Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Life in Books

Those of you who read Newsweek may have noticed their "A Life in Books" column where they ask some luminary to list their five most important books. Last week they interviewed Jonathan Kozol. Forgive my ignorance Mr. Kozol, but I have no idea who you are. The brief bio described him as an activist and a National Book Award winner. So I decided that I have not read enough classics and that I would start with Mr. Kozol's list. The first was Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury." I usually give a book 50 pages to grab me and, if it fails to do so at that point, I give it up. I lasted 20 pages with "The Sound and the Fury." Maybe it gets better but I figure life is, literally, too short to trudge through an unenjoyable book.

The second book he listed was "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene. Bill accompanied me to the library last week and I discovered that they did not possess this particular book. By some luck they did have "The End of the Affair," which I thought an acceptable substitute given that Greene authored it. I am enjoying it thoroughly. I do find myself speaking in a rather peculiar manner these days and I have been craving afternoon tea and scones.

So I haven't gotten to the other three books on the list yet ("The Souls of Black Folks" (DuBois), "The Bothers Karamazov" (Dostoyevsky), and "Collected Poems" (Yeats) ). Yesterday I started to think about what my own list would include. So here it is.

1. The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran) : To my mind, the sagest book ever written. I return to it time and again and find peace there. It is my Bible.
2. Animal Dreams (Barabara Kingsolver): This was the first book I read as an adult in which I felt overwhelmed by the emotional depth and intellect of a female writer.
3. Why Bad Things Happen to Good People (Harold S. Kushner): My friend Angela bought this book for me when my house burnt down. More so than any other book or person, it helped me to reconcile my hope for a benevolent God with the realities of the human condition. I found and continue to find the idea of an impotent God (or at least not omnipotent) comforting in some perverse way. It allows me to believe that there is a benevolent force that exists to love and comfort me even if it cannot take away my suffering.
4. The Red Tent: A thoroughly enjoyable work of fiction that embraces all that is wonderful about women and the profound relationships among women. Any book that can make you understand the upside of polygamy (in ancient times) is worth a read.
5. Bird by Bird (Anne LaMott): Bill always indulges my fantasies. When I was in graduate school and harbored a secret desire to be a caterer, he bought me a book on catering. When I got into photography, it bought me books on photography. When I started writing, he bought me LaMott. The premise, that we all have a story and that any on who writes is a writer regardless of whether or not they get published, inspires me every day. I am indebted to LaMott for giving me the courage to think of myself as a writer.

Honorable Mention
6. Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri): An amazing collection of short stories. Her fiction is so incredibly real.

So what's your top 5? I'd love to hear them. I am always looking for a good read -- now more than ever.


courtney said...

Loved your list, Michelle. For me, will be all fiction and except for the first one, which you need super strong wrists to get through -- it is massive--the list includes books I have read in the past recent favorites.
1.) A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
2.) The Maytrees, Annie Dillard
3.) The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
4.) March, Geraldine Brooks
5.) Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
6.) Falling Man, Don DeLillo
(I couldn't resist adding a 6th).

Bird Spot said...

Too hard to pick just 5 but here are 5 that are among my top:

1.Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott
2. Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler
3. Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
4. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
5. The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

Betsy said...

I can only think of three that I read over and over again.

The Shack, William Young
The Return of Merlin, Deepak Chopra
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I read voraciously anyway, but these three always call to me. I have recently read The Shack and can't stop talking about it. Please grab a highlighter and give it a try (there's lots I wanted to highlight, so it might be a good idea to buy this one) - it isn't too long and you will laugh and cry, but I think you will LOVE it. More importantly, it may be something you want to pass along to your children. You will understand when you read it.

The other two have always been favorites of mine - just because. The Return of Merlin is a fantasy, but one that teaches a sense of wonder and enpowerment and connectedness to all the other riders on this plante, both past and present. Great Expectations is just a wonderful and engaging story.

Good reading and godspeed,


Joanne said...

I just spent 30 mins. writing a get a 'wrong user' name. I know my user name...what's the problem?

imi4u2c said...

I can't really give you a list, but a book that has helped my through a lot and one that I have reflected upon is Lessons of the Lotus: Practical Spiritual Teachings of a Traveling Buddhist Monk, by Bhante Wimala
Enjoy =)

Thank you for your list, I can't wait to get on them. I am currently in Avola and won't be able to find them here in Sicily! So, in a month I will begin. (ps...customs here is painfully slow!)

Jack said...

Hi, Michelle, I am not much of a reader but these are my favorite books! I hope you can find something enjoyable!

1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
3. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
4. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
5. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman.

Thank you for sharing yours! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,

Here's my list (in no particular order):

*Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (a quick, but deep read);
*Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are by Dr. Seuss;
*Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (okay, seriously, I read that as self-imposed penance for lying about having read it, but I'm glad I did);
*What Katy Did (and the other three stories in the series) by Susan Coolidge;
*Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
*Seeing Voices by Dr. Oliver Sacks.

Thank you for making me think about this.

Sending you love,

Shan :+)