And The Winner is … My top 5 reads? Impossible.

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Best books ever? This is going to be so easy!

  1. The Art of the Deal
  2. The Bible
  3. Just kidding

No, I definitely do NOT find this easy. Who came up with such a terrible blog topic? I did? Well, shit.

There are so many books I love – and for so many different reasons – I’m going to need categories. (We’re supposed to list five books here, but math was really never a strength of mine, just saying.)

Best Imagery, especially through the use of similes/metaphors: Anything by Tom Robbins. But especially JITTERBUG PERFUME or maybe SKINNY LEGS AND ALL. Or even VILLA INCOGNITO which begins with the following unforgettable line: “It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute.”

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The way Robbins describes things, compares things, explains things never ceases to amaze and amuse me. For example, in JITTERBUG PERFUME, Robbins describes an apartment building in Seattle, saying that “it had acquired a life of its own. Every toilet bowl gurgled like an Italian tenor with a mouthful of Lavoris, and the refrigerators made noises at night like buffalo grazing.”

And while we’re on the topic of toilets… in HALF ASLEEP IN FROG PAJAMAS, Robbins writes, “You go to the ladies’ room and urinate as hard as you can, forcing a stream against the porcelain that would knock a small animal off its feet or put out the eye of a cyclops.”

 

Best Male Narrator: Paul Chowder in THE ANTHOLOGIST by Nicholson Baker

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There’s a moment toward the end of this fabulous novel, when Paul meets his ex Roz (whom he earlier describes as having “a bosomy kind of generous smartness”) in front of her house. Having just come from a market, she comments about loving “the smell of brown paper bags filled with raw vegetables.” Paul agrees: “‘I like it very much,’ I said. Trying to stay on an even keel but feeling a lot of love for her and wanting to lie down on the sidewalk as a result.” He had at me at lying down on the sidewalk. I could just die that line is so sweet.

 

 

 

Best Female Narrator: Ellen Foster in ELLEN FOSTER by Kaye Gibbons

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From the first sentence of this fabulous debut novel, Ellen grabs the reader’s attention: “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” You just can’t wait to get to know and understand what motivates this young girl, how she thinks and what she’ll do. Her story is a sad one, but Ellen’s determination, worldview, and all-around goodness make this novel wonderfully up-lifting.

 

 

 

 

Best Comedic Novel: DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS by Julie Schumacher.

imgresAbsolutely laugh-out-loud book. Billed as “a novel that puts the ‘pissed’ back into ‘epistolary,’” this hilarious book follows Professor Jason Fitger as he writes endless letters of recommendation (“yadda, yadda, yadda”), revealing in the process all sorts of details about department politics and his personal life. As one blurb said, “I’ve never lost an afternoon so happily” – exactly how I felt.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Comedic Short Stories: SPOILED BRATS by Simon Rich

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Flat-out hilarious stories. Wonderful social satire about New York, New Yorkers, and humans in general.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Dialogue: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF? By Edward Albee.

imgres-3Is this cheating because it’s a play? There’s nothing quite like listening to George and Martha talk and fight and brawl and make each other laugh. Albee’s dialogue is brilliant. What I figured out after reading Albee is that I should always read my own dialogue out loud to make sure it hits my ear right. When I write, I often start with a script, and then turn those dialogues in prose form. And when I can’t remember how people sound, I go back to George and Martha.

Martha: “You make me puke.”

George: “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say, Martha.”

 

BEST. Just all around best book I’ve ever read: BELOVED by Toni Morrison.

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Any of my former students can tell you exactly how I feel about this book. I taught BELOVED to high school seniors and found something new every time I read it. Also I cannot, simply cannot, read the last few pages without weeping uncontrollably. Like, I’m thinking about those lines right now and tearing up. It is the most moving, beautiful, truthful, difficult novel I’ve ever read, and it educated me beyond any American history course I ever took. Just plain brilliant.

 

 

 

 

Here are some other favorites:

Something oldish? THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL by Anne Bronte

Something newish? SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward

Something borrowed? THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward P. Jones

Something blueish? THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA by Hanif Kureishi

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Amy Poeppel grew up in Dallas, Texas and left the south to attend Wellesley College. Since then, she has worked as an actor, a high school English teacher, and most recently as the Assistant Director of Admissions at a school in New York City. Her three fabulous boys are all off in Boston attending school, and she and her husband now split their time between New York and Frankfurt, Germany. A theatrical version of SMALL ADMISSIONS was workshopped at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She later expanded it into her first novel.

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This article has 6 Comments

    1. Thanks so much for reading! – Dear Committee Members will certainly give you a lot of laughs (while Beloved will give you a lot of cries!). I just keep thinking about all the books I left off the list and feeling awful about it!

    1. I adore that book. The line that stuck with me: “The water is faster this time; it wraps liquid fingers around my toes, my ankles, begins creeping up my calves. This is a fast seduction. The wind howls.” Amazing.

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