Booking Through Thursday: The Best Books You’ve Never Read

booking-through-thursdayPersonally, I think today’s question is one of the best Booking Through Thursday has had since I started participating in this weekly meme. I’ve really enjoyed seeing everyone’s lists — especially when I see that I’ve read books on their list.

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.

What’s the best book that you haven’t read yet?

Besides the entirety of the AP Literature List, I’m inclined to list:

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn {Mark Twain}
    • William Falkner called Mark Twain “the father of American literature.” Too bad I’ve never read anything by him. Wait, I take that back; I did read the edited for content, clarity, and length version of Huckleberry Finn when I was eight. I also own a gorgeous copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but I never read it.
  • The Book Thief {Marcus Zusak}
    • Not a “classic,” but The Book Thief is quite possibly one of the most talked about books. While it sounds incredibly interesting, the waiting list at my library is twenty-seven deep — which  is longer than the waiting list for Jodi Picoult’s new book.
  • Crime and Punishment {Fyodor Dostoevski}
    • I’ve wanted to read Crime and Punishment ever since I read the back cover blurb at the bookstore a couple of weeks ago. However, every time it makes it way to top of the bookstack, I shove it back to the bottom. Why? Well, I guess I’m just scared.
  • A Farewell to Arms {Ernest Hemingway}
    • Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, I’m more inclined to say that A Farewell to Arms, followed by For Whom the Bell Tolls, are his best. Of course, I’ve never read them so my opinion doesn’t mean squat.
  • Gone with the Wind {Margaret Mitchell}
    • I’ve started part one of Gone with the Wind — if you can call 12 pages a true start — for Matt’s read-a-along. {I’m way behind, by the way.} But I’ve wanted to read the book long before Matt’s read-a-along, especially considering this book won the Pulitzer Prize, is considered one of the great American novels, and was adapted into the most popular move of, well, ever.
  • The Grapes of Wrath {John Steinbeck}
    • I’ve wanted to read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath after I saw a large painting of the original cover at both Barnes and Noble and my school’s library. The novel has won the Pulitzer Prize, which is the only reason why I place it above Of Mice and Men and East of Eden despite wanting to read those two as well.
  • Jane Eyre {Charlotte Brontë}
    • I’ve had a least twenty people — on this blog and off — tell me that Jane Eyre is their favorite novel ever, that it easy surpasses anything by Jane Austen. I never had any inkling to read Jane Eyre until I read The Eyre Affair {Jasper Fforde}.
  • Les Miserables {Victor Hugo}
    • I actually have no idea why Les Miserables is on my list — it’s huge, completely intimidating, and I’ll probably never read it.
  • Something by Margaret Atwood
    • With so many “notable” works I’m not sure where to begin, but The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace are currently at the top of my list.
  • Something by George Eliot
    • Silas Marner or Middlemarch or The Lifted Vail? I can’t decide between the two because both look so good.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

baker-towersBakerton is a company town built on coal; the twelve Baker mines offer good union jobs, and the looming black piles of mine dirt don’t bother anyone. Called Baker Towers as they are local landmarks; clear evidence that the mines are booming. Baker Towers mean good wages and meat on the table, two weeks’ paid vacation and presents under the Christmas tree.

Born and raised on Bakerton’s Polish Hill, the five Novak children come of age during wartime, a thrilling ear when the world seems on the verge of changing forever. The oldest, Georgie, serves on a minesweeper in the South Pacific and glimpses life beyond Bakerton, a promising feautre he is determined to secure at all costs. His sister Dorothy, a fragile beauty, takes a job in Washington, D. C., and finds she is unprepared for city life. Brilliant Joyce longs to devote herself to something of consequence but instead becomes the family’s keystone, bitterly aware of the opportunities she might have had elsewhere. Sandy sails through life on looks and charm, and Lucy, the volatile baby, devours the family’s attention and develops a bottomless appetite for love.

Despite not being all that impressed with Haigh’s third novel, The Condition, I wanted to give her second novel a chance. After all, the plot line intrigued me, and I did have good things to say about her writing style. Now, I wish I could take them all back.

A friend asked me what I thought of Baker Towers towards the beginning of the school day this morning — I was only thirty-eight pages in — but I immediately replied that it was very staccato. For those you who don’t “speak music,” as my band director would say, the writing was very choppy and disjointed, as was the plot.

Of course, I find myself asking “Plot? What plot?” because, besides the overarching story line of a coal-mining, company-owned town that dries up when the coal does, there isn’t one. Instead of a cohesive story line, Haigh chose to overwhelm the reader with so many characters — characters she could not do justice for, characters who lacked their own personalities and depth. The only two I did care about, Dorothy and Joyce, had their lives life in balance or were thrown with a man and quickly forgotten. The reader is given snippets of each character’s life with little explanation as to why they came back to Bakerton or left in the first place and then the book ends.

And rather than actually give a real sense of life to the town and to the mines, Haigh misses the opportunity to explore life in Bakerton as America changes from war to peace, women at home to women in the workforce, and coal-burning for energy to gas and electric in favor of placing a lot of emphasis on the characters’ sex lives.

Book Mentioned:

  • Haigh, Jennifer. Baker Towers. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Originally published 2005. Print. 334 pgs. ISBN: 0060509422. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Harper Perennial. Retrieved: March 5, 2009.