Tag Archives: lists

Top 12 Books: A list that connects to lifelong memories

I love lists.

I can keep myself preoccupied for hours thinking about my favorite baseball players, my favorite foods, my favorite movie lines or just about favorite anything.

I also love to-do lists. I have them everywhere. I’m often making lists.

I thought about this recently when I stumbled across one such list I wrote down several years ago. It’s my favorite book list.

I hesitate to make this public because my list reveals an utter lack of fraudulent literacy. I don’t often go for “the classics.” I read Moby Dick and often challenge anyone else who says they did because it was one of the worst, longest, dreariest books I had ever read. Few of the great books, modern or classic, make my list for the simple reason I am often bored reading them, which says far more about me than it does about the great authors of the past.

For an editor and writer, my list makes plain that I lack sophistication in my choices. But, I’ll get out myself.  My list honestly makes no sense. It represents books that for whatever reason, touched me.

Here it is, for all its simplicity:

Just missed: The Last Night at Twisted River by John Irving (every book he writes is brilliant) and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Every book by Robert Parker in his Spenser series. And Blue Like Jazz, a forerunner to my unpublished spiritual memoir I didn’t know existed when I wrote it.

12. Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. One of the funniest books I ever read. And yet it had sneaky relevance tucked into the chicanery, a bit of “what if” quality about the son of God that helped me grow spiritually, believe it or not.John Steinbeck. This one makes me look a little better

11. East of Eden, By John Steinbeck. This one makes me look a little better. It lives up to the hype. Radical for its time, sparse in its prose and deeply insightful. Timshel: One of the best passages I’ve ever read, powerful wisdom in literary form.

10. Lonesome Dove, By Larry McMurtry. I only picked this up because I had nothing else to read. I couldn’t believe a “western” had been so critically acclaimed. Then I read it. All 900-something pages in one weekend. It was brilliant.

9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Compelling storytelling that made an entire culture approachable, lovely and dreadful. The ending fell off just a bit. I don’t know, but I suspect it was somewhat autobiographical about his move to the Bay Area and close to his heart, which is often the kiss of death for a novelist. But the rest of the book is so good, it weathered the lack of focus.

8. The Top of the Hill, by Irvin Shaw. I read this when I was probably seven years old. Maybe 10. I re-read it many times in the years to come. I didn’t know it at the time, but this early foray into “adult popular fiction” connected with an unconscious part of me that deeply identified with the flawed protagonist. It still amazes me how this book captured my childhood attention and held it for so long.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird, By Harper Lee. The highest standard of writing in the voice of a child and yet capturing vital issues every adult should know. Atticus Finch is a great literary character.

6. The Bridge of Madison County, by Robert James Waller. I am a hopeless romantic. But I don’t read romance stories. This had a rare combination of compelling romance with a fascinating story. Yes, it’s sappy and emotive and overly sentimental. But the writing is crisp, and the book was rejected by every agent who looked at it. It remains the forerunner to the possibility of self-publishing.

5. Middlesex,  by Jeffrey Eugenides. One of the best-written books I have ever read, a rare combination of great writing, fascinating characters and compelling story. Usually, one of the three is missing (often the last). This had them all.

4. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I think Hemingway’s legend does not match his actual work. For example, most people talk about his “sparse prose” and “active voice.” Yet he is a master of the run-on sentence, which is what makes that prose so compelling. Without that, sparse prose becomes– like so many who try to emulate him — too simplistic, almost a “see Dick run,” cadence that is a snore. This book is a masterpiece in both. When the shark first hits his fish, I’ve never felt such physical dread reading a story.

3. The River Why, by David James Duncan. This is another book that couldn’t get past agents, probably because it was too wordy and wandering, nothing like the boilerplate that publishers demand from first-time authors. But the Sierra Club published it, and a gem resulted. Funny, lovely, important and mystical, it remains one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

2. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven. I almost can’t describe this incredible book my mother first read to my brother and me when we took a summer vacation driving through the national parks. Craven was in her 60s when the short little story of a priest in a remote village became an unlikely best seller. It’s beautiful, but also, a spiritual signpost I return to often.

And my favorite book from this list:

1. The Shadow of the Wind, By Carlos Zafon. When I found this book it came in a dark time of rehab when nothing was very beautiful in my life. The beauty of his prose and the story filled me with a lightness no book had ever done before or since. It’s translated from Spanish and still beautiful, so I can only image how incredible it is in the author’s native language.

Share your favorites in the comment section below. Like all my lists, they can be revised often. In this case, I hope they do, because discovering a new Top 12 book is a gift I look forward to every time I enter a bookstore.

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Love of lists turns to love of the game

I can’t help but write today about the greatest game in the world: baseball.

And while I am in such a celebratory mood, I’ll let my mind flow over to my other favorite pastime, making lists. When I’m bored or stuck somewhere and want to pass the time, I make lists. Any topic will do, but more often than not my mind turns to about baseball. My favorite baseball list is listing my favorite baseball parks. I’ve been to most of them. And this debate within myself goes on infernally. It’s elastic. The list changes with my mood and my emotional connection to the park. But as of now, the top five baseball parks of all time are, in reverse order:

All-Time Best Baseball Parks

Mariners

#5) Seattle Mariners, SafeCo field. This one never stays the same. I love the skyline, the roof is a work of engineering art and it’s right downtown, which is basically a requirement for my list. If you have to drive, it’s disqualified, which painfully removes Chavez Ravine. The Brewers Stadium is fun, but also gone. The Braves.. what were they thinking… sigh, Arlington is a great looking ballpark. All disqualified. So for now it’s M’s, which is AT&T Park on Steroids, and I hate steroids, which makes me want to kick this off the list in favor of St. Louis, Pittsburgh or Detroit. The Rockpile is pretty cool ($1 tickets) and nearly makes the list on that alone.

wrigley

#4) Wrigley Field – Some days this has ended up #2 on my list. But that’s an emotional decision. The venerable stadium is simply a perfect place to watch a day game. The vibe, the surrounding areas, the EL and the Ivy. When drinks at the Billy Goat Tavern followed the game (a place a bartender kept open until four in the morning for just me and couple of guys) was included in the package, this topped the charts at #2. Now that I’m sober, it’s #4. Still an epic stadium.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

#3) Camden Yards- Purely the most innovative, art-changing, visionary stadium in this class. It set the stage for every stadium that’s been built and single-handily destroyed the horror story that was multi-use stadiums and domes of the 1970s. If this list was “most important stadiums” Camden would be number 1. It’s a gem.

And the biggest, hardest, emotional decision between #1 and #2, subject to change in a moment’s notice….

Giants2

#2) AT&T Park- This stadium and the surrounding area is perfect. Crampt and beautiful with the uniqueness of the splash homers to right, Mssrs. Mays and McCovey watching the front and the back… it’s just… brilliant. Absolutely nothing beats a day game in the sun, in my beloved SF. Even when the team sucked (which people forget HOW much they sucked last decade) you can grab a $5 ticket for $3 from a scalper in the second inning and just enjoy the moment. The surrounding area is SOMA, my home, which makes it the very best.

And finally, #1….

Fenway Park

The single greatest seats in any stadium ever is upon the Green Monster. But even when you are behind a post, you are in love with Fenway. Boston is the best–by far!–crowd. The surrounding area is not AT&T standards, but it works and its near the heart of the city in Boston’s Back Bay. The stadium aura is magical. The above view is what I saw when I proposed to The Bride on Fenway’s big screen (corny, yes, but absolutely memorable). Fenway Park is the fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer: On Earth as it is in Heaven, especially the greatest opening day ever (2005) when The Bride and I watched the 2004 Championship Banner unfurl on the Green Monster. Epic.

Want to argue? Reply below.

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I’m so excited it’s like I’m a kid again. I love, love, love this day.

Zafon’s lyrical prose translates, transcends

I recall the time I discovered Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I recall the first few chapters of the first book he had translated and released in America, The Shadow of the Wind and how his prose captivated me. I felt it instantly, that sense, that Ah-ha moment, and I knew was reading art.

We often talk about artistry in all its forms because reconnecting to the work of art, the practice of art and the celebration of art proved a pivotal part of expanding our lives as we moved beyond the narrowing funnel of addiction.

On these pages we’ve celebrated the music of the likes of The Eagles (Hotel California’s guitar parts… oh man, oh man…) the acting of the Oscars and the kitchen wizardry of many. We enjoy our less than brilliant DIY artistry with things like chocolate or dough or wooden signs as much as we thrill at the work of timeless painting. We all have this capacity for art, even if it’s simply to experience it.

As a writer I focus on the art of words, even if most of what I write is more like widget making. Most of what makes a living is grinding. Blogs like these are impulsive, not nuanced, by definition. The work and practice to make art of words that tell stories takes time not afforded to bloggers and content providers and even many journalists. Many of us make our livings and then we find time do our art.

That is why the escape of a good book is so treasured. These blessed souls produced the art, had it bound and titled and preserved to be shared with others. Of course many books fall far short. The economic pressures and “trends”and lack of patience or practice conspire to produce a story that is something different. Maybe these books are like the garage bands of writing, incubators of practice from which a few may emerge to be celebrated as art.

Nevertheless, I am forever on the hunt for words that become art. A page on our website captures sentences that jumped out and touched us.  The list could and should go on and on, as so many writers have connected a moment or two to paint their prose across the heavens. Zafon for me, is one of those writers.

I just finished the third in a Scott Turow-like trilogy that follows a city and some people over time but not really in a way that each book follows the other. In fact, the weakness of Zafon’s books is they lose the narrative focus and crisp center of Shadow of the Wind with each successive book. But despite plot flaws that emerge, the lyric artistry of his prose remains.

I have a top twelve list I wrote out shortly after reading this book because I knew it was the first in a long time, despite having read hundreds of books in the recent years, that inserted it onto my list of all-time favorites. I looked around for the list and haven’t found it yet, but I know for certain some that are on it because they grabbed me just as Zafon did.

David James Duncan’s, The River Why, and Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call my Name, are fixtures on the list. John Irving has several that float among the fringes, never quite cementing their place but always in contention. The Great Gatsby and Count of Monte Crisco are on the list. The Old Man and the Sea is probably still at the top, the single best example I’ve ever read of the all-important command for writers to show not tell.

If you haven’t read anything from Zafon, pick up a copy. And feel free to comment below to share your favorite artists of the written word. The list could and should go on and on, because we are a culture blessed with artistic writers.

20 reasons why I’m an alcoholic

I’m a list maker. It’s nearly a compulsion. I have lists everywhere. I have lists of my 12 favorite books, my five favorite baseball parks, my all-time baseball team, my to-do lists for tomorrow, my to-do lists for the month, the list of stuff I want to do around the house… well, whatdya know, Ijust made a new list: a list of lists.

I got a problem here, I know.

Anyway, I came across an old list I made up shortly after I got out of rehab. My first sponsor was the first guy I could find, who was a homeless guy with just a few teeth, a terrible smoking habit and a serious commitment to Alcoholics Anonymous. I liked him and he prodded me forward. One of the ideas he had was to make a list of why I thought I ended up a boozer. Like sick ’em to a dog, I made my list.

Looking back on it now, it still rings true. But I’m so far removed from that guy that I read it now with a sense of freedom. That’s what they mean when we say we celebrate recovery. At first the idea of never drinking again sounds like a death sentence. I truly believed life would never be fun again. I didn’t believe I’d never drink again. Now, not only am I having the time of my life, I don’t even want to drink. It’s amazing how the brain changes.

I share this list today as nothing more than an oddity, a peek back to a much more difficult time. But if you’re there… wondering if you have a problem or knowing you have one and can’t possibly imagine life without booze, well, read on. Here’s why I am an alcoholic. Maybe you can try making your own list.

Twenty reasons why I’m an alcoholic…

1) Because I’ve been rebellious all my life. What better way to rebel?

2) because my image was built on the caricature of a “real man” or a “sophisticated man,” a writer like Hemingway, etc. In other words my self-esteem was tied up living on the edge, drinking in the good life, collecting wine, etc. I went so far as to buy a bar just so I could have my own corner table

3) because I used it to ignore stress. I thought I was like the “Godfather” who solved everyone’s problems, when in fact I was stressed out of my mind and needed to drink to calm my anxiety

4) because I thought it made me fun and helped me break out of my uncomfortability in social settings

5) because business deals and work meetings are best conducted in bars

6) because I avoided my inner fears for decades by drowning them with alcohol

7) because I feared abandonment by everyone who matters to me

8) because I am weak and afraid

9) because I’ve been disappointed with myself for years, especially with my lack of follow through and lasting success

10) because I really, really, really love wine!

11) because I’m very reckless, so of course, I push everything to the extremes, including how much/how often I drink

12) because I’m powerless and basically out of control

13) because I’m lonely and felt unloved most of my life

14) because my parents really stressed me out and ultimately left me feeling undefended against the world

15) because I grew up feeling I pissed off everyone around me

16) because I suck at saying “no” to myself and/or others, which creates a big fucking mess of instant gratification most of the time

17) because drinking made my bad choices easier to deal with

18) because I wanted to prove all the “fundamentalists” wrong about drinking

19) because I love the show “Cheers” and still love happy hours

20) because I’m a complete fucking idiot.

See, aren’t lists just great?! It’s all in how you look at it. When I wrote that list a couple of years ago I never wanted a drink so bad in my life. Now, I read it and thank God for all She’s done in my life. So yes, lists are great. It’s all in how you look at it.