Damn it, I already wrote this damn essay and lost it, so I'll do it
again. This sort of thing never happened on my Remington.
1. Collected Shakespeare: The greatest language and the best
depiction of psychology in English.
2. Collected Poe: Some of the finest American poetry, and the
stories were pioneering black humor. Many forget -- or never
realized -- how funny Poe was.
3. Lorna Doone: Pure childlike decency and great fun. A
4. Pride and Prejudice.
5. Gaudy Night: One of the best -- and most unusual --detective
stories and one of the best English novels of manners of the 20th
6. Collected Sherlock Holmes: A touchstone of our culture.
7. The Prisoner of Zenda: Perhaps because I've never
completely grown up, and maybe one never should be too
grown-up for this book.
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy: A grown-up book if ever there
one, but a mastery of plotting and character and dialogue.
9. The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in
America: One of the most-perceptive books about American society,
by the best writer I know ever to practice sociology.
10. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: A brilliant
brilliantly funny, illuminating and self-deprecating memoir.
11. Walden, or A Year in the Woods: Yeah, every undergraduate
includes this book, thinking --wrongly --he or she is channeling
Thoreau, but the book grows richer with each re-reading.
12. Collected Emerson: He could be stodgy and just plain wrong but
he also was insightful and, more than nearly anyone else, helped
create modern American intellectualism.
13. Collected Wilde: Some of the wittiest plays, most
criticism and most beautiful children's stories in English.
14. Point Counterpoint: Huxley wasn't terribly good at
characters.He essentially took persons he knew, gave them new names
and roles in life and stuck them into his novels. The big thing in
his books is the breadth and depth of ideas, and they're
spectacular. I used to read this novel every year from middle
school until college, judging by how much more I understood each
time what I'd learned in the preceding year.
15. Our Man in Havana: A delightful satire of British intelligence
in pre-revolution Cuba that somehow makes the mess in Iraq
16. Hubris: The most comprehensive book I've seen yet on
explaining the arrogance, deceit and incompetence that led to
the mess in Iraq.
17. April 1865: My favorite book on the U.S. Civil War -- and U.S.
constitutional history. Among other remarkable achievements, it
argues persuasively that Robert E. Lee was instrumental in saving
18. The Devil's Dictionary: If I were to update Bierce's classic,
I'd start with "Cell phone: an electronic device for converting
private conversation to a public nuisance."
19. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Beginning as a
hysterically funny BBC radio series, this opus has seen life
remarkably successful low-budget British TV series and a
sadly unsuccessful big-budget film. It's perhaps best known
book form. From it we learn the exploits of an ordinary
Englishman saved from the destruction of Earth by his friend,
who turns out to be a researcher for a cosmic tour guide. The
answer to life, the universe and everything is 42, but you
have to know the question. Don't Panic.
20. Cyrano de Bergerac: Probably explains everything.
21. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe: We meddle, we destroy.
We still haven’t learned.
22. Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco: One of the most
demanding writers since Faulkner – although with better
punctuation – spellbinding.
23. The Moon’s a Balloon: David Niven’s witty memoirs.
24. The Jungle Book: Trashed and trivialized by Disney, a
adult book for children – and adults.
25. Invisible Man.
26. The Iliad.
27. The Odyssey.
28. Plague Dogs.
29. The Inheritors: Maybe the first great clash of cultures,
between Neanderthaler and Cro-Magnon, from the former’s
point of view.
30. Paradise Lost.
31. Animal Farm.
32. Brideshead Revisited.
33. The Sound and The Fury.
34. The Martian Chronicles.
35. Lord Jim.
36. The Daughter of Time: Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Grant
solves the mystery of Richard III -- really.
37. Main Street
38. The Great Gatsby
39. The Proud Tower: A very readable history of a fascinating
period of history
40. Frankenstein: Published today it would be better
edited, but it’s an astonishing work of imagination,
for the time, and all the more amazing that the author was
Movies, equally truncated and randomly ordered:
1. Bridge Over the River Kwai: Courage, decency, duty, honor
and indomitability remain magnificent, even while gone
2. Monty Python and The Holy Grail: The more you know about
the Middle Ages, the funnier it is.
3. The Dawn Patrol: More courage, duty and honor -- and great
4. The Pink Panther: Peter Sellers and David Niven directed
5. The Haunting: The Robert Wise original, not the bloated,
incoherent remake -- the scariest film I've ever seen, and we
never know if any of it's real.
6. The Bride of Frankenstein: Sad and witty, an intelligent horror
film. The character of Dr. Pretorius alone would justify the
7. Night of the Hunter: Vividly captures a child's
fears, combining German Expressionism and surprising
realism, terrifying, funny and rousing, with great
performances. The only film directed by Charles Laughton.
8. Lord of the Rings: Still more courage, duty and honor. Is
9. Kind Hearts and Coronets: Wickedly funny, an Alec Guinness
tour de force.
10. The Man in the White Suit: Capitalism and labor skewered by
Ealing Studios and Alec Guinness.
11. The Lady Killers: A madcap caper comedy/thriller, with
Guinness -- again!— synthesizing Boris Karloff and Humphrey
Bogart as the criminal mastermind. Skip the remake with Tom Hanks.
(What could the Coens have been thinking?)
12. North by Northwest: Can there be anything more to say
about this delight?
13. Robin Hood: The Errol Flynn version (Can anyone even watch the
14. Robin and Marian: Same characters, 20-odd years later. A
great love story and one of the greatest medieval fight scenes in
film, between two noble opponents who respect – and try to
destroy – each other.
15. Le Grand Illusion: My last -- and probably greatest --entry in
the courage, duty and honor category, with the end of a
civilization thrown in, as well. Directed by Jean Renoir.
16. All the Christopher Guest films.
17. The Princess Bride: With Guest as a villain, and
18. Willow: I watched both often with my son as he grew up,
and they remain treasures. With wonderful good humor they celebrate
and extol the fairy-tale virtues of courage, faith and romance
while spoofing them.
Since we had the book, let's throw in
19. The Prisoner of Zenda: The Ronald Coleman, C. Aubrey Smith,
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Raymond Massey, David Niven version.
20. Henry V: Kenneth Brannagh. The best Shakespeare film I've
21. Henry V: Lawrence Oliver, the finest Shakespeare film
until Brannagh's version.
22. Casablanca: Works on every level: adventure, comedy,
romance. One of the rare examples of multiple creators
fiddling with each other’s work and producing a masterpiece
instead of a shapeless mess.
23. Dr. Strangelove: Satire, farce, great performances and one of
the most striking images in film history.
24. Stage Coach: Honor defended, injustice righted and honor
regained, with some of the best character actors in the
25. The Oxbow Incident: A damning indictment of vigilantism and the
injustice the self-righteous and ignorant commit in the
pursuit of justice.
26. Duck Soap: The Marx Brothers unleashed on a George S.
27. Day at the Races: One of the few films as funny as:
28. Night at the Opera.
29. Baron Munchausen: Director Terry Gilliam disowned it – perhaps
because the making of it was often difficult and disagreeable – but
it’s witty, imaginative, delightfully silly and
visually beautiful, evoking Botticelli, Fragonard and Escher.
30. To Have and Have Not: A Faulkner adaption of a Hemmingway story
with Humphrey Bogart as an American version of a Greek mythic hero
(more Odysseys than Achilles) and the very young Lauren Bacall (You
know how to whistle, don’t you?)
31. The Three Musketeers and
32. The Four Musketeers: The Richard Lester versions. Far and away
the greatest film adaptions.
33. The Third Man.
34. Citizen Kane.
35. Love Actually.
36. The Best Years of Our Lives.
37. All About Eve.
39. The Great Dictator.
40. The Producers: Mel Brooks made films ranging from amusing
to brilliant. This one falls into the latter class.
I really, absolutely must stop -- this isn't grad school.
I like most cuisines, but especially French; Indian; Sushi; Thai;
good salads with mesclun, mushrooms and balsamic vinaigrette; good
steak (rare and with a decent sauce); oysters; mussels; clams; red
wine, particularly Argentine malbecs, pinot and Syrah, perhaps a
bit more Burgundy than Bordeau; methode champagnoise; Madeira –
sercial before dinner, malmsey afterwards, if I can find it; dark
chocolate; very dark chocolate; even-darker chocolate; baklava;
coffee – real coffee, with good beans, preferably Sumatran and
Kenyan, roasted dark enough to bring out the oils but not so dark
it tastes like charcoal and brewed strong enough to taste like
coffee and not rinse water, preferably made in French press or
Turkish style in an ibriq (dela in Iraq). I also eat pizza and just
about anything else, in case I sound like a complete food snob
divorced from culinary reality –- and mutton-lettuce-and-tomato
sandwiches when the mutton is perky. I love that.