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 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 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 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.
The 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 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 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 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 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*
Walden, 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.”
Unbroken, 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!