My top ten favorite books of all time vary significantly from week to week, the bottom two of my top five even change, but I can’t foresee a time when a book will usurp one of these sacred three. Although I’ve never been able to decide an order, here they are:
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen:
“Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were. ‘And so ended his affection,’ said Elizabeth impatiently. ‘There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!’ (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
Before I begin on the book, I must get a little off my chest about various Pride and Prejudice adaptations. First, I strongly believe that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (affectionately known in my house as P&P&Z) is a more faithful reconstruction of the text than the 2005 movie version of it. I take offense that Lizzy was portrayed as anorexic, Bingly as a bumbling fool, and the prim manners of regency era England reduced to dark rooms, sloshing beer, and pigs living in the house. Well, now that that’s all said and done, I suppose I must balance my half-sarcasm with the honest statement that the BBC version is the comfort-food of movies and I insist than any P&P lover watch it.
One of my professors at school once asked her daughter how she had gotten through all of the Jane Austen books so quickly and she replied that she had merely skipped all of the ‘nature parts’. She and I enjoyed a good laugh knowing that I had just turned in my end-of-the-year paper which focused entirely on the ‘nature parts’ of just this one Jane Austen novel. I recently had another conversation with a male professor (generally prone to over-analyzing literature) who tried to convince me that the only way to make sense of Pride and Prejudice was to believe that Jane Austen was making the feminist argument that marriage is legalized prostitution far ahead of her time. Whether you’re going to skip parts, over-intellectualize, or even enjoy it with a few violent additions (see P&P&Z), I would recommend Pride and Prejudice to anyone, especially if you’re trying to ‘get into the great books’, as some are. Believe me, there’s not a more enjoyable way to do it than this.
Harry Potter (all of them), J. K. Rowling
Many a reader, including, at one point in time, myself, has turned their back on Harry Potter. I clearly remember that, during its zenith of popularity, educators all over the nation stood up to say that they were glad that students were reading… they just wish it were, er, something else… Yet I never quite grasped the logic of their argument. If reading is good for us, if it is fun, mentally stimulating, and imagination growing, than what harm is there in the lively, expertly told, and highly moral Harry Potter? None at all, I insist, as I re-read my broken down copies every year and listen to the Jim Dale version on tape any chance I get.. none at all.
Believe it or not, I have met many a person, both young and old, readers and non, who have seen the movies but not read the books. Every time this happens I have to re-assess the situation to make sure that I did not mishear them, and then I have to do the obvious: recommend Harry Potter. In a class full of 8 to 10 year olds the other week I was dumbfounded as my example using Harry Potter was greeted with silence. All but two of the kids had never heard of Harry Potter, not the books, not the movies. As I am a firm believer that 11 is the proper age to start HP, I didn’t feel too guilty about not reading it to them then and there, but I did impress upon them that when they reached the proper age, they should visit the nearest library and check it out. I can only hope they do.
Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Herman Melville
I have some very serious scruples with some common perceptions of Moby-Dick. The first, which is my biggest pet-peeve, is that the famous ‘first line’ of Moby-Dick is not actually it’s first line. Yes! you read correctly, the ubiquitous first line, one of the most famous ever written, is misquoted! “Call me Ishmael” does begin the first chapter, but the first chapter is not the beginning of the book. Moby-Dick’s true first line is: “The Pale usher – threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain…” which, is, as you can see, not nearly as triumphant as the narrator’s first self-declaration.
The second troublesome idea is that most people think, indeed many college professors even declare, that only the narrative in Moby-Dick is important. Many abridged versions of the book side with these professors when they cut out the ‘strange’ and ‘unorthodox’ chapters about the anatomy of the whale or how the rope is wound around the whaling ships. I would encourage anyone who reads this post, however, to luxuriate in every word of Moby-Dick. If you get stuck or a little confused, maybe you could find yourself wondering why Melville, a proven great writer, would write a chapter staged like a play, or one chapter consisting of a single line? And, believe me, these questions can lead to some quite interesting places.