Monday, November 14, 2011

In which I wax fanatical on the topic of BOOKS....

My earliest "book memory" is of a time when I was 4 or 5, I believe, and cuddled next to my mom on her bed, sharing an open book. I remember distinctly the moment it clicked in my brain that if you put "c", "a", and "t" together, it spells something. I remember reading, "cat", and then looking at my mom with huge eyes (hers were wet) as I realized that I had READ.

When I was 8 or 9, I would sit down at the table with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream and an installment of Nancy Drew. Suspense + chocolate = A very happy little girl. 

When I was 17 years old, I had plenty of leisure time between seminary and (on my part, very lazy) homeschooling to read. On average, I would read 5-12 books a month, depending on the size and content of each book. Some I would toss after the first three sentences. Others I would devour in a few hours, then walk around aimlessly, pretending to be doing my math work. ( mother was a great teacher, and I was a horrible student. It is not yet my gift in life to be self-disciplined; I've had to work at it and still have to.)

Through these last ten married and childbearing years, my reading has been slower, more deliberate, and sometimes nonexistent for weeks at at time. So many times it was just far more appealing to sleep than to read. But my life has un-busied itself in many ways with the boys in school and Savvy out of toddlerhood. While my baby hunger hasn't quite left, I do understand that I ought to take full advantage of this time that isn't spent diaper-changing, breastfeeding, or sleeping. At this time in my life, I do have more time to read, and I have definitely been making use of that time. I thought I'd share some of my old fail-proof favorites, as well as some recent wonders I've been recommended.  (How's THAT for a protracted introduction?!)

1. If I have to pick a favorite book, it would be The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver). I'm fairly certain I've written about this before, or at least mentioned it. I read it in 2002, and I loved so many things about it. Four daughters--similar enough to my family of five girls and two boys. A preacher father--my dad was a chaplain! Living in Africa and trying to adjust during crazy political upheaval--well, the craziest upheaval we could claim would be Just Cause, but we certainly moved around and tried to adjust. Not only are there those wonderful parallels I identified with, but the writing! Oh my lands. The writing. So beautiful. Poetic. Delectable. Heart-rending. Fascinating.

2. This might tie with number 1 for a favorite. Okay, yes. It does. My sister Liz recommended it to me in August, and from the first paragraph, I was hooked. Hey--Anna? Camilla? You loved Jane Eyre? You will EAT THIS ONE UP. Modern Gothic romance. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) is not only beautifully written (exquisitely written), but the story....oh, the STORY! (I'm shout-typing.) Vida Winter's writes tons of novels in her lifetime, all of them fictitious and incredible. Journalists always ask her about her background, about whether the details in the stories are autobiographical. She always spins a new story in response, never allowing them to know her true personal story, until she's dying and invites a biographer to hear her life story. The book is her life story,'s incredible.

3. Maybe I can't have ONE favorite book, because, well, this ties for third place, too. Can't help it. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte). I read it when I was 14 and swooned all the way through, crying and clutching the book to my chest. Pretty sure I shouted a few times, too. I love Jane. I love her. She is so good, so pure, so honest, so loving, so brave, so intelligent, so forgiving. I'm a sucker for a good book heroine, and she set the bar pretty high.

4. The Fledgling (Jane Langton). I believe I read it when I was 12. I'd read it again, and not just because I love children's lit. The Fledgling is one beautiful glorification of nature and childhood, peppered with Thoreau and gorgeous descriptions of his pet spot, Walden Pond. It's about a girl who is taught to fly by geese, for Pete's sake! How can this not be a beautiful read? I just remember that it made a lasting impression on me. (Plus, the illustration of her house looks like a dollhouse.)

5. A Room Made of Windows (Eleanor Cameron). Every now and then, I would find random '70s era books in the library. Sometimes they were really weird and included allusions to or plots around things I didn't really grasp, but this one didn't do that. The illustrations (few) are really beautiful and had my imagination going. And the fact that the girl loves to write was a huge plus, too. I think I read it when I was 11.

6. I love books by John Bellairs. (Examples: The House with a Clock in Its Walls & The Letter, The Witch, and The Ring) I believe they were written in the '70s; I read them from age 14-17 and enjoyed the incredible suspense of each one.

7. The Help (Kathryn Stockett). I used to resist jumping on the book-bandwagon and reading books I'd heard everyone talk about. Until Harry Potter--and then I realized right around the time that everyone was diving into the fourth book that I had been stupidly missing out. So now I usually make it a point to at least try the books that everyone's shouting about, if I'm interested. This one lives up to the hype. I was ugly-crying and hitting things, drawing curious and concerned looks from Phill. I talked about it for a good week after finishing. I read sections aloud to Phill whether he wanted me to or not. It's such a beautiful piece of literature.

8. Peace Like A River (Leif Enger). I actually bought this book over a year ago, intending to read it, but letting it wait at the bottom of a long list. I read it in September, finally! It's the story of a boy who has asthma, a literary-gifted sister, a wayward brother, and a dad who works miracles. The writing conveys such compassion, and I was further moved when I read that the author's own son has asthma. The way Leif writes about the son's asthma shows that he clearly has deep understanding and sympathy for what his real-life son must go through. A really uplifting book.

9. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak). I can't talk about this book enough. I left tear-stains all over the library copy. I cried the ugly-cry, sitting on the couch, trying to explain to Savvy what I was feeling. I sat quietly after I finished, trying to process it all. I talked to a friend on the phone after she had read it, fielding her questions/laments like a therapist, rejoicing with her over all the high notes. The incredibly beautiful descriptive writing stays with me, as do the characters....I miss the characters. I met them, I knew them.

10. These Is My Words (Nancy E. Turner). I read this in September. This historical fiction novel is written in the form of journal entries, something that used to bug me--but in this book, it doesn't at all. Sarah settles in Arizona Territory and experiences all that comes with it--Indians, rattlesnakes, floods, fires, soldiers, love, death, childbirth, etc. It also follows her literary progress--her learning to read and write, progress that is beautifully paralleled by her emotional progress. You'll miss her when you're done.

11. The Cry and the Covenant (Morton Thompson). Reading this right now. My dad recommended this to me in the midst of a conversation we had wherein I was enthusiastically detailing all the things that I love about birth, while talking to him about another book. It's about the first OB/GYN who suggested that maybe washing hands is a good idea. (Crazy. I know.) This was back in the day when it was a mark of prestige to have a dirty (read: vitreous matter) lab-coat. Sick, huh? Not for the weak-stomached, but OH, this book is incredible. Note: It was hard for me to find a cheap copy of it; it was written in 1949.

12. The Birth House (Ami McKay). I read this in July. Even if you're not birth-babies-labor-obsessed, this is a great novel. Takes place in Nova Scotia during WWI. It's about a girl who finds her calling as a midwife and is beginning her career at the time of Twilight Sleep and doctors' emergence into the birthing world as prominent figures, along with their belief that birth was a medical emergency and something best left in the hands of the doctor. (Even over the discretion of the mother.) I yelled a lot through this book. But I loved it, too!

And now, because it is late and my eyes are burning, I'm going to just add on a short list, without descriptions, of some others that I've loved:

The Overlander series (Suzanne Collins, YA fiction)
The Chronicles of Narnia 
The Mysterious Benedict Society series (three in the series so far; Trenton Lee Stewart)
Dragonwyck (another Gothic; Anya Seton)
Wuthering Heights (oh, those Bronte sisters....this one's by Emily)
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility (I like S&S better than P&P, and I hated Emma enough that I couldn't finish the book)
Northanger Abbey (Also by Jane Austen)


Lara said...

At last I have found someone who didn't love Emma! So many people list it as their favorite Jane Austen, and I never could finish. But, maybe it gets better?

I've read a good portion of the books you've listed and I have to agree with your choices.

Now, have you read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet yet? By Jamie Ford (who I just found out is LDS, but that's neither here nor there). I think you'll love it.

Rae said...

I haven't read that, Lara! I'll add it to my list.

Marie Photographie said...

I would love to curl up with one of these books right now. So many of these are favorites of mine, too (Jane Eyre, The Book Thief, The Help).

Thanks for all of the other reviews!

Qait said...

I'm going to keep nagging you about reading "Chime" by Franny Billingsley and "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" by M.T. Anderson.
YOU HAVE TO READ THEM!!!! Aaa! I can't stop talking about the last one to Michael! And when I read Chime,'s such a unique book (which I think is a high compliment).
Also, have you ever read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime"? I think I got the title right. It's beautiful. It's from the perspective of a boy with autism, and I feel like I so understand his black and white world and his frustrations with other people for being so "gray" about life. It's pretty heartbreaking, but I found things that made me laugh.
You've got to read those books...