defining books

George Orwell: 1984
Because I have had a great love for Winston Smith and his dilemma-laden life with the Newspeak Dictionary, Julia, Victory Gin, and Room 101 since reading this novel as a boy.

Ray Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Because I found high adventure and stark terror in what I had thought was YA. The image of the teacher turned little girl by the Carnival still chills my blood.

Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five 
Because I loved Billy Pilgrim and was fascinated that Vonnegut’s anger at the murder of Dresden maintains its burn throughout the work.

Iain M. Banks: Use of Weapons
Because this novel introduced me to the writer and I immediately went on to read voraciously his entire catalogue. Because the Culture is a fascinating look at a possible future and I love his AIs.

Phillip K. Dick: Time Out of Joint
Because I was in grieving for the death of my father in 1989 and came upon this title in a bookstore in Terminal B in O’Hare airport and decided that if I was ever going to rejoin the world I would have to read SF again that relentlessly asks; “What if?” This is a wonderful novel in and of itself but it is listed here because it brought me back.

David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
Because I started here and worked through his entire catalog and loved every minute of the ride. He is ferociously intelligent and fun loving.

Murakami Haruki: Wild Sheep Chase
Because his sense of joy with the world is overwhelming. I went on to read his entire catalog and I always pre-order his novels on Amazon as soon as they are announced.

Jim Butcher: Skin Game
Because a funny thing happened with this novel; it is book 15 of the Harry Dresden series and I was seriously angry to be denied access to the continuation of the world he has created and wrote letters to his publisher to push publication forward to no avail. I have never done that before so it told be something about my delight with his work.

Joseph Heller: Catch 22
Because it ignited my inner Yossarian and made me laugh from the bottom of my belly when I was 17 years old and travelling by train from Oslo to Bergen.

Yukio Mishima: Sun and Steel
Because I loved the solitude of living in a cabin on an island and lifting weights and writing and I then went on to read some other of his work.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: 100 Years of Solitude
Because from the moment of discovery of ice it is a rich and warm environment where cruelty abounds. Sounds like a dust jacket but the world of Macondo has always seemed like a sanctuary to me as a reader and GGM gave me new admiration for butterflies.

Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye
Because this novel introduced me to this wonderful mind and I have followed her every novel zealously and with great joy.

David Brin: The Postman
Because it is the only book I have read five times. The movie also fascinates me as we see tyranny defeated by ordinary people communicating.

Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
Because of these wonderful lines that defined the nature of my own struggle with self-doubt; “Look, your grace,” Sancho responded, “those things that appear over there aren’t giants but windmills, and what looks like their arms are the sails that are turned by the wind and make the grindstone move.” “It seems clear to me,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not well-versed in the matter of adventures: these are giants; and if thou art afraid, move aside and start to pray whilst I enter with them in fierce and unequal combat.”
Cervantes, Miguel de; Edith Grossman (2009-01-29). Don Quixote (Kindle Locations 1921-1925). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

C.S. Forester: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Because I read this initially for style and came to enjoy the characters and plan to read through the series.

W.E.B. Griffin: The Corps series
Because I also read this for style and came to empathize with the character of Killer McCoy. I have read all 10 books twice.

John Grisham: A Time to Kill
Because he wrote a complex novel and it didn’t sell, got his formula right and then sold like hotcakes. Even though I know the formula I love seeing the bad guys hoisted on their own petard and the good guy sailing off with the girl.

Kim Harrison: The Hollows series
Because I like the environment and characters and the plots are always well done.

Robert E. Howard: The Conan stories
Because I love the Superman aspect of Conan and his fear of magic.

Jerzy Kosinski: The Painted Bird
Because I had never seen the truth of total ruthlessness in literature and his writing style and adroit mind was refreshingly accessible.

Ralph Ellison: The Invisible Man
Because of this line that rocked my world; “Stephen’s problem , like ours, was not actually one of creating the uncreated conscience of his race, but of creating the uncreated features of his face. Our task is that of making ourselves individuals. The conscience of a race is the gift of its individuals who see, evaluate, record … We create the race by creating ourselves and then to our great astonishment we will have created something far more important: We will have created a culture. Why waste time creating a conscience for something that doesn’t exist? For, you see, blood and skin do not think!”
Ellison, Ralph (2010-07-23). Invisible Man (Vintage International) (Kindle Locations 5342-5346). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

James Joyce: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Because young Stephan Dedalus chose the life of a novelist over the Catholic priesthood. I made the same decision and this was the only time before or since that I had heard of somebody affirming my own life choice.

James Joyce: Ulysses
Because I could read it and this gave me confidence in my ability to read and understand. I was entranced by Stephen’s trek over the mudflats and my first encounter with simulated reality as stream of consciousness: The ineluctable modality of the visual, Torah. The ineluctable modality of the audible, The Sermon on the Mount.

James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake
Because I could not read it and neither could most people and I have learned to live with that, for the moment. Hopefully I can read it together with the commentary “Knowledge of Things Human and Divine.”

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