Saturday, November 14, 2015

Knopf 100--The Complete List

Too lazy to read through the 20+ posts that comprised our Knopf 100th anniversary celebration list of books? So is Gianna. No worries, though. Here's the complete list for your perusal:

  1. Sula by Toni Morrison
  2. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
  3. Hiroshima by John Hersey
  4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  5. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
  6. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
  7. Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  8. The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  9. Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn
  10. Dispatches by Michael Herr 
  11. The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
  12. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  13. Embers by Sandor Marai
  14. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  15. The Boat by Nam Le
  16. The Infatuations by Javier Marias
  17. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
  18. Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson
  19. Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer
  20. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  21. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  22. Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  23. My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
  24. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  25. The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
  26. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  27. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
  28. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  29. Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
  30. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  31. Hitler's Willing Executioners by Danial Jonah Goldhagen
  32. I Am Sorry to Thing I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell
  33. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
  34. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  35. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
  36. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  37. Ava's Man by Rick Bragg
  38. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  39. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
  40. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
  41. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
  42. Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
  43. True Notebooks by Mark Salzman
  44. The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron
  45. The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
  46. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
  47. Daddy, We Hardly Knew You by Germaine Greer
  48. Original Bliss by A.L. Kennedy
  49. To the End of the Land by David Grossman
  50. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  51. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
  52. The Sibley Guide to the Birds of North America by David Alan Sibley
  53. Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
  54. American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
  55. In the Cut by Susanna Moore
  56. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
  57. Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
  58. Who the Hell's In It by Peter Bogdanovich
  59. Collected Poems by Donald Justice
  60. The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
  61. Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo
  62. Baseball by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward
  63. The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
  64. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  65. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
  66. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  67. Peace by Richard Bausch
  68. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  69. Sons of Mississippi by Paul Hendrickson
  70. Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
  71. Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt
  72. I Am an Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran
  73. Audition by Barbara Walters
  74. The Selected Letters of Willa Cather
  75. Diana Arbus by Patricia Bosworth
  76. All of Us by Raymond Carver
  77. Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
  78. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montifiore
  79. Find a Way by Diana Nyad
  80. Mating by Norman Rush
  81. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  82. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran 
  83. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
  84. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  86. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
  87. Endless Love by Scott Spencer
  88. An Open Book by John Huston
  89. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
  90. The Yokota Officers Club by Sarah Bird
  91. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  92. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
  93. Howards End by E.M. Forster
  94. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  95. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith
  96. North of Montana by April Smith
  97. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
  98. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  99. The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham
  100. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Friday, November 13, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 26: This Is It! We Hit 100!

Whoa! We've made it to the end! I'll post the complete list tomorrow, but here are the last four picks of our Knopf 100, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Alfred A. Knopf. Despite Gianna's habit of choosing books I'd already selected, we're concluding this list knowing that there are pooty loads of excellent books that could have made this list. It's been a challenge, an adventure, and a daunting task.

97. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, originally published in 1993. When we first discussed this project, Gianna and I both immediately thought about Written on the Body as a perfect pick...and then proceeded not to pick it for 25 days for fear of stepping on each other's toes. This is a novel with a narrator who is never named nor assigned a gender. The narrator is caught up in an intense love affair with a married woman, and the book weaves around and within that relationship. Winterson's fluid wordplay makes it a remarkable read, but her gender play makes Written on the Body a masterpiece. We both love this book fiercely.

98. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, originally published in 2013. Jhumpa Lahiri has written four published books thus far (the fifth comes out in the spring of 2016), all of which have been terrific. She is a powerful and thoughtful writer whose work explores the idea of being an outsider within the society surrounding her characters. In The Lowland, a National Book Award and Man Booker Prize finalist, two brothers lead totally different lives. One finds love but is a revolutionary, stirring up trouble in the turbulent 60's. The other is the obedient son, immigrating to America. Between them, though, is the woman they both love, who is haunted by her past.

99. The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham, originally published in 2012. It kills me that The News from Spain isn't better known. If you take one "I've never even heard of that" book away from this list, let it be this one. This is a collection of seven short stories all relating to the theme of love--parent and child, husband and wife, friends, caregivers. All seven stories are titled "The News from Spain," and together they perform like a literary concert around the love theme. One that sticks in my memory involves a cantankerous old woman sparring with her in-home caretaker. Her hurts from the past are revealed, but also the love between two people thrust into a relationship because of a job. It's tender and heartbreaking, and Wickersham's writing is on a level with masters like Alice Munro.

100. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, originally published in 2014. How could I not include Station Eleven when I raved about it for months last year? Truth be told, I'd been holding it for the end for awhile, but then in the process of creating these posts and looking for books to feature, it had slipped my mind. Fortunately a friend following the blog reminded me yesterday. I would have hated myself if it had been excluded. Station Eleven is the novel that proves a book can be "literary" without being dull, that it can be "post-apocalyptic" within being a novel of despair. There are several narrative threads blending together in this book, all in some way connected to an actor who dies onstage during a production of King Lear. That same night, a mutant flu virus wipes out most of the world's population. Much of the book is set twenty years down the line from that point and follows a troupe of traveling performers. They move from settlement to settlement playing orchestral music and performing Shakespeare's plays, and their motto is "because survival is insufficient." I love that Emily St. John Mandel manages to talk about loss and all the things we take for granted in our modern lives, but also offers hope that culture--art, music, theater, words--live on and are what makes us human. On that note, this is an ideal book to round out our list.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 25

93. Turns out that we've written quite a bit about E.M. Forster books which I don't think either of us realized until a minute ago when Liz called to yell at me for another repeat. I just hate Liz. The thing about Forster though, is his books are really good and he writes women particularly well. He's the Aaron Sorkin of his time (that's a complete joke about Aaron Sorkin by the way). On an earlier blog I said that A Passage to India was my favorite novel of Forster, but can I change my mind? He got better with every novel to be sure, so maybe Passage to India is more mature or technically better, but Howards End is really wonderful, really funny, and goddamn, what a fantastic cast of smart women. I would say this, if you haven't read A Room With a View, Howards End, Maurice, or A Passage to India, you should. They are classics in every sense of the word, and particularly if you've read Austen, give Forster a try. 

94. We did a thirty day challenge on the blog a couple of years ago and one of the questions was something like, name a book you loved but don’t anymore. Well, I mentioned a few books that I suspected I wouldn’t like as much (To Kill a Mockingbird was one) but thought it unfair to say unless I went back and re-read the specific books. Another of the books I mentioned that perhaps I wouldn’t love was Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist. Well, I did re-read last year it and I can just go blow, because I really just love that book! The plot revolves around a travel writer whose teenage son was murdered in a robbery. His marriage falls apart and he seems to drift and drift until he is homebound with is very odd siblings and a dog that needs some training. I completely and thoroughly enjoyed love this book and am embarrassed that I ever thought I could not love such a powerful book. I highly recommend reading it. I still think I would be disappointed with a Mockingbird revisit…

95. Are you in the mood for a really dark book? A really crazy good, dark book you will not be able to put down? It’s a good winter book, a good rainy day book. Simple Plan by Scott Smith, is a jaw dropper. Here is the plot: Two brothers and a friend happen upon a small plane crash is a small midwestern town (I think its Iowa or Ohio, look it up I can’t remember everything, geez). In the debris they find the dead pilot and a bag containing several million dollars. One wants to call the police, the other two are normal and say, uh…no, we are keeping the cash, man. They agree that they will hold on to the money for a few weeks and if nothing suspicious happens they will split it evenly. Well, turns out that Confucius was right, mo money, mo problems.

96. I think I will go with the flow here and mention another dark novel, though unlike Simple Plan, this novel is certainly more of a thriller, but do understand that it is incredibly well written and character driven. In fact, I would say April Smith’s North of Montana is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read, really outstanding. This book is the first in a series, the main character is a young smart FBI agent, Ana Grey. In North of Montana the plot revolves around a very convoluted drug case, a movie star, and a young doctor. Lots of plot twists, this book is smart. I can also recommend Good Morning Killer, which is a few books later in the same series, but you don’t have to read these in order.


57. I have been instructed by Liz that since I can't follow simple instructions and not repeat books she has chosen, I must replace my earlier pick of Plainsong. I wanted to settle it over three sets of tennis but considering how very out out of shape and lazy both Liz and I are, I am officially agreeing to replace Plainsong with Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. 

It's important to understand that Birds of America isn't one of the best collections of stories ever published, it's simply one of the best books ever published. Don't come at us with some shit about not liking short stories; stop saying that, it's nonsense. These stories are heartbreaking, smart, and darkly funny. A few of my favorites: Real Estate is about a woman battling cancer who refuses to put up with her husbands continued infidelity. People Like That are the Only People Here (this is a story David Sedaris often mentions as one of his favorites) is somewhat based on Moore's own experience with her sick child. And maybe my favorite, Willing, about a down on her luck middle aged actress who moves to the Midwest and lives out of a motel while dating a mechanic. She hates this. I can't think of a young writer, a good literary writer who can not look to this book as an influence. I am going to be so mad with you people if you don't read this book. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 24

We are so close to the end! Gianna's going to bring me brownies when we're finished. 

89. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, originally published in 2010. Gianna hinted that this book would make the list back when she chose How to Breathe Underwater, Orringer's great short story collection. The Invisible Bridge was my favorite novel of 2010 and a book that I'd like to reread at some point (a down side of our jobs is that rereading is rarely a possibility because we always have a pile of manuscripts to plow through for work). This is the type of big, sweeping, war epic that I love to get lost within, swirling around a Hungarian family during World War II. Great characters and unimaginable situations lead to a terrific sense of tension over the survival of this family. It's a compulsive read that is both satisfying and ideal for discussions. 

90. The Yokota Officers Club by Sarah Bird, originally published in 2001. I was a younger bookseller when Yokota was published, and lunch with the author was my first experience of the sort. I'd also never read Sarah Bird's books before then, but one day the fan belt on my piece of shit car broke and I spent an entire day at a Firestone while it was being fixed. During that day I successfully blocked out the daytime TV by losing myself in The Yokota Officers Club. Based upon her own childhood as a military brat, this is the story of Bernadette, a college aged girl spending the summer back on the base in Okinawa, and the family secrets that begin to push toward the surface. Sarah Bird's humor is present (it's irrepressible), but this is also a novel of great heart and family drama. And since reading it at that car repair shop, I've never been able to here "Brown Eyed Girl" and not think that the first line is "Hey Roderigo." It's a book that wormed into my head and stuck. 

I'm glad this cover
didn't last. Yikes. Pink.
91. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, originally published in 1981. Salman Rushdie has authored some terrific books, but I think this one is his masterpiece. It not only won the Booker Prize the year it was published, it won the "Booker's Booker" for being the best of among all of the Booker winners over the years. That's some decent awards cred. This is the story--told by a great narrative voice--of Saleem Sinai, the child born at the stroke of midnight that also signaled Indian independence. He and the country grow up on parallel paths, mirroring each other over the course of several decades, and the writing is simply breathtaking. Writers read Midnight's Children and wish they could create such a magnificent book. 

92. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, originally published in 2012. Knopf has a long history of publishing iconic cookbooks (hello, Julia Child), but from that list I chose to single out Smitten Kitchen (or "Smitchen," as I called it for the year I was selling it). I am not ever going to feel like spending time in my kitchen is time well spent, but I admire those who do enjoy working with and preparing food. This cookbook was the one a close friend started bugging me about a full two years before it was published. She was a fan of Deb Perelman's website and couldn't wait for the book. It's also the book that I've never heard complaints about. The recipes are delicious (I can vouch for that, as I'm an able sampler of others' creations), straightforward, and don't require anything crazy like artisanal barnacles or some crap like that. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 23

85. We’ve probably written about Toni Morrison more than any other writer. Liz and I adore her. In fact, Beloved is on both of our top ten books of all time list, and it's actually my favorite novel. 

Anyway, Song of Solomon was arguably Morrison’s first great book. The Bluest Eye and Sula are very good books and the perfect start if you plan to jump into Morrison’s literary canon, but it was Song of Solomon, the epic American novel that follows a single family nearly a century, that was a hint at what Morrison would soon produce in her masterpiece, Beloved. (And apologies to Franzen devotees, but Morrison is the living master of the American landscape, the American story, and the publication of Beloved on the heals of Song of Solomon sealed that deal long ago. Before Morrison it was Twain, I suppose.) Morrison isn’t easy, and she asks us big, deep, moving questions and a reader must pay attention. Read Toni Morrison because it will make your life richer.  Don’t read her because you have to, or think you should (or you had a bad high school situation in your AP class...). Read Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, Jazz, or The Bluest Eye, because everything you’ve heard about a book changing your life is true. End of sermon. 

86. I am going to move right on to another writer that both Liz and I love, Alice Munro. Now that I think about it, Liz and I are two peas in two very differently sized pods. Anyway, I thought I would choose a Munro book that we haven't written about at all, The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose. It's set in a small 1930's Canadian town that is filled with everything you'd want--thieves, bootleggers, prostitutes, and less exciting people like factory folk--and shopkeepers like Rose and her step mother, Flo. Although, to be fair when I say boring, Rose does date quite a bit. In fact, a good number of the stories are about Rose's love life; in one she is seduced on a long train ride by a .... that's right, a very old minister. If you had any sense at all, this is everything you would need in order to be convinced to read this book, but I will also tell you the stories are lovely, sad, and are all about the one thing that make all good stories about small towns great...they are about escape. I like to think about this collection as the one that almost got away because I didn't read it until Munro (finally!) won her 2013 Pulitzer. 

87. Listen, I am going to try and do something that simply has not been accomplished on this blog. I am going to try and convince you that the 1981 film Endless Love, which was then given a second adaptation in 2014 called, well, Endless Love ... is actually a really good book by Scott Spencer. Okay. Here is my pitch: If you've seen the 1981 version of Endless Love, unsee it. It wasn't good. Close your eyes, concentrate, and just unsee it. I know you love Brooke Shields, I know it's when you first fell in love with James Spader and Tom Cruise,  and yes I know it's hard to unsee Tom Cruise, I know this oh so well, but unsee him. Okay. Now did you see the 2014 adaptation? You did? Seek help, nothing I can do for you if you're over the age of twenty five and paid money to see that movie. The novel, the really fantastic novel, Endless Love, is about wild, erotic, dangerous, violent, crazy fucking love. Poor Scott Spencer, two shitty adaptations and then you get this theme song? That's just crappy luck.

88. I recently read Anjelica Houston's first memoir, A Story Lately Told. It concentrated on her young life and you know it was okay...a little quiet but it was fine. Now, if you want an old fashion huge loud big memoir about the Houston family, go to papa. Read, An Open Book by John Huston. It is thoroughly engaging and fun from page one. A boxer, writer, actor, philanderer (he was married five times as well), and of course great film director (Maltese Falcon, African Queen, The Misfits, The Man Who Would be King, Prizzi's Honor and of course The Dead).  He doesn't bullshit in this book, he admits his many faults and mistakes (I mentioned the marriages and cheating, yeah?). He was a huge personality, a huge talent and the book reads exactly that way.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 22

I'm in Oklahoma tonight, and previously I posted from Colorado, so officially this series has spanned three states. Also, we've made it to the 80's! The end is nigh.

81. The Secret History by Donna Tartt, originally published in 1992. I have a long history with this book. The first time I tried to read it was around 1998, when I had just graduated from college, and for whatever reason I couldn't get into it. I tried again around 2003 or so because many of my friends never shut up about it. The third time was the charm, though, and once I dove in with both feet I was hooked. I got it. And it's great. The Secret History features one of my favorite settings for a book, a school campus, and is about a clique of classics students under the spell of a professor. They grow close and their relationships extend beyond the classroom...until things spiral out of control and into dangerous territory.

82. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, originally published in 1923. We'd be remiss not to include this classic on a list of Knopf books. We're approaching its own 100th anniversary and it's a favorite of many, many people worldwide. Gibran's essays are an inspirational philosophy for life. Topics from religion to love to death to knowing who you are in the world make it a moving, personal read for all those who come to its pages. If you're looking for one book to hold up as an emblem of what makes Knopf great, The Prophet would be a good one to champion.

83. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, originally published in 2009. Chris McDougall created magic with Born to Run, a blend of history, science, and personal narrative. What started as an exploration into why his feet hurt when he ran turned into a journey into the history of running and the human anatomical features that make us uniquely able to run great distances. The author talks to Harvard scientists, ultra-marathon runners, and an indigenous tribe in Mexico where running through the Copper Canyons is a way of life. Born to Run also helped ignite a huge barefoot running craze.

84. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, originally published in 2010. Jennifer Egan is high on my list of favorite authors. I met her once and typically was starstruck. I think I grunted a little. A Visit from the Goon Squad is an experimental novel that moves back and forth in the lives of Bennie, an aging music executive, and Sasha, his assistant. Part of the story is told as a PowerPoint presentation and it works; Egan is a genius. Goon Squad gathered up a heap of awards including a Pulitzer Prize.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Knopf 100--Day 21

Before we get to today's picks, I'd like to point out that this is the 500th post we've made to this crappy, half-assed book blog. I think that the only proper celebration would be for Gianna to bring me brownies. 500 brownies. It's okay if that many brownies makes me vomitous; this blog does as well. Bring on the books!

77. Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru, originally published in 2012. This book has some of my favorite possible aliens, and national parks, and multiple, interconnected plot lines. The novel begins with an autistic child disappearing while he and his parents--at their wit's end with raising a disabled child--are on vacation in the Mojave Desert. The Pinnacles, the rock formation where the child vanishes, are a focal point for the book and site for native legends, a desert cult, a rock star, a bunch of weird occurrences. Hari Kunzru is probably a genius.

78: Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montifiore, originally published in 2004. Oh Stalin, be still my heart! I love (biographies of) totalitarian dictators and I love Russian/Soviet history. Throw in that Montifiore writes great histories that aren't in any way dull. Stalin is fascinating reading, from power plays and eliminating one's rivals to controlling one's country's popular culture on every level. I love this book and Joe's bushy mustache.

79. Find a Way by Diana Nyad, originally published in 2015. Diana Nyad is the woman who, at age 64, swam from Cuba to the United States in open ocean. I read her memoir Find a Way expecting it to be cheesy, but I wanted to know why the hell anyone would want to swim 100 miles nonstop in the ocean. Or anywhere. It's a crazy endeavor. What I didn't expect was how much I'd love this book. Nyad is truly inspirational without taking for granted anything in her life. From an abusive childhood she found peace in open water swimming and became the first woman to swim around Manhattan. In her 20's she attempted the Cuba swim several times, but each time she failed. After a successful broadcasting career, in her 60's Nyad realized that she'd left a dream unfulfilled. Most of this book is the story of her impossible quest, the failed attempts, the people who carried her through jellyfish and sharks and fatigue and pain, and the strength of following one's dreams. It's not cheesy at all and I now consider Nyad one of my heroes.

80. Mating by Norman Rush, originally published in 1991. Mating is another book I borrowed from my boyfriend once upon a time. Unlike Gianna, though, I never stole any of these borrowed books. Here's the thing about Mating: I'm an educated person with degrees in English and History. I read constantly. And I've never needed to look up as many vocabulary words as when I was reading this book (luckily the boyfriend had a dictionary on hand). Set in Botswana, Mating is the story of a woman with an anthropology thesis in progress that's going nowhere when she meets the head of what seems to be a utopian society on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. She is lustful and this novel is a unique, literary tale of romance and the exotic erotic.