I get these weird emails from Barnes & Noble all the time, and I say “weird” because they’re not necessarily spam, since they have the name and contact information of the woman who is sending them, so ostensibly I could pick up the phone and dial her number and talk to a real live person about how annoying it is to get these emails, and she would probably sympathize with me and say how annoying it is to have to send them out, but hey, it’s a bad economy, she has a job, she’s not going to rock the boat too much, which I get. But they’re not addressed to me personally, either, so in that way they’re sort of like spam. But I can’t unsubscribe from them, so in that way it’s not like spam, but I really wish it was actually spam so I could unsubscribe.
But anyway, my point was that I got this email telling me about Barnes & Noble’s Guest Books feature on their website, in which famous authors (and random famous other people, like Jamie Lee Curtis) pick their three favorite books. It’s like an iTunes Celebrity Playlist (which, BTW, if I get to make one of those one day it will be the total nadir of my fame), but for books! I like how Augusten Burroughs chose Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos, which I’ve been slowly making my way through for about a year now, in a probably misguided but earnest attempt to “teach myself physics.”
As for myself, not that you were asking, if I were a B&N Guest Books featured author, these are the books I would put on my list:
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate (two novels with the same characters that have been packaged together for a long time and thus constitute one book according to my arbitrary definitions of “book”) are hands-down the funniest novels I’ve ever read. My friend Abby refers to them as a “warm cup of tea,” and no offense to her but I see in these books not only charming domestic humor but also Mitford’s sly, sharp wit applied to the subject of the very human ache for place and self in the world, and for the independence and means to define these for ourselves.
Nobody writes passion like Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre. Every time I read this book, I feel more akin to Jane, more invested in her journey, more outraged at her misfortunes, more relieved at her triumphs. The first time I read Jane Eyre, in high school, I thought her orphanhood and her abuse at the hands of her supposed family were unfortunate, but I found her moralizing tiresome and, in my self-centered youth (only about ten years younger than my current self-centered youth) I couldn’t see the significance of her later life’s battles and convictions. Jane Eyre is a wild, raving book dressed up as a corseted Victorian morality tale (the moderate, pious girl prevails over both her suffering and the libertine behavior of her heart’s true love, who is humbled for his sins before he can deserve her), which is all part of its particular genius.
As for contemporary novels, Douglas Coupland is my go-to. I love Hey Nostradamus! so much that I used a quote from it–“It is indeed a mistake to confuse children with angels”–as an epigraph for All Unquiet Things (well, hopefully, as I haven’t gotten permission yet or anything). Every time I read this book it breaks my heart anew, and each story (the novel is narrated by four different people) is both increasingly sad, increasingly fascinating, and increasingly beautiful (sorry Cheryl, turns out your untimely death is the least heartbreaking of all the tearjerkers that rippled outward from it, which I guess makes sense). If there was some contest where the prize was getting to ask one living writer any question about any work of hers or his, I would ask Douglas Coupland “What happened to Jason?” without hesitation. Despite how incredibly sad this book can be, it can also be amusing, and it is unrelentingly realistic, only slightly confusing upon the first read, and smart as hell.