Tomorrow I turn twenty-six and my life is over. That’s an over exaggeration, but I am apprehensive about this even-numbered age. When I lived in Seattle, one of my favorite pastimes was attending Seattle Arts & Lectures. For people twenty-five and under, attendance cost less than the regular ticket price (I guess the good folks at SAL think that after twenty-five you should have your shit together and have a real job that affords you the opportunity of culture). For about the same ticket price as a movie, I listened to the wisdom and stories of director Mira Nair, musician and memoirist Patti Smith, and authors Joyce Carol Oates and E. Annie Proulx. Now that I stand on the threshold of twenty-six, I feel like I’m losing something.
A friend of mine recently put it as such: “I don’t think I’m going to have a life crisis, but I feel like from here on out I’m going to become increasingly more upset.” And he’s only twenty-three! But, I digress. Really, I look forward to the opportunities and change that my late twenties will bring (maybe get paid for my writing! underemployment! paying off my student loan debt–I kid.). So, as I optimistically look upon a new year of life, I’ll do the thing that always makes me feel better: make a list.
As a graduate student, the options for cultural entertainment are limited–no theater, only concerts when it’s a band I really like, and I’m almost finished watching through all eight seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm. What better thing for a book nerd like me than to invest in books. They’re a buy-once-keep-forever kind of entertainment, and they won’t let me down in the way Girls has been doing lately (I need more Jessa!). The only problem is that I’m a book snob and only buy my books in hardcover. That makes it very difficult to find the books I long for at Powell’s. Oh well, if I put it out in the universe, perhaps it will come back to me.
In no particular order, these are the books I need to become a better person:
The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle
I first discovered this jewel of comedy writing while studying abroad in Ireland. My professor gave us an excerpt from The Snapper to read for class, which I immediately ate up. While in the tiny town of Dingle, I spent much of my free time (when not at the pub) in the library, reading through Doyle’s books: The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van. The trilogy follows one working-class Irish family. Never ever before or after have I laughed so hard while reading. These books remind me that you can be honest, dramatic, and poetic while also making people laugh their asses off.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
To keep me balanced, I should own the one book that has disturbed me the most. Atwood’s famous feminist novel gives womena look at what our lives could be like if the world turned into a patriarchal theocracy: horrible. Although I may never want to read this book again (it was very hard to get through), I want to own it as a reminder of how literature can move beyond entertainment and work as a social commentary and teaching tool. Plus, I want to give it to every young woman I know as part of her feminist education.
Even Cowgirls get the Blues by Tom Robbins
Because this book is weird wonderful sexy genius. Because Robbins is a living legend and I want to stalk him, but since I shouldn’t do that, I’ll settle with the first book I read of his. Because I’ll probably never be bohemian/a hippy/a cowgirl, I want to live vicariously through his amazing characters.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Summer. Girlhood. Nostalgia. It is so hard to write about youth without sounding sentimental. It is so hard to write about theopposite sex without making a caricature. It is so hard to tell your readers how your story will end from the start (a book with “suicides” in the title probably doesn’t end happily) and keep them captivated. Eugenides does all these thing with ease. This book haunted me in the best way.
Carried Away: A Selection of Short Stories by Alice Munro
I love the Everyman’s Library (yes, I pay attention to publishers). I have their version of Lolita, The Stranger, and John Updike’s Rabbit novels. I also love short story collections. Alice Munro is my new short story idol, on par with Raymond Carver and John Cheever. I want/need this collection like I need food and air.
I believe we need books to make us better. If I’m going to survive my late twenties, I need these books to sustain me.