A few of you have asked me what books from the list are my favorites. I had thought about compiling a "best of" but was worried that maybe you guys were getting sick of me blathering on and on about books. But since you asked.........Here are my Top Five (in no particular order):
*Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
(The "Geek" in the title is referring to a circus geek--someone who bites the heads off of live chickens. Not a fix-your-computer Geek.)
Geek Love is about a family of circus freaks. The mama and papa in the book took steps during mama's numerous pregnancies to ensure that she would give birth to children with bizarre genetic abnormalities. The story is told from the perspective of Olympia--a bald, albino, humpbacked, dwarf---and she's the most normal one. This is one of the more disturbing, disgusting books I've ever read. And I couldn't put it down.
*When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris.
This one needs no explanation. It's David Sedaris---what is there not to love?
*Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
The Maus books are a really good depiction of the Holocaust. In it, the Jews are mice and Germans are cats. It's not a light read by any means, but it makes the horrific nature of the Holocaust a bit easier to swallow, while still being truthful. I wish I could get all my history in the form of graphic novels.
*The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
The Glass Castle is a memoir about the extremely dysfunctional family of Jeanette Walls. It is depressing but also bittersweet and uplifting. I actually had to put this book down for a few days because I found parts of it so sad and disturbing. If I had to recommend only one book on my list, it would probably be this one. Everyone I know who has read it, was mesmerized by it. Both Jay and my best friend finished it in a few days, and my sister-in-law finished it in one morning, stopping only a few times to change her son's diapers. It's a really, really good book.
*Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
I'm pretty sure I wrote about this book here in great detail around the time I was reading it so I'm probably going to repeat myself. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles the year that Kingsolver and her family vowed to eat only food they could get locally. Of all the books I read this year, this one probably had the biggest personal impact on me. After reading it I realized how little I know about the food my family and I eat. Plus, it inspired me to make a few more trips to the farmers market.
And on the flip side:
The most overrated book on the list would have to be Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski's work does nothing for me. But I am glad I read it---because now I have an educated, albeit negative, opinion.
As a side note:
Last year I read the Persepolis books. Because of when I read them, they aren't on the list, but I highly recommend them and just couldn't make this list without mentioning them. In case you don't know, they tell the story of Marjane Satrapi, a girl who grew up in Tehran during very violent and tumultuous times. Her family chooses to stay because they are extremely well educated and have worked very hard for all that they have, and leaving their home and coming to America would mean taking jobs like taxi driver or housekeeper. Before reading these books it never occurred to me that people who come to this country from other lands may be well educated or have held prestigious jobs in their home land. I just never stopped to think about it. These books truly educated me. I honestly believe they've made me a better person. *There is also an animated movie based on these books. While I don't think it should be seen in place of reading the books, it's still hauntingly beautiful.*