Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Perfect Books, With a Grain of Salt

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."

Long pause.


"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

Perfect Tearjerker
Brady: A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot
Mary: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Perfect Shakespeare
Brady: The Tempest
Mary: Hamlet

Perfect Mystery
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)

Perfect Comic
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

Perfect Malaise
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.


Gwen said...

You guys make me feel really stupid. I don't know what my perfect books are, but I'm *sure* they're nowhere near as impressive as yours.

My list would almost certainly include the Little House on the Prairie series. Shut up! I lived on the prairie! Near where she lived! It was neat!

KHD said...

I agree with Gwen on this one.. rarely do I feel this stupid. I suppose it's sad that I haven't even heard of half of these books. And for what it's worth, I LOVED the Little House on the Prairie series. I've even had a picnic on the "Banks of Plum Creek" and went to the setting of "Little House in the Big Town" in DeSmit, SD. Now whose the dork?

mary_m said...

I'm a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, too. I especially liked the later books when Laura and Manny were courting but not married, and Laura was always going out to buy fabric for dresses.

And my little sister was almost named Laura... how weird would that have been?

AK said...

I think it's so ridiculously cute that Mary and Brady's fave books are so similar to each other, at least in title. I mean: To Brooklyn With Love/A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And then Brave New World and 1984, which by now are so mixed in my brain that I can't recall which plot points go with which book.

And I love Harriet the Spy! And Little House... In the Big Woods!!

Gwen said...

I also went to DeSmet, SD! I was punishing a boyfriend on a vacation once, so we drove all the way there and I made him take the tour of all the places in the area where the Ingallses lived. I have lots of pictures. It was honestly one of the most exciting things I've ever done.

And I loved the ones where they're courting, too--"The Long Winter" (?) and "These Happy Golden Years."

"The First Four Years" was the worst, which I found out later was because it's the only one her daughter Rose didn't edit before it was published.

I also later learned that Laura was actually a really mean, unpleasant woman. This was a real blow to my sense of the world.

mary_m said...

When I read The First Four Years, I was, like, THAT'S what being married is like?!? When they were courting, they had time and money for new dresses and carriage rides. Then they get married and it's nothing but pestilence and suffering and fire and babies! Sucks to that!

Somehow I'm not surprised LIW was nasty. Laura (the character) was always having this passive aggressive competitive thing with Mary, and she seems to resent Manny a little bit... like being married to him didn't pan out quite how she hoped. Plus, so mean to the Indians.