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50 Books

Partly to check another one off the 101 list, and partly because I can’t think of another damn thing to write about, here is my top 50 books list. Let me reiterate that this is not a list of books that I think should be canonized or passed down to generations not yet imagined, it’s just the 50 books that I dig more than anything else I’ve read. I’ll list them in reverse order, for the sake of suspense. And don’t just scroll down to the bottom and blow the surprise: pre-emptive scrolling makes the baby Jesus cry.

50. East of Eden – Enjoyed this more than any other Steinbeck I’ve read. For the record, this was in my library long before Oprah claimed it.
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Read the book, watched the movie, and saw the play all in the space of about two weeks. I think I enjoyed the book most, but honestly they’ve all become one gelatinous piece of art to me. Might not deserve to be here, but hey, 50’s a lot of books, people.
48. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – If you ask me, Quidditch—which takes up about three hundred pages on this one—can suck it. But the last quarter of this book had me up into the wee hours. Best of the series.
47. Beloved – Did a presentation in a Contemporary American Lit course back in the day and knew this book backwards and forward. I’ve since forgotten everything, but I know that it deserves a spot of the list.
46. Skin – I entered the three-day novel writing contest twice in my life. My first attempt, while good, was beaten by an absolute piece of dogshit called Small Apartments; my second attempt was just an absolute piece of dogshit. Skin, by Bonnie Bowman, won the year before I entered, and it’s unbelievable. It involves an eczema-crippled porn star and a doctor with impractically large genitalia, and it’s so well written that it’s almost impossible that she put it together in just three days. I would have been more than gracious losing to this one. But I didn’t, so I’m not.
45. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – I put this on the list reluctantly. It’s about movie-making in the seventies, and while I did learn a great deal, it just tries too hard to be dishy. If I were to believe every word of this book, then every director at that time was megalomaniacal and high as a kite 24/7, and further, their wives were all dirty whores.
44. No Logo – Brilliant and scary. Raised my social consciousness for the first time since grade school.
43. The Stand – One of the only Stephen King epics that deserves its one thousand plus pages. When he killed off Nick, I’ve never felt so resentful towards an author. I’m still a little bitter.
42. Fifth Business – Enjoyed this more than any other book I studied in high school, including the craptastic Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I said it.
41. The Elements of Style – This is the grammar and punctuation bible, put together by an old, condescending English professor, with a second half appended by the author of Charlotte’s Web. Surprisingly readable. I’m such a nerd.
40. The Blind Assassin – My favourite Atwood comes a little farther up the list, but from a sheer talent perspective this is as good as it gets. There are lengthy sci-fi sections in here that I’d say are the best of their kind that I’ve read. (Then came Oryx and Crake, which is all sci-fi and didn’t turn me on nearly as much.)
39. Middlesex – An epic about Greek immigrants, generations of incest, and a hermaphrodite. Coolio. Jeffrey Eugenides spent seven damn years on this novel, which I find unfathomable.
38. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Unlike the movie, this book has an ending. It’s not all just acid and space babies and more acid, people. Read the book!
37. Geek Love – The story of how Sarah fell in love with me? No, actually it’s about a couple who spawn a family of circus freaks through the mother’s liberal ingesting of insecticides and fun radioactive materials. Rock.
36. Flowers for Algernon – Heartbreaking. Sort of like the Lawnmower Man without all the fancy.
35. The Love of a Good Woman – I wanted to put some Alice Munro on here, and while I really didn’t give a crap about the titular story, there’s another one in there called "The Children Stay" that I think is her best work. And I also just wanted to use the word titular.
34. Porno – Sequel to Trainspotting, which you’ll see quite a bit further down. Renton, Sick Boy, and crew get into the world of amateur pornography. Good times.
33. The Corrections – Portrait of a super-dysfunctional family from Jonathon Franzen. Sometimes you can smell the blood and sweat that fell into a work of genius, but with his writing I get the (likely wrong) sense that it all comes very easy to him. He’s got one hand on the keyboard, half a sandwich in his mouth, and he’s conducting a phone interview and flipping off the image of Oprah on his TV set all at once.
32. The Power and the Glory – Another school text that doesn’t deserve the stigma.
31. The Call of the Wild/ White Fang – I put these together because they’re basically the same book, which is not to say that both aren’t good.
30. You Shall Know Our Velocity! – I had to have some Dave Eggers here because the guy is brilliant, not to mention entertaining as all get-out. And the best titler going these days. Other choice selections include “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly” and "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned"
29. Watership Down – Yes, I am a ten year old girl, thanks for asking.
28. Shampoo Planet – I’m not sure if this book deserves such high placement because it was the first bit of Coupland I ever read. Was it this book in particular or discovering the author that made this so great? Haven’t read it since, but I’ll let you know. Going forward, we’ll call this ‘the Coupland phenomenon.’
27. Fahrenheit 451 – vastly superior to the first four hundred and fifty books in the bloated Fahrenheit series.
26. Brave New World – Begins stronger than it ends, but great regardless. I love books that depict a future dystopia, especially when they’re forty years old and you can forgive the vague science.
25. Lolita – I’ll be damned if this book didn’t have me rooting for a pedophile. Don’t judge. Try getting through the first fifty pages without hoping that poor Humbert Humbert just gets his girl.
24. Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon is the master of writing fiction that is both big-L Literary and pleasant to read. The book is superior to the movie, but the movie isn’t too shabby either.
23. Which Lie Did I Tell? – Screenwriting dirt from William Goldman. A bit of gossip, a bit of how-to. He was great once: Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now he writes Schwarzenegger flicks and every Stephen King adaptation ever, poor bastard.
22. Not Wanted on the Voyage – Generally, Timothy Findley was a pretentious arse, but I loved this book. It’s a very different retelling of the Noah’s Ark story that the Religious Right probably weren’t too fond of.
21. The Gunslinger – I’ve gone on about this previously, so won’t again.
20. The Handmaid’s Tale – Again with the future dystopia. Best Atwood ever.
19. 1984 - Natch
18. Such a Long Journey – I read this book at a time where I was especially down on Canlit—where every Canadian book I read involved a farm, depression, alcoholism, incest, and absolutely no forward motion. Then along came Rohinton Mistry who restored my faith.
17. White Teeth – Zadie Smith published this book when she was twenty-four, and she is smarter and more talented then you or I will ever be. And by the way, it galls me.
16. Animal Farm – I know less then a goat does about the Russian Revolution and I still enjoyed the bejezus out of this book.
15. No Great Mischief – I had Alistair MacLeod as a teacher (not for writing, sadly) and I was also present at the launch of his book. Do you know how he writes? He doesn’t draft and redraft his work as a whole; he writes a sentence, and if he doesn’t like it he scratches it out and starts again, and again, and as many times as necessary until he’s happy with it, then he moves on. It took him fourteen years to write this book. Now you know why.
14. Fight Club – The central theme to pretty much any Chuck Palahniuk book is self-actualization through self destruction. It gets a touch tiresome after the fourth book or so, but he did it best the first time. The movie is superior, but the novel is still brilliant.
13. A Fine Balance – With the kind of fiction I read, the imaginary horrors and tragedies I voyeuristically enjoy, I sometime think that I have no soul. It’s very rare that I’m actually saddened or repulsed by a book or even a single scene. Only twice that I can remember have I ever had to put a book down because I couldn’t immediately go on. This was one of those instances. It involves a sterilization taken too far, and it was hell to read.
12. The Old Man and the Sea – Not a huge Hemingway fan, but how can you not like this? No machismo, no misogyny, just a broken old fisherman watching the catch of a lifetime get devoured by sharks. Perfect.
11. Barney’s Version – There’s probably not a lot of instances where an author writes their best novel at the end of their career, but this is surely one of them. I like Richler the shit-disturber more than Richler the satirist.
10. The Fire Dwellers – My love of Margaret Lawrence comes from the fact that her fiction isn’t so far from something I could write; not nearly as skilfully, of course, but just as far as the subject matter goes. Her books aren’t filled with war, or high intellectual discourse, or (I’ll say it again) future dystopias, they’re about housewives, and white trash folks, and marital affairs, and old people. And even though it’s about everyday going-to-church, watching-the-kids type stuff, it’s fascinating.
9. The Basketball Diaries – Jim Carroll was an absurdly smart kid. And even though it’s all about drugs and debauchery, it still made me feel deeply ashamed about how dull my life is.
8. Microserfs – Best Coupland there is, in my humble opinion. In some of his books I find the omnipresent quirkiness of his characters grating, but here they’re all programmers and it just fits. And you’ve got to admire the guy for writing about Microsoft well before anyone really gave a damn.
7. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – I won’t say much about this because I think I’d like to do a whole entry on it sometime soon. It’s basically a book of essays on pop culture and philosophy, and that description sells it way short. Here’s an excerpt to make up for it: “For those of us who grew up in the media age, the only good silence is the kind described by the hair metal band Extreme. ‘More than words is all I ever needed you to show,’ explained Gary Cherone on the Pornograffiti album. ‘Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me, cause I'd already know.’ This is the difference between art and life: In art, not talking is never an extension of having nothing to say; not talking always means something.”
6. A Jest of God – Once upon a time I was writing a novel, and in the midst of it I read this book. It turned out that there were sections of A Jest of God that expressed exactly what I was trying to say. I found this to be equally inspirational and dispiriting.
5. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – Again with the Coupland phenomenon; I might think I like it so much because it was my first John Irving experience. This was the other book I had to put away for a bit, this time not because it was so sad, but because I’d never felt so present in a scene before. It was at the end of ‘The Finger’ section: I thought I was on the business end of that drill.
4. A Clockwork Orange – Once you figure out the language—drougues, moloko, razdraz and whatnot—you feel like you’re part of a secret club. This was another of those books that had me rooting for a really awful guy. Don’t beat poor Alex. He’s not that bad, really.
3. Life of Pi – This will sound awful, but one of my first thoughts while reading this was, “Yann Martel can’t be Canadian—this is too good.” The writing is brilliant, the story is entirely un-Canadian, and the ending… I wouldn’t dare spoil it. Go read it, and I don’t mean later.
2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Far and away some of the best writing of the past five years. It’s an epic about the Golden Age of comic books, with golems, acts of escape, Nazis, and superheroes. I cannot imagine the time and the research put into this. If I could, I wound eat Michael Chabon’s brain.
1. Trainspotting – As has likely become clear by now, I love books about degenerates. I don’t want to see bad things happen to good people, but I love seeing lowlifes go through the ringer. This book is almost the culmination of every book I like. Like Clockwork Orange, it has its own secret club language (in this case, phonetic Scottish); like Lolita, it has you cheering for the bad guy (because pretty much everyone in this is a bad guy). I also love it because it’s so episodic; there are thirty-odd stories within the overall novel and they're so self-contained that you could read the damn thing backwards and still enjoy it.


Jay said…
Have read Lolita, not terribly impressed with pedophilia. Good read, but I felt bad for her and angry at him the whole way through.

Ambitious list.
Anonymous said…
Top 25

I am at the Villa of Touch Last and I am not sitting in front of my I will try my top 34

The Top 34

I am at the Villa of Touch Last and I am not sitting in front of my I will try my top 34

1. Barometer Rising
2. Barney’s Version
3.The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

4.No Great Mischief
6.A time to Kill
7.In the skin of a Lion
7.5th Business
8.The watch that ends the night
9.The Game
10.Another Roadside Attraction
11.Slaughter House 5
12.The Last Crossing
14.Cold Mountain
15.The Great American Novel
16.Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
17.The Beach
18.Never Cry Wolf
19.High Fidelity
20.Apprenticeship Duddy Kravitz
22.Two Solitudes
25.The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories
27.Catcher in the Rye
29.Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
30.A Fine Balance
31.Ship of Gold
32.A Separate Piece
33.The Shipping News
34. Naked Lunch
Anonymous said…
A list of your 50 favourite books?
Shit, dude, I don't know if I've even read 50 books. Maybe that's the problem with you not being published yet: you're too busy reading and not writing enough. Always showin' off with your literateness...

Meanwhile, though, I find it sad that you didn't have any James Ellroy in your list, which I'll chalk up to you simply not having read any. Because if you did, oh, it'd be on your list, my friend.
Dude wrote L.A. Confidential, fer cryin' out loud. Read The Black Dahlia and tell me he doesn't deserve to be more widely read than he is.
Go on.
Do it.
Do it, I tell you!

And I was glad to only see one Stephen King book on there. I was ready to kick your ass if I saw a bunch listed, and ask you why you obviously hadn't read any Clive Barker yet. As it stands, though, one ain't bad.

Also, please move back to Toronto so I can borrow some of your books more easily.

Anonymous said…


Ah Poor Clay....

I loaned this book to my friend Sari. She's in Brazil, dammit.
Jay said…
Hehe, Dave's an Amazon whore!
Anonymous said…
> Hehe, Dave's an Amazon whore!

Yeah, but he probably still makes more money at that than I do at my job.

Ah, to be a whore now that Spring is here...
Anonymous said…
You had two Stephen King books in your list: Gunslinger and The Stand.
Ho-ho-HO, man... yer askin' for it.

That's it.
Measures will be taken.
Anonymous said…
Which books have I read from your list? Let me list them, with useless diatribe to follow!

49 - Book is better than the movie. But Jack is the man.
48 - After this Harry starts to show signs of being a putz.
43 - Started reading it and then got bored. Maybe I should try again? I'm surprised the Green Mile isn't on your list.
36 - This story had me teary eyed. Man, what an amazing ride!
32 - I read this. But I can't remember for the life of me what it was all about! Stupid High School!
31 - Two of my favourites. Or one of my favourites. You minimalist dick.
21 - If you can make it past the 4th book, you will NOT be disappointed.
20 - Atwood had me at hello with this book.
19 - I read this when I was really young, and it scared the crap out of me.
16 - Goats know a lot about everything because they spend their time reading encyclopedias while people are blowing them.
3 - I thank you for this book that you gave me for Christmas last year. I couldn't put it down. I agree about the "uncanadian" quality. We here in the modern world call it "global view"
2 - Another gift from you. This book is amazing.

the fact that I have read at least 5 from your list makes me feel smarter.

A really good book is one called 'Demian'. Highly recommended. I notice you didn't have Lord of the Rings on here, you bastard....
Anonymous said…
I think I've taken up semi-permanent residency on your blog to avoid having to think up stuff to write about by myself...good topics lately. I especially agree about Middlesex, John Irving and Kavalier and Clay (Wonder Boys not so much but then I saw the moive first.) Have you read Jonathan Lethem? Fortress of Solitude is wicked and sounds up your alley. (Man alive, I need to read more women authors.)

Without proper bookshelves here's the list of books I've read since leaving (ie. my whole life when not working or watching illegal DVDs). All but one has been begged, borrowed or stolen from other people's guesthouses.

The Known World - Edward P. Jones
Fucking wicked.

Mrs. Dalloway - Virgina Woolf
So good I instantly wanted to re-read it. Got to see The Hours right after.

Nine parts of Desire - Geraldine Brooks
About women in repressive Muslim cultures. Wonder what that was doing in Kabul?

Platform - Michel Houllebecq
Over-rated middle-aged misanthropic/racist male fantasy that tries to make people against sex tourism sound stodgy.

Eucalyptus - Murray Bail
Australian. First 86 pages changed my life.

Getting over Edgar - Joan Barfoot
"Platform" for middle-aged Canadian women, only good.

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson
220 pages in it's still gripping and thoughtful, which almost never happens. And he lives in Vancouver, as noted earlier by a savvy PhD candidate.
Anonymous said…
> 21 - If you can make it past the 4th book, you will NOT be disappointed

Who the hell's gonna read three lacklustre books just to hold onto the hope that it starts getting better on the fourth?

Oh, wait...

> I notice you didn't have Lord of the Rings on here, you bastard....

Those will be on his next list: The 50 Top Books That Were Too Long-Winded But Became Classics Anyway
Anonymous said…
Let the quote war begin...

>Who the hell's gonna read three >lacklustre books just to hold onto >the hope that it starts getting >better on the fourth?
>Oh, wait...

This is a nice shot at me. And it IS your opinion, after all (which, last I checked, was filed under 'turd' in my office). ;)

Seriously though, I think the key to have read this series was to start reading it younger. This work consumed a majority of King's life. He started it in high school, or somesuch. Thus, when I was 17 and read it, it was awesome. It still is in a nostalgic kind of way.
The fourth book does suck donkeys though. Way too long and too much confusion.

>Those will be on his next list: The >50 Top Books That Were Too >Long-Winded But Became Classics >Anyway

I find it hilarious how you call them long winded, especially after reading Clive Barker, who, if you the grotesque imagery and swearing are left with books that essentially say:

"Weird shit happens. Sometimes its good to kill stuff. Don't forget to wipe. "

That, and Tolkien is WAY hotter than you in a thong. The truth hurts, folks. ;)
Dave said…
There’s always surprisingly little crossover, I find, between the libraries of two book lovers. Dutch, let’s see those last sixteen when you get back home.

As for Clive Barker, I’ve read Weaveworld: which was cool; The Great and Secret Show, which I don’t remember so well; and The Books of Blood, which contains the story “In the Hills, the Cities” (which rocked my block.) Hate me for saying it, but none of it was top 50 material. Haven’t read James Elroy, but will.

I am a dirty, dirty Amazon whore. Especially now that I’m posting links to products that I actually endorse.

Now that the movies are out, I will never read the Lord of the Rings books again. I’ve read the series twice and both times I finish feeling grateful I’m done, rather than grateful that I've read them

Very excited about reading Fortress of Solitude. Read a review for it just the other day that absolutely made it sound like my kind of book. Couldn’t disagree with you more about The Known World, though. Excruciating-—not like it put me through the ringer but because it was such a slog to get through. Have not read anything else on your list, but it all sounds like good stuff that I’d like to get my hands on.
Melina said…
Loved your was like looking at my own for the most part. Check out Mark Spragg's "The Fruit of the Stone" you'll thank me later ;)

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