Sunday, September 11, 2005

My Ten Books

Susan at Pages Turned started it. Mental Multivitiman took up the challenge: a list of 10 books that say something about you, 10 books that have shaped and possibly even defined you. No problem! You might be thinking. Ha! Think again. I've been putting the list together since Friday and even now I am not completely satisfied with it. But here it is.

  1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White--So began my love of spider webs and the magic and power of words. I'm sure there were other books before this that I loved, but when I think back about the first book that really meant something to me, this one comes to mind. I cry every time I read it and begin sobbing halfway through the animated movie. Once, after finishing the book on a re-read when I was about 14, my mom walked into my room to see my curled on my bed crying into my pillow. She sat down on the bed all concern and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was point to the book beside me and wail, "Charlotte's dead!" My mom said something like "oh" and made a hasty retreat.
  3. Fog Magic by Julia L Sauer--Unlike Charolotte's Web, I don't have this book any longer. It got lost somewhere along the way. I read this only once, but even so I still think about it.  It is the reason I love fog so much, you never know what you will find inside it. It is the mystery and the unknown the fog represents, the adventure offered to a girl alone, that I found and still find so appealing.
  4. Forever by Judy Blume--Aside from this being my first introduction to what sex is really like, I also learned while reading this book that I was free to read whatever I wanted and my parents couldn't see into my head and had no idea what I was reading. Liberating to say the least. Which lead a few years later to me and my sister searching the house for my mother's copy of Wifey; we found it hidden in the back of the linen closet. We each read it, then put it back in its hiding place and my mom never knew.
  5. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach--I loved this book. Read it many many times. Now it seems kind of silly, but then it told me it was okay to be yourself, to be different, to be alone. It gave me comfort in my lonely teenaged angst. The book is also about not giving up on something you believe in but more importantly, not giving up on yourself, a lesson I'm still working on. Who would have though it would be so hard?
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee--This is the first book I read where I fell in love with a character. I loved Atticus Finch so much I wanted him to be my dad, especially if he looked like Gregory Peck. It also helped me understand issues of race which until then hadn't managed to sink into my teenaged brain. And it spoke to my feelings of being different and not fitting in at school and at home. I think I see a theme emerging here.
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury--"It was a pleasure to burn." A sentence that still gives me chills. The portrayal of a society where books are burned because they cause people to think and question, a society where people are encouraged to sit and watch their wall sized televisions was quite horrifying and upsetting to a girl who closed herself in her bedroom every night to read and get away from the family television. This book brought me to understand how subversive books are. I had never thought about it before, I just read because I liked to. But this book made me start paying attention to the books I read in school and the books I chose to read. I also decided after reading this book that even though all my friends at school were talking about the latest episode of that season's hit television show, I would not become a TV zombie.
  8. All Creature Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All by JamesHerriot--I know there is more than one book here, but they cannot be separated. I read these books one summer when I was in high school. They confirmed for me that I wasn't the freakish anthropomorphizing human some of my teachers accused me of being. Here was proof that animals had real feelings and real personalities. I had been raised on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, National Geographic Specials, frequent visits to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and camping during vacations where I would sit for hours with bread in my hand, patiently waiting for the chipmunk/squirrel/bird to come and eat it. These books were the culmination, and I decided I was going to be a vet. I had let myself be talked out of horse jockey, park ranger, zoologist and zoo keeper because they just weren't practical and I was a girl/not big enough/not strong enough. I was not going to let myself be talked out of vet. I didn't become a vet, but my desire got me to go away to college and away from the far too practical influence of my parents. At college I discovered that I didn't have to be practical and promptly changed my major to English much to the dismay of my parents. I told them not to worry, I would get a teaching credential, but when they stopped paying my school bills I ditched the teaching credential and got an M.A. in literature instead--one of the least practical degrees a person can hold.
  10. A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich--This was a light bulb book. While reading this book I finally "got" poetry and all the years of bad teaching in which poetry was a code I was supposed to crack, fell away and left me reeling in amazement. In this book Rich uses quite a bit of spider and web imagery which took me back to Charlotte's Web and wow, words are powerful things. Because of this book and Charlotte's Web, my first tattoo was a spider web with a tiny spider dangling from it. But the book also brought me back to the importance of language and what the words we use say and mean--word choice has implications and I had never thought of that before.
  11. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy-I was a budding feminist and this book added fuel to the fire. Where Adrienne Rich mixed politics with her poetry, Piercy mixed politics with her fiction. And it was good. I began to pay more attention to politics, I attended my first protest. I began to learn that I had a voice.
  12. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf--Another feminist moment and the beginning of my love of Virginia Woolf. After reading this book I did not feel like I had to justify to anyone why independence was important to me, why I liked to spend time alone, why I needed to spend time alone, and what I did when I was alone. And oh what pleasure there is in a room of one's own. Before my husband and I bought our house it was more like a desk of one's own. But now I have a whole room with the same old desk surrounded by expressions of me--books, photos, paintings, pens, computer, journals, music. It's all mine and it's not selfish; it's a necessity, it nourishes my soul.
The hardest part about this list was not only deciding what books to put on it, but also being honest in choosing the books. But it was fun to think about. Are you up for the challenge?