Sunday, September 23, 2007

Five Books That Changed My Life (and What They Taught Me)

Raise your hand if you're kind of sick of all the lists of books that you "must read!" before you die. You know, the ones that begin with Joyce and end with Rand and have all matters of men in between. I’ve read most of them. And, yes, tightly written and profound and important and blah blah blah…


When I sit down to think about the books that I’ve read no fewer than 50 times, the books that I will pass down to my child(ren), the books that I can recommend to every girl born in this country? Well, fewer make the cut.

…and they aren’t what you’d think.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Judith Viorst

The original is always the best, no? Perpetually disgruntled Alexander helped me understand at a very young age that a day that begins with bad hair is presage of a day filled with unfortunate events. These days when I wake up with most uncooperative hair, I hide under the blankets. Life lesson: Yes, some days just suck the life out of you. And hooray to Judy for not being afraid to let a five year old know that. But more importantly? Eventually those days end and, as if by necessary, there is a better one to follow.

However, when I look at my Discover card billing statement sometimes I think I should have read Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday a few more times.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Beverly Cleary

What little girl can’t identify with Ramona? Constantly in the shadow of the savvy of my big sister or upstaged by the adorableness of my little sister, I wholly identified with Ramona. And being 8 is wonderful. It is the first time in her life that a little girl feels…knowing. I could read novel length books now (the Ramona series being my favorite). I knew enough math to buy stuff at the grocery store by myself. It is the earliest age I can remember making my own decisions. Which doll I wanted, what clothes I thought were cool, what televisions shows I liked. There’s just an awareness and discovery that happens in the ‘tweens that is grossly underrated compared to one’s teens.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Judy Blume

I still revisit this book at least once a year. I’ve been 5 year old Alexander. I’ve been 8 year old Ramona. But to some extent I think I’m still 12 year old Margaret. Also raised in a religiously divided household, to this day there are questions that challenge my mores and when they do I can’t think of a more perfect way to address them than as did Margaret. Just ask.

Beyond that, as with most Blume books, we are given a realistic and charming picture of the coming of age for a young girl: buying the first bra, waiting and waiting and waiting and anticipating and waiting for your period, how…different you feel when you finally get it – and, an odd conundrum, how you don’t feel that different at all, and, of course, boys! Lovely, lovely, lovely boys.

Anything by William Faulkner.

Okay. So I cheated; this isn’t one book. I can’t name just one and I can’t say that just one is right for every person. I can only say that the man was a master storyteller. While he might have greater appeal to Southern readers and writers, I’d argue that in some way, shape or form all of us were raised in a Yoknapatawpha County; be it a multi floor tenant building in the heart of Harlem, a small town in the middle of amber waves, or a pristine Bel Air neighborhood surrounded by glitterati and gates. Faulkner peels back the blanket and closely examines the every socio-political stretch mark that rippled our nation as it grew. As I’ve made my way through is catalog (several times over now) I’ve come to realize that they aren’t just scars, they are beauty marks.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Harriet Jacobs

The harsh realities of living as a slave and the triumph of escaping. It is a tale I’ve heard told, certainly. But that one woman had the courage to write it down is amazing in and of itself. Every now and then when I’m hosting a Bethany Pity Party, I need read only a few pages to remind myself just how fortunate I am in all that I have. This narrative is a legacy for all women and if you don’t buy, beg or borrow any other book on my list, please enjoy this one.

Now it’s your turn: What books changed your life?


Christie Craig said...

Great post Bethany.

You are so right. Books can change your life. When I write I always hope the lessons my characters learn will rub off on my readers.
As for my favorite? Hmm.... I'm going to have to think about this.
Thanks for the post.

Crime Scene Christie

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bethany. I'm adding Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl to my TBR list. I LOVE Faulkner, and not just because I grew up in Mississippi.

As for what books have had a profound influence on me, that is a good question. I can think of two, offhand. Reading Elizabeth Peters made me want to become a writer - I wanted more than anything to be able to create books that people wanted to steal from their libraries, they were so good. P.G. Wodehouse was another - he writes dialogue that is so good, I just want to hug myself with joy.


Gemma Halliday said...

I'm with you on Elizabeth Peters, Faye. She has a way of writing really smart, feminine characters that crack me up. And I love her unexpected heroes!

One must-read children’s book for me is The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes. It was written in 1939 about a little girl bunny that grows up wishing she could be the Easter Bunny, but all the big men bunnies tell her to just go make babies. So, she does – dozens of them. Then the great skills she learned as a mama bunny help her to become the best Easter Bunny ever. A great girl power book.


ReadingIsSoMuchFun said...

This is a great post Bethany. There are a few books that have changed my life. One is called The Secret. My fiance was watching it and I got interested in watching it with him then I went online and saw they had a book. So I got the book. It has changed my life in many ways.


Unknown said...

I can't of a book that has change my life. Books are my life. I love them and I read every day. Before I go to bed at night I have to read. They are additive

Estella said...

I love the judy blume books.
I can't think of any book that changed my life. I read all the tome . Usually over twenty books a month.

Enchanted by Books said...

A review of Divorced, Desperate and Delicious is up on my blog if anyone would like to read it. It will be up on a month prior to publication, I beleive is when they post it.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bethany. If I had to name one book that changed my life, I think it would be Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Not only did it teach me the power of imagination and resilience, but another girl in my third-grade class happened to be reading it at the same time and we've been "kindred spirits" ever since.


Anonymous said...

Gemma, I *LOVE* Elizabeth Peters. She's one of the few writers I think I'd become a total fangirl around should I ever meet.


Anonymous said...

Great review, Rachael! (Yay, CC!!) Love your blog, too!

Faye, empress of exclamation points today

Enchanted by Books said...

Thanks Faye!

Babe King said...

Okay, am I the only one who actually ENJOYED Joyce? lol Right up there with Lewis Carroll.

Unknown said...

Judy Blume taught me so much as I was growing up. She always seemed to answer those questions you hated to ask your parents.

More recently Mitch Albom's books For One More Day and The Five People You'll Meet in Heaven hit home for me and really made me think about the lives I've touched and how I'd like to be remembered.

Anonymous said...

Hi I read 2 of the books you mentionned - the two for young adults - and I agree with you... who could not identify themselves with the heroines!

Nathalie said...

I am glad I am not the only one who doesn't like the books to read lists!