Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Top 100 Favorite Books of All Time (in no particular order, except for #1, which is my fave)

Because a number of people have asked me lately what my all-time favorite books are, and a couple even asked me to put together a list of my top 100 that I would recommend...
      I submit this list without much commentary. It's eclectic -- new and old books, fiction and nonfiction, at least one graphic novel, even some poetry. Because I don't believe in age dictating what a person should read, there are both adult books and young adult books and even some books originally marketed to children. There are classics, there are chick lit masterpieces, and there are books about rock and roll. There are some favorite books about spirituality and a few about writing -- I was going to leave those off but then decided that was dumb, because they are good books and have something to teach anyone who reads them.

      So without further ado... 

1)               The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon 
2)               Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
3)               Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
4)               Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
5)               Voyager (Outlander series), Diana Gabaldon
6)               Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
7)               A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
8)               Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
9)               Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
10)                    Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
11)                    The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman
12)                    Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman
13)                    About a Boy, Nick Hornby
14)                    A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby
15)                    The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
16)                    Tell The Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
17)                    Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson
18)                    The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
19)                    The Mockingjay Trilogy, Suzanne Collins
20)                    Sister of My Heart, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
21)                    The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
22)                    Skipped Parts (and the rest of the Grovont Trilogy), Tim Sandlin
23)                    Girl, Blake Nelson
24)                    Exodus, Leon Uris
25)                    The Outsiders, SE Hinton
26)                    Persuasion, Jane Austen
27)                    Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
28)                    Unbroken, Lauren Hillenbrand
29)                    Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simmons
30)                    Bridget Jones’ Diary, Helen Fielding
31)                    Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Helen Fielding
32)                    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
33)                    Gospel: A Novel, Wilton Barnhardt
34)                    Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
35)                    Life After God, Douglas Coupland
36)                    Ellen Tebbits, Beverly Cleary
37)                    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, JRR Tolkien
38)                    Tales of the City (whole series), Armistead Maupin
39)                    The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
40)                    The Collected Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway
41)                    Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto
42)                    Good In Bed, Jennifer Weiner
43)                    In Her Shoes, Jennifer Weiner
44)                    The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimaeus trilogy), Jonathon Stroud
45)                    The Fact of A Doorframe (poems), Adrienne Rich
46)                    44 Scotland Street (series), Alexander McCall Smith
47)                    No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (series), Alexander McCall Smith
48)                    The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
49)                    NP, Banana Yoshimoto
50)                    A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
51)                    Chocolat, Joanne Harris
52)                    Mandy, Julie Edwards
53)                    The Commitments, Roddy Doyle
54)                    Anne of Green Gables (series), LM Montgomery
55)                    Emily of New Moon (series), LM Montgomery
56)                    Any Man of Mine, Rachel Gibson
57)                    Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
58)                    Istanbul Passage, Joseph Kanon
59)                    A Storm of Swords, George RR Martin
60)                    The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh series), PD James
61)                    The Confessor (Gabriel Allon series), Daniel Silva
62)                    The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
63)                    A Game of Thrones, George RR Martin
64)                    Allen Ginsberg: Collected Poems 1947-1980, Allen Ginsberg
65)                    An Actual Life, Abigail Thomas
66)                    Getting Over Tom, Abigail Thomas
67)                    The Moralist of the Alphabet Streets, Fabienne Marsh (out of print)
68)                    Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nat Hanh
69)                    Death At La Fenice (Commisario Guido Brunetti series), Donna Leon
70)                    Nowhere But Home, Liza Palmer
71)                    Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
72)                    The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club, Laurie Notaro
73)                    The Majic Bus, Douglas Brinkley
74)                    The Great Deluge, Douglas Brinkley
75)                    Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt
76)                    All The Lonely People, Jess Riley
77)                    The Unlikely Spy, Daniel Silva
78)                    Help Thanks Wow, Anne Lamott
79)                    Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
80)                    A Writer’s Life, Annie Dillard
81)                    The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter
82)                    Floating In My Mother’s Palm, Ursula Hegi
83)                    Fasting, Feasting, Anita Desai
84)                    Life, Keith Richards
85)                    Just Kids, Patti Smith
86)                    Chronicles, Vol. I, Bob Dylan
87)                    Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, Aisha Tyler
88)                    Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson
89)                    Arranged, Catherine McKenzie
90)                    Forgotten, Catherine McKenzie
91)                    Hey, Nostradamus, Douglas Coupland
92)                    Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman
93)                    Song Yet Sung, James McBride
94)                    The Good Lord Bird, James McBride
95)                    Whistling Past the Graveyard, Susan Crandall
96)                    Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman
97)                    Possession, AS Byatt
98)                    We’ll Always Have Paris, Jennifer Coburn
99)                    The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
100)        The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker

Saturday, August 02, 2014

To The Pook, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah

You’ve always known who you are. When you were little, you introduced yourself to random strangers in the grocery store with your full name: “Hello. I’m Daniel Schwartz. Welcome to King Soopers.” So that – that was clearly a Schwartz move. Your father’s son, for sure. Extroverted to your very core.

But you’ve also always had your geek flag flying. One of the best days of your early childhood was the day Star Wars Episode III came out and we “finally” got to go see it, and you were jumping up and down on the couch excitedly for hours till it was time to go. And then, in a quiet theatre of 800 people, at the crucial moment, at the top of your lungs, “But Anakin Skywalker HATES the Dark Side!” I’d never been so proud in all my life. Mommy’s little fanboy.

So yes. A nerd and an extrovert. This has led you to the proper place now that you’re in middle school: the life of a theatre and choir geek. And again, I and many people in this room couldn’t be more proud.

And then there is this story that someone reminded me of recently: You were five. You had just started kindergarten. We were having dinner with some of your aunties, and one of them said, “So Daniel. You’re a kindergartener now?” And you looked at her very seriously and said, “No. I’m a Jew.”

It was kind of brilliant, honestly, an epic comedic moment, and I can’t wait to tell this same story fifteen years from now after you win your first Oscar.

But it was more than that. It’s always been more than that for you – more than just being about your heritage, about that touchstone through time to those who came before you. It was a faith at your core that being Jewish meant something. Something special.

Now, this is not to suggest that I and several other people in this room didn’t often despair of this day every happening. I think we can all agree that your early religious school career was not what we would call an auspicious start. It was a bit of rude awakening for you to realize that learning about being Jewish would actually require a bit of work on your part. And the Hebrew – oh, man, the Hebrew! It was like speaking a foreign language. But your teachers didn’t give up on you, even though you declared to me sometime around fourth grade, “I am NEVER getting my bar mitzvah. Don’t even think about it.”

So I was a little surprised in the spring of 5th grade when you decided you were going to JCC Ranch Camp that summer. But you were adamant. I’m sure at the time it was about getting away from all of us for two weeks more than it was about your religious faith. But every evening, I would anxiously pore over the camp photo galleries, looking for your face, and I remember seeing photos of you from the Shabbat service the first Friday evening – you were up on the stage as part of the group leading the service, looking for all the world like you were just meant to be there. And I was like, “WHOA. Look at my amazing son.”

(I would have made such a good Jewish mother.)

And when you came home, the conversion that we began when you were born, with your bris and your immersion in the mikvah, was really complete. There was no longer a question of whether or not you were going to have your bar mitzvah when you turned thirteen – it just was, from that point forward.

Which is still not to suggest that some of us in this room didn’t despair of ever seeing this day come to pass. Your teachers here – Sophie and Sandy and Michelle – and I’m sure I can add the young ladies of your b’nai mitzvah class to the list – and Karen and Daddy and me – we sometimes wondered if you would pull it off.

But you knew. You had unwavering faith in yourself, most of the time – there was that moment a few weeks ago but we’ll just chalk that up to being a dark night of the soul even though it was the middle of the day and you were like, “Forget it. I just can’t do this,” and there might have been stomping and a notebook thrown… maybe.

And by the way, for all the non-Jews in the room – this is how Daniel spent his summer vacation. Studying Torah. Chanting prayers. Mostly alone. Sometimes on the couch in his underwear. But just as often at the side of his tutor Sophie. It’s not exactly your usual 12-year-old’s summer vacation.

But to see you this morning, on this day – it’s really hard for me to put it into words without just breaking down in tears, because as you know, Mommy is a bit of a crier. But it’s pretty amazing. And you sounded way, way better than the kid from the Ben Stiller rabbi movie. And your Shabbat shalominess is a thing to behold. But you know this already.

Anyway. What I want to make sure you know is that I find your faith impressive. I have seen it make you a better person, a stronger person, a leader. I’ve seen it give you a voice, both at school and at home. I draw strength from it. And somewhere in the strength of your faith, I’ve found my own that I had lost for a time. And you’ve reminded me once again how much we learn from our children. And so I thank you. And I’m so proud of you. And I love you.