeat.”). He seems to have technique, but I never really was interested in checking out his stuff. (Do you like Yngwie Malmstein (sp?)?) I think you would enjoy the Zappa book. His politics seem near to yours. (He has excerpts of his testimony to Congress about the lyric warnings on labels.)

    I agree about dictionaries and encyclopedias. When I was in elementary school and I had to look up definitions for vocabulary words, I’d end up staying up a little later because I’d get attracted to different words.

  12. Reid

    Several years ago, I really enjoyed reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down. Yes, it’s about rabbits, but it’s one of the best adventure books I’ve ever read (not that I’ve read much, I guess). It’s up there with the Lord of the Rings triology. The last hundred pages were some of the most thrilling pages I’ve ever read. Adams also creates a fairly rich culture/society of rabbits. The myths of the rabbit society were especially interesting in the way they reveal our anthropocentricism.

  13. Reid

    One of my favorite “genres” is the interview or conversation, particularly of innovative thinkers. I find that you can learn a lot about the way a person thinks this way–sometimes more than from the books they write. I don’t know what it is about the form, but I really like it. Conversing with Cage by Richard Kostelanetz is one of the first books that comes to mind. It’s snippets of conversations and interviews “musician,” John Cage, has given over the years. Cage is an innovator to the extent that some would question whether he really is a musician. His famous piece “3′ 44″” is basically “performed” by a musician sitting still for three minutes and forty-four seconds. Inevitably, charges of a fraud were made, but the remarkable thing is that he’s not–at least in my opinion. What Cage wanted was “music” where a listener could appreciate sounds for themselves versus sound that are played by musical instruments within a musical convetions. Conceptually, it’s fascinating stuff. Actually, I also enjoy the music, particularly the music that came afterward.

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