Thursday, January 7, 2010


Writing about my favorites of the just-concluded decade made me take a look at a list of all-time favorite books, movies, etc., that I posted on my old Amazon blog back in 2007.  I present an edited version of it here—with the promise that this will be the last list you’ll see on this blog (well, for at least six months).  Some of the following lists will be long, some short—no rules, no regs, no limitations—and, for the most part, I won’t be mentioning anything covered in the 00’s lists.

Favorite Fiction
1.  The Brothers Karamozov, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot by Dostoyevsky  (The Brothers K is the best novel ever.  Don’t even try to argue with me.)
2.  Dandelion Wine and The Stories of Ray Bradbury by Ray Bradbury  (No writer, in any era, any genre, has inspired me more.  “The April Witch” is one of my two favorite short stories of all time.)
3.  God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
4.  Ubik  by Philip K. Dick
5.  Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (My other favorite short story?  “Teddy.”)
6.  Siddhartha and Journey To The East by Hermann Hesse
7.  David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
8.  The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
9.  Sexus by Henry Miller
10. The Holy Land by Par Lagerkvist
11.  Moby Dick, Benito Cereno and “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville  (The funny thing is, I don’t adore Melville the way I do most of the other writers on this list, in fact I find him a little cold and off-putting; but this novel, novella and short story are three of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered.)
12.  Lost Horizon by James Hilton  (I don’t claim that Hilton was one of our great writers, but Lost Horizon is a book that  utterly captured my soul and swept me off into another dimension.  I will love it, unconditionally, forever.)

Favorite Children’s Books

1)  The “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum
2)  The “Narnia” books by C.S. Lewis
3)  The “Wrinkle In Time” trilogy by Madelaine L’Engle  (I don’t really count the fourth book, Many Waters, because it doesn’t focus on Meg and Charles Wallace.)
4)  The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman  (One of the greatest fantasy novels of the past twenty-five years.  The other two books in the “His Dark Materials” series are wonderful, too—but they don’t reach the level of TGC.)
5) The “Mary Poppins” books by  P.L. Travers  (If all you know is the Disney movie, treat yourself to these books:  they’re extraordinary.)
6) The “Winnie The Pooh” books A.A. Milne  (Ditto.)
7)  Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie  (Ever notice how most of these children’s book writers go by their initials?  Maybe I should consider that.)

Favorite Poet

William Blake (I have a long-standing affection for Shelly, Keats, Byron and Yeats but Blake’s in a league, make that a universe, of his own.)

Favorite Books of Spirit

1.  Anything by or about Avatar Meher Baba  (My favorites:  Listen, Humanity and Life At Its Best by Meher Baba, As Only God Can Love by Darwin Shaw, Avatar by Jean Adriel and Love Personified, edited by Laurence Reiter.)
2.  The Ramayana  (as previously noted, I love the versions by Ashok Banker and Ramesh Menon, but any telling of this ancient Hindu epic will shower magic on your soul.)
3.  Anything by Ernest Holmes
4.  Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogananda
5.  Anything by or about Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
6.  Anything by or about Sri Ramana Maharshi
7.  Be Here Now by Ram Dass
8.  This Is It by Alan Watts
9.  The Bhagavad Gita  (Pick your favorite translation.)
10. The Tao Te Ching  (Ditto.)
11. The Superbeings by John Randolph Price

Favorite Comic Books

1.  Stan Lee and John Buscema’s Silver Surfer (best single issue:  #3, “The Power and The Prize!”)
2.  Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” material (New Gods, Forever People, Mr. Miracle and, yes, even Jimmy Olsen)
3.  A Contract With God by Will Eisner  (You can't go wrong with anything by Eisner, but Contract is his masterpiece.)
4.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four (best single issue:  #51, “This Man...This Monster!”) and Thor (Greek gods!  The High Evolutionary!  Ego, The Living Planet!  How did these guys do it?)
5.  Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr.’s Spider-Man (Ditko created the template, but I have an inordinate amount of love for the Romita, Sr. issues...especially his first year on the book)
6.  Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (especially in the l980's)
7.  Steve Gerber’s l970’s Marvel work (especially Man-Thing with that Ploog guy)
8.  Len Wein and Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing
9.  Justice League of America (especially the Gardner Fox, Len Wein and Steve Englehart eras)
10.  Anything with Doctor Strange in it (but especially the Lee-Ditko run and the Steve Englehart and Roger Stern eras)
11.  Roy Thomas and Barry Smith’s Conan
12.  Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow

Favorite Movies

1.  It’s a Wonderful Life
2.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(My two absolute favorite movies of all-time.  Interesting in that the first movie is about—among other things—the value of family and the second is about—among other things—leaving family behind for journeys across the cosmos.  I’ve found, in my own wonderful life, that being grounded in family actually frees you to take those cosmic journeys.)
3.  Walt Disney’s Pinocchio
(As I’ve said before:  it’s the Citizen Kane of animated films.)
4.  The Wizard of Oz
5.  Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Radio Days 
6.  Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Chimes at Midnight
(Hey, if Pinocchio is the Citizen Kane of animated films, is Citizen Kane the Pinocchio of live-action films?)
7.  Duck Soup/The Producers (1968 version)/Monty Python’s Life of Brian
(The three funniest movies ever made.)
8.  Singin’ In The Rain
(The greatest musical of all time.)
9.  Akira Kurasawa’s Ikiru
10. The Sixth Sense
11. The James Cagney trinity:  Angels With Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mr. Roberts
12.  Anything with Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers in it.
13.  A Little Princess (l995)
(If you’ve got a daughter, I defy you to watch this movie with her and not weep uncontrollably)
14.  Groundhog Day
(As my old friend Herb Fillmore once observed, GD is the It’s A Wonderful Life of the Baby Boom generation)

Favorite Science Fiction Movies

1.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(It’s so good it deserves to be on two lists.)
2.  Start Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan
(Star Trek at its best.)
3.  The Day The Earth Stood Still
(The 50’s original.  “Gort!  Klaatu Barada Nikto!”)
4.  The Matrix
5.  Forbidden Planet
6.  Time After Time  
(Somebody should let the amazing Nicholas Meyer—who directed this and Wrath of Khan—get behind a camera again.)

Favorite Television Shows

1.  Twilight Zone
(But you already knew that.)
2.  Star Trek
(The original.  But you already knew that, too.)
3.  M*A*S*H
(It got unbearably sincere and preachy in its final seasons, but, for most of its run, M*A*S*H was smart, angry, heartfelt and consistently funny)
4.  I Love Lucy
5.  The Dick Van Dyke Show
6.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7.  All In The Family
(Taken together, these four shows illustrate the evolution of the sitcom—and the evolution of America—from the 50’s to the 70s.  More important:  they still make me laugh.)
8.  The X-Files
9.  Seinfeld
10.  Leave It To Beaver 
(What can I say?  I love that kid!)
11.  I, Claudius/The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII (See?  I don’t just watch pop culture trash.  I watch PBS!)

Favorite Music I Grew Up On

1. The Beatles
(Excuse me a moment while I bow my head in awe.)
2.  Solo John Lennon
(I won’t bore you by singing Lennon’s praises again.)
3.  The Who—Tommy/Who’s Next
4.  Peter Townshend—Who Came First/Empty Glass
(As much as I like the Who—Tommy blew my fifteen year old mind to smithereeens—Townshend’s best solo work has a naked honesty, and an accessibility, that the Who never quite achieved.)
5.  David Bowie—Hunky Dory
6.  Derek & The Dominoes—Layla
7.  Bob Dylan
(I’m not that big a fan of Dylan the personality or Dylan the performer but Dylan the songwriter is a force of nature.  My favorite album?  Blood On The Tracks—because it’s his most honest and least cryptic.)
8.  Cat Stevens—Tea For The Tillerman
9.  Bruce Springsteen—Born To Run/Darkness On The Edge of Town
(Best live concert I’ve ever seen?  Bruce at the The Bottom Line in New York, summer of l975)
10.  Neil Young—After The Goldrush
11.  Joni Mitchell—Blue
12.  Paul Simon—There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
13.  Paul McCartney—Band On The Run
(McCartney’s solo work is always worth listening to—the man’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time—but much of it just doesn’t have the depth or emotional intensity that Lennon’s solo catalogue offers.  That said, some other excellent McCartney efforts include Tug of War, Flowers In The Dirt, Flaming Pie and Memory Almost Full.)

Favorite Music My Parents Loved

1. Frank Sinatra
(A genre, and a musical law, unto himself.  Recommended:  The Song Is You (with Tommy Dorsey), The Best of The Columbia Years, The Capital Years, The Reprise Collection and the amazing Sinatra At The Sands—one of the greatest live albums ever.)
2. Bing Crosby
(Recommended:  Bing:  His Legendary Years.)
3. Dean Martin
4. Perry Como
(I grew up watching both of these guys on TV every week.  They always felt like a couple of my Italian uncles:  part of the family.)
5.  Al Jolson
(The first pop superstar.  His music is hopelessly out of date.  And inexplicably wonderful)

Other Musical Favorites

I’m far from a classical aficionado, but my iTunes library has its fair share of Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Mussoursky.  I’m also a nut for Eastern, and Eastern-flavored, music.  Recommended:  Ravi Shankar—In Celebration, As Night Falls On The Silk Road by Ghazal, Krishna Das’s Live On Earth and Tulku’s Transcendence.

Now let’s end this seemingly-endless listing on an appropriately absurd note:

Favorite People Who Make Me Laugh

1.  Jack Benny
(Go to the Old Time Radio Network or and treat yourself to a sampling of the old Benny radio shows, especially the ones from the mid-l940’s on:  some of the flat-out funniest, and sharpest, comedy ever.  There’s nothing on television today that’s better—and most of it’s not even close)
2.  Woody Allen
3.  The Marx Brothers
4.  Mel Brooks
5.  Monty Python
6.  Abbott and Costello
(It’s true that they made their share of wretched movies, but Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and The Time of their Lives are classics; and their television series was a)  totally deranged and b) a major inspiration for Seinfeld.)
7.  The Little Rascals
(Spanky and Alfalfa were one of the movies' great comedy teams—and it was all over by the time they were ten!)
8.  Keith Giffen
(Okay, he’s never been in the movies or on television, but when Keith squirts me with seltzer and then hits me on the head with that rubber chicken, there’s nobody funnier)

Favorite Lists

Just checking to see if you’re still awake.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis


  1. Ray Bradbury is one of the one greatest science fiction/fantasy writers, nay one of the best writers period, out there. I like his Martain Chronicles the best.

    Thats a great children's book list. I especially like the first Wrinkle and the Golden Compass books.

    Love 'This Man, This Monster'. When I read a reprint of that (the first time I'd read it), thats when I started liking Kirby. Also really like his New Gods.

    I like a lot the movies on your two lists there.

    Love the Rod Serling Twilight Zone. Its hard to beat that!

    Also, the Beatles are my favorite too. Like a lot of those other artists you name also.

    Good lists. :)

  2. Glad we're on the same page about many of these things, Daniel. Nice to know there are like-minded souls out there reading this.

  3. Happy 2010, JM! I was a regular on yer Amazon board but haven't posted on this one til now (and you thought you'd escaped!). Hope this year/decade brings you Amazement and Wonder - none of that "shock and awe" junk in the post W era. It wows me that you're doing semi-regular Spider-Man writing again- and some Ben Reilly stuff at that! The spins and twirls of life often bring us back to some things again and again...
    Hope to find you often at this little corner of the 'net. My mid-life career crisis resolved itself nicely (Craigslist is magic!) and I'm celebrating my 5th year in New Hampshire after 2 decades in DC! Be well and keep the sweet words afloat!

  4. Hey, Jeff, welcome back. Glad to hear life's in a good place for you.

    Re: Ben Reilly. The story I did was a short one, but it was interesting opening that door. He's one character I really love; there are so many more Ben stories that can be told -- and I'd love to tell a few. Something a little longer and deeper than a 10 pager would be nice, too.

    Keep checking in. All the best -- JMD

  5. Cool-o bunch of lists!

    Books: Lost Horizon is my 2nd favorite book of all time, glad to see it on your list!

    TV: I, Claudius totally rules.

    Movies: Chimes at Midnight is top-flight Welles. How is this not on DVD?

    Music: While I think I love Bob Dylan more than you, I agree Blood on the Tracks is tops. The best romance/love/breakup album, full stop.

    Laughs: I, too, love Abbott & Costello! I watch Buck Privates every so often and I laugh every time.

    For what its worth, I'm digging these lists of yours.

  6. About ten years ago, Rob, I was away at a spiritual retreat and discovered a 1940's edition of LOST HORIZON in the library there. Every night I'd get into bed and read, completely transported to Shangri-La. I'm also inordinately fond of Frank Capra's movie version.

    CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, like other Welles works, is caught up in some kind of legal nightmare. I was able to buy a VHS copy some years back and I suspect there are DVDs to be found out there. It's a shame that this movie hasn't been widely seen: it really is his masterpiece.

    Re: BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. There's a line from the album that I quote all the time and it gets truer every year: "Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast."

  7. JMD,

    Wow--a lot of great ground to cover!

    THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV is indeed a masterpiece on every level. A detective story, a love story, a character study, and to paraphrase a line from BROOKLYN DREAMS, it's a story about God.

    MOBY DICK is incredible. I love the philosophical musings, though I get bogged down in the overlong descriptions of whaling. I much prefer allegory and irony to actual whaling. And the concept of a man so obsessed he's willing to forsake all duty to his crew and his masters is a well that's been tapped often over the years but never exhausted.

    In fact, I think there's a comparison to be made with KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT. Both appear, on the surface at least, to be tales of revenge. Dig a little deeper and it turns out to be less about the object being pursued than the attempt to make unknown forces tangible.

    I devoured THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA when I was seven. I re-read THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE a year ago and it still holds up. I got a kick out of something I missed the first time around--a book sitting on Tumus' shelf titled IS MAN A MYTH?

    THE TWILIGHT ZONE is the greatest anthology series ever. This show blew my young mind and opened new worlds in the afternoon re-runs. "IT'S A COOKBOOK!!!"

    WRATH OF KHAN might be the first movie I saw in theaters. I watched this again a few weeks ago and found it's still every bit as good as it was then--and in fact, the experience has deepened for me as I've grown.

    I've always preferred Romita's Spider-Man to Ditko's--but then my experience was shaped by Stern, DeFalco, Mantlo, Conway (his WOS and SSM runs), and some guy who goes by his initials!



  8. Your insight regarding KRAVEN and MOBY DICK is pretty amazing, David...and true. Not that I'm IN ANY WAY comparing a Spider-Man story with one of the masterpieces of Western literature; just that what you say about making unknown forces tangible is so on the money. And, honestly, I'd never really thought about it before; so thanks for enlightening me about my own work!

    When I re-read the Narnia books a few years back, I was put off by some hints of racism and an unhealthy dose of Western arrogance that I'd never really noticed before; but, even with that, the series remains one of my all-time favorites. The magic and mystery of Narnia itself transcends its authors shortcomings.

    Back in the 90's, I had a chance to collaborate with John Romita, Sr. on a 10 page Spider-Man story for a short-lived book called WEB- SPINNERS. It was an honor, and an incredible pleasure, working with one of my comic book heroes. And, of course, he knocked it out of the park.

  9. I'm honored, humbled and truly glad to offer you any insight I can into KLH.

    As for Lewis, I can't deny there are strains of sexism and racism running through his early stories (I seem to recall the villains in Narnia were dark-skinned), but I know from reading most of his fiction and apologetic work that he was very much opposed to imperialism. If fact, one of the things he said he was most proud of is that his PERELENDRA trilogy might be the first sci-fi novels to examine the corrupting influence of humans on alien culture.

    Lewis also took great delight in THE VEDAS and THE UPANISHADS, as well as many other Eastern influences, though his philosophical outlook was primarily influenced by the ultimate Westerner Plato.

    If you ever get the opportunity, I'd recommend TIL WE HAVE FACES--his final and best work. It's a stunning retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. I'll never give away the ending, but I think you'd very much appreciate the themes of duality running throughout. (It's also fairly short!) I'd argue it's like the BROOKLYN DREAMS' to his Narnian MOONSHADOW.

    It would definitely be on my top ten!

    And working with Romita would be the highest honor. I tend to think he's primarily responsible for the kind of Spider-Man most people think of today, much like Curt Swan's deeply felt influence on Superman.


  10. Thanks for the info about Lewis, David. Fascinating stuff. I'll go take a look at TIL WE HAVE FACES on Amazon right now.

  11. You're very welcome.

    If you do read it, I'd love to know what you think!


  12. I've put it on my "books to read" list, David. (Oh, no: not another list!)

  13. With any luck, I'll have seen DISTRICT 9 by the time you've read TILL WE HAVE FACES.


  14. Thanks for sharing your favorite entertainment with us! I now have some reading and watching to do. It'll probably be a while before I read "The Brothers K" though (I'm so used to reading comic books). I was just curious as to whether or not you've seen Harold and Maude? I thought for sure when I was running down your favorite movies list I would find it (don't ask me why). If you have seen it, what are your thoughts on it? Thanks!


  15. Here's the problem with lists, Sam: there's always some favorite (or ten favorites) that are left off. I totally love HAROLD AND MAUDE. I've seen it many, many times; in fact, I've been thinking about it lately because I want to show it to my daughter, who's 15 and just the right age for such a perfectly demented, wise and compassionate movie.

    Also -- if there was ever a movie made of MOONSHADOW, I'd demand that the director get a time machine (easy enough, right?), travel back to the early 1970's and abduct Bud Cort...because Cort, in the Harold era, was/is absolute pitch-perfect casting for Moon. You can also find a direct link between Harold's banjo and Moon's flute.

  16. I'd be curious to know if you're also a fan of Hawthorne. MOBY DICK aside, I prefer him to Melville, not so much because of THE SCARLET LETTER as for his short stories. I think "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown" are my favorites.

    For anyone who's interested, most of his short stories are available online at no cost. Just type "Nathaniel Hawthorne" and it's bound to lead you somewhere magical. And if you want to read his works in print, I recommend TWICE TOLD TALES.


  17. Never read any Hawthorne, David -- but I'll go in search of the magic. Thanks for the recommendation!

  18. I think you'll love Hawthorne.

    I checked my local library's website today and they have Vonnegut's GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER. With any luck I'll have it in my hands this week.


  19. I've been trying to get into the Brothers K for a week now, and have been reading the first few chapters of different translations, and still don't think I found one I'd prefer over the other. Any recommendations?

  20. I've read (and re-read) the classic Constance Garnett translation; but I know that there have been many other translations since that have (allegedly) been truer to Dostoyevsky's language and intent. I haven't read any of those -- I probably should! -- so I can't recommend one over the other.

    All that said, the Garnett translation still packs an incredible punch.

  21. Thanks! The Garnett's actually one of the top two I've sampled so far, so I'll go ahead and pick it up next time I'm at the bookstore.

  22. When you get around to reading it, let me know what you think!