The Uptown bookstore Magers & Quinn asked me to make a list of books that I'd recommend. The list didn't have to be guided by any topic or style, so I just decided to assemble the ten titles that are the loudest in my head--each of the books below has a scene or passage that regularly rises up into my brain while I'm busy driving, talking on the phone, or burning something on the stove.
1. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
“The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness... The mind's sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy. The dear, stupid body is easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious mind will hush if you give it an egg.”
2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers
Includes a residential floorplan, rendered in autoCAD or something similar, that mapped the ideal vector of a running approach for a slide in stocking feet, a la Risky Business.
3. On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
“You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life!...No one will bring the years back; no one will restore you to yourself.”
4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The section on corn and carbon explains how isotopes in human body tissue can be tested to reveal how much corn we’ve eaten in our lifetime.
5. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
“In this country, SWE [Standard Written English] is perceived as the dialect of education and intelligence and power and prestige, and anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who wants to succeed in American culture has got to be able to use SWE… You can be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe it's racist and unjust and decide right here and now to spend every waking minute of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you should, but I'll tell you something: If you ever want those arguments to get listened to and taken seriously, you're going to have to communicate them SWE, because SWE is the dialect our country uses to talk to itself.”
6. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
“He gets bored with his expensive (but worth it) pet and puts a few drops of cleaning agent into his water bottle, so he can watch the little man hallucinate.”
7. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
“Nevermind that he is only a memo from the offices of fear,” from the “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard”
8. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Includes a scene in which a circumcised girl boasts that the space between her legs is as flat and featureless as her palm.
9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Describes the confines of a rocking boat in which two people who should definitely not be having sex, are having loads of sex.
10. All Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith
“Aphorisms.” I learned that word from this book. To my surprise, I also learned that a professional author was allowed to make a whole book of them: plot and character are—like everything in art—electives only.