The Ones That Have Stayed With Me

Last week, a fun meme was rolling around on social media to list ten books that have stayed with you. Usually the book that is most “with me” is the one I’m reading right now, but the more I thought about it, the longer my list became. Isn’t that what a great book is supposed to do—stay with you? It was hard to narrow this down, but here is my abbreviated list, in no particular order.

 

 

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. For me, this is the definitive book on race relations in the South. I’ve been wanting to reread this one.

 

 

 

 

a walk in the woodsA Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. Julia Monroe Martin had this book on her list, and I couldn’t agree more. This was my first introduction to Bill Bryson’s writing, and now I’m a Bryson completist. I would read a phone book written by him. He taught me how to take a simple scene (let’s say, oh, walking in the woods) and expand it gently like a ball of dough until it becomes large enough for a pizza crust without tearing.

 

 

 

 

Brooklyn, by Colm ToibinBrooklyn, by Colm Toibin. I know what you’re thinking, but this didn’t make my list just because a good chunk of the story is set in my city. Toibin has a subtlety that so many writers lack and that so many editors try to discourage. Eilis Lacey is a character who sneaks up on you. I found myself not wanting to put this book down and thinking about Eilis even when I wasn’t reading. Then I found myself reading slowly because I didn’t want the story to end. Look for the movie coming out in 2015, screenplay by Nick Hornby.

 

 

 

accidental touristThe Amateur Marriage, or Breathing Lessons, or The Accidental Tourist, or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant or nearly anything, by Anne Tyler. Talk about subtlety. In an Anne Tyler story, you’ll be hard pressed to describe the plot or the characters because they are so complex, so nuanced, it’s easier to just read the book than to explain it to someone. (Kind of like real life.) You’ll swear that you know people like Macon Leary and Michael and Pauline Anton and Maggie Moran. Because you probably do.

 

 

 

Suite FrancaiseSuite Francaise, by Irene Nemivrosky. This book taught me how to write with compassion and empathy. Nemivrosky died in a concentration camp during WWII. She was writing this as the events of the war unfolded and left the manuscript for her children to discover decades later. Sometimes it takes years to digest such tumultuous events, and it amazes me how she was able to write such evenhanded prose.

 

 

 

bird by birdBird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Thank you, Ms. Lamott, for letting us know that it’s okay to write shitty first drafts, and for reminding us to forge ahead bird by bird. Bonus: The Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett. And thank you, Ms. Patchett for this: “Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

 

 

 

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCannTransAtlantic, by Colum McCann.  This novel sweeps back and forth in time and points of view, but always with the theme of crossing the Atlantic between North America and Ireland. At first these seem like individual short stories, but Colum McCann weaves the stories together so expertly that coming upon the connection was a delightful a-ha moment.

 

 

 

 

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. I’m not a big fan of dystopian fiction. Sure the concept might be far-fetched, but it’s also juuussst realistic enough to keep me awake at night.The Age of Miracles poses a very simple question with very complex (and disastrous) answers: What would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed so much that each day became more than 60 hours long? Bonus: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Double bonus: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. *shudders*

 

 

 

waldenWalden, by Henry David Thoreau. If you’re a regular around these parts, this one comes as no surprise. “Part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for living simply.”

 

 

 

 

UnbrokenUnbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. If I wrote a novel with exactly the same plot, critics would call it unbelievable, but this is the true story of Louis Zamperini. A track-and-field Olympian enlists in the air force, gets shot down by Japanese planes over the Pacific Ocean, survives months at sea in shark-infested waters only to be rescued by a Japanese navy vessel, is put into a POW camp under atrocious conditions, and years later returns to forgive his captors. On a sad note: Louis Zamperini died this July at age 97.

 

 

 

What are some of your most memorable reads? What are you reading now? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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41 comments

  1. Thanks for the shout out Jackie — I think I need to reread A Walk in the Woods now that I’ve been thinking about it so much. I share To Kill A Mockingbird on my list and Walden could’ve made it as well. You’ve been talking about The Age of Miracles ever since you read it and Transatlantic sounds amazing. (Well everything does… and they’ve been added to my list) What a great idea to write a blog about it so you can elaborate, love it!

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    1. This was a fun way to think about the books that have made a real impact on me. Some books I enjoy, but they pass out of my consciousness quickly. These are some titles that I’ve been thinking about since I’ve finished.
      I hope you read Age of Miracles and enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

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  2. Loved To Kill a Mockingbird. Have read some Bryson but not that one! I’ll put it on my list. There’s a book called ‘Room’ that’s still hanging around my head. Also, We Need to Talk about Kevin. Chilling.

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  3. I am a compulsive reader with very selective, albeit low-brow, tastes. When I find an author I like, I read his/her stuff over and over and over. I rarely venture into new authors because I’m weird like that. Thank you for the list – I’m going to try out some of these.

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  4. Unbroken is on my list to read, I want to read it before the movie comes out in December, which looks like it’s going to be good! And just to get all historian on you, I have to point out that the Air Force didn’t exist in WWII, so he was in the Army Air Corps; always have to remind the Air Force where they came from.

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    1. Ahh, thanks for that clarification! I”m sure that is correct in the book — it was just a distinction I never realized.
      I think you’ll really enjoy Unbroken. There were some parts that were difficult from an emotional standpoint, but well worth the read. When you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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      1. Ya I’ve heard that’s it’s a tough read, but a good one. I’m planning on reading it before December when the movie comes out. A bunch of books I have pre-ordered come out in the next week or two, so after that I’m going to attack Unbroken!

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  5. I’ve only read To Kill a Mockingbird once, over forty years ago. My brother recommended it and I loved it. I am sure I would love it as much, maybe even more now. The next time I’m looking for a book to read, I’ll refer to this list. Thanks!

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  6. I love this meme, Jackie. I also posted mine today. Bird by Bird was one of my picks as well. Age of Miracles proved to be a great dystopian read too. Enjoyed reading your list.

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    1. Thanks, Rudri. I had the good fortune to hear the author of Age of Miracles speak at a book festival. She said she was inspired to write this story because she’d learned that the earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami actually slowed the earth’s rotation by one-half second. Then she was off and running with her story.
      I’m heading over to read your list now.

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  7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is at the top of my list too, Jackie, along with Crime and Punishment. I read that when I was in high school and it has stayed with me for decades.
    Several of your choices are on my TBR list. 🙂

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  8. I’m a huge Bill Bryson fan and have an entire shelf-full of his books. He is a delight. I might not travel much, but seeing places through his eyes is so much fun!

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  9. Duuuuuuude I think every author here would fall in love with you for giving them such high praise. I’m interested in the Unbroken novel. I got some info on Zamperini from an alumni newsletter that highlighted his life, then the book comes out, then Jolie directs the movie? Duuuuude on my to-do list. Brooklyn also caught my eye, Hornby writing screenplay must be a gooooood book. Very cool post … to narrow it down to just those few must have tough. The all time one that has to be on my list is The Alchemist. Duuuude got me thinking of my own list. 😉

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    1. Oh, I love The Alchemist too! That’s a great pick. It’s a book I’ve given to people as gifts. Such a simple story, but so powerful! It’s high time I read it again. Thanks for the reminder.

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  10. Checked out Anne Tyler today from the library. She is one author I’ve been meaning to read; your post nudged me to do it. Good list. I highly recommend Boys in the Boat.

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    1. I so hope you love her stories as much as I do. You can’t go wrong with any Anne Tyler book, but I think my favorite was The Accidental Tourist. Such quirky characters, but so heartfelt.

      We are so on the same page. Would you believe that someone gave me Boys in the Boat recently?

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      1. I took out Back a When We Were Grown ups.
        Boys in the Boat has to be the most requested book at the library. My other half even said it was the best book he’s listened to in a long time.

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  11. To Kill a Mockingbird is at the top of my list too! And Laura Hillenbrand is one my favorites as well. Have you read Andre Schwarz Bart’s book, The Last of the Just? It was written during the WWII era and won many awards in the 1940’s. It’s sad that it’s been overlooked by readers today. Very powerful, like Nemivrovky’s Suite Francaise.

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  12. Love all Bill Bryson books, especially the one set in the UK, ‘Notes from a Small Island’. His descriptions of us English folk are spot on! I’ve been meaning to get the Anne Lamott book for ages so I will get on to that straightaway 🙂

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  13. This is a great list! I haven’t read most of them. I’ll have to remember them the next time I’m looking for a book to read! It’s amazing how they stick with you.
    I’ve been on a classics binge. The Road, On the Road, Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies. I’m reading the Goldfinch which will probably be considered a classic some day.

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    1. Oh, The Road! I should have added that one to my list also. I found it haunting and beautiful in its own way. If you like the dystopian nature of that story, I bet you’ll enjoy The Age of Miracles.

      I’ve heard wonderful things about The Goldfinch. Keep me posted on your thoughts when you finish.

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