Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shelter Books

I am a re-reader. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I’ve come to accept that I’m the kind of person who digs a little bit of the same-old, same-old sometimes. Though I can’t say I re-read everything (as there are definitely books and essays I’ve read that were terrible the first time) I do consider myself a person who re-reads.
There are also some books that I’ve read that were so great, but so HUGE that I could never re-read them simply because the first time was such an undertaking. The Stand for example: that book is so long that it actually exhausts me after the first act (what I like to think of as the “Everybody dies” Act). It’s hugeness is daunted only by Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace--Which I have been reading in a picking-it-up-putting-it-down way for the last two years. That book (Infinite Jest) is a mind crusher (it’s 1079 pages, with endnotes).

There are other books that I don’t/can’t/won’t reread simply because they were so heavy in subject. I may re-read them again someday, but not soon--it’s too much for my blood. For example: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (read in 2008) was an amazing book that pretty much retaught me what a book could do and what a book could be if enough effort, time, and talent were put behind it. It’s not the longest book, but holy shit does it cast a numerous bunch of characters that change, evolve, bulb off and spread anew into an ever-changing landscape of America. That’s a lot of words to say that Middlesex sorta-kinda rocked my face off, and though I’d love to go through it again, it wouldn’t do me any good to re-read it once a year--it just wouldn’t be the same. Same with For Whom the Bell Tolls--that book is crazy-good, but once. At least for now.
However, all this said, I do re-read books. Usually when I mention this to my friends they are in one or two camps: they don’t read that much (if at all), so they’ve only read the same one book twice or the same three books over and over again for however long they’ve owned them. I find that to be boring--why reread the same three books and never experience new books? But the other camp--all they do is read NEW books--like all they crave is new information, and never see the point in looking back on something to see what the hell it was that made it so interesting.
So the thing is this: I consider those books I’ve re-read a bunch of times (like over 4) “Shelter books,” i.e. books that I read when the storms are rough and I forgot what it was that made me who I am as a reader--what I like, what I hate, what defines my beliefs as a human--these books are the ones I’ve re-read for years. So these are them--some classics, some not-so-classics, most you’ve heard of (hopefully), and heavy Stephen King (it was the only dude I read for the first ten years of my reading-life), but at least they do something for me I can’t quite exactly put a finger on anymore except they make me feel at home.
(PS: These books are listed as they a)popped up in my brain and b) how many times I’ve read them)

I Lord of the Flies By William Golding

This is the best book ever written. Easily. Sure, I didn’t read Atlas Shrugged or whatever that other book is with the people or whatever--this book is truly the bees knees. If you don’t know the plot (bunch of boys stranded on an island trying, at first, not to kill each other), then don’t read the sentence I just typed, as it may contain spoilers. The subtle parts, the explicit parts, the anger, the sorrow, this book has everything (except a love story, but hey, we’re talking allegories here, people). If you haven’t read this book, go somewhere right now and buy it and read it. No one can hold a candle to this book. Sorry. Best book there is. By far.

II Misery by Stephen King (SK)

This replaced The Shining as my most read and most beloved SK book about four years ago, I think. I’m pretty sure, also that, like Lord of the Flies, I read this sucker every other year or so. It’s not just that it’s about a writer (most SK books are), but it’s about a writer who’s trapped in who he is, who notices him and his work, and therefore how he thinks about himself. Not to mention he's ACTUALLY trapped by a crazy woman who has an interesting set of ethics and sense of...justice? Don’t watch the movie--it’s not the same. Caan is amazing in the film, but captures a fraction of the torment a writer feels when he can’t escape his own name.

III Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

I grew up going to a lot of funerals, and with hyper-religious family members coupled with anti-religious family members, I have thought about death a lot, and somehow this book (Klosterman’s best), captures images that link subtly together his three plots: one, being on a trip to the locations of famous rock stars deaths; two, his struggle to figure out what exactly he’s doing with the three major women in his life (which he captures about half-way through with a very Alanis-esque device that works on so many levels); and three, what it means to die as a rock star in America, where supposedly the best thing you can do is die young and leave a good-lookin corpse.

IV The Shining By SK

Mentioned before, this used to be my favorite SK book, but Misery won out somewhere. I think it was the anger. The Shining is a very angry book (SK calls it arrogant, but I think that’s less of a problem) and though it has some very good parts and is still top two/three of SK books in my mind--there are a couple problems I have with this book as a writer--the first and most obvious is the deus ex machina at the end that comes out of nowhere and the second is the magical black man who comes and saves the day at the end, not to mention the heavy-handed “I’m an alcoholic--get it?!” stuff that occurs in the book and whenever SK talks about it. It’s a good book, but Jesus Christ, man. I get it.

V The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is another book fascinated with death and the things it does to the living (so is the next one). Neighborhood boys are obsessed with the Lisbon sisters, who’s sister has just committed suicide. The book is somehow dreamy in it’s quality, and that’s what I like the most about it--the style. Everything from the most horrifying event to the subtlest gestures from Lux are told with a matter-of-fact quality that makes it sound as if someone is recounting a dream after waking.

VI Pet Semetary by SK

This is the most hurtful, most depressing, most insane book I have ever read, and it’s not because it’s graphic (it is), and it’s not because it’s scary (it is), but it’s because it is the story of a man who goes batshit insane and every thought till the end seems rational. This isn’t a “how can he do that? That’s so stupid!” book, this book pushes everything you have into the fire and then burns you when you try to grab it back. It’s SK’s scariest book, it’s the only one that he wrote and tucked away for a time because it was too dark, and it the only one that still scares him, the guy who wrote it.

VII Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The book everyone knows Vonnegut for, this is a tale, half-autobiographical, that explores reality on all fronts--what we believe, what we want to believe, what we discount, and what we wish for. Billy Pilgrim’s adventures after being unstuck in time carry with them a strange sort of truth hidden throughout--that your life is totally insane and completely hilarious (mostly).
Also: I don't have any idea why I used this picture for the book with all the white on the edges. I'm tired, I think.

VIII An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

This story is the king of all short stories (I think)--the treat is really the end, where things turn and twist and become suddenly very upsetting, but the whole thing is clear and perfect, truly taking the reader and transporting them to a bridge in 1864, the day of a hanging.

IX The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe

This story I’ve read hundreds of times simply because it is dark, mean and completely unjustified. It’s a quick read, and describes in perfect detail a man who has come to grips with exacting his revenge in the most ingenious way possible, and the methodical nature of the entire thing makes you smile the knowing, cruel smile of a cat with a wounded bird in it’s teeth.

X The Body by SK

This is the last one, and the last one is SK. That’s sort of annoying--I wanted to jam up my most read, not be an SK essayist. But these are the books and stories I’ve read most, and The Body is probably the story I most identified with growing up--sad, lonely, low self esteem--these things were very present in my life when I was young--as well as the fun, adventure and anger that also welled up inside of me and in the pages. I no longer wish I had been one of those boys in the carefree world of Castle Rock in 1960 walking up the tracks, but I do wish that I could someday channel so much of myself into a book that could mean something to someone else as much as this book meant to me. This was the book that made me feel like I was a writer and that maybe I wasn’t alone in my desire to put down on paper the things in my head. SK came out of the pages, talked to me, and made me believe that I could be whatever I wanted.

Note about Spoiler Warnings: If you don’t want to know about the plot/elements of a story, don’t read the article/paragraph or whatever. I think that that is the most simple, self-explanatory thing a person can do when reading any kind of review. Expect spoilers from ANYTHING you read about something you haven’t experienced. Spoiler warnings are crocks of shit. Also, none of these books were beyond you to read yourself--none of them came out this year so if you are planning on reading one of these books (no, you weren’t), then don’t read the reviews. Otherwise, don’t complain about it.

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