I’m preserving, and commenting on, my FB top 10 most influential books.
Also, that Mother Jones article ticked me off, for its inability to read and interpret data, and because of it’s another foray into the analysis-free attack on “adults who read YA.” Have any of these armchair social critics considered that people read YA because that’s where a lot of the best stories are right now?
OK, rant off, here are my top ten:
1. Johnny Tremain
In the 5th grade, I discovered bildungsroman. Someday, I will do a deep analysis on this book, bow down before the greatness of its author, and endeavor to learn even more from her as a writer.
Disney movie version: C
(The Kindle price is appropriate for grade-school kid content.)
2. Have Spacesuit Will Travel
In the 7th grade, our union school district combined 5 tiny grade schools, and put all 6-8 grades in the same building.
And created a library bigger than the 2 shelves each classroom had.
I found Robert Heinlein, and from there, YA science fiction.
So anything you like about him as a person, but these books opened the world to me in the 7th grade.
Movie Version: How is this not long ago a movie, but instead still languishing “in development”?
(The Kindle price is marginal [$6.99] and the used books are all collectors editions, so the pricing of this is a crime against junior-high aged kids, all around.)
In the 8th grade I found a Time-Life book about the end of WWII that my parents had hidden from the children.
I don’t even remember how I got my hands on this paperback.
But I learned a lot that hadn’t filtered my way into small-town-life.
Also, none of my U.S. history classes ever made it through the Spanish-American War, so the 20th C remained a mystery to me, for which Leon Uris offered one of the first keys. Yes, it was many years later before I understood that Zionists weren’t all moral heroes.
Movie Version: C- (even with Paul Newman)
4. Shakespeare’s Henry IV, parts 1 and 2
PBS in Portland broadcast An Age of Kings – a BBC b&w production of Shakespeare’s King plays with an ensemble cast.
Sean Connery played Harry Hotspur, and Robert Hardy was Prince Hall.
I learned to read Shakespeare by following along.
Terribly middlebrow, and wonderful.
Movie: The version with Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal is also great.
5. Sometimes a Great Notion
My 10th grade English teacher broke us into reading groups of interest (some guys got car books), and my group read Cuckoo’s Nest.
I loved it, and he gave me SAGN to read, which my mother wasn’t happy about. Now, if only Kesey has held it together to write as well throughout his life. Oh well … in college, Professor Casebeer expended my knowledge of Western writers to include (the better writer) Wallace Stegner, who also despaired over the lost talent.
Movie version: A- … this material is just hanging here waiting to be a huge noir series on HBO.
(The Kindle edition is overpriced, and the author is dead. Buy it in used paperback.)
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The series in Rolling Stone, as it happened, not bound and sold in a bookstore.
Query: Would we have recognized Thompson’s talent as readily if it were not for Ralph Steadman?
Movie version: no grade can be assigned to Bill Murray spilling cocaine on his bare chest and trying to sniff it…
7. The Golden Notebook
I made it through studying The Modernists and what they were trying to achieve. But Doris Lessing was my first experience reading a writer who described life as I knew it as a woman–not as a feminist, but as a dialectic. Doris Lessing’s comments also freed me to never again read a book because I thought I had to.
No movie version: It would take a lot to give this the same treatment as “The Hour” got on BBC.
Perhaps do-able, but capturing the intellectual and gritty flavor of non-hip London life? Probably no market.
(Kindle edition is appropriately prices at $1.99)
8. The Game of Kings (The Lymond Chronicles Book 1)
My first introduction to Dorothy Dunnett was King Hereafter (a reexamination of Macbeth).
She’s a wonderful but hard-to-read author, who taught me more about European socio-economic history than any other writer.
Movie version: I can find no sign that anyone’s tried development. Would make a 7-year series of gritty, noir historical action IMO, but they don’t make series TV upon my suggestion. Also, the production costs would be worse than for Patrick O’Brien stories.
(The Kindle edition is marginally priced at $7.99. All the paper editions are so beautiful, they are collectible.)
Confession: This was the first Jane Austen book I read, and I was in my 30s at the time.
I didn’t come to reading her as “romance” (which she isn’t, but as a chronicler of life lived–rather like staring into the eyes of those portrait paintings in the British National Gallery.
Movie version: I rate only the 1971 BBC version with Ann Firbank as capturing the actual book. For the other versions, choose on who you want to see as Frederick, I guess. Love Ciaran Hinds, but don’t think he made a good Frederick, and I didn’t like the take on Anne that they assigned Amanda Root in 1995. Love Rupert Henry-Jones; think Sally Hawkins was a mistake for that role. This is still awaiting a good modern interpretation with a strong Anne.
(The Kindle edition is free, of course.)
10. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
A friend introduced this too me as a young woman’s alternative to Harry Potter.
I never got the “woman’s” part of the alternative. These are better written, deeper stories, which contributed as much to the rise of steampunk as anything else in the 90s. Pullman is masterful on so many levels.
Movie Version: B+ — I didn’t think they could pull off such a complex fantasy. And they managed to capture a lot of the wonder and fantastic characterizations. But this is an interior book, requiring a lot of mental pondering. Hard to capture that in a movie.
(The Kindle version is appropriately priced in the $5 range.)