Me and Daniel

Me and Daniel
Me and my then 8 year old son, 20 years ago.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Favourite favourites...

I finally decided to get in on posting my favourite books!
Of course, now that it's no longer a 'thing' that people are doing, I suppose I'm a little late with it.
Either that or I'm super early with the next 'list-a-thon'.  Either way, if you guys enjoy reading lists of other people's favourite things as much as I're in for a treat!
Of course, I know some people think that it's just as exciting to read someones shopping list....and if that's the case, come back next Wednesday when I'll be posting the one where my grandson wrote 'candy' in crayon at the bottom of the list, just below crazy glue, batteries, nail polish remover and vodka.
Until then, I hope you enjoy this list.

I can't really place these in any particular order of preference, since I really like them, even though they do appear in a particular order, (the alternative being a jumbled mess) that order has nothing to do with how much they are loved by me.... I go....
1. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, By Dave Eggers

"These things, these details, stories, whatever, are like the skin shed by snakes, who leave theirs for anyone to see. What does he care where it is, who sees it, this snake and his skin. He leaves it where he molts. Hours, days or months later, we come across a snake's long-shed skin, and we know something of the snake, we know that it's of this approximate girth and that approximate length, but we know very little else. Do we know where the snake is now? What the snake is thinking now? No. By now the snake could be wearing fur; the snake could be selling pencils in Hanoi. The skin is no longer his, he wore it because it grew from him, but then it dried and slipped off and he and everyone could look at it." ~ Dave Eggers;                   A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Dave Eggers is exactly my kind of writer.
 This book, his memoir, is funny, moving, intelligent, real and raw....and, yes, heartbreaking.
The book opens, (after a list of 'Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of this Book') with Dave taking care of his mother, who is dying of cancer. He is twenty years old. His parents die within five weeks of each other, and he becomes effectively, a single parent in charge of his seven year old brother Toph.
Okay, I know it doesn't exactly sound like there's a lot of humour in it, but there is. If you love memoirs, or just a good story, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one as much as I did.

2.  Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life, by Trevor Cole

Norman Bray is an ageing dinner theatre actor with an ego as huge as his burgeoning financial and personal problems. He has renounced all responsibility, for just about everything, in the name of his art.
Norman Bray is probably the most self absorbed character I've ever read.
 It's ridiculous how he doesn't seem to grasp the fact his career has faded and the wolves are circling. He is on the brink of financial and personal ruin, and doesn't get it....he performs his life as though it were a stage play.

The book starts like this:

"Watch the man being seated at a table in the middle of the Skelton Arms pub. He has been shown a table to the side, but no, he prefers the one in the middle, so that is where he sits. His name is Norman Bray. You won't have heard of it before, although that fact might surprise him."
~ opening paragraph of Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

I have been reading this book every few years since I was thirteen years old. It is Oscar Wilde's only novel, the majority of his writing career being padded out with plays, fairy tales and poems. I think everyone is familiar with the story, Dorian Gray retains his beautiful looks and vibrant youth, while every crime and evil deed he does, shows up on the face of his portrait, which he keeps hidden from the world.
The novel was originally published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, in July, 1890. It is tame by today's standards I suppose, but back in 1890-91 it was regarded by most as vile and  immoral.
This reaction prompted Wilde to add a preface to the next edition, which said, in part,

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.
That is all."
You said it Oscar!

4. When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris

I am mad for David Sedaris! I love this book. It's a book of short, short stories, vignettes and slices of life... and most of them are really funny. The ones that aren't really funny, are still just plain funny.

“May I bring you a drink to go with those warm nuts, Mr. Sedaris?" this woman looking after me asked - this as the people in coach were still boarding. The looks they gave me as they passed were the looks I give when the door of a limousine opens. You always expect to see a movie star, or, at the very least, someone better dressed than you, but time and time again it's just a sloppy nobody. Thus the look, which translates to, Fuck you, Sloppy Nobody, for making me turn my head.” 
― David SedarisWhen You Are Engulfed in Flames
5. Diary of a Madman, by Nicolai Gogol

Here's another fantastically ancient book. This story was originally published in 1835. It takes place in the era of Czar Nicholas 1, and chronicles the descent into madness of one civil servant, who believes himself to be the new King of Spain.
It is very funny, and very sad...from a perceived love affair between two dogs, to his strange 'coronation', we catch a glimpse inside the protagonist's ever more wobbly mind.
Here's proof that something written almost 180 years ago is still funny and poignant. 

“April 43rd 2000

Today is the day of great triumph. There is a king of Spain. He has been found at last. That king is me. I only discovered this today. Frankly, it all came to me in a flash.” 
― Nikolai GogolDiary of a Madman and Other Stories
6. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

I know, this novel is most often associated with required reading in high school, (at least it used to be) and the book Mark Chapman was reading as he waited for the police after murdering John Lennon. 
My guess is that most of you have read this book at some point in your life, and we've all experienced the confusion of teenage angst, alienation, identity and loss. 

"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.” 
― J.D. SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye

7. Literary Lapses, by Stephen Leacock

This book of hilarious short stories was originally published in 1910, (okay, I can hear everyones eyes rolling at the fact that this is, yet another book from a past century...I can't help it!....and yes, I've read this one many times too....) and sold at CN Rail stations so commuters would have some light reading on their journeys.
Turns out that Stephen Leacock, the economist, was a genius writer of comedy stories, and he is a Canadian hero. His former home in Orillia, Ontario is a National Historic Site, and well worth visiting if you are a fan. I adore him.

This is from his Literary Lapses story, "How to Live to be 200", about a man, Jiggins, who had, 'the health habit.'

"...In the evenings in his room he used to lift iron bars, cannon-balls, heave dumbbells, and haul himself up to the ceiling with his teeth. You could hear the thumps half a mile.
He liked it.
He spent half the night slinging himself around his room. He said it made his brain clear. When he got his brain perfectly clear, he went to bed and slept. As soon as he woke, he began clearing it again.
Jiggins is dead."
This well known quote is from the story 'Gertrude the Governess':

"Lord Ronald said nothing. He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse, and rode madly off in all directions."

8. The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence

This is another book that has been part of my life for years.
 Hagar Shipley will do that to you. Hagar is a 90 year old woman, struggling to come to grips with the fact that her family is thinking that the best place for her is a nursing home. As she reminisces about her youth, her marriage and the childhoods of her sons, she does the only reasonable thing that any nonagenarian in her right mind would do....she runs away.

“I can't change what's happened to me in my life, or make what's not occurred take place. But I can't say I like it, or accept it, or believe it's for the best. I don't and never shall, not even if I'm damned for it.” 
― Margaret LaurenceThe Stone Angel

9. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

This is a wonderful novel, with themes of survival, belief and art. 
Pi Patel is immigrating, with his family, (and half of the family's zoo!) from Pondicherry, India, to Winnipeg, Canada. 
Along the way something horrible happens, and Pi is forced into survival mode, doing things he never thought possible, in a situation he couldn't have imagined in a million years.

“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.” 
― Yann MartelLife of Pi
10. The Outsider, by Albert Camus (also sometimes translated as 'The Stranger')

Camus was a French/Algerian journalist, philosopher and author who helped the rise of the philosophy of 'absurdism', which states that there is no 'higher purpose' to life, it just is. Just as I am ignorant of most of the universe, so, most of the universe is ignorant of me. 
The book opens with the words, 

"Mother died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."
That's my list....of course it could change at any moment, there are so many books I love for so many reasons. 

Hope you all are having the best celebrations, feasts and get-togethers possible this year and everyone makes it through healthy and happy....
.....and, keeping with the theme of favourites, here are two of my all time favourite performers, Barry Gibb and Michael Jackson....I know, who'da thunk it, but never-the-less, here they are singing together for your enjoyment! I hope you enjoy it anyway.
 I once heard someone say that Barry Gibb's voice sounds like ear cancer, so, if you are of that opinion, just don't listen to it. This is, after all, fat, old Barry Gibb..and his voice at this stage had taken on a bit of the oldness, but none of the fatness. None that I can detect anyways. 

Finally, to paraphrase Aldous Huxley, "Be careful on the roads. It's the Christmas season, everyone's liable to be drunk."


  1. A very interesting collection of favorites. A couple on there I enjoyed, several I haven't read yet.

    And, personally, I like Barry Gibb.

    1. Hey LD! I'm with you, I love Barry Gibb....I absolutely adore the Bee Gees! Hope you're having a happy holiday season!

  2. A favorites list is a fun way to get to know others better. I haven't read most of these on your list. Catcher in the Rye I read a couple year ago for the first time and it has grown on me the more I've thought about it. Dorian Gray I read many years ago and now don't really remember much about it. Saw the movie too.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Hey Lee! I sure hope things are feeling a little better in your life, my condolences to you and your family.
      I love reading other people's lists of favourite things, and I may just do another with favourite films or music....we'll see.
      Hope you're able to get a little R&R over the holidays.

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