Watched water does not boil any faster so I devised a fun exercise: identify the books that have had an impact on me, in no particular order, and write down the uncensored and spontaneous reasons why in the time it takes to hard-boil an egg.
Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road
Humor. Friendship. The Restoration of the epistolary novel. Platonic love, a ham, and numerous exchanges of books and gifts across the ocean between a hilarious American and one reserved gentleman, with a cast of grateful bookstore clerks. Proof positive that there is no need for a plot. Hemingway and the post-modernists can go to hell. Respectfully.
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
A Christ of a novel. Epic in canvas and scale. The novel is the Tarot of novels. The Transfigured Man, Jean Valjean, passes from despair through the Stations of Agony to arrive at Grace. The movies and the plays move, but the novel annihilates.
William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury
This is a novel you don’t read; you disappear into it. Through Quentin Compson you become Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The fury is the sound of finding sanity in not loving your sister.
Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
Give it up: there is no plot. The plot was a cold case in 1939. You read it for the poetry. A guy who hasn’t kicked a Sternwood girl out of bed and not torn up the sheets in regret hasn’t lived. The prose is as inexplicable, as poetic as LA smog trapped in the clouds at sunset; it shouldn’t be beautiful, but it is.
Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest
This black pearl of noir unleashed on the reading public in 1929 is a lethal paper cut of a reminder that Greed exists; the antidote for anyone who thinks Life was easier ‘back in the day.’ The Depression was the car wreck around the corner.
Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose
A mystery about Mystery, the absence/presence of God. Word-games. Signs of signs: up to God, down to Man, Good and Evil in the scriptorium and Borges as a blind librarian.
Stephen King’s Night Shift
Damn him. Praise him for taking the ordinary, making it extraordinary and scaring the hell out of us.
Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio
The Blue Fairy. Esoteric allegory. Stick of wood as child wanting to be a boy and the boy as an obedient stick of wood we call Citizen.
Alberto Manguel’s A Reader on Reading
Essays of kaleidoscopic knowledge from Antiquity to Alice in Wonderland as metaphor for the rabbit hole. If I had half the the intelligence, half the erudition and insight, his facility in any language that this man can read in, I would stop writing: my humanity thus complete.
Louise Brooks Lulu in Hollywood
I’d like to think that had we met, Brooksie and I would have spent half of our time in bed, the other half of our time destroying furniture and each other, but not before I would have gotten her to write a novel. Had she written one, it would have been a masterpiece. Her prose is as clear as gin.
Flannery O’ Connor Short Stories
A memento-mori imagination, a Catholic mystic in a Protestant landscape and a sense of humor that gave the irreverent middle finger to American mores. She did it her way. I’d sit on the stoop, serve her a mint julep, and listen to the cicadas and her sharpen her pen.
He is of simple diction either in German or in English and ‘unheimlich’ in both languages. Daddy’s tormented boy. Prescient seer with his visions of SA Brown Shirts and suave suits, whether they belong to the Gestapo or middle management bureaucrats in Corporate La-La Land and cubicle farms.