Top Nine(?): Books

Posted on September 18, 2010Filed Under Book List, Me, Top Ten | Leave a Comment

Uh oh. I’m listing again. No, not leaning to one side; making top ten lists. Thursday’s tv show list got me going again, like back in junior high.

This time it’s books. I mean, after all, it IS supposed to be an English teacher’s blog. These are not teacher-books or class novels (well, one might be); these are read for pleasure books, and I have read all of them multiple times. That’s sort of the yardstick; I picked the ones I’ve read the most times.

Again, they are in no particular order because that would be too much work.


Little Big Man by Thomas Berger. The movie actually did the book some justice; mainly because they got Dustin Hoffman to play Jack Crabb. But the book is a sprawling masterpiece crammed with the wit and wisdom of crusty old Jack Crabb and pretty fairly  historical accurate. (You might also check out Son of the Morning Star, the biography of Custer. It’s fun to read and you learn all sorts of things about the way soldiers back then managed to smuggle whiskey into battle.) Thomas Berger is also one of my fave authors. He is a master of concise, exact description, he psychological observations are dead-on, and his writing just flows.


Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. David Mitchell is a magician. His new one – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
– rocks, but after I was finished with it, I had to reread Ghostwritten again. Nobody does multiple point of views better. All his books are most excellent. Cloud Atlas
could also easily have been on this list. Read a sample here.


Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. The last YA novel by the king of all scifi. It has a great first person narrator — a high school kid named Kip — an assortment of colorful characters both 2-d and 3-d in nature. And a great, strong female character: the preteen prodigy Peewee. The book is funny and makes some broad swipes at 60’s educational fads. It is also a rollicking adventure story.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Written in some sort of pidgin of Spanish, Dominican Republic slang, and computer game/comic book lingo, the book is very hard to understand in places, but also laugh out loud funny. It also is brutally violent in places (the DR was run by the brutal Trujillo), and gives a pretty good history of the DR in the footnotes. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to go dig it out and groove. You can read a sample here.


Drop City by T. C. Boyle. This guy is a machine. Hundreds of short stories, dozens of novels. I am a huge fan of his, and it was tough to pick just one for this list, but this story of a hippie commune’s failed move to Alaska just kind of stands out for me. He’s spot-on with the various character types that inhabit such a collective; the cagey freeloaders, the idealistic noobs, the drug-addled morons, the one or two who actually do the necessary stuff to keep things going, etc. Also in the running from Boyle for this list were A Friend of the Earth, The Tortilla Curtain, and East is East. Especially A Friend of the Earth.  In fact…


Famous All Over Town by “Danny Santiago.”  My fave YA novel of all time. The first person narrator, Rudy, has a voice you just want to hear more of. The ’80’s LA barrio slang is a joy to read aloud.  AND it has a great back-story:

“In 1984 the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters awarded one of its distinguished fiction prizes to a new and presumably young Chicano writer named Danny Santiago, for his first novel, Famous All Over Town. Subsequent to the award it was revealed, with some embarrassment, that the newly discovered Chicano writer was not Chicano at all: “Danny Santiago” turned out to be the pseudonym of seventy-three-year-old Daniel James, author of several previously published books, and better known as a playwright and screenwriter; and a former Communist Party member who had been blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s.” *

D’oh! “authentic” or not, it still makes this list. Way back in the day, when I taught a special session of summer school (sort of a “last chance” thing for kids who would otherwise be retained or sent off to boarding/miltary school), I ordered 25 copies for our class novel. I didn’t get a single one back at the end of the summer. The math books came back, but FAOT? No dice. Every one of them kept it. In fact, almost every time I check it out of our library to give to a reluctant reader, I end up having to buy a new one. I gave away my last copy last year. Now I gotta go get another one.


Das Boot by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim. This “fictionalized autobiography” of a reporter embedded with a Nazi submarine crew in WWII is a white knuckle ride. The movie is really hard to watch because it nicely captures the tension of the book. The scene where the sub is sitting on a ledge under the Mediterranean Sea, three times deeper than the boat was built for, and rivets are popping out of the hull like bullets, almost makes you root for the Germans.


The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. I know, I know; it’s sort of a rite of passage into adulthood, and then you’re supposed to outgrow it. Hmmm. I haven’t yet. Maybe it’s because in high school, they called me Holden. (Among other things.)

For Winners Only: The Only Casino Gambling Guide You’ll Ever Need
– by Peter J. Andrews. His writing is awkward and cheesy (English is his second language), and often unintentionally funny, but I review this book every time I go to Vegas. Craps is the only game I play. Slot machines aren’t one-armed bandits anymore – most don’t even have a handle these days – they’re black holes for money, and while blackjack offers pretty good odds if you pay attention, you’re too much at the mercy of the other people at the table. I’ve been juked too many times by boneheads hitting on 19’s or some such idiocy. So I stick to craps, and ever since I started following this guy’s system (modified for low-rollers like me), I have never come home a loser.

Jeez Louise. Longest post ever. And I just realized that’s only nine. Well then.

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