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Books - 5 books sharing first place

Posted Aug 27 2009 11:34pm
This post is totally off-topic. It has nothing to do with running, but it does give you a glance at one of our bookshelves. For those that are not into old and stuffy books, please forgive the length of the post. We won't wake you up.

In a previous post, I mentioned my plan to post my book top-5 and as my to-do list is way too crowded as it is, I decided to do this post as soon as possible - in order not to forget.

Having been a book-geek my whole life, there is a number - no idea how large - of books I have read and re-read. Though I occasionally love to read stuff by Ludlum or King (I devoured many of his books during the commute to school many years ago), I am usually into the old stuff by long dead writers, the stuff that sits on shelves of bookstores or -markets collecting dust because they are no longer "hip and happening". In the bookstores, I generally go straight for the old editions and the pocket-sized blue Oxford University Press Classics - yes, I am that shallow. In college and university, I used to bore my friends to tears (or yawns) while in a bar, rambling on about an old collection of words in a particular order by a particular author. Now, when I see the old familiar glance at the clock or eyes glazing over, I realize that I have not lost my enthusiasm for old and unpopular stuff that was once written down.

As " only imposed limitation shows the master's hand", I will now commence to fail miserably at selecting and describing the 5 books I tend to re-read more often than I realize. Seeing that I cannot deal with imposed limitations, I will present a list of the 5 books that share first place on my list.

#1 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

This is not a love-story, it's an attack on a particular part of Austen's contemporary society. The only TV adaptation of this book I have seen (and re-watch at least twice a year) is the 1995 BBC mini-series. I tried to watch the 2005 movie, but had to turn it off five minutes into the movie, due to a violent physical reaction, involving my bowels.

#2 Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

Tom Jones starts out as a book by a man kicking against society and showing that he does not need the attention of his readers, as becomes clear in the introduction of the book.

An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. In the former case, it is well known that the entertainer provides what fare he pleases; and though this should be very indifferent, and utterly disagreeable to the taste of his company, they must not find any fault;

The story itself is no more than a simple love-story - naturally, Tom gets Sophia in the end. The power of the book is in the first chapters of each of the 18 parts (called books). These chapters deal with a variety of general subjects, regarding life, literature and love. Even if the reader cannot stomach the love-story in the main line, the little essays at the start of the 18 books alone are worth the read.

#3 The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

This classic piece of literature deals with the subject of bereavement, revenge and proving to be a big softy in the end. It's the type of story every young boy dreams of (at least, from the moment after Dantes has escaped Chateau d'If). There are travels to strange places in your own boat, buying your own bank and anonymously - or at least under the name of Sinbad the Sailor - preventing the destruction of a family that was always there to help your father when you had just disappeared. The darkness lifts after Dantes has ruined those responsible for his incarceration - and revealing his true identity at the exact moment when this realization sinks in. There is only one movie/series that captures the story as I think it should. The 1998 mini series " Le comte de Monte Cristo", starring Gérard Depardieu, is a great way to get an idea of the book. The 2002 Hollywood production The Count of Monte Cristo should be made to disappear in the Orwellian Ministry of Truth.

#4 David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

One of Dickens' great novels. It's probably the role of the ocean that draws me to the book. It's the dark history behind Steerforth, the wise lessons of the Micawbers and the grand victory over Uriah - Be 'Umble Uri - Heap, whose snake-like behavior is dealt with by the strong-willed Betsy Trotwood and the innocent and slightly simple Mr. Dick. I am not sure why, but I keep picking up the book.

#5 Shakespeare's collected work

This might be cheating a bit, but, I will argue that the collected works is just one book, though there are many plays and lots of other types of pieces. It is not a book I pick up every week, but each time I read one of the pieces, see one of the movies or plays, or read about the pieces and their author, I find myself deeply interested. I love the positive messages that emanate from the comedies (Twelfth Night is one I can see/read over and over again). The histories and the dark story-lines of the tragedies are great sources of wisdom. Priceless prologues are applicable more often than people know (and want to hear them).

What is not to love about:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

or

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;

That is the kind of stuff that finds it's way into my head at the most inappropriate times.
I love how the Bard probably was more down-to-earth than many scholars would have him at present. He wrote for the commoners and the groundlings at the Globe. A visit to the Globe replica on the south bank of the Thames will give a great idea of what the performances must have been like. If you do the tour, you will also be told about the reason for the Wind'Oles in the walls (yes, the smell would have been awful).

Eehhrmm. Right, This is the kind of behavior that got me vacant stares and furtive glances over my shoulders from my friends in the bars we used to frequent.
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