See, now you got me all ranting and raving, and addicted to bloggery, because you can issue opinions without your paramour giving you that particular sigh or your friends falling off their chairs with laughter, and so while we are here rattling on at high speed about writers and national characters, the mind spins right into the handful of books that just nailed you right in the heart, stayed in your head, haunted your shivering soul, so let me recall a few of those that knocked me out over the years, which might lead to You pondering which books really Mattered for you; and in so many cases still do; which is really more amazing and fascinating than we mostly admit.
I mean, isn't it cool that some books speak right to your holy bones? How could that be that one writer sometimes connects so electric with so many readers? A lovely and confusing dynamic which I am awful thankful for.
So, then, in no order, o man, the Bible in the King James translation, that thorny prickly proud muscular flinty prose, and Mezz Mezzrow's Really the Blues, which I sometimes think is the great American book, period, such slang and verve and dash and jazz and energy and kicks in it, such New York Chicago Louis Armstrong, you know; and On the Road, of course, which every American should read at age seventeen, the age it matters, because if you read it too late you see the self-indulgent lazy side of the book and how the women in it are doing all the work with no credit at all; and Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, which is indescribably excellent, and Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, which is my favorite novel ever, and Maurice O'Sullivan's Twenty Years A'Growing, my favorite Irish book, and Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, my favorite Scottish book, and Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, my favorite German book, and Primo Levi's books, which are haunting, and Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard and The Tree Where Man Was Born which are his greatest nonfiction books I think, and Jan Morris's one glorious novel Letters from Hav, and Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday which I reread every few years for the light and humor and mercy, and Twain's Life on the Mississippi which some days I think might be his best book of all, and Bellow's Humboldt's Gift which I think is his best book ever and which occasioned a hilarious argument one time in a sunny pub in Australia which I will tell about sometime if you remind me, and Willa Cather's lean dry perfect Death Comes for the Archbishop, which tells me the early dusty Southwest and leads somehow to Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and Abbey knew Wallace Stegner who wrote the glorious biography Beyond the Hundredth Meridian which is ostensibly about John Wesley Powell but really is about the character of the arid West and so in many ways is about America, for we have always been a westering people, no? And then of course Annie Dillard's For The Time Being, which is the greatest spiritual book I ever read period, and Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge, which should be required reading for every young woman in America, and any collection of old Elwyn Brooks White who was, bless his shy heart, maybe the best essayist we have made yet other than Mr. Clemens, and don't even bring Emerson to the table here, the man was a terrific aphorist but an egregiously bad essayist, you can't sit there and tell me straight-faced that you enjoyed his essays, you can say you find them elevating or educational or whatever but finally for me and I bet most people they are sermons and homilies and lectures and not essays at all, essays being at their best playful, ruminative, sneaky, wandering, sexy, devious, and having something like the complex characters of the best red wines, smoky and substantive but vibrant and electric.
Man, now I am all bookish in the brain and need a pint of the reason God invented the McMenamin brothers ? a Hammerhead Ale, bless its dense amber heart.