Sunday, November 07, 2010

old friends

when i discovered the concept of college majors (i was about 12) and learned that there would come a time when i would no longer be required to endure math courses, when, in fact, i could select a course of study in which all i would have to do would be to read books (and write stuff about them), i was floored. i had discovered the biggest boondoggle ever. why would anyone major in anything but English lit? my decision was made. of course, when the time came, i majored in international development under the reasoning that i wanted to learn something in college. while my intentions were honorable, i chose my alternate major poorly. i would have been better off in the english department where i belonged.

but my love of reading has never left me, even if i have found it harder and harder to keep up with in the way that my soul really needs. my dedication to reading reached unhealthy levels, something i recognized early on, since they substituted for real life and real friends. as a result, i remember which books i was reading during certain periods because they were so inculcated into my thoughts and days. i was thinking about the books that have most stayed with me over the years and i thought i should like to have a list of them somewhere, sort of like an old yearbook or address book, really. so here they are: not necessarily the finest books i have read, but the ones that have really stuck in my mind.

1) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Series. I was drawn to the cover while spending my lunch hour in Feb 1993 in the library. The series never let me go and I was devastated when Douglas Adams died.

2) The Remains of the Day. I thought this books would completely bore me (an English butler reminisces about his life over the course of a drive into the country to see if a former manor employee will return to her post) but it haunted me and I think about it a lot.

3) Never Let Me Go. Same author as above. This guy gets under my skin. His books aren't so cheery. His first one is about a woman who lives in the apt in which her mom committed suicide or something. Have to get my hands on that one soon.

4) Harry Potter. Five years of reading it every night before bed will do it, but Harry could have even if I hadn't had that ritual.

5) Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. The historical account of a family's experience during the Comm Rev in China and then under Mao. Read in 1998 for a poly sci class, but it was so long and so complicated that I kept going back to it over the years. Was my bedtime ritual the semester I got engaged.

6) Pride and Prejudice. It isn't my favorite of Austen's books (I think I like Persuasion the best) but it has stuck with me more. Maybe because of the movie.

7) 9 Stories is true. One of my favorite books of all time. Funny and sentimental and sad and relatable. My first copy, now lost, was the one that my mom had stolen from a Camp Lejune library in 1966. If you read the book, you will understand that that history is simply the perfect setting for the whole novel. It is a book of short stories all centered around the same family and it keeps me coming back.

8) Raise High the Roof beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction.

9) Do I even need to mention Catcher in the Rye? Yes, this puts me in a certain category for some who deride the book but all I have to say is that if you don't get it, you don't get it. Salinger speaks to me and I mourn him and his lost New York. How strange it must have been for him in those last years to be one of the only survivors of his generation and live in a world so changed, so moved on from the people he knew and loved.

10) John Updike short stories. Another author who felt like a friend. Maybe he was misogynistic (though I don't think so) and perhaps I would be embarrassed to be associated with his novels, but his short stories connected with me. Poems, too.

11) Emperor of the Air.

12) The Edible Woman. When Margaret Atwood isn't getting into dystopia writing, I love her. Speaking of which . . . number 13

13) The Blind Assassin, of course. Read it in the summer of 2002 while living and hating my job in California, deciding to transfer law schools, single.

14) Interpreter of Maladies. The Third and Final Continent seals the deal on this one, though I love most of the stories.

15) The Dead, or rather, the last page of it. Read it on a cold, dark wintery day and it will stick with just about anyone.

16) John Cheever stories, by which it is possible that I am being influenced by The Death of Justina, which happens to be one of my favorite short stories ever.

I am sure I am leaving many off, and I haven't even touched the childhood books that have stayed with me (the Babysitters Club, for ex. I used to (still) track their ages from time to time. Those babysitters are on the far side of 35!)

I would love to hear any recommendations!


Nana said...

Did you have to reveal that your mom mom stole that book?

Jenny said...

I really enjoyed this post, and I'm going to add these to my reading list (although I'll probably want you to help me understand them--like 9 Stories!). I recently read Never Let Me Go and have been recommending it to everyone too. Ichiguro so brilliantly captures childhood intrigues and relationships and how they are formative for our adult lives. Have you read Out Stealing Horses? It is not cheery either. I think you would like it. :)

Tara, Doug, Isaac, and Lucy said...

Oh, how I love this post. I was like you--I was certain I'd be an English major and then decided I should do something I wasn't "strong" in instead. I did English as a minor...and only regretted it a little bit when my Master's in Lit and Writing sort of assumed I had a background in all sorts of theory I'd never heard about. I will absolutely let my reading be inspired by your recommendations. Thank you. Here are a few of my recommendations: 1) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, 2) Middlemarch by George Eliot (because you'll feel smarter for reading it), 3) Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl and 4) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Carrie said...

This post is timely for me. I just found myself lamenting the time I used to spend in books. I haven't managed to fit a lot of reading time into my days of mothering. Or, I fit to much in and neglect my house and kids. I am not much for moderation, it seems.

One of the things that I remember most about our companionship is the poetry you always had on hand.

I read and reread Catcher in the Rye. Salinger said it like no one else in my life ever had. And I needed someone to talk to me like that.

I would have to add To Kill a Mockingbird. I have considered naming each one of my boys Atticus.

I enjoy your blog completely.

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Eliza said...

I was an English major and wasted it. I knew it was the right major for me and yet I really didn't get into it as much as I think I would if I were to do college over again.

Slowly over the years I have gone back and read the books I had only skimmed. I have found that almost all of them were amazing! I totally missed out.

A few that I loved and wept over:

-Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. Can you handle voodoo...? Cried.
-The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton--I found it challenging but engrossing. And I cried.
-Things Fall Apart by Chinua sad. I'm sure you've read this one. Cried.
-The Strangeness of Beauty by Lydia Minatoya...a little long but beautiful. Cried.
-Silence by Shusaku Endo--Martyrdom (cried)
-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Cried. I had always been a fan but got by with skimming this one until I finally read it a few years ago. Too bad because it is beautifully tragic.

I read 4 books by Nancy Turner this summer and I'm sure I'll read them all again--loved them.

For all his insights, Salinger was sure a jerk if you believe his daughter. But Catcher is one of my favorite books...I grew up on it. My sister Phoebe was named after Holden's sister and my niece Esme was named for "For Esme with Love and Squalor" (one of the 9 Stories as I'm sure you recall).

This comment is way too long but...someone mentioned "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" which I also loved. Another book by Betty Smith is "Joy in the Morning." Both are very real and very sweet.

I am in a reading phase this year. I go in and out. It's bad for my motherhood and wifehood when I am in a reading phase...I just can't put books down and so I do everything else in life with reluctance.

Eliza said...

Oh heavens. Please "delete forever" all those extra comments. I knew my comment was super long and every time I tried to publish it I got an error I thought it wouldn't publish it because of length, and I edited 4 times.

Obliviously leaving 5 comments on a blog is something my computer-illiterate mom would do. No offense to her. Obviously, since now I am in her category.

Dan and Hilary said...

What a fun post! I definitely think of you when it comes to short stories, poems, and sad literature!:) I actually came across hand written poems you wrote down as I was waiting in line to renew my visa and you kept me company. I found it in my missionary journal. I have to make a copy and send it to you. It really made me laugh as I actually wrote down that you were reading it to me in line while people were trying to speak spanish to me.:) Good times!

Ie Li said...

My sister read Wild Swans. I should read that because I am Chinese after all. :)

I agree with you about Persuasion. It is the best Austen book and Anne Elliot is my favorite Austen heroine.