I love that scene in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN where Enos says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” That’s me and my favorite books. No matter how tall my TBR stack gets, there are books I go back to over and over again. Their spines are broken, their pages are spotted with whatever I was eating or drinking when I was reading them, and nearly all the pages are dog-eared and have things underlined. In writer terms, there is no other greater sign of devotion than a book that’s been loved until it’s falling apart.
The complete list of these books is long, but here are five I go back to over and over again.
THE WONDER BOYS by Michael Chabon. Yes, he’s written more ambitious and more daring books, but this book holds the key to my heart. It has flawed, funny characters who just have to get through this one weekend where the personal stories of the people at a small college unravel and reassemble during a weekend literary festival called WordFest.
Here’s the main character Grady Tripp on the buttoned-up dean who also happens to be his mistress:
Undressing her was an act of recklessness, a kind of vandalism, like releasing animals from the zoo or blowing up a damn.
THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB by Karen Joy Fowler. This is a book I read over and over again because the structure and the voice is so brilliant. Forget the movie if you saw it. Fowler tells the stories of a group of women and one man meeting over the course of a summer to discuss the works of Jane Austen. But that premise is deceiving. There’s so much more to this story and each meeting takes a deep dive into the life of a member so that they we feel each little heartache of their lives. As the novel says at the very beginning: Each of us has a private Austen.
THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI by Andrew Sean Greer. I can sum up why this book is so good in one word: longing. There’s nothing more beautiful and captivating than a character who longs for something intensely and can never have it. Max Tivoli is one of those characters. It’s a gorgeous novel with writing that will take your breath away. I’m not even going to tell you about the plot. Just trust me. It’s beautiful. You can tell from the promise of the first line: We are each the love of someone’s life.
BELOVED by Toni Morrison. I think it’s an easy argument to say that Toni Morrison is one of the greatest American writers ever. OK, I’d go further and say one of the greatest writers from any where ever. This book is a wonder. I can’t even imagine the bravery it took to tell this story. And I’m not talking about the bravery of confession that so many novels depend on. I’m talking about the bravery of writing a gut-wrenching story of such darkness into the human experience. I can’t imagine sitting down at a keyboard each day with this story. Yet I’m so grateful Miss Toni did for this line alone: Something that is loved is never lost.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton. If you haven’t read Miss Edith, run to your bookstore right now and buy any of her books. She’s an astonishing writer. I like to think of her as the love child of Jane Austen and Ian McEwan. And this is my favorite of her novels. Her eye is so sharp on the society she is portraying and she puts her characters through emotional hell and back. Her characters are some compressed by their time and world that the removal of a glove is an act of uncontrollable passion. And the final scene is the most perfect thing in literature. I’m not kidding.
But mostly I love her because Miss Edith is, above all else, a smart ass. Here’s a paragraph from the opening scene at the opera.
She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.
So those are five books I just can’t quit. I’m actually reading THE AGE OF INNOCENCE again right now. I can’t wait to get to that ending scene. Trust me. It’s so perfect.