One of my friends from graduate school recently tagged me in a note on facebook. Here’s the prompt she answered (slightly corrected by me) and wanted her friends to complete:

Rules: Don’t take too long to think about it: fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you, first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I’m interested in seeing what books my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your 15 picks, and tag people in the note-upper right hand side.)

I completed my list, but since I didn’t elaborate on why I chose the books I chose, I thought I would blog about them here. (These aren’t in any particular order.)

1. Faggots by Larry Kramer. A few years ago I started teaching this novel in my Lesbian and Gay Literature class. I wrote about one of those experiences here. I recently started rereading this novel just for fun. I love how Kramer takes a large cast of characters and uses them to critique the sexual mores of the 1970s. It’s a great and inadvertently tragic satire.

2. Becoming a Man by Paul Monette. I haven’t ever taught Becoming a Man, though I did teach Borrowed Time: A AIDS Memoir. Where Borrowed Time is unbelievably tragic, Becoming a Man is a hopeful autobiography about coming out and getting angry at the way gay people and especially people with HIV are treated in America. I read it as an undergraduate and loved it. It was integral to my own coming out process. I started rereading this book too earlier this year, but it got away from me as work piled up.

3. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. I used to think Agatha Christie was the greatest detective novelist ever until I read this novel by Sayers. I reread it a year ago and fell in love with it all over again. Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey are one of the great romantic couples of modern literature. This novel also makes great use of Oxford as a locale. I wrote about reading the LPW novels here.

4. and 5. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen. Persuasion has long been my favorite Jane Austen novel and Pride and Prejudice is a close second. Anne Eliot and Elizabeth Bennet are, of course, classic English characters, and their very different love stories are great to return to over and over again. Of all the books on my list, these two are the ones I’ve read the most. I often take one or the other with me when PJ and I travel to Europe. I’ve found their familiarity a calming presence when traveling.

6. The Monk by Matthew Lewis. This is one of my favorite novels to teach. Students often find it slow to start with but the best ones quickly become engrossed in its action and villainy. It has everything you could want in a novel: murder, religion, rape, incest, nude eighteenth-year old boys (well, one nude, eighteen-year-old boy), and witchcraft. I love its mix of cynicism and moral certainty. It’s so eighteenth century!

7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne. I couldn’t read this novel the first time I tried. It was just too difficult and I wasn’t ready. Now I love it and I love teaching it. I’ve written about teaching it twice: here and here. I’m scheduled to teach it again, this time to graduate students, in the spring. I’m sure I’ll blog about it then too. I’m also trying to write about it in my next book. I may not be successful, but I want to try. I can’t help but think that I will be the greatest scholar ever if I can just have a Tristram Shandy chapter!

8. Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Every time I read this play, I see something new and different in it. I’ve taught it several times, and each time I can’t help but wonder at its magnitude and message. It’s probably the wisest work of literature — along with Tristram Shandy, perhaps — that I’ve ever read.

9. The Wellspring by Sharon Olds. When I first heard Sharon Olds read, I didn’t know that poetry could do that. I immediately read this book. It’s a masterpiece of peering into the human experience and the processes of aging.

10. Sula by Toni Morrison. I’m teaching this book this fall, so I reread it over the summer. I love the relationship between Sula and Nell and how complicated that relationship is. I worry sometimes that I am Sula (or would be Sula if the circumstances were right), and maybe that adds to the book’s allure for me.

11. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein. Like many guys my age, reading TLOTR taught me that I loved to read long and complicated texts. I read The Hobbit and just about everything else I could get my hands on by Tolkein. I even read his translation of the Pearl poet’s Medieval poetry. Then I started reading scholarship on Tolkein. This trilogy undoubtedly made me a lover of English literature and introduced me to the profession I love so much.

12. Dune by Frank Herbert. I read Dune for the first time as an adult. It reminded me that science fiction isn’t just for children. I then read several of the sequels, which quickly lose their appeal and quality. But the original novel is a great read, and I love its message about environmentalism.

13. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This graphic novel is one of the most literate and literary books I’ve read in recent years. It made me see the genre in a different way. It too isn’t just for children. I pass it out to students and friends regularly. I proselytize whenever I get a chance!

14. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence. I haven’t actually read this book in a long time, but it’s the one on my list that I most want to return to again. When I read it for the first time, I thought sometime equivalent to “I didn’t know novels could do that!” I was 15 when I read it, and it taught me a lot about the role of literature in culture. I hope I get a chance to read it again soon.

15. Maurice by E. M. Forster. I taught this novel earlier this year. It really helped me come out when I read it by expressing so much of  what I felt and feared and wanted. I owe Forster so much.

So, that’s my list. A couple of the people I tagged on facebook subsequently composed their lists. It’s interesting to see what books someone values. They seem to say so much about us, but that seeming isn’t always the whole truth. That’s why I wanted to explain my list in a little more detail. There are a few other books that I want to blog about soon. Hopefully, I won’t be too busy to do so as the new quarter starts.

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