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Top 10 Books
Member Name: Peakly
Top 10 Books
Date: 17/07/01, updated on 17/07/01 (200 review reads)
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Disadvantages: fsfsdsdfsf, hjkghjfhjfghsdv, bgsfsf,hk.
Um, before I jump in at the deep end, allow me to further adjust your expectations. It’s all part of not being particularly confident. My top ten contains some of the most obvious, cheesy choices of literature you can imagine. Sorry about that. I was tempted to go down the ‘let’s make them think I’m learned’ route by including Beyond Good And Evil, A Brief History Of Time and The Picture Of Dorian Grey, but don’t think I would have done a very good job of convincing you. I enjoyed all three of those books, but not as much as Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad. Shoot me. Also, despite lazily classing myself as agnostic, I’ve also included two religious titles, because they interest me. Oh, and I’ll warn you before hand – The Catcher In The Rye is in there, and so is To Kill A Mocking Bird.
So now it’s up to you to do what you always do. Skim quickly down the page and stop if you see a title you like. Here we go then.
10. To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee.
Studied it at school, liked it a lot. The story, set in early America, is told through the wonderfully pure eyes of a young girl, whose father, Attiticus, has volunteered to defend a black man accused of raping a white girl in court. The only problem is that the whole town, and thus the jury, are racist to the point
that his chances are of winning the case are slim to none.
Harper Lee reveals to us the true injustice and stupidity of middle-America racist mentalities, by observing them through the eyes of a child. The final third of the book, which deals with the court case, is particularly intense and well-written. However, despite the story-line centring around issues of race, the main bulk of the book is watching young Scout grow and mature, as she encounters many of life’s ‘lessons’, which remain the same among children regardless of era or environment.
It’s sweet, it’s lovely, it reminds us we have a lot to learn from our children. You’ll exhale sharply through your nose at the injustice bits, blink slowly at the sad bits and, by the end, feel privileged for having heard the tale. There’s a whole bunch of force-feed symbolism and morals, but that’s more then excusable in light of how well-written and developed a book it is.
9. The Hobbit, J RR Tolkien
Sorry about this one. It’s in at number nice because it’s the ONLY fantasy novel I’ve ever read and thoroughly enjoyed. Bilbo Baggins is The Hobbit, and he goes on an adventure filled will Elves, Goblins, Giants and all the other cool stuff. You’ve read it, you know the score.
It’s excellence lies heavily in Tolkiens ability to capture the imagination. That’s obvious, really. He’s a story teller. A picture painter. Everything is fantasy, nothing is reality, you don’t relate you just enjoy. Descriptive, easy to follow, captures the imagination. Bilbo gets into trouble, you read with interest to find out how he escapes. It’s beautifully written. It’s full of imagination, and adventure, and excitement. Personally, I prefer it to The Lord Of The Rings, which was way too steeped in complications, terribly long-winded and seemed to forget about the adventure
. The Hobbit is a simple, honest story that you’ll love as much as me.
8. Franny & Zooey/Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenter/For Esme ~ with Love and Squalor, J D Salinger
Sort of cheating here, since all of the above are published as separate books. However, they all centre around the brothers and sisters of Salingers imaginary family, and come together in rough chronological order. Aside from The Catcher In The Rye, these books are Salinger’s only published works, and are often forgotten about in light his most famous novel. As always with Salinger, nothing much actually happens in the stories. It’s all about the thoughts of the characters, all of which share much in common with Holden Caulfield from TCITR.
It’s pointless explaining how they all fit together, it’s all fairly hard to describe and won’t mean much to you at all. The point is, J D Salinger is a fine, unique writer and you should grasp what little he has to offer with both hands. The three books contain two separate short stories, or several in the case of For Esme…, and are all lead by characters within or related to the Glass family. What makes Salinger particularly special is his ability to say so much, in such depth, in such little space. A fine example of this is the short story ‘A Perfect Day For A Bananafish’, which many people regard as his finest work besides The Catcher In The Rye. As is typical of his style, what on face value may appear to be a simple, almost bland story, is quite the opposite. It’s all slightly uncomfortable, dark and wonderfully atmospheric, and should leave you deep in thought long afterwards. My personal favourite is the story Franny, although if like Salinger, you’ll enjoy them all.
7. The Holy Bible
Jeez, I’m getting bored of this list already. Ok, so I was brought up to be a strong Roman Catholic, and although things didn̵
7;t quite turn out that way, I still enjoy reading the bible. So there.
It’s a good read in two respects: the fantastic stories of the Old Testament, and the adventures of Jesus in the New. I’m not being sarcastic or anything, I just genuinely find it fascinating. I read it as fiction, you may not, that’s just a difference of opinion. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly religious, the Bible still has a lot to offer – a thousand stories, stretching from plagues to the creation, and equally abundant pearls of wisdom. It’s also, so I am told, a great source for historical evidence. Oh dear, I hope this isn’t offensive to anyone. I feel perfectly entitled to read the Bible whilst not following the faith it founds, and I’m sorry if you disagree.
6. The Satanic Bible, Anton Szandor LaVey
Another religious one. I should make it clear that this a coincidence, not some kind of a statement. The Satanic Bible is higher up the list then The Holy Bible because I find it more interesting, that’s all. I’m no more a Satanist then I am a Christian, I just take a healthy interest in both.
The Satanic Bible is not about killing chickens and being a bastard. It’s not as simple or easy as that. If you’re a Christian and it’s in your contract to presume such things, then that’s your loss not mine. Anton LaVey provides with a highly readable, well-rounded insight into the theories and thoughts behind Satanism, which, in very basic terms, centres around the idea of indulgence over abstinence. There’s a lot of little digs at Christianity (Ninth Satanic Statement – “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!”), but not much compared to the scare-mongering directed in the opposite direction (admit it, you jumped to conclusions the second you read the title).
Although I found most of what was preached to be just as idealistic and unfair as the other extreme of Christianity, Satanism does begin the make some sense if you allow yourself to be open-minded and read it through. It tells us to act upon and not be ashamed of our natural impulses and desires. It says man spends too much of his time behaving in a way that is believed to be ‘right’, instead of obeying his natural desires that will make him happy.
There’s loads more to it, of course, but that’s some of the general ideas. Although LaVey’s ideas are far from his own, he does write intelligently, and goes to far to include some humour in what he’s saying – something sorely lacking from religious articles in general. I’m not a Satanist (though if I were, I would tell you), but I still found this book absolutely fascinating, and more thought-provoking and relevant then people like to believe.
5. The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart
Ok, back to fiction now. The Dice Man, again in it’s simplest terms, is a fake biography of a man who made his every life decision based on the throw of a dice. The ides being that, by removing all sense of guilt and responsibility, he can obey his natural impulses and become a happy man. Luke is physiatrist bored with his life and his work. Slowly at first, he puts into practise his ‘dice theory’ – the book records this period, right from his early tests, all the way to point when he and his theory become famous and earn a strong following through-out America.
The idea sounds stupid, but if you actually read the book it starts to make sense. That’s triumph number one. Rhinehart, mid-way through the book, creates a scenario in which the full complexities of the dice theory unfold – it is at this point that you either love the book or hate it. I loved it. Although Rhinehart is not the most beautiful writer in the
world, he has managed in a single novel, to invent, test, explain and expand upon an entirely new branch of psychology. All this, and it’s a genuinely funny read. The book’s slogan is something like ‘This Book Will Change Your Life’. Well, it didn’t exactly change my life, but it made it a bit more interesting for the time it took to read.
4. Come As You Are, Michael Azerrad
I like Nirvana. There’s nothing you can do about it. I like Kurt Cobain, Chris Novoselic and Dave Grohl too. Tough.
Come As You Are was written with complete co-operation from Kurt and the other band members, and details everything, from each bands members childhood and how they came together, all the way to Cobain’s suicide. If you’re old, and your impressions of the band are based on some tabloid you read years ago, perhaps you should read Come As You Are and have your perspective changed. If you’re a Nirvana fan, you should have read this already.
Of the countless Nirvana biographies, this is general considered the best, mainly because it’s trust-worthy. Cobain in particular was more then willing to allow Azerrad to give the whole truth and nothing but, as a way to set the record straight after four years of misleading and inaccurate journalism about him an his wife, Courtney. Thankfully, Azerrad uses this privilege to its true potential. His Nirvana story is neutral, fair, but told in a pleasingly conversational way. Although you find yourself thinking that he must have filled in some of the smaller gaps for himself, it’s hard to ever serious doubt the authenticity behind his words. The book also contains a generous amount of pictures, including shots of the band at early gigs and of the original drummers.
Through the book you’ll learn how the members grew up, formed, and the process behind the creation of each of their albums. You discover the truth behin
d the heroin scandals, and hear Kurt talk honestly about his depression, inspiration, and love for his daughter Frances. Of course, if you’re not a fan this’ll mean nothing to you, but for me and countless others, Come As You Are in the perfect insight into a band suffocated in miss-representation.
3. The Outsider, Albert Camus
By this point I’m so sick of writing, standards are set to drop even further. Apologies in advance.
Camus writes the best novel in French history. According to the back of my copy anyway. It’s about a man unable to lie, condemned by a world that favours only those with the power to deceive. He’s perceived as being a cold-hearted, spirit-less madman, when, as the books powerful finale proves, he’s quite the opposite. So basically Camus is creating a freak. Someone with a difference that the rest of the world can’t understand. He’s honest about his feelings. He doesn’t speculate, exaggerate or pretend to feel things he does not. He’s condemned for not being a liar, for not doing what is necessary in world corrupt. For this he faces the ultimate punishment.
Sorry, I’m being lazy. Not gonna give the plot away though. I always favour books with strong characters, and that’s why The Outsider is in the top three. Like Salinger, Camus does not tell a story, so much as creates a person and uses him to channel his frustrations at human nature. It’s compelling, it’s atmospheric, it’s great. It’s deep. I like it very much. It is good. You should read it now please.
2. The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
Everyone else I know hated this book. I loved it. Again, it’s a character based novel, this time by the son of comic writer Kingsley Amis. It was Martin’s first published novel, and the basis of a very average film.
I lend out my copy, so I can’t check fo
r his name, but the young lead character is what Salinger would have described as a ‘phoney’. The book records his efforts (and success) in attracting a woman called Rachel, painting a very frank picture of what kind of a shallow person he is. Deliberately arranging his bedroom (leaving books and poetry on table-tops) to make him appear educated and sensitive, pre-planning dates and keeping recorded files are just some of the immoral ways he goes about trying to bed this girl. In the end of course, he falls in love with her, and realises for the first time that there is more to a relationship then sex.
Having your reader routing for a character that should be so repulsive is a fine skill for any writer to display. Amis is an extremely brave writer, and that’s why I like him. He doesn’t soften his character to make him us like him more. He doesn’t embarrass him self writing about sex. It’s like talking to a mate. A well educated, highly articulate one, but mate none the less. The Rachel Papers, I thought, was a brilliantly moving and well-written novel.
1. The Catcher In The Rye, J D Salinger
... and for this, number one, I might as well give you my full thoughts on the subject. If you've already read my opinion on this book, ignore the following text, it says pretty much the same things.
I think it was around Christmas time of 1980 (please correct me if I am wrong) that the singer/song writer John Lennon was shot dead outside his apartment block in New York, by a Mark Chapman, who I believe is due to be released from prison sometime this year. What, I hear you rightly cry, does this have to do with The Catcher In The Rye? The reason Chapman is said to have given for committing the crime is that he was inspired, by the book, to kill. In a generation that chooses to point the finger at explicit music and graphic cinema for our social downfalls, surely it would take a novel
of some significance to take the blame for the murder of a star as big as John Lennon. I can think of a handful of rock bands or extreme films that have been blamed, at least in part, for having an indirect effect on the criminals responsible for some of the most horrific acts of homicide in recent history, but not a single novel (except those that have been made into films) to accompany The Catcher In The Rye. In a perverse way, it could almost be classed as a victory for fiction, a reminder that novels still hold an important place in our TV saturated Western world, that the written world is not quite buried yet - it can still cause murder with the best of them.
Of course, the notion that any form of media can be blamed entirely for the actions of those that use it is a tad nonsensical. Despite that, the very idea that Mark Chapman was inspired by The Catcher In The Rye can place it’s contents under great scrutiny, as well as the mind of the author, J D Salinger.
A brief history - the copy I own is a newly published edition by Penguin Books, although I believe the original version was published in serial form in the USA around 1945-6, and later as a full book in 51. Salinger, interestingly (and some may say admirably), refused to allow The Catcher In The Rye to be made into a film, not believing that a screen adaptation would do his work justice. In the spirit of other great writers such as Harper Lee, Salinger wrote one classic then little else, aside from a collection of less well known short stories. The legend goes that Salinger, alive and well today, is living as a recluse in his home, simply writing each day and refusing to go outside. It seems fans on The Catcher In The Rye will have to wait until his death before they can find out the truth.
Salinger’s reputation as a ‘odd ball’ is certainly enforced by the style and content of his most famous work, although putting the book down as simply ̵
6;strange’ would be ignorant. A simple look at the story. Holden Caulfield, the character through whose eyes the tale is told, begins his narration in what appears to be a mental institute of some kind (not quite men in white coats and padded cells that is, more a resting home). Holden tells the story of, as he puts it, ‘this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here (the home) and take it easy’, which translates as the few days that follow his expulsion from school, set in New York city. The beauty of this book, however, lies not with the strength of the plot but with the skill of the narration, and the hidden symbolism that concludes the books true message.
Salinger writes without once lapsing into elaborate and flowing description, nor does he choose to baffle his readers with depth of plot. Instead, his strengths lie firmly in Holden Caulfield, his narrator, and the alarmingly accurate account of conversation. Nothing stands to spoil a book more then conversation that sounds like it has been lifted from a cheesy movie. You know the kind of thing, the stuff that makes you cringe and think ‘people just don’t speak like that!’, almost like ham acting on a page. The conversation in The Catcher In The Rye is consistently accurate. Here’s an example take from one of the first exchanges in the story, when Holden discusses his expulsion from school with ‘old Spencer’ his History teacher;
“What’s the matter with you, boy?” old Spencer said. He said it pretty tough, too, for him. “How many subjects did you carry this term?”
“Five. Any how many are you failing in?”
“Four”. I moved my ass a little bit on the bed. It was the hardest bed I ever sat on. “I passed English all right” I said “because I had all that B
eowulf and Lord Randal My Son stuff when I was at the Whooton School. I mean I didn’t have to do any work in English at all hardly, except write compositions once in a while”
He wasn’t even listening. He hardly ever listened to you when you said something.
“I flunked you in History because you knew absolutely nothing”
“I know that, sir. Boy, I know it. You couldn’t help it”
“Absolutely nothing”, he said over again.
This is a small example of Salinger’s mastery of the conversation. Holden Caulfield, much like the characters from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, has been granted his own style of slang and he sticks to it. Through out the book Salinger uses small quirks such as ‘and all’ and ‘godam’ regularly in Caulfield’s patterns of speech, as well as single words such as ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’. The sheer consistency in Salinger’s character is enough to make him, in some ways, fairly loveable. Of course, in a story then centres entirely around one character’s thoughts and attitudes, Holden Caulfield would have no choice but to be loveable to ensure the strength of the novel, which he did. Salinger’s writing style is raw, honest, and host to a rare beauty of it’s own that I am yet to experience else where. The plot is not particularly strong or important, but that is because it is merely a platform for a series of set pieces designed to promote the thoughts and attitudes of Holden Caulfield. Salinger aims not to give us a classic story, but a classic character, and is successful beyond just that. The Catcher In The Rye is one of those rare novels that serves not only as a good read, but as a bearer of relevant social messages. The comparison I’m hesitant to draw is with both Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell, although his ‘message’ is usually political,
while Salinger challenges something quite different – human nature.
I spoke before of Salingers usage of alternative dialogue in his main character. One of Holden Caulfield’s prime pieces of language is the word ‘phoney’. Purely for the purpose of this article, I looked for the word ‘phoney’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, half expecting not to find it. ‘ ‘Phoney’: sham, a phoney person or thing’. This is the word Salinger, or more rightly Holden Caulfield, uses to describe a large percentage of the people he meets in his story.
What Caulfield is rather pointing out to us, in a rather awkward yet charming way, is the frustration he feels at the ‘false’ way he sees us converse in every day life. He is angered at the very fundamental aspects of human to human relations – the fake smile, the white-lies, the shallow attitudes that stunt honesty – everything that is a pretence. He gives the example of his old Headmaster, who would shake hands with poor student’s parents and talk for an age with the more wealthy. He gives us the example of his date, and a man she bumps into at the opera, and the way they talk about the play, attempting to sound sophisticated and well educated to impress each other. Holden Caulfield is the voice that we tend to ignore, the voice that knows when we are changing our ways to suit others, the voice that recognises our tendencies to exaggerate and, well, be ‘phoney’, just as he says. Salinger has created a character who sees the world as almost as a complete lie, and is frustrated by it. The best part though, is that none of this is preached to us or made obvious – understanding, or a least hoping to understand, what Salinger is trying to say takes thought and consideration. Many clues are hidden within small parts of the story, and with that comes another triumph in Salingers tale – symbolism. I must
confess to not having drawn the following conclusions entirely on my own, it took a friend who studied the book at A-level to point certain things out and get me on the right road of thought. Holden Caulfield resents the ‘phoneys’ of the world, but also sees is a direct result of, prepare for an old chestnut here, the loss of innocence. The best example I know of is in the title. ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ is, it would seem, Holden Caulfield himself. Towards the end of the book, Caulfield described a day dream inspired by a child’s song in which he imagines himself in a field of rye, situated on top of a cliff. Child are playing in the rye, and eventually come to the edge of the cliff, but Holden manages to catch them before the fall off. What is really meant by this is that Caulfield, in an effort to save the children from the descend into adulthood and thus becoming a ‘phoney’, would save the children from growing up and losing the innocence that prevents them from acting as he hates. In fact, the only two characters we hear Caulfield talk fondly of in the story are his young brother and sister. So what of the idea that reading The Catcher In The Rye could drive a man to murder? Well I suppose that sharing Holden Caulfield view on the world would indeed be difficult, particularly now, more then fifty years after he was created and the problems he mentions are arguably worse, but I suspect this book played less part in the death of John Lennon then the rock band ‘Slayer’ played in the latest American youth-murder – i.e., none at all.
All this, you may think, is irrelevant. Of course, that depends on how you wish to greet the story. My girlfriend, after much build up from me, read the book and hated it. She found the book amusing, firstly, and that’s because it is. Holden Caulfield is witty, albeit perhaps not intentionally, and both her and I laughed out loud at several points in
the book. Interestingly though, she claimed it was the whining Holden Caulfield that in fact put her off the story as a whole, her own opinion is somewhere in this section saying just that. That made me realise that to some people, perhaps even most, the symbolism and messages hidden within The Catcher In The Rye are not an excuse for a story that could easily be argued as flawed. Salinger does not write with the style of a typical successful writer, The Catcher In The Rye is a one off, a freak of a book, and not one with a theme that could be repeated again and again like much of current popular fiction. Salinger, and I believe this beyond a shadow of a doubt, wrote this book with one clear aim – to vent his own frustrations at the world, to please himself, no one else. Some writers, most I guess, write to be successful. They have a talent, and they use it, and they make a whole lot of money from it. Then you have the odd case of a man like J D Salinger (or woman like Harper Lee), who writes with no audience in mind but himself, and no aspirations for his work beyond getting his own issues with the world out of his system. Salinger didn’t care for turning his book into a film, nor does he care for repeating his success. The Catcher In The Rye is one of those rare novels, which leaves you feeling almost privileged having read it, because it’s not written for you, or anyone else for that matter. It’s raw, it’s unpredictable, and it’s alive – still as relevant and enjoyable today as ever. For a critic, this book would be so easy to tear apart, but I don’t think it ever has been, and that’s for one good reason – The Catcher In The Rye isn’t there for you to judge and criticise, it’s there for you to read and enjoy, and it’s there to make you think. There’s magic in Salingers words, and the best part? I don’t think he meant it at all.
The Catcher In The Rye is
available from all good book shop, with prices varying according to date and style of issue.
And that, thank fluck, is it. That’s the last time I ever write a top ten anything ever again. Eleven flucking pages, and I bet you didn’t even read a third of it, you bastards. I’m off to massage my fingers and drink some grapefruit juice. This was worst idea I’ve ever had, and possibly the worst opinion I’ve ever written. Hope you enjoyed it.