Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Love Affair with Books

The lovely ello recently put up a meme about books. Now how do you resist posting about books? Impossible!!!!

Ello didn’t name any bloggers to complete this particular meme, instead leaving it open to anyone. I’m doing basically the same thing; if you’d like to discuss your favorite books, drop me a link so I can go see what your preferences are.

Total number of books?

Like everyone else whose done this one, I have no idea what this question means. Is this the total number of books I’ve read in my life? If so, I couldn’t fathom a guess. Is this the total number of books I’ve ever owned, currently own, and read in a year? What’s the damn question?

Here’s what I’ll say. I have four full book cases, five or six full boxes of books in my crawlspace, stacks of writing and miscellaneous books near my desk, and at least two books in various stages of reading in about any room I frequent with the exception of the bathroom. I’m also in the habit of giving away at least one full box of books a year to the library (sometimes two or three). And I often borrow/give books to friends and family. Two of my bookcases hold my leather bounds or hard covers that I love so much I will never part with and won’t lend them out because I’d rather not lose them. Every other book that rolls through my hands is fair game – I will willingly share them once I’ve finished. I also have a mother, two brothers, multiple friends, and a mother in law who are all avid readers – so their books often make their way into my stacks and vice versa.

I have no idea how many books I’ve read. I do have a kind of sort of system: once I’ve finished a book that I know I won’t read again, it goes in a box. If I think of someone I know will enjoy it, it goes in that direction, otherwise it’s in the library pile. The boxed books under my bed and in my crawlspace are a mish mosh of impulse buys I want to read but haven’t yet gotten to and used book sales gone awry – I purchase more than any person with responsibilities could possibly read and I also wind up with borrowed books coming into my house on a regular basis, whether I’ve asked for them or not. On the plus side, I am never without something to read. I do purchase books that I can’t wait to read and open immediately. But often I’ll buy two or three others that look interesting and sit to the side until I get to them... So there you have it. Number of books I read in a month? It varies. Some months only one or two, but then I’m often reading a lot of articles or reference (I don’t count writing references as reading, even though I’ve read an awful lot of them – if you ask me how many books I’ve read, I usually only count fiction).

So, basically, to this question I’d have to say I have owned a lot, given away a lot, bought a lot, borrowed a lot, and enjoyed them whenever I’ve had a spare minute and often when I have other work I should be doing.

Last book read?

I’m currently reading The Time Traveler’s Wife which I’ve had sitting here forever and kept putting off for some reason. It’s fantastic! Now I wish I had listened to all the hype and read it sooner.

Last book bought?

I just bought Lottery by Patricia Wood and I can’t wait to dig into it!

Five meaningful books?

This one’s a hard one because I will without a doubt leave out some books that have meant a great deal to me – it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few this way.... sigh...

The Outsiders I loved this book when I was in seventh and eighth grade and read Rumblefish, and That Was Then and This is Now with equal vigor... It’s not among the best writing I’ve ever read or the most poetic prose, but it had a voice that reached in to that just getting to teenage mindset... I was already reading adult fiction by this point, but these books more than many others drew me in and spoke, which is why I still think of them fondly twenty years later... And that, my friends, is what I hope to someday accomplish with my own writing – it doesn’t have to be Pulitzer prize material, but if it speaks to one reader enough to stay with them over a lifetime, that would be the biggest mark of success imaginable.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn This one I read for the first time in high school, and I read it a number of times since. I tend to drift toward these type of stories, the struggles of urban life and historical fiction with meat and message. This one sticks with me because it so clearly said that enjoyable fiction can be both mainstream and literary – there was more to the language than simple wording and more to the voice than guttural sound.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain will always be at the very top of my list of favored authors, for his voice and wit and brilliance. Because this list is so small, I’ve decided to leave off Shakespeare, as I’ll deem plays different than books, and obviously a lot of the classics that I adore will have to be left off. But with Huck Finn, Twain captured not only the voice and adventure that a child can readily enjoy but the meatier messages of life and morality. I love an author who refuses to stay pegged in a certain bracket with only a certain audience – I think it’s pure brilliance when they can rise above their own station and speak to the whole... some literary types look down on this type of mainstreaming as dumbed down, I think it takes more empathy, though, to bring authentic life to a work that anyone, from any class, can enjoy and experience.

Little Women I just love this work – I tend to really enjoy epic writing, and this was one that pulled me in so fully that the last page brought with it a sense of loss so profound that I had to turn back to the first and start over to keep from depression.

To Kill A Mockingbird This one has been mentioned in other blogs on books but it bears mentioning again. There are other books and authors I love, but for some reason the world of Scout and Atticus, the message of what courage really means, and the poetic coming of age encompassed here surpasses the ravages of time and will continue to speak to new generations of readers, as long as they exist.

So there they are... a long and winding post all about books. If you’re game, I’d like to hear about yours.


Travis Erwin said...

Huck Finn and Mockingbird would be in my top five as well.

The other three?

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

I hate to give a five beacue then I am eliminating so many other great ones but here goes ...

Eventide by Kent Haruf

Ello said...

Great list Merry! I love how divergent people's lists are but then we have the Mockingbird to connect us. Although I have to say that if I could extend my list then Little women would have made it on to mine!

And I'm gonna go get the Time Traveler's Wife myself to find out all about the hub bub! Too many people whose opinion's I respect (like you!) are enjoying it too much for me to sit it out!


Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Travis,

I have to admit, I haven't read any of your other three... care to recap for me? If they made your all time list I'm guessing they're fabulous. I did start Empire Falls, which I think is also by Russo - for some reason I couldn't get into it and wound up putting it back down in early chapters... maybe I should try it again.

Thanks for stopping in.

Hi Ello,

I put off The Time Traveler's Wife for a long time, no real excuse people have been telling me to read it forever... It's set in Chicago, which is fun for me because I live here, but it really carries the flavor of the neighborhoods it deals with so it's a good read regardless of your knowledge of the area... I was surprised by the poignancy - I kind of thought it was just your run of the mill sci fi kind of thing, but it's actually very character driven and internal, the essence is the love story and it's captured impeccabley... I highly recommend it if you get the time.

Mary Witzl said...

In your 'five meaningful books' section, you've listed four of my favorites too; I've never read The Outsiders, but I loved the others, especially Huckleberry Finn.

The books that have really stuck with me are many, but I would have to say The Remains of the Day comes high up on my list of meaningful books. Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford is another, and Barbara Kingsolver's Bean Trees is one I found so entertaining, I read it three times in one year. I've also loved Patrick O'Brien's sea novels; I've read 1-18 three times each and will probably read them all over again. Good for you for being able to give away books: I can do this too, but it takes me years!

Perhaps my all-time favorite books have been A S Byatt's novel Possession, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth. But talk about hard choices to make; give me a few hours and I could come up with two dozen more.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

I know what you mean, trying to narrow down my all time favorite books was painful, as there are dozens that were left off and I have a nagging suspicion that my choices might have been different at a different point in time or mind frame.

If I didn't give away books I'd have stacks all over my house... well, more than I do. I'm a pack rat to begin with, but with books I find a few a year that I love so much I would never part with, the rest I'm happy to let go. More than once I've loaned out books I adored and never got them back, so I wind up buying multiple copies. I try not to lend the important ones anymore, or just buy them for gifts for the people I'd like to read them.

Ello said...

Hey Merry, checking in to see if you had anything new! How's it going?

I too give stacks of books away every year. Which is why my husband gets such a look on his face when I come home with more books. But - how can I stop myself?