In my own and fumbling way, I have traveled far and away somehow, in my reading journey. My excursions have taken me places – from the stiff and boring sides, through the dark and gore corners, to the highly cerebral end. Among the playwrights, I recall George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams and Thornton Wilder with affection. I have more than a dozen favorite essayists but among those I won’t forget are Montaigne, Jonathan Swift and D.H. Lawrence. Among the relatively modern fiction writers who made it to mainstream, these I remember fondly – William Golding, Saul Bellow and E.L. Doctorow.
I am not exactly the sort who makes a list of favorites. I usually have trouble deciding, afraid I might leave out someone or something important. In real life, I read a lot of non-fiction stuffs, the dry and logical kinds. When the idea for making a list of favorite fictions occurred to me, the other tenants in me protested. Thus, herewith is not exactly a fave list, but a recitation of works that unsettled, bothered and touched me, in more ways than one. They are arranged in the order I encountered them:
1. The Little Prince – Antoine de-Saint Exupery
2. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
3. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair –Pablo Neruda
4. Lily of the Valley – Honore de Balzac
5. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
6. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers
7. Twenty Years at Hull-House – Jane Addams
8. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
9. Dance of the Happy Shades – Alice Munro
10. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
I guess I am partial to coming-of-age plots. I never tire of reading them. Like most of my contemporaries, I read and was enamored by A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Perhaps, I was moved by it more than J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye. But then, I hold that Robert Musil’s The Confusions of Young Torless is one of the best literary pieces on the subject of teenage confusion and rebellion. For me, that novel clearly illustrated the challenges, as well as the miseries, of growing up.
D.H. Lawrence’s works, I found to be a far cry from the hushed tone Lawrence was talked about during my freshman year in college. I did not find Lady Chatterly’s Lover scandalous, didn’t and don’t think it would hold a candle to Alfred de Musset’s writings. I would say that the collection of classic Italian stories is considerably more “pornographic,” ahaha. At any rate, I am among those who think that D.H. Lawrence should be read and interpreted beyond the pornographic tag. I enjoyed reading him than I did Thomas Mann, another author steeped in controversies.
There were years when I plowed through the works of the British authors and their so-called dry wit – John Galsworthy, E. M. Forster, C.P. Snow and E.F. Benson. It’s Benson’s social commentaries that I found humorous and endearing. On the lighter end, I also read a number of works by H.E. Bates and John Mortimer. Likewise, I am fond of Miss Read. I have come to love her fictional village and continue to read her writings, to these days. Her works, among those I consider as happy finds.
Among the American authors, I have high admiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I read Walt Whitman’s works, too, but for some reason, am not a big fan. I went through a number of Scott Fitzgerald’s novels but I must say I like Hemingway’s better. But I would agree to the observation that both authors dealt with boredom and rather superbly, ahaha. I read and enjoyed most of Steinbeck’s writings, including his biography and minor works.