There are a lot of interesting memes out there, and this one is among the most thoughtful and lofty. So why on earth would darling Miss MommyPie think that I am up to the task? I am nothing if not a plebe. Still, I love to go on and on about myself . . . so here’s what I came up with.
1. List three books you’ve always meant to read, but haven’t gotten around to reading.
I'm kind of a Cat in the Hat person, so the pool of unread candidates I have to select from is breathtaking. The ones that stick out are Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and Henry David Thoreau's Walden. I have had the last two on my shelf for decades -- even took Siddhartha on a long plane trip. Nothing. Why? I'm shallow, lazy, and dim. Couldn't pull the trigger. Also, anything that comes highly recommended is likely to be a huge disappointment to me, which is mostly because of my own failings. I guess I just don't want to be that person, and slogging through such culturally cherished works would only solidify my standing as Dumbass #1.
2. Share the two books that changed your life.
Everything I read changes my life! Well, almost everything. Few things are as good as a well-written cereal box, but there are two that really stand up and shout, "Oooooh! Oooooh! Pick me! Pick me!" The first is Jane Eyre, but maybe not for the reasons that it's on most everyone else's list.
I was enjoying Jane Eyre. My grandmother had given me a boxed set of two Brontë sisters' books, the other being, of course, Wuthering Heights. Though my reading time in college was limited, I found the book compelling enough to get 2/3 through. And then my class schedule caught up with me, and the book, by necessity, was tabled for a while. For a few weeks. For the summer. Forever. It's not that I didn't like it, it's that I cannot go back to something I've tabled -- even my own writing. I've learned to get it out, get it all out, or I'll lose interest and it will be OVER before it's barely begun. Shallow? Of course. Know thyself. I do.
But my grandmother didn't. She would check in with me to find out how Jane Eyre was coming along. Stupidly, I told her. I may as well have admitted to burying Jimmy Hoffa in my back yard, because you can't believe the fuss she put up. "I just cannot imagine how you could put that book DOWN!" she'd snap. Laurie in her early 20s was all about placating Grandma and being honest while being positive. If I had it all to do over I'd lie through my teeth and say, "Well, I read half of it, but it kinda sucked, and now I want to start over and read it all the way through, annotating it in the margins exactly how and why it sucks." This would be a bold-faced lie, but it would have gotten her off my back. I did get my first insight into my grandmother's gifts that came with strings attached. Lesson learned the hard way.
The other book that changed my life was John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Because of his stark portrayal of a side of America that no one wanted to see? No. Because of Steinbeck's gift of painting a realistic and gritty portrait of his characters? No. It's because I couldn't wait to be done with the Joad family. Ugh. The whole lot of them. And what did the book teach me? That I will probably dislike whatever I'm supposed to like, and I take full responsibility. And that's okay. (As a comparison, I LOVED Of Mice And Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Tortilla Curtain, and I HATED God's Little Acre.)
3. Recommend the one book you’ve been talking about since the very first day you’ve read it.
I'll give you two. The first one is the "grown-up" book: John Irving's The Water Method Man. While it is certainly outrageous and comedic, and not one of Irving's heralded works (it was one of his first novels, of which I've read almost all), there are many layers, and I always find something I had forgotten when I reread it. I can't count how many times I have read it. Boob loop!
The second is probably my favorite book of all time, even though it is a children's book: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This treasured book slyly employs nearly archaic expressions, often manifested as people or places (the Island of Conclusions; it's very easy to get there -- you just jump! -- but it's very difficult to get back); it is also generally wise, witty and charming. This book is the single best example of mastery of the double entendre that I can name. I can't wait for my daughters to be old enough to read it. And the illustrations by artist Jules Feiffer have the rare dual qualities of being both spare and lush.
I could fill a book listing all the great books I have not read and probably never will, now that my little obsession with reading and writing blogs has laid claim to my dance card. Some day I will pick up the habit again, but for now, I have so much to do right here, I just don't know when I'll have the time.