A meme has been going around for a month or so, writers challenging other writers to name the ten books that have stuck with them over the years. I was tagged at least twice (by Debbie Meighan and Minerva Koenig and possibly someone else, but I don’t remember who, or even if, for sure), but some urgent family business had me otherwise occupied and I’m only now getting time.
I’m happy with this list of ten, but, the more I thought about it, the more books seemed worth of mention, so, on Monday, I’ll add a post with the ten Honorable Mentions. So, to Debbie and Minerva, (and whoever you are, I do feel badly about forgetting), here are the ten books that have stuck with me over the years.
The Call of the Wild, Jack London. I lost track of how many times I read this book. I can still remember some scenes and lines after at least 45 years. (“Dat Spitz, him fight lak hell.” “Dat Buck, him fight lak two hells.”) The first book I remember taking me someplace other than where I sat to read it, every time.
The Kid from Tomkinsville, John R. Tunis. The first of Tunis’s Brooklyn Dodgers trilogy, with World Series and Keystone Kids. They were great and fun reads for a baseball crazy kid, read until they fell apart. Now I can look back and see how Tunis was ahead of his time for kids-oriented sports books. The star pitcher, Razzle Nugent, was an alcoholic who goes off the reservation when drunk. The slugger, Karl Case, is an asshole, who would almost certainly be a racist if there were any blacks in 1930s baseball. The team’s manager in Keystone Kids dies while drunk driving accident. In World Series, Roy Tucker, the Kid in the title, is a bystander when Case wins the series. There’s a lot more going on here than giving kids their dose of idol worship.
The Hardy Boys, Franklin W. Dixon. Can’t pick just one after all these years. I do remember going to social events with my parents and finding a stairwell at someone’s house where I could read whichever adventure I was working on. Where I cut my teeth on mysteries.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle. My first “adult” novel.
The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan. World War II was of such scope, most histories can only hope to get to the division level. Ryan looked at the war through the other end of the telescope, from the perspectives of the individuals caught up in things beyond their control. The Last Battle and A Bridge Too Far are at least as good, but I read The Longest Day first, and its concentration on a single day (June 6, 1944) adds to its intensity. A Bridge Too Far may be the single greatest piece of non-fiction I’ve ever read.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer. The other candidate for the greatest piece of non-fiction in my experience. An object lesson for anyone who doesn’t believe that all evil needs to be victorious is the silence of good people.
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler. The book that first got me interested enough in crime fiction to consider writing it.
Big Bad City, Ed McBain. Not the first of the 87th Precinct novels I read, and not the best. Big Bad City was when I first caught on to what McBain was doing, telling stories that went beyond the crime or crimes to be solved, writing novels about people who happened to be cops, as he would put it.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins. The greatest crime fiction novel ever written.
American Tabloid, James Ellroy. I read Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy out of order, finishing with Tabloid, which came first. Now I’m glad I did. It’s a primer on what his style would become, for better or for worse, and a masterpiece in weaving fact and fiction so even a reader relatively well acquainted with the period has trouble distinguishing one from the other at times.