Failures of a book evangelist ~

At book sales and thrift shops I sometimes collar complete strangers who are perusing a book I’ve admired and urge them to buy it. Although this degree of enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have endeared me to anyone, I can’t seem to stop—encouraged, possibly, by the fact that no one yet has told me flat-out to shut up. Sometimes someone will talk to me, briefly; often people just sort of nod and edge away. As a confirmed book evangelist, I should perhaps add snake handling and talking in tongues to my efforts, because I’ve made only one convert to date. That is, on only one occasion have I known someone to read a book I’ve recommended. It’s #2 below, and my friend liked it very much, so at least I’m 1-0.

Since blogs seem an ideal platform for both evangelism and didacticism, and since the well of inspiration has run dry in other areas, I thought I’d push…um, recommend…a couple of dozen novels or short story collections published since 1980 that I can’t imagine anyone not admiring. How arrogant, eh? But I love these books. I LOVE THESE BOOKS and I want to share them with others, even JUST ONE PERSON. Most of these authors are well known, but some of the picks I’ve made haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

  1. The Risk Pool, Richard Russo
  2. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
  3. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
  4. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  5. Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby
  6. Charms for the Easy Life, Kaye Gibbons
  7. Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson
  8. Postcards, Annie Proulx
  9. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall
  10. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories, Alice Munro
  11. The Gold-Bug Variations, Richard Powers
  12. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  13. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes
  14. Illumination Night, Alice Hoffman
  15. Jazz, Toni Morrison
  16. Collected Stories, T.C. Boyle
  17. Moo, Jane Smiley
  18. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
  19. Apologizing to Dogs, Joe Coomer
  20. Felicia’s Journey, William Trevor
  21. I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn
  22. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  23. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
  24. The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker

As long as I’m pushing, here are four more excellent books from this period that, amazingly enough, were made into excellent movies that stayed true to the source.

  1. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  3. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
  4. The Hours, Michael Cunningham

(I haven’t yet seen Life of Pi, but given the reviews I’ve read, it should be on this list as well.)

Because I’m the daughter of a champion list-maker, I keep a list of the books I read. It reminds me of authors I’ve enjoyed and books I’d like to re-read. At the same time, however, it’s a source of embarrassment, because I’ve forgotten every detail of many of these books.

I recently read an article about Philip Roth and thought that I really have given Roth short shrift and should read some of his later books. Consulting my list, however, I see that I’ve read The Anatomy Lesson and The Human Stain and The Dying Animal. (Plus Patrimony, which I do remember, perhaps because it is a memoir of Roth’s father’s aging and death, and it includes a horrifying scene that will stay with me forever.)

Recently, too, I decided that it was high time I read The Golden Notebook. And I guess I will have to, because evidently I retained nothing from reading it—as I just now discovered—in 2004. Dozens of other books have escaped my memory completely. What is Once Removed, by Mako Yoshikawa? Or American Fuji, by Sara Backer? Or True Enough, by Stephen McCauley? Is that even fiction? I forget most of the nonfiction I read, too.

There are novels I’ve read three times that I cannot recall the ending of. This bothers me no end (pun not initially intended), especially since my memory has always been my strong suit. When I complain to friends about this odd impairment, they make little soothing sounds instead of acknowledging the truth: Apparently I tear through books like candy, not stopping to savor them or contemplate them. When I try to discuss books, I sound like an amnesiac with little unconnected sparks of memory. (Fortunately, this is less true of classics than of contemporary fiction, which strikes me as a subject for rumination and possible tedious philosophizing).

Given these limitations, it may be arrogant for me to have set forth a list of books that I like so much, I literally want to push them into people’s hands. It’s probably arrogant even absent these limitations. But the books above I can vouch for. I can even talk about some of them.

Trust me.

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