Thursday, March 29, 2012

What books make you happy?

We're approaching April Fools Day, the Taymes New Year, so I naturally turn to foolishness, silliness and laughter.
And I think about books I've read that have given me great delight - without the Angst!
Here's my list - send me yours:

Little, Big by John Crowley - I plug this book constantly. To me it has the perfect blend of wit, joie de vivre, magic and insight. If you haven't read it, you ought to, if you enjoy authors who take your hand and lead you places your mystic self remembers, that lighten your spirit.

Fame and Love in New York by Ed Sanders - I've read as much of Mr. Sanders' output as I can find, and this is his magnum opus. In his semi-mythic New York a group of writers recreate the conditions in which Balzac wrote so prolifically: they lock themselves in a room (accessed through the Duct Tape Boutique) with a gigantic coffee urn, and pound those typewriters. The book is replete with marginalia - what a fun read!

The Jamais Vu Papers by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin - a psychedelic excursion. Go find a copy!

A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan - in his melancholy way, Brautigan wrote many books that make me laugh. I cannot see a can of mackerel in the grocery store without recalling how, when there was nothing else to eat, his characters were unable to converse about philosophy. And the frogs drove them crazy.

A Graveyard for Lunatics by Ray Bradbury - in which this wizard of language romps through the special-effects movie creations of Ray Harryhausen. Bradbury has written many fine books and is one of our short story masters - who can fail to delight in "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair" in which a few people hear the comedic pair's ghosts moving a piano up a long flight of steps on certain LA nights?

Giant Bones and The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle - he shares with us a fully imagined world with its own peoples and animal species - very down-to-earth magic here.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding - the author's tongue-in-cheek asides to the reader are perfectly matched by the characters in Tony Richardson's movie addressing the camera - one April Fool's Day, Fred and I dined in swank at the Watergate then saw this fine movie - a stellar anniversary!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - I was in a book group that read this. Mostly older women, they were put off by the quantity of subplots. I told them it was just like a comic book: you get an installment of the cover story along with several one- or two-pagers and an extended lesser story or two. They liked it better after that. My only twinge of disappointment: alas, no pictures!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac - if you don't crack a smile reading this, you are taking life too seriously. Even if you've never driven somebody else's Cadillac across a cornfield, you can enjoy the ride of Sal Paradise, with Dean Moriarty at the wheel.

The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber - much of his writing hasn't aged well - his mocking of his black servants' language is jarring to the modern reader - but most of the stories in this collection are hilarious. His eccentric family stars in these short pieces, which may be fiction or what is now known as creative non-fiction. His other standout is "You Could Look it Up" - a midget is sent to pinch-hit in a major league baseball game. All he has to do is stand there with the bat on his shoulder while the pitcher misses his strike zone four times. But no, he has to swing. And make contact. And run on his short legs... For whatever reason, this piece seems to have evaded every Thurber anthology.

The California Book of the Dead by Tim Farrington - he has the ability to sketch a character in under a dozen words, which fills me with admiration.

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe - this isn't a comedy but the writing is vivid and the punctuation trippy, and Kesey's Merry Band of Pranksters are a fun bunch to hang out with - at least, for a while.

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols - absurdity tweaks normalcy every chance it gets in this small New Mexico community.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman - I laughed most of the way through this autobiography. Feynman could never manage orthodoxy. His fearless curiosity leavened with blazing intelligence made him a titan in the world of physics. If you're even mildly interested in the Manhattan Project, read this book.

Well, that's a start. I'm sure I've left out some good ones. What are yours?