Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My 10 Important Books

On Facebook, writer Susan Braun  (her blog is here) asked her friends to list 10 books that had touched them in some way -- maybe not changed-your-life sort of books, but ones that have stayed in your heart.

I started to write a response, but had a need to explain all my choices.  So I thought I would just blog about them:

1.  The Dictionary.  For Christmas 1971, my grandma and grandpa gave me a big Webster's Dictionary, complete with the finger tabs for each letter.  I loved it, and read it.  I still love it, but don't read it.  Much.

2.  Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.  Mom let me order this from Scholastic when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade.  I read it so many times the color on the cover wore away (mine looked just like the one on the left).  I asked for a notebook like Harriet's, ate tomato sandwiches, wished I had a nanny and wrote down everything I could.

3.  All of  a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  One of my favorite people ever was Mrs. Mildred Graves, the children's librarian.  My librarian.  When our house was struck by lightening and caught fire, my library books were ruined by water.  I was so afraid I wouldn't ever be allowed to check out books again.  But when mom and I explained what had happened, all I got from Mrs. Graves was a hug, and the assurance that I would always be able to check out my beloved books.  And then she recommended this one to me -- the very first chapter is about a lost book and a loving librarian.

4.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  My grandma had a beautiful hardbound edition of this book, and I remember reading it, serialized- fashion, every other week when we went down to Sunday dinner with her.  I was probably about 13 when I first read it, but didn't fully understand why I ached for the Joads until I studied it again in high school and again in college.   For me, this is The Great American Novel.  Enough said.

5.  Plainsong by Kent Haruf.  I'm listing this book for two reasons.  One, it is one in a long list of great books that have been recommended by my three dear friends who belong to book clubs -- Jeannine in Indy, Jill in PA and Pam in Tennessee.  They share their lists with me, and I share great books I've read with them.  When we get together (in May for the 500, every other July at 7Springs, and every once in awhile for a Girls' Weekend), we try to choose a book we can all read and discuss together; we read Gift From the Sea for a trip to Amelia Island, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil when we went to Savannah, and a recent favorite of mine, Me Before You this last May.  I love and look forward to our discussions.

Two, this is just a great book.  Read it if you haven't.

6.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  My Master's thesis was "Patterns of Politeness in the Domestic Novels of Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Anne Tyler:  A Linguistic Study."


As boring as that unfinished thesis was, I did fall in love with Jane Austen, and try to read at least one of her novels every year.  Plus, I think I have seen every movie and television production of her books.  I haven't (and won't), however, read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Ick.

7.  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  When I went to the University of Akron, everyone was required to take two classes:  Western Culture and Eastern Civilization.  Ugh.  I was finishing up the second degree I had started at Purdue and didn't think I needed these.  But they turned out to be two of the best classes I had ever taken -- eye-opening jump off points to all sorts of amazing history and ideas I hadn't studied before.  I ended up taking another elective in Chinese culture, and have been a little obsessed with China ever since.  (And yes, I am extremely jealous that Clay has walked the Great Wall.)  So when I first heard about this book, I bought a copy ASAP.  If someone asks me about my favorite authors, I always say "Amy Tan" first.  She illuminates Chinese culture plus beautiful human stories.  Plus, she rocks.  Really.

8.  When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant.  I really like this book, and everything by Cynthia Rylant, but the coolest thing about this pick is that she is the first author I actually knew.  She taught at the University of Akron at the same time I did, and her office was right down the hall from mine.  While there, she married one of my favorite professors, and they lived right around the corner from us.  Did she ever speak to me after we were first introduced?  Well, no.  Except for a "hi" in the hallway.  Did she know I lived around the corner?  Probably not.  Did she even know my name?  I don't think so.

But I'm still counting it as knowing her, and it was still very cool.

9.  Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.  I wrote about these books the very first month I started blogging -- July of 2007.  You can read my Harry Potter post here -- I wouldn't change a word of it, except that I called Outlander "Highlander" -- what a difference 6 years can make.

10.  Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  Yes, I did balk at this book.  For almost 10 years, Pam (see #5 above) begged me to read this.  I understand -- when I find a book I love, I want someone else to read it ASAP so we can talk about it.  But it was fantasy/time travel/romance.  Ick.  I don't read that stuff.  Correction -- I didn't read that stuff.  I finally gave it, became hooked and read or listened to the entire series.  Clay started in as well, but he finished much more quickly than I did (he, weirdly, only reads one book at a time).  He now needed someone to discuss the books with while waiting for me to catch up.  Sweet geek that he is, he went online and found a community of Outlander lovers, and Diana Gabaldon herself, who shares his birthday and who we met a couple of years ago.  (I know!  Yowsa.)

We read these books at a time when we needed an escape; the books gave us something to talk about besides ourselves and our troubles.

These books led us to new and amazing friends.

These books were truly life-changers.  Thanks, Pam.

11.  The last book I finished.  (Let me clarify this by saying that I don't always finish a book I start.  This is another difference Clay and I have -- even if a book is uninteresting, he will finish.  I agree with Will's 7th grade English teacher and my friend, Mrs. Lemming, who advised the kids that if they get 50 pages in and the book doesn't catch their interest, abandon it.  There is another book out there for you.)

So if I finish a book, it probably means that I loved the book.  Or that the story caught me.  I wouldn't say that I loved Gone Girl, but there was no way I could abandon that one -- the characters were all creeps, but the narrative was incredible.

Right now, the last book I finished was The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  It was just lovely.  And heart-wrenching.  And I know it will stay with me for a long time.

And what am I reading now?  Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost.  And The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (from a Slate article -- "The Best Books You've Never Heard Of."  True.)  And Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Will is reading that one.  And Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg which I picked up at the library last night, just because.



  1. Ha - I can totally relate to "the last book I finished." I am moved by almost everything I read :) I loved your memories of Mrs. Graves -- she was "my" librarian too. Also fun memories of Scholastic book orders -- and how cool that you wrote a thesis on Austen! I have never been as "into" her as many bookies are, but that is pretty cool. I think my oldest daughter read Outlander???? And that's a very neat story about C Rylant. I like her books too!

    1. It's because you are a writer -- you know how much effort (blood, sweat and tears) goes in to a book, and you appreciate that! I also think I love most of the books I read because I am choosy -- you know, it's the "too many books, too little time" thing. I stick with authors and genres I am comfortable with -- but I still like to be surprised I've been listening to a lot of Daniel Silva -- not my usual fare at all! And that was Outlander, which I think you would enjoy -- the story is captivating and romantic, but she is also a historian -- the details and accuracy of these books are amazing.