Ten Books

The lovely, talented, sweet-as-toffee-pretzel-bark and ever-so-bendy Nicole decided we should take this Facebook meme to the blogosphere. I have a tendency to overthink these things (I'm sure you never would have guessed) so I've been avoiding it on Facebook, but here it is three days since I've blogged AGAIN, it's 9:30 p.m. and I'm waiting for white chocolate and coconut to firm up enough to scoop into truffles, and who am I to look a gift meme in the mouth?

So. Ten books that have stayed with you. Ten books. Jesus. According to Goodreads I've read about 1500 that I've remembered/been willing to admit to. And these days even the things that stay with me don't stay with me, my memory being like....like... you know, that thing you use to sift flour and shit. And, unlike Nicole, I'm not a great rereader - not because I don't think rereading is a wonderful and worthwhile enterprise, but because I'm always feeling like I have to forge ahead in the name of shortening to TBR pile. But I'm trying to change that.

Anyway. Without poring over my list on Goodreads or looking at my bookshelves (until the list was done), I scoured my memory for books that made a deep impression, and this is what I've come up with. My pictures won't be as great as Nicole's either, because I don't own all of them (why don't I own all of them? Cripes, I own all the OTHER books in the world).

The Front Runner
I found this on my parents' bookshelf when I was around ten. I don't THINK I read it just for the sex, but I honestly don't remember well enough to swear to it. I didn't know then that it was, according to some, "the most popular gay love story of all time", or that it was, in the words of some reviewers "so.....extraordinarily bad". But I do think it went a long to way towards laying the foundation for my positive feelings about homosexuality. I remember the love story more than I remember the sex, and I remember feeling outraged about the bigotry and hatred that they had to face, especially because the people, and the love story just came across as so....normal. Despite my rereading project, I think it might be best if I let my rosy memories stand and avoid revisiting this one.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich
I read this in graduate school (in, not for) and I would pair this with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Solzhenitsyn as classics that I read and actually felt like I got it. Okay, not necessarily got "it", but got SOMETHING, rather than feeling like a giant hoax was being perpetrated on me by the Western canon. There's a scene in Ivan Ilyich where the old man is lying in pain in his dark room and sees a light under his door and feels hope that the household is waking up and someone will come in to comfort him, and then the light goes out and he realizes that the last person has just gone to bed and he has to suffer through the entire night alone; this scene just gives me chills.

Bel Canto 
Read this for book club a few years ago. Blown. Away. I have trouble remembering the plotlines of books I read two weeks ago, and yet almost every moment of this story is burned into my mind. The heat. The fear. The moments of passionate connection. The episodes of farcical comedy. The heartbreaking conclusion. And I am ready to argue my point of view with anyone who thinks the ending is stupid, although I won't because of spoilers.

The Diaries of Virginia Woolf
Started reading these in university. I don't know how she had the time and energy to write such brilliant, sensitive, insightful, reflective prose in a diary and still write all the other things she became famous for (which, if I am totally honest, I still admire less than the writing in the diary, although I think reading the diaries made me more receptive to Mrs. Dalloway).

The Fionavar Tapestry
I love this trilogy so much it has pride of place beside my ugly childhood lion bank. Zarah recommended it to me in university as a great story with characters you fall in love with. It has love, courage, loyalty, tragedy, sacrifice, and it's just a thumping good read.

The Edible Woman or Lady Oracle or Cat's Eye or Surfacing
I can't decide. They all made a fairly deep impression on me. I did scenes from The Edible Woman for my drama solo in grade ten and it got me the drama award even though my teacher used to shake his head in sorrow every time I tried to do anything else in the class (I couldn't say four words without bursting into hysterical giggles).

The Hobbit
A female relative (by some tortuous Polish lines of descent) who I adored lent me this when I was quite young. I did love the story (I never managed to make my way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy) but more than that, it was the first time an older person gave me a book that was targeted towards older people and clearly thought that I was ready for it. This was in marked contrast to the woman at the library who wouldn't let me take out books without my dad coming to pick me up and approving them all first.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
I loved A Wrinkle in Time and all the other Madeleine L'Engle books in this series, but this one in particular struck me with the force of its imagery, and its belief in the transforming power of family, hope, and literature. My L'Engle experience is also the exact inverse of my Woolf experience - reading L'Engle's journals was interesting but really took the shine off of her as a person for me, whereas I adore every work of fiction by her that I've ever read. Subsequent biographical information I've come across about her was completely devastating - I would have much preferred to keep my illusions in this case.

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus
I read this before I knew any of the distressing facts about Orson Scott Card that I know now. Finishing it was like emerging out of some beautiful dream world. It completely submerged me in the beautiful dream of being able to go back and change things, make them turn out right this time, and the detail and thought that went into constructing the new reality was fascinating. I recognize that it's naive in a way, and that there's every chance that even if we COULD do this kind of thing we would just end up buggering it up in the same or new horrible ways, but I was completely transported by the fiction anyway.

To Kill a Mockingbird
I love what Nicole said - Harper Lee never wrote anything else, and why would she? My tearing-up moment is when Atticus is confronted by the angry white men at the jail and Scout derails them by talking to them about their children, and after they've left another man speaks up and says "had you covered the whole time, Atticus". I had a cat named Atticus. My sister had cats named Scout and Boo. And it strikes me now that I should be bitch-slapped for not rereading this every two years or so. My dad read it again a few years ago and gave me his old copy, but I'm not sure where it is right now.


StephLove said…
I would have the Hobbit and Cat's Eye on my list, too. For my favorite Atwood, it's a tossup between Cat's Eye and Alias Grace. I have been thinking of trying to get my book club to read one or the other.
Nicole said…
THAT SCENE IN MOCKINGBIRD. Yes. When she pops in and starts talking about his farm troubles and his son. God, I love that book. Think I might read it when I finish re-reading The Blind Assassin. You need to pick that baby up. I think you'll love it. Well, I love it. It's such a passionate love story but it's so much more. I'm happy you did this! We should do memes more often.
Helen Abbott said…
Thanks Allison - putting some of these on my to-read list!
Finola said…
I always love a good book meme and I've already started working on my list. Bel Canto is definitely in my top 10.
Ms. G said…
Ditto on To Kill a Mockingbird-There is a half tame squirrel in my back yard named Boo Radley ; )

When I was 13 I found The World According to Garp in my moms room. I recall reading it for the sex : )Also introduced me to John Irving who later wrote A Prayer for Owen Meany-favorite book ever.
Catherine said…
Edible Woman - my first book club read ever and I LOVED it. It rocked my reading and writing world. I think that's when my writing took a turn toward the flighty-and-searching-woman side of things. Just a month ago I picked it up again and found myself not able to really dive in. Maybe we change as we figure more things out...but during that first read, it was the best thing ever. Ah, Margaret Atwood, you are my hero.

Another book that left an impression: Stephford Wives. That is one crazy little novella.

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