Yes, it’s embarrassing to say I didn’t read some of these at a younger age. I’d like to blame my schools, teachers, parents, and anyone except myself, but really, I have only myself to blame.
There is one I read when I was younger, but I’m putting it on the list because upon re-reading it at an older age, I gained a deeper understanding of how special it is.
- CATCHER IN THE RYE (1945) by J.D. Salinger: What a novel. It felt like this man, Salinger, had taken up residence in my brain, even at the age of forty-three. Although the book is about Holden Caulfield, a high school student who is extremely jaded about all the people around him, the plot is secondary to Holden’s observations and feelings about life, which Holden sums up as “phony.”
- COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE (2014) by Haruki Murakami: I read this book on a recommendation from my tennis pal, Kate. I loved it, but after reading some other reviews, it seems his Kafka-esque repetitions are wearing thin. In my opinion, Murakami is a favorite for a Nobel sometime in the next ten years and based on this novel, I’d say he has an exceptional grasp of language and the ability to portray the loneliness and isolation we all experience. This was a favorite theme of Kafka too, so no surprise there. However, what I loved was the mystery aspect woven into this story that provided a substantial plot to go along with the meditations on Tsukuru’s colorless existence. Tsukuru wants to find out why he did not fit in with his classmates years ago. This backdrop drives him to explore his existence and makes for a thought-provoking read.
- ALL THE PRETTY HORSES (1992) by Cormac McCarthy: Exceptional story, but more of an exceptional exploration of the barren, lonely nature of the West as seen through the eyes of a linguistic genius. The book haunted me about a part of the world I've never really cared about that much. I plan to re-read this book sometime soon because there's so much emotional depth in the simple, powerful language.
- DRACULA (1897) by Bram Stoker: The first time I read it as a younger man, I hated the diary-entry style. On my second reading though, I loved the realism this style created. This book deserves its place among the classics. The confusion we would all feel upon confronting the people, superstition, and mystery associated with Count Dracula in his foreboding homeland and, what’s more, the fact that Dracula has decided to follow you back to your home in secret pursuit of a more sinister desire, is what makes Harker’s entries so eerily powerful.
- MYSTIC RIVER (2001) by Dennis Lehane: Dave Boyle, the loser who Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus begrudgingly tolerate, gets taken by the worst kind of men. He survives, physically, but really, he’s a shell. He does not connect with others in the town, and with a push from the right place, Jimmy could believe whatever is necessary to solve the killing of his daughter, an event that coincides with Dave being covered in blood. Sean is the cop caught in the middle of this mystery. Did Dave kill Katie? If so, should it be Sean’s justice, or Jimmy’s? Riveting drama and a compelling examination of a parent’s worst fears realized.
- TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING (2017) by Ben Loory: A really fun and different book. When he says "short" story, Ben Loory means short. I could read almost every story in under five minutes. There are differing degrees of satisfaction with the conclusion, but the journey is always backwards and upside down. It’s well worth the time with memorable, fable-type tales that keep you guessing and wondering what these unusual characters will do next.
- TWO KINDS OF TRUTH (2017) by Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch investigates a double-homicide of a father and son who own a farmacia for the San Fernando P.D. He goes undercover then tries to help Elizabeth, a drug addict he meets with help from Cisco. The rest would give too much away, but know that this crime novel is one you can’t put down.
- LIVIA LONE (2016) by Barry Eisler: I wrote about this book recently in a book review on this blog and it makes the list, although one caveat: it’s very violent and graphic. I loaned it to someone and they were shocked by some of the intense violence. If you can handle a strong woman who does whatever it takes to get the job done, this book is for you. Livia is a truly powerful character. I loved the way Eisler switched between her origin story, training, and the present mission she's engaged in. The first chapter is one of the best I've read in a long time, immediately drawing me into the world of crime and intrigue, along with a strong awareness of the predatory nature of rapists. It also provides a glimpse into the world of white supremacist hate groups and their high level of organization.
- READY PLAYER ONE (2011) by Ernest Cline: If you enjoy 1980’s pop culture and thinking about reality and whether our reality is really the reality, then this novel is for you. The Matrix made me think about interdimensional realities more than I ever did before, as did Twin Peaks. This book deals with the question of reality in a more humorous, adolescent manner. Wade Watts is a kid with not much to live for in the “real world.” But, in the Oasis, he lives for the quest for Halliday’s Easter Egg, a promise of $240 billion and a controlling share of the company that owns the Oasis. What is the Oasis? A video-game reality that has taken over the world to the point where most folks spend more time plugged into that reality than in the actual world, which has degenerated into a dystopian future where everyone is stuck because of the global energy crisis. The story is teeming with pop culture references and fascinating puzzles. The characters are somewhat emotionally stunted, but Wade, the main character has a snarky voice and a way of explaining the tragic nature of life that is both philosophical and humorous.
- THE GUARDS (2001) by Ken Bruen: This mystery focuses on the degenerative nature of alcoholism, a subject near and dear to my own heart. For the first fifty pages I disliked Bruen’s writing style, but then the brief, machine-gun barrage that lacked pronouns grew on me and began to have a bigger and bigger effect. Verbs have power. Short sentences, shorter chapters. Give it a chance.