Dan Wakefield on his 5 Favorite Books
Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter whose best-selling novels Going All The Way and Starting Over were produced as feature films; he created the NBC prime time TV series “James at 15.” A documentary film has been produced of his memoir New York in the Fifties. Most recently, Dan edited Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Delacorte Press, $35.00) named one of the best books of the year by Newsweek/The Daily Beast and The Kansas City Star. Here are the author’s 5 favorite books of all time:
The Razor’s Edge by William Somerset Maugham is the greatest novel of “the spiritual quest.” A good movie was done of it in the ‘forties with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, and even better one in the ‘eighties by Bill Murray. The Murray version was his first non-comic movie, so dumb reviewers didn’t get it – but you should get it! My favorite scene is when the Bill Murray character, on his quest around the world, arrive finally at a Buddhist monastery high in the mountains of Tibet. After a long trek, as he approaches the door of the monastery, a man in orange robes comes to the door, smiles, and says, “We have been waiting for you.” Maugham seems forgotten now though he is one of the great English prose writers. Ironically, new movies keep being made of his books: “Up At The Villa” based on his novella, and “The Painted Veil,” based on one of his great novels both were movies within the last decade.
Name All The Animals by Alison Smith is one of the finest memoirs of the last decade. She is thirteen when her sixteen year old brother who is also her best friend, is killed in a car wreck. Her emerging from that tragedy and becoming her own person ,and coming out as a gay woman are told with amazing power. Unforgettable.
Middlemarch by Gorge Eliot is still one of the all-time great novels, up there with the best of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Not only great story telling but also stunning understanding of the human condition – of how we love and how we hurt. I re-read it recently for the third time and then read for the first time her first novel The Mill on the Floss and was totally entranced by the story of a sister and brother coming of age and tragic early death.
The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe is a contemporary brother-sister coming of age story that is as funny and wise as The Catcher in the Rye, but you here you get adolescence from both a female as well as a male point of view when the siblings have to take care of their father (in the hospital in a coma) and, more challenging, take care of themselves.
Anna Karenina by The Count, aka Leo Tolstoy. Simply the best love story of all time. Unlike too many novelists of today, the great 19th century writers wrote these masterpieces in serial form for magazines, so they HAD to have a plot! They had to make the reader want to buy the next issue, so they had to make the reader want to know “What Happens Next?” which is the key to all good storytelling. And all good writing.