One day at work, dying of boredom
when really I should be working, I thought about my favorite books, books that I would swear by if I ever got dragged into an underground, prove-your-bookworm-dedication cult. I often get a compulsive urge to numerate my life, my personality, and my quirks, probably so that I can learn my own values, because after 23 years in this body, I still don’t know who the fuck I am or what I like.
So, if an effort to revitalize my dying blog that I’m paying money for, here is a list of the top 10 most favorite books that I have ever read. And yes, this is in order.
10 – The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman is the only non-fiction book in this list. It is the medical anthropology story of Lia Lee, a daughter of Hmong refugees to the US, suffering from severe epilepsy, and how cultural misunderstandings, language barriers, and the history of the Hmong culminated in Lia becoming brain dead at age four in 1986. There is SO much research, so much context on Hmong history, culture, and language as well as US medical practices that all battled to treat Lia.
9 – Asleep (白河夜船) by Yoshimoto Banana is a collection of three short stories about a girl healing from the death of her lover by sleeping excessively, an alcoholic who dreams about her fancy Parisian ex-girlfriend, a woman who is having an affair with a dude whose wife is in a coma, and her best friend who gets paid to sleep (literally) with married dudes. It’s very weird but relationships, both platonic and romantic, between women are central, the men are useless, not present, and uninteresting, and the entire reading experience was dreamy. Also shout out to Yoshimoto Banana for writing a serious work and literally using ね and a lot of hiragana to be extra girly.
8 – The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven is a weird book and I love it to death. There is a demon called the Scourge that wants to destroy the universe and possesses this young, angry kid named Charlie in the form of a tattoo. HOWEVER, it isn’t from Charlie’s perspective, nor the perspective of Esme, the beautiful black assassin girl who’s been training her whole life to defeat him. It’s from the perspective of Jack, Charlie’s boring, average, non-athletic, uncoordinated, weak, not even that smart best friend. Jack goes through hell (literally) and back to save his friend, and he’s so incompetent that he dies pretty early on and has to be brought back. It’s a very wild ride and I have not read anything this “what the fuck” since. I STILL don’t even have answers for many of my questions, I read it back in 2009.
7 – Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a must-read and must-watch (one of the rare instances where both the book and movie are amazing). Coraline is a young girl who moves away from her friends to this dumpy, rainy middle-of-nowhere home for her parents’ jobs. Moody youth, yada yada. However at night, Coraline finds this amazing world where everything is like reality, only a little better. The catch is: to stay, she has to sew buttons on her eyes. I read this when I was about 10 years old and it was wild, and then the movie was wild (they made changes but it added black people so OK). I’ve watched/read it multiple times since and it still draws me in.
6 – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a little different. It’s a dark and creepy (which is the running theme of my life, so sue me) historical fiction, Gothic, travelogue, detective epistolary novel that recounts three generations of historians studying and searching for Vlad the Impaler, the Wallachian prince who inspired the Dracula myth. The book is filled with vivid descriptions and descriptions and descriptions of important historical cities, from Amsterdam to Budapest to Istanbul. The book is one big metaphor for how history cannot be escaped or ignored.
5 – Keeping with the dark and creepy theme is Mishima Yukio’s Confessions of a Mask (仮面の告白) which tells the story of a young boy who has a homoerotic fascination with blood, death, and gore. He literally gets turned on by watching other men suffer and die. However he discovers that these aren’t socially acceptable interests, so he develops a mask to hide behind. But the best part: this shit is autobiographical. Mishima, the writer, was heavily fixated on the male form, its strength and its suffering. He once posed as sexy Jesus being impaled (I’m not kidding). Then, he led a botched coup d’état that resulted in him committing seppuku/harakiri on the army base he invaded. Wild.
4 – Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is the only not-fucked up book on this list. It is a poem collection from my childhood, often lighthearted and teaching the importance of loving and caring for one another, treating each other with respect, the feeling of welcome, and belonging. It’s also just little silly things that I have read a million times into infinity. I’ve built my entire life around Lazy Jane.
3 – Back to the dark and disturbing (kinda) is Demon in my View by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the story of Jessica, a young author of vampire fiction who realizes that the scenes and characters that she once imagined… are real and vampires are pissed that she’s spilling their secrets. Coming after her is Aubrey, hot sexy smoldering vampire assassin. The reasons that I love this book are twofold: (1) vampires and blood and death and graphic violence, and (2) its author (a queer woman!!) was first published at age 14. You mean to tell me not all books have to be written by straight white dudes to get published?? This book awaken my drive to participate in the literary world and I will be forever grateful. Also A+++ for basing the title off of my favorite poem ever written.
2 – The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe is sometimes dark, it’s disturbing, it’s creepy, it’s hilarious, it’s mysterious, it’s melodramatic. It is me. Every read is a good time, vivid, alive, immersive and snarky as shit. I re-read “The Cask of Amontillado” the other day after it came up in Dream Daddy and I laughed until I cried. He did it all and he did it best. Don’t @ me.
The number one spot goes to Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx. It tells the story of Luke, an unremarkable stoner who one day predicts that a friend is going to die tomorrow, down how it happens and the very minute. No one listens because he’s high. But then it comes true and he is abandoned and harassed and then he falls in love with the dead friend’s girlfriend and shit gets complicated. The use of music to describe the lives of people as they die, the little side stories that end up being major plots, it’s all brilliant.
Honorable mention goes to Neverwhere also by Neil Gaiman, which is also on par with “what the fuck” theme.
Have you read any of these on my list? What did you think? And what would be on your list? Let me know.