December 1, 2010
The other day I put up a post of my so-called 101 "Must-Reads" although I think it might be better to assume they're books, great or otherwise, that had an impact on me (Hey, it's MY list; make your own). So I thought I'd over time take them on more or less one at a time.
1. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon (in whatever generation you belonged to)
Can't really describe how important these books were to me at a certain age. I'm guessing from 7 or 8 years old to maybe 11 or 12. It's possible I read them longer. Interestingly, I tried to read one to my oldest son and neither of us liked it. It's possible the one I had was just dated. It's also possible you just can't go back to certain periods in your life. Prior to the Hardy Boys books I read a series called The Happy Hollisters, which is sort of like The Brady Bunch solves mysteries (and isn't that name awful?). I was never a huge fan of Nancy Drew, but I'd say these two series, along with the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators got me totally hooked on series crime fiction (And ironically, several well-known crime and espionage writers wrote for this series as house writers, including Gayle Lynds, who has blurbed a couple of my own books). They were a training ground as a reader to eventually read Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman, etc, etc.
2. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Ah yes. The first book in what I guess was eventually 4 books, although I only read the first 3. I read a lot of L'Engle's books aimed at teens. Her books for adults never caught on with me, but L'Engle had a huge impact on me as a teenager (The Arm of the Starfish was another one). In this one, the main character, a teenage girl goes in search of her missing physicist father. It turns out her father had invented a way to fold time and space (to Tesser), and he had landed on a totalitarian planet ruled by "It" which was a giant disembodied brain. She and her friends and sibs, along with 3 witches (or angels or stars, or... well, it's confusing) go to retrieve him. Fantastical mix of SF, science, fantasy and family drama. A uniquely interesting book, I think.
3. The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle
Another by L'Engle, although less fantastical. It deals with a family in New York City. They're living in a big house with another family. I don't remember if the father is absent or traveling, but the daughter is a blind piano prodigy. This book is almost impossible to write a synopsis of, but it involves a mad scientist who is using lasers to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, a visiting priest (Canon Tallis) who is a sort of troubleshooter for the Vatican, an evil bishop, a gang called the Alphabats... Amazing stuff, and like most of L'Engle's works, hard to pigeonhole.
4. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Makes me smile, just to think of it. I don't know that these are classics. I read them to or with both of my sons. It's essentially about two misfit kids who write their own comic books featuring their principal whose alter ego is the superhero Captain Underpants. Not just wildly funny, but wildly subversive. I always got a wicked little gleam in my eyes when I heard critics or teachers or parents complaining about these books. Exactly, you idiots! That's the appeal to the kids! They're wildly inappropriate!
5. The Deal by Peter Lefcourt
Another funny book, but quite different. The Deal is a satire (maybe) of Hollywood. It starts with Charlie Bern, a veteran B-movie producer, who feels like his life has become pointless (i.e., he hasn't made a movie in a while), and is in the process of committing suicide when his nephew shows up out of the blue from New Jersey with a film script based on the life of Benjamin Disraeli. Charlie cancels his suicide attempt, options the script for $1, then promptly goes back into business, finagling a Wesley Snipes-like black action hero to be attached to the film (because it has a "Jewish" element), getting a budget as a result from the studio, then paying a drunken scriptwriter to hack out an action film script and eventually going to Yugoslavia to shoot the film--only the actor gets kidnapped, then released, the film gets canceled, so since Charlie has several million dollars in Yugoslavian film money (that can only be spent in then-Yugoslavia) and a Yugoslavian film crew, he convinces some A-list actors to shoot the original Benjamin Disraeli biopic while the studio tries to figure out what's going on. Very funny, very entertaining and fairly warped in its own charming way.