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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Required Reading for Life

This is a post that might turn into a column that it has been requested that I write. Because I recently gave my friend PMcC (hahaha!) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for his 25th birthday, calling it required reading for life, and everyone agreed.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon:
This truly epic novel sort of snuck up on me, and, shockingly, I don't own my own copy. The two times I have read it, I borrowed it. And, actually, the first time I read it, I think it might have sort of passed me by. I liked it but didn't love and adore it. The second time I read it, I read the last 300 pages in about three hours and sobbed at the end. I initially said it's required reading for every boy in the world, which is true, but really, everyone should read it.

It tells the sweet and complicated story of Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, cousins who are brought together when Joe escapes WWII-torn Europe and comes to live with Sammy and his mother in New York. The boys eventually fulfill their childhood dreams of starting a comic strip. The book spans from the mid-1930s to decades later, and I'm not doing it any justice by trying to synopsize it. It won the Pulitzer and deserved it.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:
I think this may be the only book I've ever read a NYTimes Review of and then bought. Actually, I rented it from BookSwim.com and THEN bought it. This book is unlike anything I've ever read before. It's the heart-wrenching story of an obese, Dominican young man named Oscar, living in New Jersey with his sister and ailing mother. The book reads like a hundreds-pages long slam poem, but in the best way possible. The narrator's voice is strong, sexy, and often sad. when I found out IT had won the Pulitzer, I thought...of course it did. Totally deserved again.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger:
Probably my favorite book of all time. (Well, one of them.) It came highly recommended to me by my brother and totally hooked me on the first line: "Clare: It's hard being left behind." It's the incredibly beautiful and fascinating story of Henry, a young man from Chicago who is "chrono-displaced," which means that he time travels, and the young woman he is meant to be with, Clare. The book is written in a way that allows their long and passionate story to unfold uniquely--we get scenes from Clare's childhood, where Henry visits her from the present, interspersed with scenes from their present together, as they are just meeting. It sounds complicated and confusing, but it's totally worth the read. (It's being made into a movie with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams...I'm not sure how I feel about that.)

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem:
Another book I say is required for all boys to read. Lethem tells the story of two young men (one black and one white) through their childhoods and close friendship in Brooklyn through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as Brooklyn changes drastically around them, forcing them to notice and come to terms with the differences between them. The twist here is an incredible element of magical realism, as the children seem to encounter and maybe become superheroes.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer:
My confession is I've never read Everything is Illuminated, Safran Foer's first novel. However, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is another solid favorite of mine. Oskar Schell is a 9-year-old boy trying to make sense of his father's death after 9/11. He finds a key at the bottom of a vase in his father's closet and searches the city, trying to discover what the key might be for. Oskar is an inspired and remarkable young narrator, who bravely traverses a busy, frightening city to try to reconnect with a father he doesn't understand how he lost.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:
Perhaps an obvious choice. But I've read this book upwards of five times, and it really is one of those books that means something different in each era in which I read it. I remember writing a book report about it when I was 11 or 12, remarking on how it had a little bit of everything: comedy, drama, horror. I've read it several times since and still believe and appreciate that.

I'll keep thinking...

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