12 Jul

Liz’s Picks!


1. Watch­men, writ­ten by Alan Moore and illus­trat­ed by Dave Gib­bons


Watch­men is, by far, my favorite graph­ic nov­el: it’s a cap­ti­vat­ing and twist­ed piece of lit­er­a­ture PLUS an incred­i­ble work of art. The sto­ry begins in New York City in 1985, long after the gov­ern­ment has forced super­heroes and vig­i­lantes to either retire or work for them exclu­sive­ly. The Unit­ed States believes that a nuclear war with the Sovi­et Union is unavoid­able, and every­one seems to believe “the end is nigh.” And to make the future bleak­er, there might be a supervil­lain tar­get­ing for­mer heroes. What I tru­ly love about Watch­men is that the heroes are more like antiheroes–they’re com­plex because the world is harsh, and they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly do the right thing. After all, this isn’t a Super­man comic. But if you need a list to con­vince you to read it, con­sid­er Time’s List of the 100 Best Nov­els. The Great Gats­by, which is at the end of this list, is on there too.

2. Nine Sto­ries by J.D. Salinger

I had read one of the sto­ries, “Uncle Wig­gly in Con­necti­cut,” for a class in col­lege; it’s about two for­mer col­lege room­mates who recon­nect and reflect on their lives over drinks. My pro­fes­sor had con­sid­ered Salinger to be a mas­ter of short-sto­ry writ­ing, and that Nine Sto­ries should be on everyone’s read­ing list. The col­lec­tion has Salinger’s sig­na­ture wit and ele­gance, and con­tains one of his most famous short sto­ries, “For Esmé–with Love and Squalor,” which is about an Amer­i­can sol­dier who promis­es to write a sto­ry for a loqua­cious young girl he meets abroad. Of all the nov­els on this list, this col­lec­tion of short sto­ries is among the lighter fare because it’s easy to read and pret­ty straight-for­ward.

3. One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude by Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez

You have to read each sen­tence slow­ly, savor it, and ful­ly com­mit to this nov­el to get any­thing out of it. (I sug­gest research­ing Colombia’s his­to­ry if you don’t want to miss a beat.) The novel’s gen­re is mag­i­cal real­ism, and fol­lows sev­en gen­er­a­tions of the Buendía fam­i­ly and their lives in the fic­tion­al town of Macon­do. Oh, and almost all of them have the same name, so don’t read this when you’re half asleep or on a crowd­ed bus–for that you’ll be reward­ed.

4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Don’t shy away from this nov­el because your high school Eng­lish teacher(s) told you to read it. It’s large­ly con­sid­ered one of the best twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry nov­els, and for good rea­son: it’s hilar­i­ous. It takes place dur­ing World War II and dom­i­nant­ly fol­lows an Amer­i­can sol­dier named Yos­sar­i­an and his quest to go home. But he can’t until he fin­ish­es his ser­vice in the army, and they keep rais­ing his mis­sion require­ment. It’s a “Catch-22”: he’s con­sid­ered insane if he con­tin­ues to be involved in dan­ger­ous mis­sions, but then sane if he for­mal­ly requests leave on the basis of insan­i­ty. There’s no way to win, and it’s tragi­com­e­dy at its finest. And there’s a char­ac­ter named, Major Major Major Major! Yeah, you’re sold.

5. Lit­tle Wom­en by Louisa May Alcott

It took me a while to pick up this nov­el; I had thought it was going to be bland and dense. What could pos­si­bly hap­pen to four sis­ters dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War and beyond for 700+ pages? A LOT, of course. There’s death, dis­ease, love, friend­ship, ambi­tion, trav­el­ing, and ful­fill­ing careers. Just ask Joey Tribbiani–the nov­el was an emo­tion­al jour­ney for us both. Some fur­ther advice: Nev­er read the sequels. They don’t have the same heart or excite­ment that Lit­tle Wom­en has. Pre­tend they don’t exist, like The Last Air­ben­der or Grease 2.

6. Dublin­ers by James Joyce

If you feel intim­i­dat­ed by Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but want to get a taste of what he’s all about, read A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man, because it’s intel­li­gent, wit­ty, and hilar­i­ous. And then read Dublin­ers, his col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, out of order. Start with “The Dead,” which is arguably his most famous sto­ry in this col­lec­tion, and one of my favorites (anoth­er being “Araby”). It’s a must-read for any writer or aspir­ing writer–Joyce is a mas­ter of struc­ture, scene, and dia­logue espe­cial­ly. The dia­logue might seem sim­ple, but I promise you there’s a rea­son for this exchange in “Araby”:

O, I nev­er said such a thing!”

O, but you did!”

O, but I didn’t!”

Didn’t she say that?”

Yes. I heard her.”

O, there’s a… fib!”

7. The Bloody Cham­ber by Ange­la Carter

This is a beau­ti­ful and dis­turbing col­lec­tion of short sto­ries. It is a lyri­cal reimag­i­na­tion of some of our clas­sic fairy tales, such as Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood and Beau­ty and the Beast. My favorite short sto­ry is “The Bloody Cham­ber,” which is about a young wom­an who mar­ries an old, wealthy man who turns out to be sex­u­al­ly vio­lent and a mass mur­der­er. But hey, it has a hap­py end­ing! “Puss-in-Boots” is anoth­er favorite, because who wouldn’t like a wit­ty and horny con cat?

8. The Great Gats­by by F. Scott Fitzger­ald

You’ve prob­a­bly seen Baz Luhrmann’s film, which is great, or may­be you were assigned to read this in high school and col­lege and didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I’ve read this nov­el at least five times, and my love and respect for it has grown with each read­ing. If you’re a fan of sym­bol­ism, wit­ty and ridicu­lous char­ac­ters, the Amer­i­can Dream, and jazz cul­ture, read this now.

So, what do you think?