The majority of my reading is done on the treadmill at my local gym. I’ve read about half a dozen books in the last few months, all while surrounded by the smell of sweat and the sounds of clanking weights and Lady Gaga. This is a small list of some books that I would read over and over again (in no particular order) – and that some of you may be interested in as well:
1) Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
Written on the Body
This is my most recent read; the narrator – who remains both nameless and genderless throughout the entire book – falls in love with a married woman, and soon after discovers the woman has cancer. It is a beautifully written story of love, completely stripped of all boundaries, the narrator describing how they long even to be the spoon their lover eats with (which at times manages to make the story humorous, but in such a sweet way that you cannot help but continue to love the narrator). As the narrator is genderless, I did at first find myself searching for clues, desperate to discover whether the character is male or female; however, as the story progressed, I fell into Winterson’s beautiful descriptions of love and life and death, and no longer cared about the sex. This book ripped my heart out, and I loved every second of it.
“When she lifted the soup spoon to her lips how I longed to be that innocent piece of stainless steel. I would gladly have traded the blood in my body for half a pint of vegetable stock. Let me be diced carrot, vermicelli, just so that you will take me in your mouth. I envied the French stick. I watched her break and butter each piece, soak it slowly in her bowl, let it float, grow heavy and fat, sink under the deep red weight and then be resurrected to the glorious pleasure of her teeth.”
2) American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
This book is required to come shrink-wrapped in some countries – a point that manages to make Ellis one of my personal idols. If you have seen the movie, while it is a wonderful adaptation it does the book no justice. Coming from a horror writer and enthusiast, this piece made my stomach churn, and is not for the faint of heart; however, the character of Patrick Bateman – handsome, intelligent, sarcastic, sadistic Wall Street businessman – is one that will not be soon forgotten. It had me wondering if Ellis may have a secret of his own (another point that makes him my idol.) A phenomenal, disgusting, amazing book.
“The aftermath. No fear, no confusion. Unable to linger since there are things to be done today: return videotapes, work out at the gym, a new British musical on Broadway I promised Jeanette I’d take her to, a dinner reservation to be made somewhere. What’s left of both bodies is in early rigor mortis. Part of Tiffany’s body — I think it’s her even though I’m having a hard time telling the two apart — has sunken in and her ribs jut out, most broken in half, from what’s left of her stomach, both breasts have been pierced by them. A head has been nailed to the wall, fingers lie scattered or arranged in some kind of circle around the CD player. One of the bodies, the one on the floor, has been defecated on and seems to be covered with teeth marks where I had bitten into it, savagely. With the blood from one of the corpses’ stomachs that I dip my hand into, I scrawl, in dripping red letters above the faux-cowhide paneling in the living room, the words I AM BACK and below it a scary drawing which looks like this”
(There is no actual drawing on the page. The sentence ends without even a period.)
3) The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar
Oh, Sylvia. Master of words and the insane. I am a huge fan of all of Sylvia’s poetry, and The Bell Jar can be called a 244-page poem, about Esther Greenwood’s beautiful plummet into insanity. Some say that Sylvia was writing about herself – but that assumption breaks the golden rule, that one should never assume that an author is writing about themselves. Only she will ever know the truth behind her inspiration. But, whatever that may be, the truth remains that this piece is a haunting chronicle that delves deep into the psyche of Esther Greenwood, and her rise and fall in New York City, her hometown, and eventually a psychiatric hospital.
“I was the only girl on the beach in a skirt and high heels, and it occurred to me that I must stand out. I had removed my patent leather shoes after a while, for they foundered badly in the sand. It pleased me to think they would be perched there on the silver log, pointing out to sea, like a sort of soul-compass, after I was dead.
I fingered the box of razors in my pocketbook.
Then I thought how stupid I was. I had the razors, but no warm bath.”
4) The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street
I read this book for a writing course during my last semester of college. My professor wanted us to take a look at different genres of writing, and while The House on Mango Street falls under YA (Young Adult), it is a smooth read that people of all ages can relate to and enjoy. Like The Bell Jar, Cisneros’ book reads as one long poem, beautifully written with descriptions that any writer would be envious of. Each vignette (a style that in this case gives a small, fleeting glimpse into the life of a character), chronicles specific events in the life of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, and her feelings about her friends and family while on her path to discovering who she is and what she wants. A quick, pleasing read that I would suggest to anyone and everyone.
“You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.
Darius, who doesn’t like school, who is sometimes stupid and mostly a fool, said something wise today, though most days he says nothing. Darius, who chases girls with firecrackers or a stick that touched a rat and thinks he’s tough, today pointed up because the world was full of clouds, the kind like pillows.
You all see that cloud, that fat one there? Darius said, See that? Where? the one next to the one that look like popcorn. That one there. See that. That’s God, Darius said. God? somebody little asked. God, he said, and made it simple.”