Happy National Book Lovers Day! I do love a good book, but I find I don't really have a lot of time for reading. I would say it's because I'm so focused on work, exercise, and housekeeping, but it's mostly due to my obsession with movies, television, and video games. That said, I have read quite a few books, and these five are my favorites (for now).
5. The Big Sleep
It dawned on me that I should give this a read after I learned that one of My Top 5 Favorite Movies, The Big Lebowski, was loosely based on this book. That, and I'm a big fan of the song The Big Sleep by one of My Top 5 Favorite Bands, Streetlight Manifesto. Before reading Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, I had never delved into the noir genre. I had seen a couple movies and I've watched plenty of crime serials, but when I started reading the first few lines, it was like I'd entered a seedy new world; and Chandler does a great job at describing that world, or I should say, Philip Marlowe does.
Marlowe is a Private Investigator in Los Angeles in the late 30's/early 40's, and in this story he's got a few cases to keep him busy. What's most interesting about this book, and it's follow-up novels, is that it doesn't spend much time on the plot. In fact, it leaves plenty of loose ends. It's the characters and the atmosphere that really shine. Philip Marlowe sets the scene with every detail, every player, and every motive, and never without a touch of sarcasm. You can't help but root for the guy, and I recommend you jump into his world and go for a ride - just avoid the gunshots along the way.
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
You may think I selected J.K Rowling's fourth entry into the Harry Potter series because it was a change of pace for the novels; slower, darker, more thrilling, and for setting up the larger plot of the series. That all stands, but the truth is, it was my introduction to Rowling's literary world. That's right, I read the fourth installment in the series before any of the others. But it's not too surprising when you consider I had seen the first two Harry Potter movies.
Fortunately, each story in the first three stand alone, and you don't need to be too familiar with them to follow the exciting Triwizard Tournament that is the focus of Goblet. I was the prime audience at 10 years old when I flipped through these pages, and I admit that I was saddened by the demise of a certain Hufflepuff student. Needless to say, I quickly sought out the rest of the available books, and maybe it was because I started on the fourth, but I proceeded to read them out of order as well (4th, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 3rd, 6th, and finally 7th). If you have somehow avoided the world of witchcraft and wizardry that is Harry Potter, I recommend each book (in order), and if you're too lazy to read, the movies are very well-crafted as well.
I actually only read Foundation within the last 6 months, but it has instantly become one of my all-time favorites. I read through it as quickly as possible, and got my hands on Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation as soon as possible. I had read a couple of Isaac Asimov's short stories (definitely give The Last Question a read), so his writing wasn't new, but I hadn't ready anything like this.
Foundation is a collection of related short stories that tell the larger story of the Foundation, a group of people tasked with preserving all the information in the universe and progressing human civilization in the wake of the fall of the long reigning Galactic Empire. This is all possible thanks to the fabricated new mathematical field of Psychohistory, which allows select scientists to analyze and predict the behavior of large groups of people with math-y statistics and stuff. It's a sound concept in this first installment in the trilogy, and even though you know everything is going to work out for the Foundation, you still want to see just how it will work out for the Foundation. Combine that will some really witty characters, and you've got a great start to a series that inspired classic sci-fi stories, from George Lucas's Star Wars to Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
2. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Speaking of Douglas Adams, before I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I happened upon one of his other novels, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Never had I read such a funny book, and I was really able to get behind the way Dirk thinks. Dirk Gently is a Private Detective that has this concept that everything is fundamentally interconnected.
The plot itself is zany and whimsical, with religious robots, ghosts, impossibly stuck furniture, and to top it off, time-travel. All of these pieces come together despite their randomness, which further proves Dirk's perspective of interconnectivity. I still haven't checked out the new show adapted from the Dirk Gently novels, but I'm excited to give a try and while I do that, you ought to give this book a read.
1. The Catcher in the Rye
I can't imagine another book topping this one. I'd need to read something at just the right time in my life like I did with The Catcher in the Rye. Like I said, I enjoy reading, but I always tried to avoid the classic books that we were forced to read in High School (I'm looking at you, To Kill A Mockingbird). I think it's because I wasn't forced to read this book that it really stuck with me. I gave it a shot my freshman year of college, and I read the entire thing on my train ride home for Thanksgiving. The parallels to the story were clear; Holden Caulfield is a young man, coming of age on Christmas break, and I was a young man, coming of age on Thanksgiving break. It also helped that there are several references to this book in Streetlight Manifesto's Here's to Life.
Houlden Caulfield inspired much of my outlook on life, in particular his dislike of "phony" qualities. There really are a lot of phonies out there, and Houlden Caulfield was never afraid to point them out, and I learned to do the same, albeit with less cynicism and with more tact. Houlden is a walking contradiction, because despite all of his rebellious behavior throughout the book, he seems to be happiest when he's being responsible. I think this is true not only for myself, but for many people that I know. I'm glad I didn't continue to avoid this classic, and I don't think you should either!