Books, Books, Books

Thanks to Chris Sessums (and I do thank you, Chris), I find myself returning again and again to my favorite books when really I should be paying attention to all manner of things piling up on my desk. This book meme is really impossible to adhere to in the strictest sense of offering one book per category– which Chris has nicely worked around with his friendly narrative style, moving from book to book, telling us his story while giving us titles to peruse. There’s the problem, too, of sticking to a list– I keep changing my mind. But the wonderful thing is that as with any decent associative exercise, thought of one book leads to thoughts of another, and then memories spill out from around the book, and before I know it, I am reliving the time when I first read the book, and plunge back into books I haven’t thought about for years. Suddenly I am ten, in the field in Maine, a book in hand, sun on my face, and no brothers in sight.
What fun.

But back to the meme.

1. A Book That Changed Your Life

Well, every book I read changes me in some way: characters move in with me and shake things up; ideas push me out of complacency; a writer’s magic with language can take my breath away . But books that have profoundly shifted something in me? When I was nine it was C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe–I thought, wow, you can be a writer and people will pay you to do this? What a marvelous way to spend a life. When I was eleven, it was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird–I thought, wow, you can be a writer and make people feel like that? Almost every year there was a book that changed everything for me. From reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles at age 12 to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude at age 18, my early years were marked by great books. And then in college there were Emerson’s Essays and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man & Ulysses (huge influences!) , and Virginia Woolf’s To A Lighthouse and Richard Wright’s Native Son.… the usual suspects… And then there was Shakespeare.
More recently bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress taught me about “teaching as the practice of freedom”; Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence opened me up to a positive wonderland of possibilities with online communities; and Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking really just blew me away about loving and dying at a time when I lost a dear friend. There are many more…

2. A Book that You’ve Read More than Once

Well, in addition to those books listed above, and restricting myself to contemporary books, I ‘d have to include Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Collected Poems, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Flannery O’Connor’s Collected Stories, Alice Munroe’s The Beggar Maid and Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. These books will all stand up to as many readings as you care to give them. I’ll stop there…

3. A Book You’d Take Onto A Desert Island
My Riverside Shakespeare is first off the tip of my tongue, but if I think about contemporary books, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy comes to mind. What a fabulously riveting, heart-breaking, wild tale of families in India and Pakistan during partition, and it’s three huge volumes!

4. A Book that Made You Laugh

Gerald Durrell’s My family and Other Animals –because it made me understand that other families were are crazy as mine and that a sense of humor saves many the day!
Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy— Hilarious romp through North Dublin life–

5. A Book that Made You Cry

Almost every nineteenth-century novel made me cry (think Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina or DavidCopperfield or Chris’s Wuthering Heights) but contemporary books? Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking She writes as James Baldwin exhorts us to do, stripped of all our disguises, as clean as a bone. Yehuda Amichai’s Selected Poetry and A. B. Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride, too, for their unadorned truth within poems and novels–I was brought to the complex textures of life in the Middle East.

6. A Book You Wish Had Been Written
I like Chris’s desire to read Sappho’s autobiography: I’d also like to read Shakespeare’s autobiography, to clear up once and for all his story, and I’d like to sink into another volume of John Keats’ poems.

7. A Book You Wish Had Never Been Written
Ah, Chris is a much nicer person than I–Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged makes me angrier than any book I know, that and Anne Morrow Linburgh’s Gift from the Sea. There I said it. I’m not sure I wish they hadn’t been written, but I sure wish they hadn’t sold so many copies and been loved by so many….

8. A Book You Are Currently Reading
I admit, I have a stack and I’m reading several at once: Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near to try to understand the nightmare of our involvement in Iraq; Janet Abrams & Peter Hall ‘s Else/where Mapping New Cartographies of Networks and Territories to keep thinking about the ways in which the Web can be used well in my classroom; A. B. Yehshua’s luminous Five Seasons to feed my fiction fix; and Eavan Boland’s collection of poems, Against Love Poetry because no week should go by without the taste of an Irish poem.

9. A Book You Have Been Meaning to Read
This one makes my fingers itch to leave this computer and reach for pages: bell hooks’ Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope is one of the books that arrived in the mail today, and for some reason, it slipped by me when it first came out. I will read it soon. Perhaps on the plane to California on Thursday–or waiting in long lines for said plane… My husband is reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and it’s all I can do not to take it from his hands–yes, I’m greedy… I’ve also been meaning to read the Harry Potter books (I must be the only person on the planet who has yet to read them–but with so many books calling to me, I wonder if I’ll ever get to them…) and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.

10. Now Tag Five People You Want To Hear From

1. Barbara Sawhill
2. Bryan Alexander
3. Lanny Arvan
4. Mary Ellen Bertolini
5. Ewan McIntosh

It’s tough to leave this post when there are so many books to consider– Argh–tomorrow I would probably write a completely different list. My students would be amused, I’m sure. So, I’m learning that this is an excellent exercise, not just for memory and affection’s sake, but as a way to remind myself that blogging can really be in the moment, ofthe moment. Tomorrow, I can take it all back….heheheheh….. And see if the five I’ve tagged get equally sidetracked….


One Response

  1. Great list barbara. But you cheated. It says one book… nice call on Atlas shrugged.

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