The True Test of Friendship: A Top Ten List

I would like to both thank and apologize to anyone who stops by FSR (I’m determined to make the acronym stick) today. Thank you for reading and sorry for recommending, yet again, that you go pick up John Irving, Stephen King, and Richard Russo (though I’m not really sorry if you’ve not taken my advice yet). I’m only trying to improve your literary life and, naturally, I want what’s best for you. And what’s best includes A Prayer for Owen Meany, Bag of Bones, Empire Falls, and Straight Man…

This week’s top ten: the books that you must read (also known as the books I recommend most – as hosted by The Broke and The Bookish).

I’m not serious about the title; we can be friends even if you don’t love John Irving.

Elia Kazan East of Eden
The true test: Do you appreciate the work of Elia Kazan? James Dean and Elia Kazan during East of Eden.

In no particular order, though I’ll warn you – I’m going to cheat:

10. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. When I was younger I strongly identified with Walter’s silent anger and passive aggression. As an adult, I simply find The Painted Veil to be a lovely story. Also, the adaptation starring Edward Norton is nothing to complain about.

9. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. I love this novel. When people ask me where to start with SK, I always suggest this one. For those looking for the scarier works of SK, I’d start with IT. If you’re not willing to commit to the page length (understandably, the hardcover version of it can be mistaken for a weapon or, at the very least, a doorstop), Pet Sematary. Short stories? Different Seasons. Dystopia? Try The Long Walk.

8. Straight Man by Richard Russo. Straight Man is his funniest novel, but Empire Falls is his best. I’d advise reading both. We’d all like to threaten to kill geese (or is this just a Colorado problem, because those have got to be the stupidest birds…), only Hank gets to do so.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I know, shocking choice. However, it is a must read (and my favorite love story); just avoid her sister Emily at all costs. I’m ambivalent about Anne, although she was influenced by the dreadful, ridiculous The Monk.

6. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollack. If you think you can handle dark fiction, then you absolutely must read this novel.

5. The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story. I’m not always dark and dreary, though you wouldn’t know it from this blog. For a light, fluffy comedy of errors (about a dead man), I suggest The Trouble with Harry. Watch the movie too. For more humor, you could also try Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.

4. Zone One by Colson Whitehead. This is another one I frequently recommend when people start talking about zombies (which happens more often than you’d think). However, the feedback has been rather dismal, so maybe it’s not for everyone.

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The 1980’s…I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves that decade (and John Hughes).

2. The works of John Irving. You have my permission to skip The Fourth Hand and In One Person. My favorite is The Hotel New Hampshire, but I think A Prayer for Owen Meany is his best.

1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. There are a great many reasons why I love this book. Here are two:

(One) The things I had come to find humor in would make your honest man swoon.

(Two) Here lies Morris, a good man and friend. He enjoyed the finer points of civilized life but never shied away from a hearty adventure or hard work. He died a free man, which is more than most people can say, if we are going to be honest about it. Most people are chained to their own fear and stupidity and haven’t the sense to level a cold eye at just what is wrong with their lives. Most people will continue on, dissatisfied but never attempting to understand why, or how they might change things for the better, and they die with nothing in their hearts but dirt and old, thin blood – weak blood, diluted – and their memories aren’t worth a goddamned thing, you will see what I mean.

The first pretty much sums me up and the second, well, you will see what I mean if you read the book. A side note, this novel lost The Man Booker Prize to Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending – a literary travesty if you ask me. It’s like Martin Scorsese winning the Oscar for The Departed when he should have won it for Goodfellas.

So there you have it, I gave you not 10, not 11, but 33 titles to consider. I’d also like to remind you that Elia Kazan was not just a great director, but a decent writer too. It rare that anyone answers my questions (not that it deters my asking them), but do you have a favorite film he directed? Mine is A Face in the Crowd.

Image found here.

41 thoughts on “The True Test of Friendship: A Top Ten List

  1. I really, really need to get around to The Painted Veil…and in the meantime shall go and re-watch the adaptation a bajillion times over 😉

    Anne Bronte’s the only one of the sisters I haven’t read from yet (though I have Agnes Grey sitting on my eReader at the moment). I didn’t know she was influenced by The Monk (another book I haven’t gotten around to yet), that’s quite interesting

    My (slightly modified) TTT


    1. You must, but the movie is a pleasant substitute until you get the chance.

      Oh The Monk…It is absolutely one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read (right up there with The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson). The Monk has a pregnant nun, Satan, incest, kidnapping, exorcists – what more could you ask for? Did you want cross-dressing? Because it has that too.


  2. I read A Prayer for Owen Meany in high school and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read any of this other books though. 🙂


  3. Yes, a travesty. I HATED Sesne of an Ending – and you know my thoughts about Sisters Brothers. Glad you put it out there Rory!


    1. I passionately hated that book. It ranks as one of the worst award winners, right alongside Gone With the Wind. A couple other disappointments: The Road and A Thousand Acres. The Road was good enough, just not Pulitzer worthy…


      1. NOOOOOOOOOO! I think The Road is the most powerful book I’ve ever read. So we don’t agree on everything!


      2. I do think is good, but Blood Meridian is even better. Most powerful book I’ve ever read, I’m going to have to think about that one…

        It might be Blood Meridian. I don’t know though…


    2. Well just to throw a spanner in the works, I didn’t mind Sense of an Ending (perhaps because I read it in one sitting… But not Prize worthy) AND I didn’t really like The Road (but I think because others had built it up for me).


      1. The Road read too much like a screenplay to me, but it’s one of my brother’s favorite books and we agree on most things (he was one of the people who hated Zone One though).

        Another prize nominee (National Book Award) that I thought was awful: The End by Salvatore Scibona.


    1. I think I read that Sag Harbor was a departure from his typical work and a bit autobiographical, I haven’t read it so I can’t comment. I did enjoy Zone One, but no one I’ve recommend it to has. Goodreads is quite divided as well. Maybe give it a chance eventually…?


  4. I really enjoyed a Bag of Bones. I really like King. I am just not always in the mood for his doom and gloom type writing.


    1. It is one of my favorites. I do tend to be a doom and gloom kind of person (the fun sort, if that’s possible), so maybe it’s a good fit for me.


    1. Yep, definitely. And eventually, I think we’ll probably meet at some sort of digitization/preservation conference. As big as the world is, the library portion of it tends to be very small.


  5. I’m feeling quite sad that I’ve only read one of the books on your list (Ready Player One – which was AMAZING) but several are on my TBR. I’ll get around to them one of these days. And The Fourth Hand apparently won’t be my first Irving. Good to know. 🙂


    1. Don’t be sad! Be happy with all of the new recommendations. And don’t start with The Fourth Hand, you might not want to read any Irving after that. I’d advise starting with any one of his classics: Owen Meany, THNH, Garp, or the Cider House Rules. They are all extraordinary.


  6. Jane Eyre is great. I prefer Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen because lighter, funnier books are more my style, but I still remember so clearly reading Jane Eyre for the first time. Some scenes have stuck in my heard for years and years!


    1. I like Pride and Prejudice too, but my Austen soft spot tends to be Persuasion (and that letter, which is perfect). Jane Eyre is definitely my favorite classic Gothic romance. I identify with Jane in many ways, which is why I suspect I am so fond of the novel.


  7. I love Jane Eyre (also in agreement with Anne. Loved Agnes Grey and suffered through The Professor), liked the Painted Veil, have recently picked up Empire Falls on your very favorable recommendation. I simply adore John Irving. He is the perfect storyteller. I read A Prayer for Owen Meany last year after my brother died. We shared a love of books and this was one he was always suggesting me to read. Owen Meany was quirky. My brother was quirky! I swear, sometimes it felt like my brother was telling this story. There was a reason why I hadn’t gotten around to reading this book before because I needed to read when I did and that’s why it will always be a favorite.


    1. I love stories like that and what a great memory to have. Both my brother and I love books. I’m over a decade older than him and one of the first series that bridged that age gap was A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire series), so I hold it in high regard for that reason. I read him The Chronicles of Narnia series to him when he was little, but it didn’t have the same effect.


  8. I keep forgetting to read about “Zone One” but it’s definitely on my list! And everyone should absolutely read “Jane Eyre” and then see the version with Ruth Wilson.


    1. I LOVE that version. It’s the perfect classic novel adaptation, I (though I’m likely in the minority) believe it beats Colin Firth’s Pride and Prejudice.


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