Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Pantheon

What is the Pantheon? The best ever. Period.
In Basketball the Pantheon is probably five men: Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Magic, Bird.
Hockey has even less: Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Orr.
There is no set number for any given Pantheon - greatness dicates who or what belongs. If something is Pantheon worthy, you will definitely know it.
How then, does one go about putting together The Pantheon for books? Not just any good book can get in, there has to be no doubt whatsoever of pantheon-worthiness. Additionally, the Pantheon is never a large group - but, things can enter or exit depending on the emergence of new worthy additions (think Lebron to the NBA pantheon one day, or Crosby to the NHL one). There must is a strict criteria each book must meet and exceed in order to be considered Pantheon worthy.
1) Incredible from start to finish - A book in the pantheon must be able to draw you in from the opening page and keep you wanting more when you conclude. Upon finishing a Pantheon worthy book, you may feel an incredible desire to open it again and skim through the best parts in the following days.
2) Re-readability - Pantheon books can be read and re-read at least a dozen times and yet must never be boring at any time. Each time you read the book, you must discover something new - or simply marvel at the author's accomplishment.
3) Big Ideas - The books must be more than just the words on the page. They need to be thought provoking but, have to balance the line between "too much info" and "not enough".
4) The "I have to tell everyone I know" conundrum - This happens when the book is so good that you tell everyone you know about it and insist they read it. However, you loved this book so much you are loath to loan them your copy for fear of any damage to the book.
5) An Impact on your reading habits - A pantheon level book will leave you desperate for more - either from the author or on the same subject. Each successive book will be more and more disappointing, eventually leading to the re-reading of the original and the declaration that it is "The Book on that particular subject / genre".
6) Could easily have been longer - Have you ever finished a really good book, and even if it is already a thousand pages felt like you would have kept reading even if it was longer? Or, perhaps you wished that it could continue to go on? Some books are like that. You enjoy every single page and would read 10,000 pages by the author if it was necessary.
Therefore, without further ado, here is my Pantheon:
The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons - This book reignited a dormant love of Sports books. Simmon's outrageous history of the NBA is a well-written, incredibly detailed dive into the world of professional basketball and everything (literally) that goes along with it. I have re-read sections frequently and counted the days until the paperback was released with "new material". The most comprehensive and illuminating sports book I have ever read. Can he do one for every sport?
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty - The best western novel ever written. Despite being 900 pages, could easily have been another, oh, 10,000.
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson - The Dwight Gooden 1985 of Non-Fiction books. What do I mean? Gooden's 1985 campaign was the most dominant statistical season in the history of professional baseball...but it came out of nowhere. Yes, he was a good player before and after the season, but never again reached the same level as '85. Kurson came out of magazine journalism to write what may be the best non-fiction account of all time - he will never top his first effort as long as he writes.
American Tabloid by James Ellroy - Everything about this book is Pantheon-worthy. From the signature style to the gripping, conspiracy filled ride through the history of the Kennedy years - this whole package is a tantalizing read.
Monster by Sanyika Shakur - This book changed my life. It made me want to read better books and to better myself. The story is horrifying, violent and downright naueseating at times but shows the flip side of a world few of us understand. The first real account of gang life in Los Angeles.
That's it. Five books. I debated again and again as to the worthiness of other books but decided, for now, to keep it small. What books just missed out?
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow - Great but not Pantheon-worthy.
Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane - Powerful, dark and the best serial killer novel ever, but...the awesome twist at the end takes away the re-readability.
A Quiet Flame / The One From the Other by Philip Kerr - Again, either could be Pantheon worthy...but just miss.
The Stand by Stephen King - A worldwide pandemic? Makes for great story-telling, and this is probably the closest of all books to entering the pantheon - maybe after a re-read.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer - Fantastic book, great re-read but just not quite as good as Shadow Divers / Monster.
The Winds of War / War and Rememberance by Herman Wouk - Pantheon-worthy for sure, maybe on the next pass (Are you getting the fact that the pantheon is ridiculously tough to crack?!).
Sahara by Clive Cussler - The best Cussler is still a book by Clive Cussler. Sure it has more depth than a lot of novels but it does not reach the same scope as other books. Very high on the re-readability scale however.