The Swiss Army 10…or 20

27 Apr

I just discovered a lovely little literary blog, written by a professor, called The Reading Ape, thanks to a discussion question he posted on Book Blogs about a list of books you would recommend to anyone, even if you don’t know them or their reading preferences. He lays out a few of the assumptions you can probably make, if people are asking you for a suggestion in the first place.

It was then that we came up with the idea of the Swiss Army Recommendation — books that we think most people will like pretty well.  

And while it has worked quite well, you can see the disclaimers already, starting with the above qualifiers “most” and “pretty well.” But these equivocations aren’t the end of it, the Swiss Army Recommendation also assumes a few basic things about someone asking the Ape for reading guidance, including a desire to read literary fiction (ie no Grisham or Meyer or Patterson or Sparks and so forth), a willingness for books from all over the world and from many different social and political perspectives, and at least some tolerance for difficulty.
I think that’s a pretty great idea, and I started thinking about books that I recommend to a lot of people, on a regular basis, and thought it would be a good idea to come up with my own Swiss Army 10. I get asked a lot for recommendations, and while a lot of these people I know well enough to make informed suggestions, there are also some books I think everyone should read and that most will probably like. I’m impressed with The Reading Ape’s list, and I admit there are a few books on there I should read (or re-read), and only one I would disagree with: And Then We Came To the End by Joshua Ferris. I can appreciate that some people loved this book, but the sense of humor in it is not universal, and I had a difficult time finishing it. I can’t even remember if I did or not.
But only one of the Ape’s books would make it onto my own SA10: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Sometimes I’m astounded that there are people out there that haven’t read this book yet.
So you can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?
I’m putting together my own Swiss Army 10, but dear lord, I don’t know how I can cut it down to just 10. I’m also creating a second Swiss Army 10, but that one will be strictly non-fiction — broad, I know, but I’m picking non-fiction that I really think anyone will like, no matter what kind of non-fiction they normally read (or if they read none at all).
And with that, here’s my Swiss Army 10 — Fiction picks, alphabetically:
  1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  2. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  3. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
  4. Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
  5. Forever by Pete Hamill
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  by Stieg Larsson (Really, let’s just call this one the whole trilogy)
  7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  8. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  9. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  10. Two Rivers by L. Greenwood
And the Non-Fiction Swiss Army 10:
  1. A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger
  2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  3. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  4. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
  5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  6. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  7. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson
  8. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan
  9. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
  10. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
 Do you agree with my lists? What would be on yours?
I also considered doing a YA/Children’s list, but there’s absolutely no way to recommend a book that most kids or teens would like. It’s completely impossible.

5 Responses to “The Swiss Army 10…or 20”

  1. Skip April 27, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Drat….you did me one better with the non-fiction list. A damn good idea, that.

    Also, I’ve been circling Await Your Reply and I think the inclusion here is going induce me pick it up, finally.

    • Rachel April 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

      Oh you totally should read Await Your Reply. It’s one of those books that has several pieces working in tandem, and when they all come together finally, you’ll sit back astounded and totally haunted. It’s on my SA10 for a reason 🙂

  2. petekarnas May 1, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    Also saw this thread on Book Blogs and thought it was a great idea. Good call on including Middlesex on your fiction list. One of the better books I’ve ever read. I am mulling over what would go on my Swiss Army 10 (fiction and non). It’s going to be tough to narrow it down.

  3. Marce May 15, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    I also found you from the Book Blog topic. I like your list, I have 4 of your choices on my TBR list, I do look forward to reading the memoir Long Way Gone.


  1. Welcome to A Home Between Pages « a home between the pages - May 24, 2010

    […] You’ll find reviews about literary fiction, contemporary fiction, classics, young adult fiction and some memoir. You can see the list of books I’ve read so far in 2010 here to get a better sense of what I enjoy. You can also see two of my favorite posts here and here. […]

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