Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Reading’ Category

There’s a meme of sorts going around on Facebook right now that asks people to put up a list of “10 Books That Stayed With Me.” I thought about this for a day or so, adding and deleting different books in my mind before finally coming up with 11—yes, one more than was asked for or required. After all, it is just a meme from Facebook so are there really hard-and-fast rules when it comes to that? 

What follows is my list with some detailed and some not-so-detailed explanations regarding each one. I realize now that I would also add, to the commentary of The Once and Future King that The Mists of Avalon comes right up there, but it was the White book that opened the door for the Bradley book. I do try to be fair and follow some rules…

Seems like what’s going around now is “10 Books That Stayed With Me.”  Hmm. Been thinking about it for a while now and here’s the best I can do:


1. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. I read the first chapter in, of all places, an issue of Playboy, back in the 70s. When it came out in paperback, I bought copies for everyone in the editing department at Digital Equipment Corporation (that was when paperbacks were around $5). I did not want to see the movie because I was afraid it would ruin Garp for me. And I still have the same reaction Garp has when he’s running at night and sees the blue/green light that signifies someone is watching television instead of reading a book.

2. “The Once and Future King” by E.B. White. Began my obsession with King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It was on the summer reading list, which we had all four years of high school, for the summer prior to freshman year. “The Hobbit” was on the list that year, too, but it didn’t stay with me nearly as much as the White book did.

3. “Medicine River” by Thomas King. Blew me away. Loved it and recommended it to everyone. The movie did it justice, too, which surprised me. But I have to love anything Graham Greene has ever been in. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s warm, it’s enlightening, and I wrote about it in my dissertation.

4. “Hawaii” by James Michener. It’s the only book of his that I’ve been able to read, completely, cover-to-cover. And to be honest, when I re-read it, I skipped the first part with the birth of the island. When I read the Abner Hale was from Marlboro, Massachusetts, I kept reading. The unfortunate part was that my grandmother took it away from me because she didn’t think I should read the sex scenes. Wow. Have you READ this book? Sex scenes? Out of 1000 pages? But it was brilliant, how he wove together everyone’s stories from the missionaries to the natives to the imported Chinese.

5. “Gone With the Wind”. I saw the movie first, when I was 11 and my aunt took me to see it. I spent most of the Civil War in Atlanta scenes in the bathroom and only came out in time to see Scarlett swear that she would never be hungry again. I’ve been through six or seven paper back editions and have an anniversary edition in hardcover safely stowed on a bookcase. I know how racist it is, but it was written from a southerner’s point of view, from someone who heard stories of the war, first-hand, as a child, so of course her viewpoint would be skewed to the south. What stays with me about this novel is the strength that Scarlett has to do what she does to save her family and her land. And, yes, her obsession with Ashley shows that she’s a flawed character. It stay with me. And I’m totally glad that Margaret Mitchell changed the name of her main character because Pansy O’Hara just wouldn’t have worked the way Scarlett did.

6. “Lord of the Rings”. I re-read it every year, during Christmas break. I was pleased to find out that Christopher Lee (Saruman) does the same thing. I even read all the Appendices at the end. What a mind Tolkien had.

7. “Holocaust” by Paul Benzaquin. On November 28, 1942, the deadliest night club fire in America’s history happened in Boston, Mass. Four hundred and ninety two people died in the fire, most trapped behind a jammed revolving door or piled up in front of an exit that had been bolted shut to prevent patrons from slipping out and not paying their bill. It horrified and mesmerized me when I first read it as a young teenager. I re-read it, slowly absorbing the horror of the pictures and trying to imagine what it was like for the firefighters and volunteers who arrived on the scene and tried to save people. I check Amazon and other places from time to time to see if an old copy has come to light, because I have no idea what happened to the hardcover edition that I read many times at my parents’ house.

8. “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. I was enthralled by this wonderfully crafted story that I read one summer at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Such brilliant, pure writing and such a well-wrought story. I had already read “Bean Trees” and was familiar with Kingsolver’s work, but this brought her writing into new prominence for me. Others will say that “Poisonwood Bible” is her best, but I respectfully disagree and maintain it is “Prodigal Summer.” I re-read it each summer now.

9. “Illumination Night” by Alice Hoffman. It was the first Hoffman novel I read and still the one I go back to, although there are so many others of hers that I love. I’ve taught this one in my New England Writers class, too. It was the first time I had read anyone adequately describing the panic attacks that devastated me throughout 1983 and 84. And it was set on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places on earth. Her story is simple but beautiful and I continue to recommend it to everyone.

10. “The House of the Spirits” by Isabelle Allende. Someone I had never met before, a bookstore employee, started talking to me in Jabberwocky, a bookstore in Newburyport Massachusetts and finding out I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, took me up to the start of the alphabet in fiction and handed me this book. “You’ll love it,” he said. I was skeptical. He was right. It remains my favorite of Allende’s books, all of which I have read. The movie was awful.

11. Alright, I know it said “ten” but I would be remiss not to add “Anything at all written by Andre Dubus”. Not Dubus III (the son) but the original. I knew him. And he was a brilliant writer. All of his works have touched me. I can only hope to be half as good. I miss him.

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