Friday, October 24, 2008

The "10" "Strongest" Books I've Read

NOTE : This list of books, which I've been working on compiling for several months, is possibly the ten (or "on the way to ten") "strongest" books I've read, although I do reserve the right to change my mind in the future. Since the Bible is the first book on the list and it's actually made up of 66 smaller books, perhaps the list is already much longer than ten. With the possible exception of the first "book" on the list, the order is not too significant. By strongest I probably mean most influential on my life, but that too is open to debate and alteration.

1. Holy Bible

2. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien

3. Darkening Valley by Dale Aukerman

4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

5. Crow by Ted Hughes

6. The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda

7. The Miner's Pale Children by W S Merwin

8. Man as Male and Female by Paul K Jewett

9. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

10. ?

On this list are two non-fiction books, two fiction, two short fiction, two collections of poetry, and the Bible which is a collection of those other literary types plus much more. Aukerman and Jewett's non-fiction books are excellent examples of well written explorations into interpreting the Bible. They remind the reader that in order to get the most accurate interpretation, everything has to be taken into consideration. When I first read Merwin's book many years ago as a young man, I remember being astonished, because I never realized that it was possible to do something like that with language. The poetry of Hughes and Neruda significantly expands the definition of poetry and Neruda reminds us that there is value in asking questions for which there may be no answers. Tolkien's "Rings" is just amazing in it's epic size as well as the quality of storytelling. Although McCarthy novel is bloody in a hair- raising manner, when I first read it I could feel the hair on the back of my neck rising, not because of what was happening in the novel, but because of the power of the story-telling. In reality it was not "Where I'm Calling From," by Carver that had the impact on me but his first two collections of stories , "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, " and "Will You Please be Quiet, Please? It's just that "Where I'm Calling From," includes the best stories from those two earlier collections as well as a couple of later and even better stories such as "Cathedral," and "A Small Good Thing." For those who might disagree with my earlier comment that the Holy Bible contains fiction, I'm aware of your perspective. However what matters in biblical stories like Jonah and the whale, or Noah and the flood is not whether they actually happened or are just legends handed down, but the lessons and teachings we are to learn from them today. Grace Paley said, "Any story told more than once is fiction," Paley is saying that in any telling of a story, the person who does the telling inevitably changes the story, either by tone, inflection, emphasis, or editing. Wallace Stegner said, " If you want to convey information you write non-fiction; if you want to tell the truth, you write fiction," Stories in the Bible that may challenge our ability to believe them, are probably more powerful communicaters of truth if seen and read as fiction rather than as non-fiction. Happy reading.

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