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Mike Schilling

One of my favorite books begins:

"This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it."


Most men who like to read do not read novels, or read many novels. They read histories and biographies and books that have some relevance to their careers.

What are you basing this on?


While an overwrought movie, I have always listed Steinbeck's, East of Eden as one of my favorites.

It's a great treatise on the notion of free will.


Here's a great link to the end of the book...


David: What are you basing [your assertion that men don't like to read novels] on?

Good question. Memory, mostly. What I remember from articles about reading habits that include statements like this:

Americans appear to prefer nonfiction reading, particularly men, with 52 percent opting for the genre compared to 41 percent of women. Seventeen percent of readers claim to indulge in fiction and nonfiction equally.

And this:

More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.

"Fiction just doesn't interest me," said Bob Ryan, 41, who works for a construction company. "If I'm going to get a story, I'll get a movie."

I probably should get out of the habit of making sweeping generalizations though.


Gone with the Wind

Just kidding ya! (keep on blogging)

My favorite book: The Agony and the Ecstasy


A few thoughts on my choices for favorite books: the following are a few that I've enjoyed immensely over the years: not that I think that they are the greatest, but certainly they had influence on me at various stages of my life.

I think that there are strata of books which might be listed: for example, for pre-teenagers, Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" might make the list (but I'd far rather see it replaced by Antoine St. Exupery's "The Litte Prince" --- hell, let's have it in the original French too!). I'd include Louis Sacher's "Holes" in this level too.
For older readers, perhaps we could override the influence of Rand by bringing in Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".
For comic genius, I still love John Irving's "The World According To Garp" (although in this stratum I could see Tom Robbins giving him a run for his money).
For science writing, I'd toss a multi-sided coin (i.e. a die) between Martin Gardner (almost any of his 90+ books!), Douglas Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" (which is deeply flawed, but still brilliant in its wrongness) and almost anything by Stephen J. Gould.
For writing about nature, Kopper's "The Wild Edge: the Life and Lore of the Great Atlantic Beaches" is almost unknown but beautiful.
For lit crit, it's hard to beat Frederick C. Crewes' "The Pooh Perplex". Comic genius again.



I prefer British literature to American lit, which I find strangely depressing. But if I had to point out works that (as a foreigner) gave me a real sense of America, have to say Edith Wharton. Of course, she's the one who is most like the Brits. She spans class depending on which novel of hers you look at and she is writing on the human condition, not Issues.

All the rest of the books that I see as "American" in their tone -- i.e., not about race, or about the South, or about the Civil War, or about that strange rural poetic life that has nothing to do with the America I know -- are modern.

A lot of great American writers are Jewish and with them, all you really learn about is what goes on in the head of a mid-century Jewish American male (an obsession with beautiful women, a perennial inability to understand said women and a preoccupation with their own Jewishness).


Heller's Something Happened is the book that perhaps taught me most about modern America.

What was I saying about Jewish writers? :)

minstrel hussain boy

the last book i read was james howard kunstler's "world made by hand". i don't have a favorite book any more than i have a favorite child.

although i can't imagine a world without cormac mcCarthy


Lance, I love when things like this come out, because I love the posts you write afterwards. I can't choose a favorite book because I like too many. I do know that my favorites would not make any general list, because they are too squirrelly.

I have a post scribbled in my journal about (for me newly found) Robertson Davies, and the six or seven books of his I read in the last year. I need to get it up on my blog, because I'd like your input.


I've got hundreds of books, history, novels, poetry, how-to, how-not-to, technical reference, humor, science, etc. In all my trips to bookstores (real and virtual), and all my perusals of other people's bookshelves, I've never, even once, to my recollection, seen a copy of "Gone With The Wind." But then, I grew up on the West Coast...

Doug K

well, in terms of the book I've re-read most often, that would be Lord of the Rings I'm afraid..

the book that's had the most influence on me is Borges' Selected Poems 1923-1967. If I still had that book, I see it would be worth something,
but it vanished somewhere along the way. I found it in a Penguin softcover but that doesn't have the memories. I think I'll try the new Andrew Hurley edition.

My favorite books at the moment are the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series. Sorry, I'm fundamentally not serious.

Claire - Robertson Davies, yes indeed, I enjoy his novels immensely. I'm not absolutely certain that they are 'good' as such, but he always shows his readers a good time, more than which I no longer ask. A sort of Canadian magic realism, which is to say a quotidian sort of magic.


My favorite book is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I was completely consumed by it.

Right now I'm reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and am almost done with the last book.

I read a ton of fiction and am male but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm an exception. I read well thought of books, crap sci-fi books, boring thrillers. You're right I do have favorite authors and favorite genres but good writing is good writing.


Doug, and who says the Swallows and Amazons series isn't serious? They're well-loved books around this house!


My favorite book is probably Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse. But that's not set in stone. He is my favorite author though.

I completely agree with you about the "Bible being the favorite book" being a lie. I'm a public librarian. I get asked for the Bible maybe once a year. Maybe. The two books I get asked for most (for enjoyment reading, not assignment) are To Kill a Mockingbird and A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. People ask me for those two books through out the course of the year.

I think you're right about it being women who are mostly readers. I have many more female patrons asking for books for pleasure than I do men. Oh, always one or two men. But the waste majority are women. Some are genre specific and some are waders into the wide pool or reading materials.

I am a Harry Potter fan and I can't stand Gone With the Wind. And I read constantly.


I've never read Gone With the Wind, but I have seen the movie and it seems clear enough that GWTW the Movie is a better movie than GWTW the Book could possibly be a book, and have never had any desire to read it. (I've seen and thrilled to the odious Birth of a Nation and would have to have some professional reason to read The Klansman, on which it is based.) I've read and seen To Kill a Mockingbird and I'm not sure one isn't an adequate substitute for the other. The Great Gatsby the Book is essential, the movie, easy enough to skip. There's probably the germ of a post here.

Mike the Mad Biologist

Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. It's a beautifully written book, and I envision what Chandler is portraying.


Here are three great works of fiction that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone with a mind and the time:

James Salter - A Sport and A Pastime
Daniel Menaker - The Treatment
Nick Hornby - High Fidelity

(I am British, though, so not quite fitting in the survey thing...)


Geraldine Brooks has written three terrific novels: "Year of Wonders," March and "People Of The Book." I loved them all.
Also, I'll read anything by Alice Munro-her collection, "Runaway" was thrilling, haunting, superb.


Here are three great works of fiction that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone with a mind and the time:

James Salter - A Sport and A Pastime
Daniel Menaker - The Treatment
Nick Hornby - High Fidelity

(I am British, though, so not quite fitting in the survey thing...)


Or indeed the posting thing - sorry about that

Susie from Philly

If you twisted my arm, I'd have to take Susan Howatch's Church of England series to that desert island.


I'd love to see Reading In the Dark, by Seamus Deane become an American Favorite for the sheer beauty of the author's way with words and his ability to tell a story.

My own favorite book isn't the Bible (Lessons are OK, but the reading tends to bore me). Instead, it's a novel no one has ever heard of: "A Gift Upon the Shore," by M.K. Wren. It has had a huge influence in my life, right on down to my handle as a blogger. The story is haunting, the writing excellent, the point ... chilling.


I thought you might have read that somewhere. I and most of the guys I know read fiction, but then again, we're all geeks.

Anyway, did you read this story? This entry reminded me of it.


Lance, why is the Bible consistently the best selling book in America every year? It can't be for the centerfold.

As for me, novels turn me off, as my mini-review of Cormac McCarthy's screed shows.

I think every American should be forced to read Max Brooks' "The Zombie Survival Guide"

If you want to understand how to survive Republicans, this is the book for you!


Oh...High Fidelity was an enjoyable book, Dave. So was Fever Pitch, altho most Americans wouldn't get it, except maybe Red Sox fans...and yes, they screwed the script by Americanizing it! I thought Firth's performance carried over here nicely.

But then...GO GOONERS! :-)

Bill Altreuter

Couldn't agree more about what people actually read-- when I see "reading" listed on juror questionnaires I always look to see what they are carrying. With the women it is typically a bodice ripper; the men seem often have something by the "Hunt for Red October" guy.

I do see the occasional individual carrying a Bible. I never pick them.

You can't put the Bible on a list for high school kids-- they'd never get through it. I might pick an book from the OT-- Exodus, maybe, but I'm against the idea of introducing religion in public schools, so I'm equally inclined to reject the notion.

Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" or Richard Wright's "Black Boy" would be good things to have on a high school list, though, as would Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev". Or maybe better would be "Goodbye Columbus"-- the entire collection, including "The Conversion of the Jews".

My theory is that people who love American literature can be divided into "Huckleberry Finn" people or "Moby Dick" people. The Whale is too hard, but Huck is accessible-- he should be on the list.

We are confining ourselves to Americans here, but as an aside, I'd teach "Macbeth" or "Julius Caesar" instead of "Romeo & Juliet".

One more, I think. Richard Bradford's "Red Sky at Morning". Damn good book.

My final would be simple. I would ask for essays about what the year's reading tells us about who Americans are, and what they are like. (I'd ask it a three or four different ways, just to throw them off and make them think.)

velvet goldmine

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner.

Ken Muldrew

I'd add Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow to the canon for a look at the American West. He shows the heroic spirit of pioneers and how the mythology of independence and self-reliance developed, as well as the appalling cruelty that accompanied pioneering. The book is also good for its view of the Canadian West (where law enforcement preceded settlement) as compared to the American West (where the opposite happened). Even better novels about the Canadian West are Tay John by Howard O'Hagan (for the mountainous West) and Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell (for the prairies), though I don't know how well either would translate to America.


"Ahab's Wife" by Sena Jeter Naslund, with what is, imho, the best opening line ever: "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." How could you not want to find out more about this character? It's one of those meaty, satisfying novels that has everything -- lovely prose, good story, intellectual heft. It's allusive without being dependent upon or belligerent towards the classic novel that inspired it -- it actually made me really want to plow through "Moby Dick" -- but I haven't gotten around to that yet, lol.


Mila 18 by Leon Uris
Penmarric by Susan Howatch
The Rich are Different by Susan Howatch
Anything by Greg Iles because he is fast-paced and thrilling to read


Got to go with the Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler had it down cold. But honestly, Pride and Prejudice is still enjoyable after all these years. It's too bad they keeping making the movie over and over, and no one actually reads the book. Remember when looking like you were reading War and Peace was fashionable?

Deborah Testa

George Eliot's Middlemarch
Henry James's The Golden Bowl
Almost all of Robert Browning's poems
Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food
Jim Shepard's Love and Hydrogen
All blog posts by Glenn Greenwald
Many blog posts by The Poor Man
Charlie Smith's The Meaning of Birds
Ursula LeGuin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas


Bleak House, anything by Wharton, Salinger's Nine Stories and Glass family sagas (these all based on 30 year old memories).

My favorite book of the past decade is Chabon's Adeventures of Kavalier & Clay... for making me feel that same wonder as I did when I was young and learning to LOVE reading. I even stayed up all night to finish it. ahhh... what a wonderful thing to do.


Books. I love books. I was a total bookworm all through school, and although I don't read as much as I did then, I still prefer a good book to any teevee show or movie. (Actually, I do read as much, but more of it is online...)

A book that literally changed my life, picked at random in the high school library back in 1972, was Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections." Raised catholic, but never bought in to what they were trying to sell us, it opened my eyes to worlds I never knew existed (but somehow did), and subsequently led to my still pertinent rejection of organized religion in favor of spirituality.

Another favorite book of long ago that led to my lifelong interest in Buddhism is "Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment," by Thaddeus Golas.

My favorite book of the past few years is the novel, "The Fortress of Solitude" by Jonathan Lethem.


Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Almost anything by Brian Moore
Almost anything by Muriel Spark
Almost anything by Ivan Doig
Almost anything by Tobias Wolff
Almost anything by Paul Watkins
Almost anything by Wallace Stegner (Crossing to Safety, Angle of Repose are the two I love most)
A Nero Wolfe mystery (in hopes of hooking them on the series)
A Janwillem van de Wetering mystery (in hopes of hooking them on the series)
The Pat Barker trilogy that begins with Regeneration
Annie Proulx's short stories
Tony Earley's books Jim the Boy and Blue Star
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
And I do think the Bible ought to be on the list . . . especially the stories of Genesis. You can learn an awful lot about writing and storytelling by studying those stories, not to mention the fact that I don't think you can be said to be educated unless you are aware of what is in Genesis.

Yes, I know -- too many books, but the last time someone asked me to recommend a book she got an annotated list of fifty, so you're getting off easy.


19th century:

Poe's short stories
Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

20th century:
Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

(one of): John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books
Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer books
Stout's Nero Wolfe books
Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books
Updike's Rabbit books

Roth's Portnoy's Complaint
Chaim Potok's The Chosen
Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five
Heller's Catch-22
Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Those are just novels from this side of the pond.

I happen to own all the Plum books as well as all the McGee books; am I an anomaly?


My favorites at one time or another:
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
The Great Auk
The Hobbit
Danger is my Business
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy
The Brothers Karamazov
Catch 22
Mother Knight
The Martian Chronicles
Foundation Trilogy
War And Peace
The Sun Also Rises
The Sot-Weed Factor
On Her Majesties Secret Service
The Wee Free Men
The Dice Man
The Naked and the Dead
American Gods
Battlecry of Freedom (nf)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vagas
Sirens of Titan
Islandic Sagas

My favorite, favorite is probably Joseph and His Brothers


"The Four-Gated City" by Doris Lessing
"Against The Day" by Thomas Pynchon
"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle
"Moby Dick" by Herman Melville
"The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi)" by Manzoni
"After The Banquet" by Yukio Mishima
"The Handmaiden's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
"Day of the Triffids" by John Wyndham
"American Tabloid" by James Ellroy
The Aubrey/Maturnin series by Patrick O'Brian
"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Dumas

and of course
"Gone With The Wind" by Margaret Mitchell (which really is a good book)

are just a few of my favorite things off the top of my head. What a rich form the novel is, and I feel sad for people who don't enjoy them.

M.A. Peel

Lance, let me give you a reason to read GWTW. What Mitchell captures so poignantly is the heartbreaking sparing/miscommunication between man and woman. Scarlett hates being mocked by Rhett; he retreats to mockery to protect himself from her rejections. The 2 hurt each other for 1,000 pages. It's a great read.

flem snopes

40 comments and no mention of Faulkner...!

As I Lay Dying

Absalom, Absalom

The Sound and the Fury

The Hamlet
The Town
The Mansion

Don't make me go on!

Uncle Merlin

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Sinai Tapestry

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (non fiction version)

A secret book, "childrens" but not really, not giving the title out! Not for all the tea in China.

Earth Ascending- Jose Arguelles

I Ching (worlds oldest book BTW)

How the Scots Invented the Modern World

Endurance Ernest Shackleton *****



Heh. And they say that books -- and readers -- are declining. One look at the comments here, Lance, and I must beg to differ.

velvet goldmine

Uncle Merlin, You reminded me that I could put my son's (he's 10) faves in, which are the two Alice books. God, he loves those.


Commenters here, as Lance-o-philes, are likely a self-selected set of bibliomanes. So it's fun to read the comments.

Me, I have major, influential books that fall into eras. But I will repeat an observation that I first read in Anne Fadiman's wonderful book about reading and readers, Ex libris: confessions of a common reader: children become readers when they see their parents reading. I believe this is just about as true as it gets. My parents had a wall of books and they read more than they watched TV (of course, this was back in the days of 3 channels, so that wasn't so unusual), and to me reading was a sign of being a grown-up.

Anyway--my sacred texts as a child were:
P.L. Travers' four Mary Poppins books
the Alice books
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Eight Cousins

in high school, my entire world was sent into permanent upheaval by Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

After that, I have to agree with Lance that there's a trend towards favorite authors rather than favorite titles:
everything by Charles Dickens
everything by P.G. Wodehouse
everything by Evelyn Waugh
(can you tell I became a hard-core Anglophile? but, to mix it up a little...)
everything by Mark Twain, especially his social criticism
everything by Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman.

Two non-fiction books that completely informed my life from the moment I first read them are:
Dispatches by Michael Herr
Holy Feast and Holy Fast: the religious significance of food to medieval women by Caroline Walker Bynum

There are other books that I love, but these books here either changed my direction in life or completely infused my world view.


I have to say, I read news articles like the one you linked to and despair.

Fortunately, the comments have revived my spirits.

I don't know what should be in the canon, but a few worthy recentish novels that, as they say, may gain in reputation as time goes by:

The Bird Artist, by Howard Norman
The Gold Bug Variations, by Richard Powers
Solo Faces, by James Salter
Men in Black, by Scott Spencer
A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley


I'm a Faulkner fiend, and a friend of mine who is a student where I teach has been grooving on Go Down Moses, so that's up there. I also love Don DeLillo's White Noise.

Of course my own book will become my favorite once it's published some time next year.


If I got to pick a book that every American schoolkid was forced to read, I'd go with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

I don't know if it's my favorite, but I always enjoy re-reading Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.


Elmore Leonard, Robert A. Heinlein, J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Ludlum, Tim Powers, Ed McBain, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (together and separately) and Stephen R. Donaldson.

BTW - To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic.


The Brothers Karamazov, because it contains multitudes. It's like Joyce's Ulysses but you can dance to it.

I think you're mistaken about Catcher in the Rye though. Last I checked it was still going strong as the yardstick misunderstood youth is measured against, at least among those who read. Although, perhaps to escape its iconic stature, some claim to prefer Franny & Zoey. And of course On the Road is still one of the most pilfered books around.

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