Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ten books and then some...

There's this thing going around Facebook. I don't usually do things that go around Facebook. But this one was about books.

This book will be in my heart...forever
Photo by Liz Rambles via Flickr

Here were the rules: In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the "right" or "great" works, just the ones that have touched you.

Here are the books I listed:

1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
3. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
4. Louisiana Power & Light by John Dufresne
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
7. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
8. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
9. All the Harry Potter books
10. The Hood, Scarlet, and Tuck books by Lawhead

I tried not the think about it too much. I'm something of a stickler about rules. And looking back on it, I wonder why these books came to mind. I admit that numbers nine and ten were grabbed at the last minute, as I struggled to make a complete list.

Gone with the Wind is always the first book that comes to mind when someone asks me what my favorite book is. I still have the first, fat paperback copy I received as a gift for my fifteenth birthday from my parents. It eventually became so worn from having been read over and over again, I replaced it with a now worn second copy. I now have six copies of the book. Those two paperbacks, plus four hardcovers of varying ages. Two of them are in boxes and have never been opened.

Lately, I've taken to answering, "The one I'm reading," instead, when someone asks about my favorite book. I have to wonder if Gone with the Wind is really my favorite. It certainly was when I was fifteen. And sixteen. And seventeen. And all the way up into my mid-twenties. But still? I'm not sure.

It's a fabulous book with a complex main character, tainted by a film that failed to do her justice. It's a book about wishing for life and love to be the way they used to be, and failing to realize that the way they used to be wasn't all you thought it was.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn came to mind because in the past few weeks, I've considered reading it again. I still have the original hardcover that I had as a child. A child? Truthfully, I don't remember how old I was when I first read it.

It was a wonderful story and I'm willing to bet I'll see much more in it reading it again now.

A Suitable Boy has stayed with me maybe because it was an enormous book. I spent a lot of time with it. I enjoyed it and might read it again. But I've read Gone with the Wind at least sixteen times (I calculate this by remembering that I counted fifteen times and then being sure I read it at least once more--thought it's very possible I've said seventeen times, too. Once you get into numbers that high it's hard to keep track, and who cares? The point's been made.) I don't foresee myself reading A Suitable Boy more than twice.

This is probably because I don't identify with Lata as much as I do with Scarlett. I still think Lata made the wrong choice, even though I accept her reasons for it. Her reasons were wrong. That's all there is to it.

Reading Louisiana Power & Light was like meeting an old friend for the first time. It was like reading my own words, but they weren't my own. Reading John Dufresne convinced me that I was on the right track writing Camelia. He writes in that easy, casual, almost chatting way and it felt like home. I may not remember much of the story (or that of any of the other books of his that I read), but I remember being in love while I was reading it.

I had just finished reading The Book Thief when I made the list, so, that explains that. That story will be with me for a while yet. I struggled just a bit at first, though. The style was a bit weird and some of the writing so intentionally vague and artsy that I shrugged a few times. But there was something there--I could feel it. So I stuck with it and finally got into the groove. I loved it. I just loved it.

The one thing that stood out for me, though, was that in the book, Liesel never says, "When life robs you, sometimes you have to rob it back." I'm glad for that, for some reason. It's like a secret that only those of us who've read the book know. I think that's the way it is with all books made into film. We readers know.

I read East of Eden recently also, so it popped into my head. It was a wonderful story. But I have to wonder if I should have put Raintree County in that slot instead. The problem is that Raintree County, although a wonderful story, was an awful book. I had to search for the story the entire time. So, no, I guess I made the right choice.

Vanity Fair came to mind, probably because I'd thought of Steinbeck. Classics beget classics in your head. Vanity Fair was fabulous (the film, with Reese Witherspoon, was awful compared to it). And thinking about Vanity Fair made me think of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

I remember being afraid to read Nicholas Nickleby! I'd watched a performance of it by the Royal Shakespeare Company on PBS years and years ago when I had time to sit all day on a Sunday watching that sort of thing. I loved it! But I remembered that it was sad and there was child abuse involved. But the book was funny and touching and wonderful.

If you've never read Dickens, by all means, read Nicholas Nickleby and you'll be a fan.

After that I was stuck. I couldn't think of any other books that stayed with me. So, not to think about it too much, I remembered Harry Potter. I still have copies of those. So, I put that down. And then I remembered the series about Robin Hood by Lawhead, so I put that down.

I chose Hood off the shelf one day at the bookstore, just looking for something different to read. I was hooked right away! I couldn't wait to read Scarlet and Tuck. I was sad when I finished reading the series (The King Raven Trilogy)--bummed that it was over. But I didn't keep the books. I'm not sure what that says regarding their place on the list.

After I posted the list, I remembered some other books that ought to have been included. Persuasion by Jane Austen is definitely one.

The truth about Jane Austen is that, while I love her books, most of them I fell in love with as films. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books. But it's hard to untangle it from the miniseries with Colin Firth. (I really hate what they did to it in the Keira Knightley version. I mean, come on, talk about whimpifying Mr. Darcy with that, "You've bewitched me body and soul" nonsense! Ugh.)

Same with Sense and Sensibility. The film with Emma Thompson is fabulous! And Emma! The book is wonderful, but I can't get over the film with Gwyneth Paltrow (I love John! I hate John!). I can't love these books without the films, it seems.

But Persuasion. That was different. I liked the film. Very much. But when I read the book! I fell in love!

I think Ender's Game should have been on the list as well. All the time I was reading it, I was wondering what it was about it that I liked so much. Why do I keep reading this? Why am I so excited to get back to it each night? I still haven't figured it out. I only know I loved it.

I don't think the film did it justice at all. Whatever it was about the book that made it great was missing in the film. It's as if they took a psychological thriller and turned it into an action flick. It didn't work.

But, if the list is about books that have stayed with me, I have to include two more. Two books that I read in elementary school that I have not forgotten.

The first was Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare. It was about a young woman captured by Native Americans. I guess she wore a dress made of calico. I must have checked it out from the school library a dozen times. I should pick it up and read it again for old times' sake.

And the second was Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus. Basil was a mouse detective just like Sherlock Holmes, pipe and all. There was a whole series of books about him. The Great Mouse Detective by Disney was based on the books. I remember loving those books so much, and checking them out from the public library so often, that my mother actually scolded me and told me I needed to read books for kids my age. Apparently, I was reading beneath me.

Hmph. I read Harry Potter during my forties...so there.



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