I can’t do it. I don’t know how to make the list or trim it or edit or select between choices.
At first, I didn’t think it would be that difficult making a list of my favorite books. It seems every few days somebody somewhere is posting on Facebook a list of the 100 best books of this or that time period.
The greatest novels of the 20th century. The greatest non-fiction books ever. The books you must absolutely, positively read or we’ll consider you an unwashed, uncouth, illiterate lout. And please, you loser, stay away from our website until you’ve read all 100 books on our list.
I peruse the lists and find that I’ve usually read somewhere between a third and a half of the books listed.
When I first thought about this blog post I figured I’d just list some of the books that have influenced me since the days I read about Dick and Jane and Spot.
And besides am I really qualified to make such a list? I’m just an old ink-stained newspaper wretch. I ain’t none two smart and don’t have much of that thar formal book learnin’ stuff.
And should I rank the books from No. 1 to whatever number I want to rank?
And what about the lists made by people, I assume, with high-falutin, advanced degrees from colleges where not only I couldn’t have gained admittance but would have been laughed off campus?
Are they legit?
I printed out the Modern Library list of the 100 Best Novels and I keep going over the list looking for perhaps the greatest American novel ever – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I look and I look and can’t find it.
How is that possible?
Ernest Hemingway said “all American literature comes from a book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’”
H. L. Mencken said it was “one of the great masterpieces of the world.”
Yet, it didn’t make the Modern Library Top 100? I got the printout next to me and keep going over the titles and don’t see Huck Finn.
No. 1 on that list is “Ulysses,” by James Joyce. It must be a great book. Many experts say it is. But, frankly, it’s over my head and incomprehensible. At least to me.
Goodreads.com lists Huck Finn No. 3 on its list behind “The Great Gatsby” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I don’t have a major problem with that list. “The Great Gatsby” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” would make my list.
The goodreads.com list is more my speed, a list of accessible books written to be read by normal folks not by pipe-smoking, tweed sports coat wearing professors in a corner office on some faraway leafy college campus where riff-raff like me are not allowed.
Interesting, by the way, that “Gatsby” is No. 2 on the Modern Library list.
To reach this list-making point in 2013 I started reading books in the 1960s and have read, likely, thousands in the past half-century. As a kid I read a few of the titles in Tom Swift series, adventure books that debuted in 1914.
As I got a little older, late in grade school or early in junior high, I moved on to two of my favorite boyhood books, ones I read more than once.
The first is “The City Boy, The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder.” It’s by Herman Wouk and is the story of young Herbie, a New York City kid in the 1920s.
Another childhood favorite was Booth Tarkenton’s “Penrod,” a story about a Midwestern boy named Penrod Schoefield.
By time I was in high school Jim Bouton’s extraordinary baseball book “Ball Four” was published. I remember walking a few blocks from our house on 83rd Avenue North to a bookstore at Gateway Mall in St. Petersburg, purchasing the book, taking it home and reading half of it in one sitting on the lanai.
It was hilarious, something never seen before in a sports book. The 1970 diary by Bouton, a journeyman pitcher, was the only sports book to make Time magazine’s list of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever.
It was an unprecedented look at life in Major League Baseball. Prior to Bouton’s book, sports books tended to be antiseptic, unrealistic and superficial. “Ball Four” was extraordinarily controversial and Bouton was for many years a pariah in baseball.
He wrote awful things such as Mickey Mantle liked beer and girls. My God, you would have thought Bouton had spit on Babe Ruth’s grave.
But what many missed is that Bouton loved the game and the life of a baseball player despite the many morons and louts who populated the game.
This is the final line from the book: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it was the other way around all the time.”
Gee, I’ve getting close to 900 words on this post so I better wrap it up. In my next blog post, I’ll get around to listing some of my favorite books.
Look for it soon.
Oh, by the way, I still have that copy of “Ball Four” in a bookcase in my living room, a treasure in my little baseball library.