It's that time of year again: Emily's best and worst reads from the first half of the year. Actually, I'm a little late, seeing as June ended two weeks ago, but, oh well. Last year at this time, I gave you six favorite reads and six least favorite reads, but I cheated and gave an extra favorite. This year, (lucky me) I only read four books that I didn't like. I've decided that means I can "borrow" two from the least favorite column, which allows me to give you eight favorites to keep the total at 12. I've also decided that any books that have been featured in a "You've GOT to Read This" post will not show up here, because I'm trying to cut down on repetition, and well, you're all smart. If I've, at some point, screamed, "You've GOT to read this," then you can probably figure out it's a favorite. (Yes, it's my blog, so not only do I get to be late, but I also get to make the rules.) Here you go:
Americana: And Other Poems by John Updike
Emily's Inner Literary Snob (EILS -- a slippery sort of character): You hate contemporary poetry.
Emily (E): No I don't.
EILS: Come on. You recite stuff from The New Yorker laughing out loud.
E: Yes, but not Updike. Besides, that's you laughing, not me.
EILS: Well, what's so great about Updike?
E: I sat down to read the first few poems to see what it was like. Next thing I knew, I was done with the book.
EILS: You know, I've seen you do that with a collection of Get Fuzzy cartoons.
E: Hey, don't knock Get Fuzzy. This was different, though. I was mesmerized. I couldn't believe this man knew me so well.
EILS: You mean your pea brain could understand more than two poems in the collection.
E: Well, yes...
EILS: Credentials for a Pulitzer, I'm sure...
(My fellow bloggers, do not listen to EILS, who ought to be shot. It was a fantastic collection of poems, a great introduction to Updike for me, one that tapped into all the right emotions, which is exactly what poetry ought to do.)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Dear Mr. Gaiman, will you marry me? Oh, wait a minute. I'm already married to the man I long-ago decided would be my one-and-only husband. Wandering around in the wonderful worlds you create can make a girl forget such things. Oh well, since we can't marry, would you please promise to keep writing books that tease my imagination in such fun, wonderful ways? (Oh, and more ghosts, please.)
In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
Don't you just hate it when snotty book reviewers compare authors to those who have come before them? Nine times out of ten, they don't seem to know what they're talking about, do they? And don't you hate it when people insist you must read a book, especially yet another one of those multi-generational family sagas? Faulkner's, I mean, Lent's book is a contemporary masterpiece that you don't really have to read, you know, if you don't want me to like you.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Once upon a time, there was this author who could take you on a breathtaking quest, full of magic and truth. You'd laugh. You'd gasp. You'd cry. Oh, and you'd get to ride a unicorn, the most beautiful creature in the woods.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Gee, I have absolutely no idea why I might relate to an intelligent woman stuck in provincial Small Town America, bored out of her mind as a housewife. I do wonder, though, why Sinclair Lewis has gone out of fashion. I've now read two of his books, both of which are great testaments to the fact that society is evolving at less than a snail's pace in 20th-and-21st-century America.
She by H. Rider Haggard
It was a dark and stormy night when a different author sent us on another (very weird, eerie, and mysterious) quest. There were no unicorns to ride on this quest through the jungles of Africa, but if you were to embark on the journey, you just might (if you're able to decipher the code on a potsherd), in a dark cave somewhere, discover the secret to immortality. Then again, after what you've been through, the fearsome woman you've met, and the price you'd have to pay, you just may not want it (if you're a nineteenth-century man, that is).
Stiff by Mary Roach
(Ring! Ring!) Hello?... Dr. Freud?... Thanks so much for calling... Well, since we last talked, I did do something that might be considered a little odd... I read a whole book about cadavers and their many, uh, interesting uses... Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did laugh my way through a good deal of it... Obsessed with death? I don't really... Necrophilia?... I hadn't really thought... You don't think it just could be that I find Roach's spunk and curiosity admirable and that I love the way she writes (all those wry little asides), and I wish I had her courage (not to mention her iron stomach)?... I am not suffering from pen envy. (Click.)
Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett
Back during Queen Victoria's reign, when most were busy with the likes of Thomas Hardy and Anthony Trollope and perhaps a Bronte or two, others were fortunate enough to have been reading a wonderful little collection of stories that would one day all-but-disappear. Here, they found the likes of a waning Apollo whose lyre had most likely been pawned. Or they found Lucifer, transformed into a pope and grievously missing his tail. Perhaps they stumbled across a dumb oracle. My guess is that somewhere in Discworld (a place I've come to know and love in 2009. I know, I know. What took me so long?) there is a gold-leafed copy of this book being kept under lock and key and that there are rumors of a Mr. Pratchett (nobody is really sure whether he exists or not) who holds the key.
King Lear (yes, the one by William Shakespeare)
No, I do not hate Shakespeare, so please put away your guns. I just hate King Lear. Unlike many, many other books I've reread as an adult, this one did not improve during the 20+ intervening years since the last time I read it. As far as I'm concerned, here's proof that even Shakespeare could have his off days.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Sometimes one doesn't like a book not because it's bad, per se, but because it's just too disturbing to read and is nothing new to the reader. This would be a terrific book, maybe, for someone who needs to have his or her eyes opened to the horrors inflicted upon children around the world. I'm not that person and really didn't need to subject my over-active imagination to this one.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
(From my goodreads.com comments)
Verily I say unto you that
you will find no profundity here
unless, perhaps, you take up that bong
or eat that mushroom.
Nor will you find anything that thousands of others
did not say long, long before, far more magnificently.
And you may very well sob, asking yourself,
"Why did I waste an hour of my time thus?"
Fear not. You may happen upon an opportunity to weave it
into a novel.
Now, return to Plato, Aeschylus, Aristophanes... for your profundity,
and do not forget that life is too short for tripe.
The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
The real bad book. You can read more here, if you can be bothered.