My wife is a Newsweek junkie, and turned me on to a new sidebar they've been running. It's called "A Life in Books," and involves asking famous authors about the five books most important to them, which 'Certified Important' book they haven't read, and a classic that disappointed upon revisiting. It's an addictive little addition, and to my delight, they've been picking authors from all genres: one week Elmore Leonard, the next Jonathan Safran Foer. Some try too hard to prove how smart they are, picking obscure texts in the original German; some try too hard to be funny, going for the laugh instead of the truth. But by and large, you get an interesting peek at the reading habits of a pro.
As one of my favorite guilty pleasures is snooping people's bookcases, this is custom-designed for me. Unfortunately, I'm guessing that Newsweek probably has a few people on their list before they get to me. And as I was born without the patience gene, I decided hell with them; this is what the Outfit is for.
Thus, I present to you the Marcus Sakey version of "A Life in Books," a la Newsweek. I'm hoping some of you guys will post your own versions as well.
MY FIVE MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS
CLOUD ATLAS, David Mitchell.
A virtuosic piece of writing singing a heartbreaking story about life and time and hope and the way things move in a circle. My personal favorite book.
NEUROMANCER, William Gibson.
Not just a fantastic read, but also a textbook for how to write. I learn a new technique every time I read it.
THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pretty much the great American novel of its day. The best part is the way Fitzgerald makes everybody, even the reader, culpable.
BLOOD MERIDIAN, Cormac McCarthy
A fever dream. McCarthy throws away more brilliance in offhand passages than most people can pack into a whole novel. It's challenging, and there's plenty I'd hate to have to explain in front of the class, but it's worth the effort.
CAT'S CRADLE, Kurt Vonnegut
A comedy pretending to be a drama pretending to be a comedy, and a profound and empathetic portrait of humanity. Part of Vonnegut's charm is that he expects people to fuck everything up but loves them anyway.
A Certified Important Book you still haven't read:
MOBY DICK, Melville
I actually made it about 200 pages and then lost steam. But I'm going back to it someday.
A classic that, upon rereading, disappointed:
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, Dostoevsky
I liked it fine, but didn't think it came anywhere close to living up to the accolades. Plus, to me, the philosophical issues seemed like three a.m. dorm room debates, and just about as deep.
Having done it, I have to say, it's a pretty interesting exercise. Cutting the list to five books is brutal--it's hard not to go for type, like you're mixing all five to create a composite of the stuff you like.
Which, looking at my list, would be one hell of a strange novel.
Your turn. Pretend Newsweek is calling. Tell me about your life in books.