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14 September 2011

What is the best book you have ever read and why do you like it so much?
A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. It covers so much, and it's beautifully written. It's one of the best "I hate living in 2011" books for me.

Every time I read it, I'm affected in new ways, and see things a little more deeply. This past time, I fell apart near the end and had to stop; it was too much.

Hm. Can I have two? Yes? Excellent. Then I'll go with. A Death in the Family, by James Agee. That book is made up of equal parts heartbreak and beauty.
posted by punchtothehead 15 September | 06:39
Hrm. I am going to be a pedantic-pants and say that the best book I have ever read is not necessarily my favorite, and for the purposes of this question I'm going to go with my favorite(s).

So it would be a toss-up between Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. A bit of a coincidence that they are both Woolf novels - I don't love all of her stories - but these are both so gorgeous to read. They are the only two novels that I have ever read that, while in the process of reading, I have stopped at a passage and read it out loud to feel the sounds of the words in my mouth, and ponder how the paragraph sounded spoken rather than read quietly. They are the only two novels that I've been stuck on a page reading it over and over for the sheer beauty of it.

posted by gaspode 15 September | 08:15
The Little House books.

Also, "Guns, Germs and Steel". Suddenly, life made sense.
posted by Melismata 15 September | 09:21
MetaChat is my favorite ongoing story. I love you guys. I don't know how I could ever put you down.

*hits refresh again*

posted by Eideteker 15 September | 09:30
Best? Jesus you should see my house. I have wall to wall bookshelves. My current favorite is Connie Wilson's "To Say Nothing Of The Dog"
posted by The Whelk 15 September | 13:18
I have lots of bests, but in the last 10 years? Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger -- totally captured an Indian girl grown up in the west's view of being in India.
posted by bluefly 15 September | 13:42
My current favorite is Connie Wilson's "To Say Nothing Of The Dog"

I just reread Willis' Passage for the zillionth time, and sobbed and sobbed just like every other time. I love her. Have you read Doomsday Book?

I can't even begin to pinpoint my favorite book or the best one I've read (and I agree, gaspode, that those are two different questions). I am completely at a loss! Unless we're counting plays, in which case I could probably make an argument for Antony & Cleopatra.
posted by Elsa 15 September | 14:05
I am *so* torn here - I can't pick just one. I sometimes feel *really* privileged to live in an age when books are affordable (and downloadable, so I don't have to wait, to get my latest "fix").
Connie Willis' Doomsday Book is definitely up there -- but so is her latest two-parter (Blackout/All Clear).
Terry Pratchett - just about any of them, but if I had to choose, I'd plump for Thief of Time.
Neil Gaiman's American Gods has to be counted.
George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones novels would definitely accompany me to that metaphorical desert island.
Finally, there is my first love, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I still cry, every time I get to the end of the first volume (avoiding spoilers, for anyone who has not yet read this!).
posted by Susurration 15 September | 14:42
I'd have to go with Salinger's Nine Stories. It was the first "real" book I ever read (it was a xmas gift) and it really kick-started a lifelong reading habit.
posted by Thorzdad 15 September | 16:55
My brain is mush, but somewhere in there, I'm sure there are great books. At the moment, the first things that came to mind were good, but not great, and definitely not the best, except I enjoyed them.

mumble mumble something something Gaiman ... his use of language makes me so happy. Sometimes they seem crafted, word by word.

And for some reason, in the belly of Saint Paul came to mind, but it's not a book so much as it's a "typographic journal" -- the design of each page is important, down to the letter. It's like the stream-of-consciousness lyrics and sound from an Underworld song in book form. But I still haven't made it all the way through the book.

Also, "Guns, Germs and Steel". Suddenly, life made sense.

Good book, but not without criticism (and counter-criticism).
posted by filthy light thief 15 September | 17:31
I must mention Caroline Knapp's body of work, as it speaks to me in particular.

Ultimately, the far flung non-linear well respected English language authors, Faulkner, Joyce, and Wallace are probably the best books I've ever read, as a genre. If I had to pick one, Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is the most accessible and awesome and re-readable.
posted by rainbaby 15 September | 18:55
Moved from the front page:

To punch to the head
I have a copy of A Soldier of the Great War personally signed by Mark Helprin. How cool is that?
While I love that book and even quote a sentence from it in the novel I am writing, my favorite novel is A Winter's Tale also by Mr. Helprin. And I just discovered that A Winter's Tale will be made into movie which can never ever be as great as that book. Two of you liked Guns, Germs, and Steel which is a very Thoughtful choice. Only one of you is not afraid of Virginia Woolf. Did you read The Hours by Michael Cunningham which juxtaposes Mrs. Dallaway with a modern story?
I also love The Story of Edgar Sawtale which is Shakespeare's Hamlet with dogs.

-- by Macduff
posted by gaspode 15 September | 20:22
This is so funny! I was coming to say A Soldier of the Great War, because I've been espousing that as my favorite book ever for 15 years or so since I read it. Actually have 2 copies, so I can keep one and lend one. It is a very special book to me but I'm not used to seeing it so often raved about - I feel like not enough people have read it. It ties with Huckleberry Finn for all-time fave. Even though Mark Helprin is a bit of a nutjob, he managed to produce an incredible and, I hope, lasting epic work.
posted by Miko 15 September | 20:41
No book ever has - or ever will - expand my mental universe as much as did The Next Whole Earth Catalog. To paraphrase Douglas Hofstadter: I literally don't know who I would be if I had never read it.

Caroline Knapp is terrific though.
posted by Trurl 15 September | 23:39
Miko - I'm with you, down to having a loaner copy of it. It's the one book I recommend to everyone, and I haven't found a hater yet. (I did once have a friend call me, sobbing, asking why I made her read it.)

A movie is being made of A Winter's Tale? Count me out.

My younger brother and I have been have a discussion for the last ten years or so about how we'd adapt Soldier to film. I hope no one ever tries.
posted by punchtothehead 16 September | 06:42
only book I rapturously enjoyed as an adult was circa 2006, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel

reminded me of british fantasy books I read as a kid

before that, Girl Interrupted circa 2001 I think
posted by Firas 16 September | 08:55
Why do you say "forget about making a movie of A Winter's Tale? A Lippanzaner horse could be Athansor, Dustin Hoffman would be a great Pearly Soames and New York is New York. But no movie could ever equal the incredible descriptions. I can just envision filming the scene where the passengers in the snow bound train are rescued by villagers on sleds bearing torches to brighten the midnight sky and give the starving, frozen travelers hot chocolate and blueberry, walnut, cherry chocolate oatmeal cookies. That novel about searching for the city of justice would probably be ruined by Hollywood. Perhaps you are right. All the allusions to Dante's Inferno, Moby Dick and the Bible would probably end up on a cutting room floor.
posted by Macduff 16 September | 14:26
To Kill a Mockingbird.

I think this book is perfect. The characters resonate, the story is compelling, and every time I pick it up it takes me there, to a different time, place and climate.

Books I have reread too many times to count also include the Lord of the Rings (by which I also mean The Hobbit), Rebecca, and Gone with the Wind. And a lot of Charles Dickens, who just tells a heck of a story. I am especially partial to Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, but I like the darker books as well, particularly Bleak House and David Copperfield. Another pair of books I re-read often enough to have to buy new editions periodically is Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
posted by bearwife 16 September | 14:52
Gary Jennings's Aztec. The book that introduced me to the concept of historical fiction so immersed in the culture that it reads like science fiction. If you have read it, you know what I mean; if you haven't read it, you should.
posted by Ardiril 16 September | 15:07
Yes, Aztec is great. It changed my world view, too. So much for the idea that history is a linear progression of increasing enlightenment and civilization.
posted by bearwife 16 September | 18:02
I had to think about this for a long time. And it ended up being a trilogy. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. I will consider them a single work of genius for this particular question.
posted by Splunge 16 September | 20:13
Or maybe Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
posted by Splunge 16 September | 20:14
Oh right, why? The Gormenghast novels completely sucked me in. I was living in that world while I was reading, and thinking about them when I was not. Gormenghast is still with me today. I really must reread it again.

As for Gravity's Rainbow, the same holds true. As well, it made me think. Think hard. I read it as a 20 year old child. And I think it helped me mature just a little bit. Not bad for a book, eh?

posted by Splunge 16 September | 20:19
Humpday 3-point update || Lost 5 Years, a Colorado Cat Finds Her Way to Manhattan