This is not my first or even third copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have long since worn them out, lost them or loaned them and never received them back. This masterpiece of absurdist science fiction gives the answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything. That answer is 42. It also gives us two great pieces of advice: Don’t Panic and always bring a towel. It is a perennial favorite and reread. This book and the humor in it actually helped me find the eighth book in this list.
So, grab your towel and climb aboard, but don’t forget your Babel fish.
This is probably one of the most controversial books I have on here. In The Killing Joke Joker shoots Barbara Gordon and then takes pictures of her nude, wounded form to drive her dad, Commissioner Jim Gordon, crazy. That’s the crux of the controversy, that wounding of a healthy young girl solely to further the plot. It’s a dark story, and it was never meant to be canon, but someone decided to do away with Babs and her role of Batgirl (Joker of course did not know she was Batgirl, the attack was because of her parentage). She was later reintroduced as one of the best characters ever, Oracle, though they took that away with another reboot.
I’ve read all the theories about the ending, about what Joker and his henchmen did to Barbara, about the women in refrigerators and all of it. I list this book because at the time it left a large impression on me, and one that has evolved over time. I still like this book, but now as an adult, I can appreciate the intended and unintended nuances to it.
Those who know me in real life are probably surprised I didn’t put these first. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone purely to see what the controversy was about. At that time the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, had just been released and there was talk everywhere about witchcraft and banning books and so forth. Naturally it made me curious. What I did not expect was a life altering experience. I finished the first book the day I had gotten it, I won’t lie, it’s a quick and easy read. However, I was hooked. I needed the next one, but all the stores were closed (the area in which I lived at the time, I think I was 26 or 27, did not have a 24 hour Walmart).
I was working a part time hourly job and living on sheer will power, but I bought the second book the next day. The day after that, I managed to get the third and fourth. After all, these were worth skipping a meal or two for in my opinion. After that I was there at midnight for each subsequent release and stayed up all night to read the new one. I still go back and read them. I read them to my wife when she was pregnant. I read them to my daughter when she was tiny. She just read them herself this past year. You can see the wear on the spines in the picture below. These books are loved and cherished.
Several years ago DC rebooted their entire time line again. I quit counting how many times they’ve done this. However the 52 storyline introduced my new favorite DC comic character not created by Neil Gaiman. 52 gave us Batwoman, an out lesbian who is also Jewish with a strong military background. It was like a salve to a soul that had seen too much rebooting and whatnot in comics. 52 actually got me back in to them.
So I present Batwoman Elegy as my fourth installment of this ten book undertaking. It’s her first solo book and it’s written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by JH Williams. I have fallen in love with both.
Life intruded for a day. My apologies.
I really could not decide on this one. I have had a love for Neil Gaiman since I picked up my first Sandman comic 150 years ago, or the early 90’s if you want to be closer to accurate. One of my most prized possessions is an autographed Sandman trade paperback. I lost the full run, a few busts and statues and a framed Death print in Katrina. My wife found a copy of the first trade that collected the first several issues and gave it to me as a present. That’s what I have signed. It’s one of the first things on my list to pack if we need to evacuate.
Gaiman has a way of speaking to the soul. His writing is both wry and serious. He can insert humor in the most unlikely places, and every time I read something of his, I learn something. If I could be half the writer he is, I would be more than I can dream.
The second book is very much a favorite and one I try to reread every couple of years. Sometimes I’ll start with The Hobbit, but mostly I just start at chapter one and read through the complete Lord of the Rings. I know technically it’s considered three books, but Tolkien had written it as one and I read it that way. After all, who can read just The Two Towers without the other two? I certainly can’t. Even though LOTR is a gateway drug to fantasy and further to science fiction, I still need to keep it around.
Tolkien created a world I love to get lost in. I love everything about it, but don’t ask me to pronounce Elvish. I can’t do that very well. I used to have more editions and prettier ones than what’s pictured below (next to one of the two college textbooks I have remaining), but as long as I’m able to read it, I’m happy.
These are in no particular order, but since last month was PRIDE, I figured I would start with one that means a lot to the kinda scared, closeted kid I was when I first read it.
I first read Fried Green Tomatoes in the early to mid 90’s or about the time the movie came out. It was pretty eye opening for someone from a small town in Mississippi during the birth of Grunge. This book gave me Idgie and though there’s not a lot that we have in common, there are a few big things we share: disdain for women’s clothing and a love for Ruth being the two most prominent. It was amazing and the first time I had anything close to a real role model in print.
Fannie Flagg has grown a lot as a writer, but this book remains a favorite. It’s about friendship, love, and barbecue and it’s written in a nonlinear style. At 20 or thereabouts, it was everything I could have wanted in a book.