Books to Save from a Burning Building

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A student recently made the mistake of asking me for a reading list comprised of the most important books I’ve read.  Joke’s on me, I guess, as I thought it would be easy.  The list kept growing the more and more I thought about it!  After winnowing down the numbers, here are the books I’d have to save in case of a fire.  I hope my house never burns down!

If you know me personally, you can probably guess why certain books appear here and why they’re categorized a certain way. If you’re interested in the reasoning behind each, just ask.

Anyway, were is the list, categorized and in no particular order.  Love some of these books or want to add some?  Let us know in the comments!

Fiction

The Iliad – Homer
The Odyssey – Homer
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lightning Thief series – Rick Riordan
The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – Douglass Adams
The Dark Tower series – Stephen King
His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass) series – Phillip Pullman
Close Range – Annie Proux
The Plague – Albert Camus
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac – Gabrielle Zevin
Ender’s Game series – Orson Scott Card
Interpreter of Maladies – Jumpa Lahiri
The Namesake – Jumpa Lahiri
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Saffron Foer
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Looking for Alaska – John Green
Ishmael – Daniel Quinn
1984 – George Orwell
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin
Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

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Stephen King On Writing Concepts, Not Plots

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I’ve been reading a lot of story-driven fiction lately, including a lot of young adult books like Divergent and things like Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. This prompted me to delve into King’s On Writing, in which he explains that good stories start from concepts, not plots.

stephen king, on writing, fiction, literature

When I first started writing fiction, I generally started with an idea or feeling I wanted to express, not with stories or characters or anything even remotely interesting to readers. As I evolved a bit, I read Story by Robert McKee and learned the value of plotting out engaging stories with notecards and developing interesting characters using Dungeons-and-Dragons-style character record sheets. This is a laborious approach, but it helped me to refocus my writing. However, it makes for a slow process, and I had to put a my pots on simmer rather than boil while starting a family and enrolling in grad school. Continue reading

How I Became a Stephen King Fan

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He looks coy because he knows he's awesome.

For years, I managed to be an avid reader, an English teacher, and a so-so friend while avoiding the Maine man of the American literary landscape, Stephan King.  I never liked horror and always had stacks of other uber-imaginative writers like Phillip Pullman, Douglass Adams, and Suzanne Collins to get through–authors sure to appease my need to read and discuss fantastic adventures with students and book buddies.  So I lived blissfully ignorant of one of the best selling authors of all time.

Stupid, I know.

But then my boss, apparently sensing my vitamin-K deficiency, gave me 11/22/63 for Christmas and everything changed.

I mean, check out the cover.  We’re allowed to judge it, right?  Newsprint? Blood? Alternate histories?  It seems to combine the highlights of the other three aforementioned authors.  In that, it succeeds: this is one hell of a page-turner.

 

I’m pleased to say this 849-page romp through time and across country reads as fast as your favorite comic book.  While King’s protagonist, Jake Epping, is no Hiro Nakamura, his commitment to changing the past for the better is just as exciting and even more epic.  The story unfolds as Epping (like me, a friendly neighborhood English teacher) entertains his friend’s invitation to visit “The Nifty Fifties” just to see what it’s like.  A massive quest begins from there, as in every good time-travel story.

I hereby certify this review is sans spoilers, but I can freely divulge that the plot involves trying to stop the Kennedy assassination.  (You know what would happen when you saw Titanic, right?)  King mentions he’s been researching this book since he started writing in the 70’s, and, given the amount and accuracy of his research–including his ability to account for decades of conspiracy theories–he manages to capture the paradoxical congeniality and anxiety of the age with aplomb.

King’s greatest accomplishment, however, is to explore the moral gray areas around how to think about the past.  If victors write history, then time travelers (i.e. writers and historians) have a responsibility recreate the past in a more neutral way so readers can make their own interpretations.  While the protagonist struggles like Hamlet throughout the book whether to change the past or not, we are invited to agonize along with him.  As an acolyte in the Church of King, I’m not sure if his other writings do this, but I appreciate an adventure than leaves readers’ with some breathing room.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times says of King: “he has lately written with more heart and soul, leaving the phantasmagorical grisliness behind.”  This change of style is what drew me in, and the incredible effort of making this narrative work is what got me to the quantum leap along with Epping.  With additions to the cannon like Under the Dome and the expansion of the classic The Dark Tower series, I’m glad to be a new fan with a lot to look forward to!

This is a call to Stephen King fans new and old: What should I read next?