Tuesday, October 20, 2015

100 Knopf Books--Day 2

Gianna's going to be participating in picking 100 of our favorite Knopf titles for the Knopf 100th Anniversary, so that means that I need to pick as many of the ones I've read and loved as I can before she snatches them from me. She's cruel like that. If you missed yesterday's post, you can see it here. In that post I chose the first four Knopf titles of note. Let's continue, shall we?

5. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice, originally published in 1976 (the year of our Liz; a momentous year all around). It might surprise some people to know that I've read this book, and it might surprise some people further that I read it based on the recommendation of one of my college professors. Forget about the movie and we're going to pretend that the teen vampire Twilight stuff never happened. Interview With the Vampire is well written, genre defying, literary horror that brought Dracula back from kitschy 70's schlock films to intense, contemporary, humanizing horror fiction. The story of Louis confessing his life's journey with the charismatic Lestat to a skeptical kid reporter was a new angle in horror fiction and makes for addictive reading even today.

6. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain, originally published in 1941. I read Mildred Pierce relatively recently, wanting to read the novel before watching the HBO series with Kate Winslet. I think it's a terrific book. Mildred is a tough woman trying to support herself and her daughter after leaving a bastard of a husband. While working as a waitress, she scrapes her way out of the working class and supports her daughter's burgeoning music career. Mildred has a weakness for the wrong type of man, though, and her daughter is, well, simply a nasty human being. I love Mildred because she's super strong, and the book can be read as feminist noir fiction. Also, Los Angeles is front and center as the perfect backdrop for this story.

7. Plainsong by Kent Haruf, originally published in 1999. Oh, the humanity! I love Kent Haruf's novels, starting with this one, Plainsong. The story of two older men taking in a teenage girl down on her luck is filled with the humanity and human decency rarely found in contemporary fiction. Plainsong is a lovely ode to human goodness and compassion and the pleasures and pitfalls of small town life (in small towns they'll gossip like no one's business, but they'll also prop you up when no one else will...also, LOTS of casseroles). Haruf passed away earlier this year and his death rocked the Knopf office because he was so universally beloved. Reading Plainsong gives a glimpse of the man's spirit.

8. The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard, originally published in 2015. First of all, Jim Shepard is a genius writer and everyone should be reading his work. While mostly I associate the National Book Award finalist as a short story writer, The Book of Aron is a short novel about...a kid named Aron. I hope that didn't spoil anything. Anyway, Aron is the troublesome kid in school who "can't learn" and won't sit still and is a constant worry to his parents. Life changes for all of them, though, when as Jews they are moved to the Warsaw Ghetto. Aron's horrible behavior in a classroom actually makes him ideal for such acts as sneaking around the ghetto and over the walls in search of food and supplies. He's a black market god, but as conditions worsen, he's also faced with more and more difficult decisions. The Book of Aron is a multi-layered novel that suggests on the one hand that a boy shouldn't be held responsible for making impossible decisions in the worst situations, and yet, isn't he also culpable? It's a thoughtful, complex, fascinating novel, and one of my favorites of the year.

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