The Ten Greatest Books of All Time

So here they are (drumroll please) according to TIME magazine, the ten greatest books of all time: They were compiled from many lists and are noted in the book The Top Ten by J. Peder Zane (Norton 352 pages)

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
Middlemarch by George Eliot

Oh my… one more thing to make us all feel inferior. How many have I read you ask? Hmmm… let’s see. Hamlet, Huckleberry Finn, and Lolita. I have tried several times to get through The Great Gatsby (I totally do not understand the attraction or the critical love of this novel) and Anna Karenina (couldn’t get into it). I remember carrying around War and Peace in High School to impress a boy (Anyone remember what happened to Pat Hogan, Adamson High School class of 72?), and to be quite honest I’ve never even heard of In Search of Lost Time. I think I saw the movie of Madam Bovary, if that counts.

I think everyone should have their own list of, if not the “greatest” or even their “favorite”, at least “Some Books I Love”. So here are five of mine, because you’re not really interested in ten.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith -The story of Francie Nolan, who grew up in Brooklyn at the turn of the (last) century. I have read this book at least a dozen times, probably more. I used to read it once a year. When I first read it I was Francie’s age on the opening page – ten – and when I last read it, last year, I was probably as old as the oldest person in the novel. I get something new from it every time I read it. My daughter and I read it together when she was 12 or so, but I don’t think she loved it like I did. I have suggested it to everyone who has ever asked me for a reading club suggestion.

Gone With the Wind , Margaret Mitchell. Pat Conroy recently wrote a fabulous essay about GWTW in his memoir “My Reading Life”. Everything he says applies, so just read it and remember that I wish I had said it.

Land Below the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith. What – you’ve never heard of it? Of course you haven’t – it’s the best book that no one has read in fifty years. It is the story of Keith’s life in Borneo between the two world wars and it is fabulous. The only reason you may have heard of Keith at all is because she also wrote “Three Came Home” about her time in captivity under the Japanese during WWII. It was published in 1947 and became a national bestseller. The movie was made three years later and was quite controversial, but certainly doesn’t seem so today. Its portrayals of the horrors of war are quite tame by today’s standards. Land Below the Wind and Three Came Home were followed by Bare Feet in the Palace. I own and love all three of these books. She was a brave, courageous and witty woman way ahead of her time.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Does anyone not love this book? I have (no exaggeration) worn out four or five paperback copies of this novel. Each time the pages start falling out so I just throw them away as I read them. I always have a copy of it in the car because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in traffic. I can pick it up at any spot and just fall in. I love the miniseries too, which is strange. Usually I love the book and hate the movie. While we’re talking about books and movies, when I first read Jaws, I loved the name of the sheriff, Martin Brody. I decided on an airplane flying home from an ill-fated sojourn in LasVegas that if I ever had a son I would name him Brody. I did, but he is quick to tell you that I named him from the book not the movie. (Only real readers get that joke)

I actually have a love-hate relationship with Larry McMurtry. I love the dramas – “Horseman, Pass By” (later made into the movie “Hud) and “The Last Picture Show” (same movie title) and of course “Lonesome Dove” but I hate the comedies. “Texasville”, which purported to follow the characters created in “Last Picture Show” really ticked me off. It was as if McMurtry was so contemptuous of those of us who loved his novels and characters that he had to belittle them.

“Slammerkin” by Emma Donaghue, lately famous for “The Room”. This is NOT everyone’s cup of tea. It is about a young woman in 18th Century England who, after being thrown out of her home becomes a prostitute and gets her comeuppance. Fully fleshed out (no pun intended), I love Mary Saunders and her tawdry world.

So there you have them. Notice I didn’t call them the “greatest” anything – so you don’t have to feel inferior because you didn’t read them. To read more about Time’s list go to : http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1578073,00.html#ixzz1WGtpXZkz

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Ins and Outs

As the seasons, so go our lives.

Here in Texas we had a brutally cold winter followed by a miserably hot summer. When we’re cold we yearn for the warm, and when we’re hot we dream of fresh, cool breezes.

A couple of years ago I had more work than I could say grace over. it seemed like I just got out of the car in one city and then it was time to move on to the next. I think I complained a lot at that time about “never having time to breathe” – something like that.

Now I spend my time talking about not having enough work. I know it’s not just me; I think we are programmed as a race to always want more, always look to the next thing.

In the 70s, a guru named Ram Dass wrote “Be Here Now”, which became sort of the catch phrase for the hippie movement (of which I was a fringe member, never quite brave enough to be a real hippie). Now it seems so dated, but the sentiment is true and honorable. Centuries before, Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow – tomorrow has enough worries of its own”.

I’m committed to that today. I’m going to be here now. And then I’m going to bed. Here’s hoping for a better year for all my storyteller and ventriloquist friends who are slogging through a tough economy!

A Series of Firsts

Life is a series of firsts; your first tooth, your first steps, your first kiss, your first child. I have been thinking of this recently because my granddaughter Veronica had her first day of fifth grade and my grandson James had his first haircut.

My first grade teacher was Miss Nichols at Lewisville Elementary School, my first date was to see the Harlem Globetrotters with David Bailey, and my first car was a 62 Corvair Convertible that I wish I still owned. (Don’t we all wish we still owned that first car)

My first ventriloquism show was for my daughter Emily’s kindergarten class at Baccus Elementary. I’m sure I was awful, but the kids LOVED it, and I was hooked. A chance encounter with Dennis Lee led me to the fabulous puppetmaker Verna Finly and the start to a career.

Would I have become a ventriloquist without that chance encounter… who knows? I certainly loved it as a child. I adored Shari Lewis and Lambchop and loved Senor Wences on the Ed Sullivan Show with his sweet puppet Topo Gigio. My own Waco owes much to that little mouse, both in character and body. But me – a ventriloquist? I would never have dreamed it.

I hope that I have many more firsts in my life, through my children and grandchildren and hopefully some day even my great grandchildren. I would love to see a bunch of new faces and new schools this year for the first time. If you know of someone looking for a fun, professional, educational assembly program – send them my way!