I came across an article yesterday written by one of my graduate school peers, Papatya Bucak, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It's a funny piece about the role of jealousy in the writing world, and the fact that it does have its upside: it can spur you to work harder and accomplish more. Simply put: everyone needs a nemesis. Seinfeld had Newman. I need a Newman.
So, in the spirit of jealousy, I thought I'd list the top five books I wish I'd written. Ron Carlson used to paraphrase Edward Abbey and assert that if you want to read a good book, you're going to have to write it yourself. As much as I admire both Abbey and Carlson, I'm not sure I agree: there are plenty of good books out there, most of them I'd love to have written. Without further ado:
1) Plainsong, Kent Haruf: I shouldn't have to explain this one. A novel that takes my breath away, almost literally, every time I read it.
2) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: I love this book, but it doesn't hold a place on my list of favorites. The reason I'd love to have written it is that it has remained so popular and moving for so long. For a work written in Austen's day — by a woman, to boot — to have since spurred a miniseries and multiple movies and yes, even a play, is something to be admired. Talk about standing the test of time.
3) The Harry Potter series: Okay, so I've never actually read the series, but who doesn't wish they'd come up with that jackpot of an idea? Rowling is the Cinderella story of the publishing world. I could use the Scottish castle she purchased with her royalties as much as anybody. And I have to admire any book that has kids so pumped up about reading.
4) Sunday in the Park With George, Stephen Sondheim: Okay, so it's a play and not a book, but you'll forgive me because I'd give anything to have created something this amazing. If you consider yourself an artist and don't own the DVD version with Bernadette Peters, shame on you. This is a masterpiece.
5) The Darkness around Us Is Deep, William Stafford: This book got me through college and every year since. I think Stafford's poetry holds a place above almost any other written thing, and I return to it again and again. This book, though, could do without the Robert Bly introduction — but that's just me.
Books mentioned in this post
Elissa Minor Rust is the author of The Prisoner Pear: Stories from the Lake