Late last night, the mister and I were chatting and I asked him, "What do you think is a perfect book?" We had previously been discussing the canon, postmodernism, sociology, and the ignorance of these kids today, so I should have known better than to expect a straight answer.
The intrepid sociologist replied, "For there to be a perfect book there has to be some external criteria against which the book is judged that everyone agrees on, which isn't gonna happen, so instead our definitions of the perfect book always adhere to some institutionalized guidelines, like the standards of the literary intelligensia, which just reproduce their elite status and are ultimately arbitrary anyway."
"I only wanted to know what is a perfect book to you."
"Oh. Right. Sorry."
So, we then proceeded to make a list of perfect books for the next hour. It came out something like this:
Most All-Around Perfect Book
Brady: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Mary: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Perfect Childhood Classic:
Brady: To Brooklyn With Love by Gerald Green
Mary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Perfect Book You Didn't Quite Get At First, Then Realized Was Hilarious
Brady: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Mary: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Brady: A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot
Mary: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Brady: The Tempest
Brady: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Mary: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Perfect Book Featuring a Plucky, Precocious Heroine
Brady: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Mary: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Perfect Historical Sociology/Social History
Brady: Learning to Labor by Paul Willis*
Mary: Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro
Perfect History Shocker
Brady: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Mary: Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson (runner up: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson)
Brady: Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Mary: 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
Perfect High School Required Reading
Brady: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Mary: 1984 by George Orwell
Perfect Short Stories
Brady: The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake
Mary: The Grass Harp, Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories by Truman Capote
Brady: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Mary: didn't like The Moviegoer, doesn't care for malaise
There were more, but these lists are probably much more fun to make than they are to read. And having said that, I think I understand more fully why the traditional canon is a racket.
* Brady wishes it to be known that, despite his endorsement of Dr. Willis's fine book, he has serious reservations both methodological and theoretical in regards to LTL. Still, it's damn funny in parts.