Some books just stick with you, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s not even because they are particularly amazing. It’s just that something about them lodges in your brain like the lyrics to some random song and never leaves.
So as my 10 for Tuesday, here are 10 books I read a long time ago, but still think about often and I can’t seem to get out of my head. I think that makes for a super random, quirky and a little unexpected type of list.
1. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Plot: Set in Italy during World War II, Yossarian is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Why I can’t forget it: This was probably one of the most unique books I’ve read even today and certainly at the time I read it. It has the kind of circular thought that makes your head ache and your brain churn with realizations about the absurdities of the world. Whenever I see real world hypocrisy or irony, I think of this book. I’ve been thinking of it a lot lately.
2. Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
Plot: Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy with a normal life, married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normalcy. They’re even about to have their first child. Yes, Charlie’s doing okay—until people start dropping dead around him, and everywhere he goes a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Charlie Asher, it seems, has been recruited for a new position: as Death. It’s a dirty job. But, hey! Somebody’s gotta do it.
Why I can’t forget it: I am a fan of Christopher Moore. I’ve read his vampire books (which are great) and I love Fool, his re-telling of King Lear from the point of view of a jester. It’s a must-read for Shakespeare lovers or anyone who likes to laugh. But, this book is just different somehow, for me. It’s just so darn weird, even for Moore standards. I just can’t get the scenes I picture in my head from this book out of my brain and they still make me laugh.
3. What is the What by Dave Eggers
Plot: An epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges.
Why I can’t forget it: Honestly, I’d like to. This book traumatized me with the brutality of humanity. But, I also don’t want to forget it because if we ignore or forget this heinous acts they will just continue to happen. Plus, the story of Deng is worth reading to see what it really means to be resilient and overcome adversity.
4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Plot: Who is John Galt? When he says that he will stop the motor of the world, is he a destroyer or a liberator? Why does he have to fight his battles not against his enemies but against those who need him most? Why does he fight his hardest battle against the woman he loves? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the amazing men and women in this book.
Why I can’t forget it: This book kind of changed the way I think about life. I’m not a full subscriber to the Rand’s philosophy or even a partial subscriber really. But, I read this book at a time in my life when I needed, let’s say, a kick in the pants to realize I was actually worth more than I thought. For that reason, this book will forever be my favorite. I read it when I’m feeling down about myself and need another swift kick in the pants.
5. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Plot: Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.
Why I can’t forget it: Well, it’s probably my second favorite book of all time. It’s steeped in metaphor so deep I’ve read it three times and I still haven’t uncovered it all. I could talk about this book for days, much to the chagrin of my book club. (They were not fans.) It’s not an easy book, but if you have the time and wherewithal to sink down into it, it’s well worth the read x 3.
6. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Plot: Focusing on two romances—Jessica’s dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco’s first love with Jessica’s little brother, Cesar—Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty.
Charting the tumultuous cycle of the generations—as girls become mothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation—LeBlanc slips behind the cold statistics and sensationalism and comes back with a riveting, haunting, and true story.
Why I can’t forget it: This book might have been the first to really open my eyes to the truth about social inequality and how it’s hard to escape a world you grew up in, even if you want to try. It put faces and emotions to statistics. I still think about the things that happened to the family, some so terrible (rape, abuse), it’s hard to understand how they can talk about them so matter-of-factly, like it’s just inevitable. It shouldn’t be.
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Plot: The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.
Why I can’t forget: Long before anyone even thought of making this into a movie, I read The Giver in college as part of a children’s lit course. Until then, I’d abandoned children’s lit before I even stopped being a child. Now in college, it was the first time I realized the power of children’s literature, not just for children.
There is a lot of talk lately of dystopian novels like 1984, the Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World. (All great books I’ve read and loved!) But, The Giver is the one that really sticks with me. It’s subtle commentary about society and giving up individuality and freedom for the sake of safety and pain may have a far more pertinent and even compelling message today than some of the adult dystopian novels.
I still think about Jonas sometimes and his world, his escape. I even read it together with my daughter when she was 9 years old and discussed it afterwards. It was even more insightful than the discussions in college…
8. The Witching Hour Series (aka The Mayfair Witches), by Anne Rice
Plot: To provide a plot summary of all 3 books would take up a lot of time and real estate on this blog. Therefore, I’d prefer to go with a succinct sentence that sums it up nicely. It is a tale of a family of witches, and a spirit that has guided their fortunes for generations. If you know Anne Rice’s work, you know it’s going to be a lot more complicated and interesting than just one sentence.
Why I can’t forget it: This book probably started my love of witches. (I wrote a book on them after all, The Travelers.) I always loved “things that go bump in the night.” I was pretty much raised by Scooby Doo and thought people dressing up like monsters to steal the rich people’s jewels was totally plausible. What I really loved were the ghost and ghouls and cobweb-covered mansions.
But, the Witching Hour was different. Here the monsters were the good guys, sort of, at least some of them. And the story was rich and complicated with elaborate histories. I’ll never forget staying up all night reading the first book. And I haven’t forgotten it since.
9. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Plot: Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in the hopes that living in an old mansion, long the subject of town lore, will help him cast out his own devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods and only one comes out alive, Mears begins to realize that there may be something sinister at work and that his hometown is under siege by forces of darkness far beyond his control.
Why I can’t forget it: And with Salem’s Lot, my vampire obsession was cemented. I read Salem’s Lot probably too young, around the age of 10. It terrified me so much I still think about it. Not necessarily the book itself. It’s been so long the plot elements are sort of lost on me now, but I remember the terror and pulling my blanket over my head at night, pretending that would protect me. I must admit, even today, on occasion, when something raps at the window I get a little scared.
10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Plot: The victim of a miscarriage of justice, Dantes is fired by a desire for retribution and empowered by a stroke of providence. In his campaign of vengeance, he becomes an anonymous agent of fate. The sensational narrative of intrigue, betrayal, escape, and triumphant revenge moves at a cracking pace. Dumas’ novel presents a powerful conflict between good and evil embodied in an epic saga of rich diversity that is complicated by the hero’s ultimate discomfort with the hubristic implication of his own actions.
Why I can’t forget it: This one is a strange reason. First, if I ever hear any song from Led Zeppelin IV I think of this book. And if I think of this book, I think of Led Zeppelin IV. Odd combination? For sure. But, my realization of how much I loved books and my realization of how much I loved music converged one Spring Break when I was I think 12 on a road trip down to Florida.
The details are fuzzy. But, I distinctly remember reading The Count of Monte Cristo while Led Zeppelin IV played over and over again on my Walkman (yes, dating myself.) Until this time, I’d read a certain style of book (think R. L. Stein and some Stephen King). I’d never read a “classic.” I’d also always just listened to the music my parents listened to (country and some pop).
For the first time, I’d branched out into new literary and musical worlds and it was a bit of an epiphany. (Even if I only realized the epiphany years later. I was only 12.) This might be why books and music are inextricably linked in my mind and why to this day, the Count of Monte Cristo is always popping up in my thoughts, just like eerie guitar from The Battle of Evermore.