Friday, October 19, 2007

Top 6 Friday: Great Reads

1. Hound of the Baskervilles

I picked up this book, part of a set of 5 I was given as a present, without even knowing it was a Sherlock Holmes story. If ever I was unable to put down a book it was this. Never a moment set aside to see what proportion of the bulk of pages I had made my way through or sense of reading a book I wanted to get to the end of (a bad habit I have developed recently). The story, the pace, the wit and logic of Holmes inspiring me. There is so much to be said for rooting out the source material for the characters that have survived the ages – Dracula, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde or even Bond and meeting them as originally intended. Holmes is a classic example of a character, who's name entered the vernacular, is readily recognised by attire we all associate him with but the fact is this is very far removed from the man on the page. Not unknown to dabbling in drugs, evading the rigours of the law and thining himself incapable of love, Holmes was the original and best at pulling a rabbit out of a hat to reveal to the comfused faces all around who had dunnit'.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

The death of Tom Robinson, disrupted every convention I knew as to how a story should progress. Writers aim to shock with twists, there is an inevitability to them with so many of the stories told today. The build up to Robinsons trial, Atticus Finch ably defending him as the black people of the town watch segregated from the public gallery overhead and the unjust verdict were harpooned with the sudden news of Robinsons botched escape and killing. Boo Radley's reveal paled into significance to this. I still remember where I was sitting the day I read the line.I know it is an injustice to the book to highlight this moment, out of the countless rich characters and perfect descriptions throughout but this stays with me.

3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

There are those small little moments of realisation that can destroy you. They can come from nowhere, a passing remark, an awakening to a situation you never realised, a reality check on yourself or someone you know. Stephen Dedalus has one of these. A great feeling of vindication he felt on having a dean confront a bully of his, while in secondary school in Clongowes Wood, something great time is given to in the book to enshrine its importance in his mind, is taken away in an instant. The dean in conversation with his father tells him he essentially laughed at the boy behind his back underining in such a subtle moment of devastation a truly important moment to him. So much achieved with such insightful writing.

4. Hamlet

The leaving cert play, it can never be appreciated for what it is. At that formative age when learning by rote was my chief concern, the moment where Hamlet meets the Norweigan Prince Fortinbras, whose undoubting resolve to head to war over a barren piece of land is the example I bring to bear when I want to get perspective on things. For Hamlet this adds to his questioning of his inaction over his fathers death, when this king is willing to fight and give up lives for a piece of worthless land. Hamlets comparison of himself to the neighbouring prince leads to him finally taking action. It is an important, smart tangent, often left out of adaptations (mistakenly I think) triggering the events of the final drama.

5. The Road

This book I finished just last night and was the reason I wrote this list. It is simply written but has imagery and poetry laden in every line. There is a lyrical essence to the book, a quiet tragic story with more meaning and impact than the most densely written tomes. One moment where the father and son of the story are sitting in dense blackness, has the father about to lose his temper waiting for the sons agreement only to realise that the boy has been nodding, unknown to him in the pitch dark. There are so many great touches like this and paragraphs of beautiful description you feel a life's worth of writing couldn't produce but have here.

6. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I went through an Agatha Christie phase and John Grisham phase in quick succession. Neither are fine art, but Christies work I appreciate more, if for nothing else than her great ideas. People in her world come up with the most elaborate and precisely timed and consructed crimes, motivated more often than not by money they go to great extents, consructing new identities involving years of plotting. The final pages see some impecabbly dressed yet highly dysfunctional people gathered in a drawing room as we wait for the pieces to come together and read the logic appear on page. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is still the subject of discussion, for how it treats the reader and the type of information it provides. An unprecedented plot twist sees the storys narrator and Hercule Poirots assistant revealed as the murderer. Immediately you feel cheated, the murderer has been telling the story. Christie explained afterwards that everything the narrator had told us was true, he had however failed to include some vital information!The truth of course is that there are plenty of clues for those who chose to see them, which I did, on the second reading however.

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