I am way late to this party (try last Thursday!), but the prompt I saw over at Rose City Reader was just too intriguing:
Booking Through Thursday: “This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”
Thinking it might be fun to ponder memorable books I've already read, I sat down with a pen to scribble my list. The first three were easy. I stalled out for a few minutes and then the rest came to mind in a rush.
Funny how, having spent all these years in school, the ones I really remember are ones I read on my own, usually during childhood and as a young adult. Ah, the formative years.
1. Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein. During high school and college, I read this quintessential hero's journey tale one once a year, noticing new things and thoroughly enjoying it each time.
2. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway. The story of Jake and Brett and their circle of drinking buddies in Paris and Pamplona. In my mind, no contest: Best. Novel. Ever. What a burden it would be to try to write a second novel, if this was your first.
3. The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter. Beautiful, funny, grounded, with delightful characters, a scene that makes me laugh and another scene that breaks my heart every time I read it . . . even if all I've done is picked it up and read the page or two that precedes that scene. Great writing can do that.
4. The Sixteen Pleasures, Robert Hellenga. A female coming-of-age story, set in Florence, Italy, in 1966. Sex, art, religion, and books, not necessarily in that order. I read this just out of college. At the time I thought I might have this kind of life, but I wasn't brave enough.
5. Collected Poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay. No one holds a candle to her. She makes formal poetry about affairs of the heart seem effortless.
6. Seasons at Eagle Pond, Donald Hall. The turning of the year and New Hampshire rural life on an ancestral farm, through the eyes of a poet and professor. When I need to get back to my roots but can't afford a vacation, I read this instead.
7. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. Literature moves me, okay? I took way too long with my oral book report in 12th grade, and got totally bogged down describing the plot points of the Joad family's Depression journey to California. I also made myself cry, in front of the whole class, over the beauty and selflessness of the ending. But the teacher loved my report, despite (or perhaps because of) its glaring flaws. And you know what? The class was spellbound.
8. This Perfect Day, Ira Levin. In 10th grade I set myself the challenge of reading a book a day, more or less at random. I wore myself out in a couple of weeks, but this was one of the choices. I had no idea Ira Levin was a famous author. I don't remember anything about this futuristic novel that has been compared with 1984 and Brave New World, except a few lines from the poem that gives it its title:
Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei
Led us to this perfect day.
Christ, Marx, Wei and Wood
Made us [something], made us good.
9. Animal Farm, George Orwell. Summer reading around age 12 at my grandmother Memom's house. I initially liked this one for the animals, but soon figured out there was a lot more to it. I still feel so bad for poor Boxer, the steadfast but rather dim horse, and identify with him on bad days: "I will work harder."
10. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith. Usually I am a huge lit snob, but this "light mystery" got me hooked on the series: a marvellous sense of place, delightful characters, gentle humor, and just enough plot to keep it moving forward at an unhurried pace. I read each one as soon as it hits paperback. Maybe in my next life I will be as wise and unflappable as Mme. Ramotswe. (Not to mention that this author is inspirationally prolific.)
11. Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris. So much more than a baseball book. Star pitcher Henry Wiggin learns a whole lot from his association with marginally talented Bruce Pearson, not the least of which is that there are a number of things more important than money.
12. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. Beautifully written and the stoic, ultra-loyal butler is the quintessential unreliable narrator. Love, love, love this book.
13. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. An annual holiday re-read, to remind me to "keep Christmas" by being kind all the year through. And I adore how Dickens can turn a phrase. Glowing softly like "a bad lobster in a dark cellar," indeed!
14. Beautiful Joe, Margaret Marshall Saunders. Based on real events, this book is a sort of Black Beauty for dogs and other pets, and profoundly influenced my love of animals. The narrator is a mutt who is rescued from a cruel master and lives a wonderful, useful life as part of a kind family, having a number of G-rated adventures.
15. Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, Edward Espe Brown. What's not to like about a Zen cookbook?
(Yes, I know there's only supposed to be 15. So sue me.)
16. Life of Pi, Yann Martel. I predict this one will stand the test of time. I've scrutinized it thoroughly and keep finding new things. Knowing the "trick" ending only enhances my appreciation for the shipwreck story of Pi Patel and his pal Richard Parker.