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Jerry Dennis

Jerry's Favorite Books

My five favorite books? That's tricky because the list is much longer than that and, besides, is always changing. To narrow it down I went to my bookshelves looking for the books that I’ve most often re-read. Immediately it became clear that they share certain qualities. They’re big. They’re complex. They’re original and daring. They impart a seemingly limitless store of learning. They’re bursting with love of life and language. Perhaps most tellingly, although they are not all novels they are all outstanding examples of the quality by which Jane Smiley defines a great novel: one that gives the reader “the feeling of abundance.” (This from an interview with Smiley in The Boston Globe, September 15, 2005.)

One surprise is that no books by women make the list. It turns out that favorite books and favorite authors are different categories. Authors I cherish for their humanity, the magnitude of their worldviews, their voices, their writerly gifts include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf (and male authors such as Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Nicholson Baker, Evan S. Connell, Jose Saramago). Their bodies of work are essential to me. I read everything they’ve published, but  no single book makes my short-list of favorites.

Here, then, are the books I most often return to. That I would wish to have with me if I were shipwrecked alone on an island. That I can’t imagine living without.

(Oh, and I can’t make myself limit the list to five.)

1. Ulysses, James Joyce. Every reading is new. Surprises arrive on every page. And it is surely the wettest of the Great Books: “They are coming, waves. The whitemaned seahorses, champing, brightwindbridled…”

2. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow. My choice for the greatest American novel of the 20th century. Endlessly rewarding.

3. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee. I love the heartbreaking elegies, the mad (and sometimes maddening) rushes of language, the razorsharp portraits of people, the lists and inventories, the jazzlike riffs of philosophy that lift us from heartbreak to hope.

4. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. Refuses to stay on shelves. Must be anchored to the earth with cables.

5. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. I sometimes think I’ll outgrow Hemingway. Hasn’t happened yet. Every time I read the stories my admiration deepens.

6. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. Creates not only the abundance feeling, but the feeling that you are inhabiting a whole world. Often I return to it just to savor the amazing hay-cutting scenes, where in losing himself in the work, Levin finds himself.

7. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville. The original Modernist novel, with natural history and fiction blended into a new genre entirely.

8. Walden, Henry David Thoreau. Who can resist the bold assertions, the wild rambles, the uninhibited proclamations of love for the earth -- even the occasional bouts of wrongheadedness? My all-time favorite reading on snow days.

Jerry Dennis, author of The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes
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The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes Cover Image
ISBN: 9780472035250
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN REGIONAL - September 14th, 2012

The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312331030
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - June 1st, 2004

From a Wooden Canoe: Reflections on Canoeing, Camping, and Classic Equipment Cover Image
By Jerry Dennis, Glenn Wolff (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780312267384
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - September 8th, 2000

River Home: An Angler's Explorations Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312254155
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - March 11th, 2000

A Place on the Water: An Angler's Reflections on Home Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312141271
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - January 15th, 1996

Canoeing Michigan Rivers: A Comprehensive Guide to 45 Rivers, Revise and Updated Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933272337
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Thunder Bay Press Michigan - April 15th, 2013

It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky  Cover Image
ISBN: 9780990912507
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Big Maple Press - November 1st, 2014

The Bird in the Waterfall: Exploring the Amazing World of Water  Cover Image
ISBN: 9780990912514
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Big Maple Press - November 1st, 2014

SKU: 9781935770169

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