March 23, 2004
When I find myself lucky enough to be in a conversation with a fellow book-lover, I always end up asking this question: "If you could give me one book that I HAVE to read, what would it be?" I don't mean what do you think is the Best Book Ever Written. I mean: What book do you most want to share? What book do you buy copies of to give to your friends? Give out your copy and don't mind that you never get it back? What book is the one that when you find someone who loves that book as you do, you feel like you intrinsically understand one another? For me, The Book that always first comes to mind is Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. Winter's Tale is a love letter to New York City by way of a magical-realist story of transformation and destiny. (For a good description of the plot, try here.) I can trace back my finally giving up my homesickness for Seattle and falling in love with New York City to the winter that I first read this book (I tell people to read the book during winter if they can). It transformed the harsh, dark streets to magical mechanical engines, and even made the crashing and rumbling of garbage trucks romantic. There are some passages of surpassing beauty, unforgettable images, and a truly Romantic story. ...And, because it's impossible to mention only one book: another book in a similar vein and of even larger scope is John Crowley's Little, Big — which Helprin has mentioned as an inspiration for Winter's Tale. And, okay, the other The Book I always mention is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl— a small, but mighty and thoughtful book.
I'd also recommend anything by Michael Chabon, especially The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay