Never on Oprah Reading List

In which contributing members tell us about books of literary merit which would never be selected by Oprah for her book club.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Impossible Saints by Michele Roberts

I first read this 8 years ago during the late stages of my pregnancy and found it a disturbing read. Since then I have re-read it twice and am less disturbed by the content and writing style.

Roberts use of language is very complex and her story telling style is not simple in any sense of the word. But her cleverness and the many paths of her tales lead you through a myriad of emotions and experiences.

This book retells the stories behind the making of many female saints - it is not in anyway sanitized (if you are very religious you may find some of her ideas offensive) - her female saints range from one armed mad girls to seductive daughters all woven around the telling of the life story of St Josephine - holy women or whore?

Personally I have grown to love Roberts work and revel in the weirdness of it. I re-read them time and time again and discover something new each time. Try this disturbing and strange book for a very different read.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer

I finished reading Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven last night. It was really interesting reading. The cover blurbs make it sound like the book is mostly concerned with one murder case. In fact, most of the book involves recounting the history of the Mormon church and its splinter fundamentalist offshoots, and thereby making the case that in view of this history, the crime in question is not that atypical an event. My father always had an historian's interest in Mormonism and I visited Nauvoo with him when I was a teenager. Krakauer's research for this book involved extensive reading and distilling of previously published histories as well as interviews with practicing and apostate Mormons. As far as I could tell, no new research went into the telling of the history, but he does an excellent job with presenting the history as drawn from previous texts. He makes extensive uses of source material in describing the crime and the aftermath and in presenting a picture of life as it is currently lived in the fundamentalist enclaves. I'd put this on my highly recommended list.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

This has to be one of my favourite Angela Carter books. I've taken the time to re-read it and have fallen in love with it all over again.

The story revolves around the eldest child of three, who find themselves orphaned and uprooted into a world of the strangest people. The tale is so evocative of the time it was written (late 1960's) and the language is rich, descriptive and compelling.

The story raises many questions and leaves a lot of these unanswered - but this adds to the sense of unease that so many of Carters stories provoke. I think this also adds to the pleasure of loosing yourself in her slightly warped world.

A great first book if you've not read her stuff before.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan

I'm on a roll with this guy. I have Atonement on deck to read next.

Enduring Love was fascinating, well-written, engrossing, provocative, and emotionally complex. A set of randow circumstances set in motion all the horror that follows. Again, no Happily Ever After pulled improbably together at the end.

Some themes: the roles of science and faith in making sense of life and death, the nature and of love and line between sanity and insanity. The enduring love of the title refers to a pathological version of love, completely independent of the victim, his actions or emotions. This pathological state has been found to persist for years with no sustaining return of affection. Consider also the other meaning of "enduring," as in the suffering of the victim.

It's a great read and one you can keep thinking about after you're done.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ian McEwan: Amsterdam

I just finished Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan, and it's definitely not Oprah material! It's thought-provoking and both comic and tragic. Good does not triumph; there's no warm'n'fuzzy sentiment.

I'm eager to read more of his work! If you haven't yet, pick this one up.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Oryx and Crake

Caution: if you have not read this book and intend to, please consider not reading further. I don't want to restrain my discussion for those of you who haven't read it.

In general, I really like Margaret Atwood's writing. I don't always really like each book, but this one was one of the biggies. It succeeds as a great novel, it succeeds as a cautionary tale, it succeeds on the emotional level of a reader reacting to the characters. (This quickly leads to the discussion I want to have next: expound upon the difference between a good novel and great literature.)

The time is the future, and the planet has been thoroughly changed by humans and their actions. Global warming, habitat destruction, industrial pollution, and genetic engineering have progressed from the current levels along predictable paths. The children of the elite grow up in luxury in compounds with controlled weather, free of contamination and disease. But they also tend to lack warm and loving relationships with nurturing parents. Our protagonist, Jimmy/Snowman, is ill-suited for success in this world, being more a "word" than a "numbers" person. His buddy, Crake, an alienated genius, is ideally suited to succeed.

Although the ending in ambiguous, it offers no "affirming triumph of the human soul" kind of BS to make us feel better about it. Humankind appears to have been wiped out. There are probably a few stragglers around the globe. Crake has engineered a new species of hominids to populate the planet. He hopes they will be gentler, more communal, less war-mongering, and less scientifically capable than homo sapiens were. In view of what humans had done to the planet, can the case be made that this genocide was actually a good thing? Was Crake really evil? He's on his way to becoming a deity for his new people, the Crakers, in spite of his intentions.

This book could be the basis of a college lit class. I could talk about it for a whole quarter. In spite of the really grim subjects, it's never maudlin, and has many wonderfully ironic and humorous ideas. The Bucket o Nubbins comes to mind.

I'd love to read what others have to say. Post a comment or join and post your own entries. Click on my name in the contributor list and then email me from the profile screen. I'll send an invite and you're in!

Monday, June 27, 2005

The List: in completely random order.

1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
3. The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson
4. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
5. Impossible Saints by Michelle Roberts
6. The Magic Toy Shop by Angela Carter
7. Anything by Haruki Murakami, esp. The Windup Bird Chronicles.
8. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
9.If you want something really down and dirty and in a tough Glaswegian dialogue, try Irvine Welsh- trainspotting or porno. nasty, funny and definately will never be on Oprah's list
10. Anything by Tom Robbins: Villa Incognito, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Skinny Legs and All, Jitterbug Perfume.
11. Anything by Jasper Fforde (yes, two Fs in Fforde). He wrote The Eyre Affair and sequels.
12. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
13. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
15. Anything by Chuch Palahniuk...he's too dark and a little bit twisted.
16. The Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon
17. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
18. If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino.
19. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
20. The four Rabbit books by John Updike (Rabbit, Run, Rabbit is Rich, and I forget the names of the other two).
21. Sewer, Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff
22. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
22. Independent People by Halldor Laxness
23. My Dark Places by James Ellroy
24. Anything by Carl Hiaasen. (Strip Tease, Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip, etc.)
25. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
26. Cryptonomicom by Neal Stephenson. Diamond Age and Snow Crash are also good ones by Stephenson that are not likely to end up on Oprah.
27. Atwood's the Blind Assassin as well.
28. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy TooleRedPoppy
29. Geek Love, anyone?
30. Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons
31. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley
32. Dubliners by James Joyce
33. Any of Samuel Beckett's work
34. The diaries of Anais Nin
35. Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein
36. From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz (I know what you're thinking but read it anyway, it's amazing) (taken verbatim from message board.)
37. The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern abridged by William Goldman
38. Erections, ejaculations, exhibitions and general tales of ordinary madness by Charles Bukowski
39. Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan

The Never on Oprah Booklist Blog is Open

I'm going to make this public! Send me your email to join. I know there's a world of good suggestions out there: let's hear 'em.

The background story:

When my older son was in preschool, I had spent one morning while he was at school rereading Lolita. When I went to pick up my son, I mentioned to the teacher that I had spent the morning reading. She asked what. Now this woman was a very nice preschool teacher, of the type I imagined tuning in to Oprah whenever her schedule permitted. After hemming and hawing for a second, I told her, "Lolita." She seemed a little taken aback as she muttered something vague like "That's nice."

The incident started me thinking about what types of books would never get chosen for the Oprah bookgroup. This was years before Jonathan Franzen rejected the honor. (Like many, I'm surprised The Corrections was chosen: a very un-Oprah book.)

So, I sent an email around to all my literate friends and acquaintances asking for suggestions. Then I posted the question in an online forum in which I participate. This preliminary list is culled from those responses. More will be added as they are suggested.