The Best Book Ever

It’s getting close to that time of year when those obnoxious “best of” lists start appearing. While I am nothing if not a sucker for a numbered list, I always hate these lists because they always manage to leave off the things I think belong there. As such, I don’t want to go in that direction with today’s post. Instead, I’d like to do something that I hope will be both more democratic and interesting. A long time ago, Levi wrote a two-parter about favorite poems (part one and part two), which first asked what everyone’s favorite poem was, and concluded with a discussion of his favorite poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (which, by the way, is my favorite poem, too). This was one of my favorite LitKicks moments, so I thought I’d do something similar, though not entirely the same, because I like doing my own thing.

We write about books a lot here, because that’s the point of the litblog, I suppose, but while we often focus on what’s happening in the world of contemporary literature (or, if you’re me, totally not contemporary literature), sometimes it’s good to get all gushy and starry-eyed writing about that one book we love above all others. The one book that, when you think about books, is the best one you’ve ever read. I’m thinking of my favorite book right now (and I’ll tell you what it is later, in a reply to this post, since I have other things to write about next week), and it’s my favorite for the following reasons: the writing fascinates me, the construction of the pieces of story into the whole of the novel is incredible, and after I finished reading it the first time, I sat and reread the last sentence 10 more times because I didn’t want it to be over yet and I was amazed at how perfectly it had all come together in that last, lovely line.

So, instead of trying to compile one of those dreadful “Best of 2006” lists that everyone will disagree with anyway, I propose that we create our own list of The Best Books Ever. If you’d like to play along, and of course you should, you have to pick one book, your favorite book, without resorting to that pansy-ass “I love the following 25 books equally as if they were my own children.” Pick the one book, the book you’d be perfectly happy to read forever if somehow it were the only book left on earth. You can do it, and I’m looking forward to knowing what you choose.

Okay, go.

46 Responses

  1. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt
    Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

    Genre classification aside, this book summarizes humanity perfectly.

  2. GatsbyI love reading it from
    Gatsby

    I love reading it from cover to cover in one sitting. F. Scott’s got crazy skillz.

    Soon I’ll post all the books I’ve read this year, with one sentence commentaries on each. I’ve read 44 thus far.

  3. I like the idea of one
    I like the idea of one sentence comments on each book. This should be fun to read.

    Jamelah, if you say House of Leaves, I will have a cow.

  4. WaldenOne might expect me to
    Walden

    One might expect me to choose “Moby Dick”, because I’ve written about it a lot and I also went and got myself tattooed with a scene from the book once. If you asked for my favorite novel, that’s what I would choose. But you said “favorite book”, so I’m going to change it up and pick “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. I’ll have to rave about it some other time (ironically, since Thoreau viciously mocked “busy people” in the book, I’m too busy today) but I have always admired this book very much.

  5. On the Road/Tropic of Cancer
    On the Road/Tropic of Cancer (tie)

    Ok, so that’s two books. Sue me.

    In addition to being great fiction, both books taught me a valuable lesson when I was a teenager/college student: that I didn’t have to be a suburban wage slave — another kind of life was possible.

    Decades later I still reread both books. It’s also great to see that young kids in malls and on the beach are still reading them!

  6. The Da Vinci Codejust
    The Da Vinci Code

    just kiddiiing!! 😉

    I absolutely love all of his work, but so far I would have to say Pablo Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses is my favorite, and if I had to pick just one poem from this book it would be the following:

    The Stolen Branch

    In the night we shall go in,
    we shall go in to steal
    a flowering, flowering branch.

    We shall climb over the wall
    in the darkness of the alien garden,
    two shadows in the shadow.

    Winter is not yet gone,
    and the apple tree appears
    suddenly changed into
    a fragment of cascade stars.

    In the night we shall go in
    up to its trembling firmament,
    and your hands, your little hands
    and mine will steal the stars.

    And silently to our house
    in the night and the shadow,
    perfume’s silent step,
    and with starry feet,
    the clear body of spring.
    ~~~~

    Neruda was a brilliant writer in my opinion; he reaches such a depth in his works. His words melt through you; to the stirs of passion that nurtures the poet within all of us.

  7. i’m struggling (edited)On the
    i’m struggling (edited)

    On the Road . . .

    no,

    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas . . .

    No, wait! Walden . . .

    I can’t DO it! Why must I chooose?

    Oh, GOD. I know – The Bible. Wait, that’s no good, the Crusades & all…

    On the Road to Fear & Loathing in Walden…

  8. Well, I have to say, that is
    Well, I have to say, that is a top-notch poem. Very good, indeed.

  9. Alright, seriously, I’ve made
    Alright, seriously, I’ve made my decision.

    If I were stranded with only one book forever, I would pick the Bible, but not for religious reasons! I’m not a fundamentalist, literal interpretation guy.

    The Bible, I’m pretty sure, contains every theme and plot there is. My favorite “book” of the Bible is Ecclesiastes, which actually reminds me of elements in Walden, On the Road, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and many other books. If I were reading the Bible on a desert island, my mind would extend parts of it to encompass everthing in my imagination, the same way my mind does with any book. You know, like, if one imagines what happened to Dean Moriarity after On the Road ends, or what happened to Gatsby, one can also wonder about what happened to the witch who summoned up the ghost in the Old Testament.

  10. For the ‘stranded on an
    For the ‘stranded on an island forever’ scenario, I’d be torn between Proust and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Of course I would trade all reading material for an occasional visit by either the Olsen twins or the Williams sisters (the tennis pros). Doy!

  11. bill, i really like your
    bill, i really like your choice, and i especially like the reasons why you chose it.

  12. yes! those two. they have
    yes! those two. they have influenced me a lot, too.

    and kazantzakis’ zorba the greek. and chingiz aitmatov’s “the scaffold”. and walden. and leaves of grass.

    favourite? can’t answer this question. can’t choose, just comment.

  13. Sexus By Henry MillerIn
    Sexus By Henry Miller

    In choosing a “best book ever”, I quickly jogged my memory of all the books I’ve ever read. A few stuck out immediately. I cried at the end of On The Road (I don’t know why). I’ve read through Fear and Loathing more times than I can count (by that, I mean 3 times). I found Beloved a little lame. TS Eliot to me is as stiff as a corpse. But after thinking a while, I realized any sort of discussion in my head was unnecessary.

    My choice was obviously Henry Miller’s Sexus. I don’t even think of the book…as a book. It doesn’t register with me like that. This isn’t some exaggerated symbolism or any extended litterary BS like that. To me, that book is LIFE. Henry Miller uses every single one of its 506 pages to tell a tale that hits Every. Single. Fucking. Angle. on the way. To me, a wayward college student, unsure of life and what to do with myself, it was an education. I frequently re-read passages to this day.

    I wouldn’t recommend the book to everyone. It’s a commitment. Miller’s words are that of an essayist, a poet, a novelist, and a pervert. Sometimes he’s all of these things at the same time. As he details his love, his sorrows, and his escapades I was drawn in so powerfully that I couldn’t classify the event of reading the tome as anything but absolutely mindblowing.
    Life changing.

    To put this all into clearer context: If Miller is God, then this is his Bible. I couldn’t put it any other way.

  14. Heh. Sylph, that was going
    Heh. Sylph, that was going to make me sad.

    But I’m so glad that you picked Neruda over Dan Brown. Pablo Neruda is one of my all time favorites.

  15. no hesitationportrait of the
    no hesitation

    portrait of the artist as a young man.

    after that, maybe something by nabokov or phillip roth. maybe huxley’s point counter-point. the point being, i wouldn’t even have a clue if joyce hadn’t given us that one.

    p.s. i think james joyce sucks, excepting that novel and that novel only.

  16. The BibleIf you can only pick
    The Bible

    If you can only pick one, this one is the most encompassing of man’s story. Which is what writing is. (And the author is a friend of mine.)

  17. Ham on RyeIn my short years
    Ham on Rye

    In my short years this has been the one book that’s hit me hardest

    I even describe it to friends as it being like someone were beating the shit out of you every chapter

    Though, I’m sure I’ll be replacing it soon enough, with me I rarely have favorites for long periods of time

  18. That’s interesting &
    That’s interesting & unusual – to dislike all but one book by someone, but to like that one book better than any other.

    You’ve got my attention. Could you tell us a bit more about why you like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

  19. The Windup Bird Chronicleya
    The Windup Bird Chronicle

    ya gotta love Haruki Murakami.

    it’s like i read it in a dream. i remember this as the best book i ever read, although i can’t quite remember why. every now and then bits of it will float back up to me, –oh yeah, he sat at the bottom of a well. –and he had a pimple with magic healing powers. –and someone got skinned alive….

    perfect book for a desert island – it would be new every time.

  20. Without a doubt_The Science
    Without a doubt

    _The Science Of Logic_ (Hegel). It – instructively misguidedly – radicalises _everything_ important in all the philosophy preceding it and – thereby – makes itself the specific alienation (i.e. the Rational matrix) of all the important philosophy _suc_ceeding it (Marx Althusser Foucault Deleuze Derrida &c.). I.e. it is – in a sense wildly contrary to Hegel’s understanding of these terms – the immediacy (sic) of the Idea.

  21. I wouldn’t call the Bible the
    I wouldn’t call the Bible the “most encompassing of man’s story.” It is actually a narrow slice of mankind’s history, and even that slice is questionable in its accuracy. There is much, much more that is not included.

    Grove Press has published the books of the Bible individually, and of those books, my favorite is Ecclesiastes.

  22. Well, after I posted my pick,
    Well, after I posted my pick, I read Bill’s pick and saw that I had basically copied him, so then I thought, how about – The Portable Nietzsche. It’s a simple basic “how to” book. Hegel, I think, is a bit too deep. But I’d like to take a look at your selection, see if I can follow it. (Or could you review it sometime, since I’m lazy.)

  23. Jamelah, am I going to need a
    Jamelah, am I going to need a local anesthetic for this delivery? Is it really House of Leaves or am I in false labor?

  24. Old Dan Tucker was a fine old
    Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man…

    Washed his face in a frying pan!

    Best! Book! Ever! = “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder

    Why? Because I can’t get enough of that rascally Mister Edwards.

  25. I haven’t read this but your
    I haven’t read this but your well-written summary is much appreciated.

  26. House of LeavesSteaks at
    House of Leaves

    Steaks at Bill’s house! Heeee!

    I’m kidding, of course. I had a fun time reading it, and all, but I don’t want to read it again, or anything.

    Anyway, my answer to this question surprises me a little bit, because I would’ve thought that it’d be something by William Faulkner or Anna Karenina* or something. I initially contemplated totally cheating and picking a play (I would choose Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by the way), but I will not.

    Earlier this year, I was picking out some books to loan a friend and I came across this one, which I remembered liking a lot and decided to read it again. Because I already knew how things would go, I could pay more attention to the architecture of the novel (and it definitely leaves the impression of a book that’s been built), and was just as impressed with it as I was the first time, if not even somewhat more so. The book I am writing about is Immortality by Milan Kundera, which I think I could easily read four or five more times before I got tired of it. At least. Which is about the greatest endorsement I am capable of giving anything.

    *I kid.

  27. Whew!You had me going for a
    Whew!
    You had me going for a minute, there. My breathing has returned to normal.

    Well, now…Immortality, by Milan Kundera, eh? Interesting choice, seeing as it must have been a translation from French. I went online to the public library and put a hold on it. While I was at it, I put a hold on another book by Milan Kundera, Art of the Novel because, well, I’m writing a novel and I need all the help I can get.

    Wow, check it out, here’s an excerpt from Kundera’s Art of the Novel:

    The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes

    In 1935, three years before his death, Edmund Husserl gave his celebrated lectures in Vienna and Prague on the crisis of European humanity . . . the roots of the crisis lay for him at the beginning of the Modern Era, in Galileo and Descartes, in the one-sided nature of the European sciences, which reduced the world to a mere object of technical and mechanical investigation and put the concrete world of life, die Lebenswelt as he called it, beyond their horizon.

  28. yes i said yes i will Yes.I’m
    yes i said yes i will Yes.

    I’m extremely happy to see Henry Miller mentioned twice thus far. I first read “Tropic of Cancer” when I was 17, and I doubt there will ever be a book (or movie, or song, or poem, etc.) that will ever have that kind of impact on my life. So many of the regrettable decisions I’ve made can be directly traced back to the influence of that book, but I can’t imagine I would’ve derived the joy that I have out of these last seven years of my life without it.

    And yet, however well-trodden and sanctioned it may be by stuffy lit professors who miss all the jokes, I don’t think anything approaches “Ulysses” as an exhilarating testament to the possibilities of human achievement. It’s a maddening book, and upon reading it you have to either throw it away in boredom or let it become an obsession. I’ve stopped recommending it to friends, because doing so has tended to make them suspicious about anything I recommend in the future. But beneath all the linguistic games and overblown mythological allusions and silly mysteries (which Joyce effectively admitted where just there to keep scholars busy — mission accomplished), “Ulysses” is a book about being alive, about eating and defecating, arguing and pondering, bathing and masturbating, and humor above all (highbrow, lowbrow, any other -brow you like). There’s a tendency to see Joyce’s juxtaposition of a quiet, unremarkable ad canvasser’s day with the journeys of Odysseus as mockery or parody — this is the worst misconception about the book. Joyce respects Leopold Bloom more than any other writer has respected his characters, and in his mind, Bloom’s choice of a cheese sandwich at lunch is every bit as important and exciting as Odysseus’ escape from Circe. And personally, I’ve read “the Odyssey” twice and probably won’t again, but I’ll never stop trying to figure out Leopold.

    (Not to mention, that last chapter’s a killer.)

  29. Okay Bill, if The Bible isn’t
    Okay Bill, if The Bible isn’t the most encompassing book of man – which book is? (And you’d know the author, if you’d get back to church going.)

  30. Walden is great, but Thoreau,
    Walden is great, but Thoreau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka…they’re such sad solitary figures. Jeez, they remind me of me.

  31. It took twenty years to
    It took twenty years to write.

    A quote from the James Joyce Centre:

    “Initial preparation for Joyce’s work began in 1902 while Joyce was still twenty years old. He was self-possessed enough to gather all his epiphanies and begin arranging them to form notes for Ulysses. He began work in earnest in 1914, after the publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and it was eventually published in 1922.”

  32. Normally, I would agree w/
    Normally, I would agree w/ Bill…

    (because I’m a big Bible reader)

    but the Bible aside, my favorite book would be:

    Green Eggs and Ham

    because it’s lyrically perfect and no matter how old you are, you never get tired of reading it.

  33. The Sheltering SkyThe
    The Sheltering Sky

    The Sheltering Sky has been my unwavering favorite book since the first time I laid eyes on it. Also in my top 5 would be The Third Policeman, If on a Winters Night a Traveller, the Alexandria Quartet, and Zorba The Greek…for now

  34. On the RoadRunners up are The
    On the Road

    Runners up are The Stranger and The Subteraneans (another great Kerouac book)

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