“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” – Morihei Ueshiba
If mistakes are an indicator of future success, then I should be well on my way to something. When I started recapping the books I’d already read on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I figured it would be pretty fool proof. But I went so long between posts that I ended up miscounting and doing the same five books twice (kudos to anyone who caught it; I only did when I realized my numbers didn’t match with the next books on my list). At some point in the future, I’ll reuse the quote and opening and we’ll have to see how many readers catch when I do. For now, here are the five I should have done in my last 1001 Books post.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This was the first Toni Morrison book I ever read and remains one of my favorites, though I didn’t know it would be at the time. It was assigned to me by the woman who would become one of my favorite professors in the first class I had with her, Literary Theory, during my sophomore year. The way Morrison tackles the way that race and the concept of beauty affect childhood development, particularly in young girls. Even with all she puts forth on those issues, the book overflows with commentary on so many more subjects, despite the book’s brevity. The fact that it was also the first book Morrison wrote never ceases to amaze me.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Everyone reads Catcher in high school and I was no exception. I don’t think I was able to truly appreciate it until I had to reread it in graduate school. But I never identified with it the way so many high schoolers (and serial killers) do. While I understood Holden’s logic, I never really agreed with it. The impact it has, to this day, as dated as some of the material may be, is remarkable.
The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I think the first version of The Count of Monte-Cristo I saw was a Wishbone adaptation. It is the ultimate revenge tale, something everyone can, at some level, relate to. At the same time, it is so often misremembered (or blatantly changed) in retellings and adaptations. The book is far more realistic in what Edmond Dantes’ pursuit of revenge costs him. So many versions want him to have a happy ending, for his revenge to be satisfying, fulfilling, for him to regain some of the things he lost when he was betrayed. But read the actual book and you’ll realize there is something tragically beautiful about the sad truth.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
This is one of those books I always enjoy when I read it but after a short while, I forget so many of the details. On the one hand, it’s fun to reread it. On the other, I sometimes wish it wasn’t so difficult to remember the specifics. There’s just so much in it, every time I read it I discover new angles and layers that I didn’t or couldn’t recognize before.
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
There are many scary stories out there and there’s nothing quite like the tales of horror and suspense that came out of the nineteenth century. While some would point to Frankenstein or Dracula as the best source of the dramatic and grotesque, my favorites will always be anything by Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher is a bit longer than some of (what I consider) his best stories and poems (it’s cliché, but I love The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart as well as Masque of the Red Death). It’s a great tale (and writer) to turn to when trying to get into the Halloween spirit the way that I instantly reach for A Christmas Carol and anything Dickens when it comes to classic Christmas tales.