The One with the Books of My Life

Books help me live a passionate life. I’m surrounded by them all day, every day. I have stacks of books on my nightstand, on my office bookshelves, in my backpack. On weekends, I spend time at the library and in my neighborhood bookstore. I subscribe to newsletters about books and follow bloggers who write about books. And I never tire of them. It’s one of the few interests I have that has spanned most of my life. So I was intrigued by a popular magazine’s feature story about how hobbies can define our lives. Insert your hobby and think about how you would you answer these questions.

 

My favorite childhood booksNancy Drew
The Nancy Drew series. A girl detective. Right on!

A book I read in secret
Judy Blume’s Forever. There was one contraband copy in my school, which was passed around with all the “important” pages dogeared for easy reference. Now, of course, that book is tamer than a Robin Thicke video.

The books I’ve read over and over
I return to these books because I learn something new each time I read them, but more specifically I learn something new about myself.  Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman

A classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
Oh good Lord, but Moby-Dick. I’ve tried. I really have. But the moment after I read “Call me Ishmael” I close the cover. Every time.

A book I consider to be overrated
I hate to call any book overrated. Some books just don’t speak to me personally (see: Moby-Dick), but they still have value. But if you’re going to twist my arm: Ulysses. I wonder what all the fuss is about. I know. I’m in the minority.

brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

 

The books I wish I’d written
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. His prose is clean and straight-forward. Each word is so carefully chosen. He’s not pulling any gimmicky funny business. And yet… it’s riveting. The characters take center stage and their world slowly builds around you while you’re reading. Before you know it, you’re enveloped in it and you don’t even know how it happened. And all I want to know is, how? How does he do it? I’ve got Nora Webster on my shelf and I’m both excited and nervous to open the cover.

 

The novels people might be surprised to learn I love
I enjoy the irreverent Jeeves. I don’t usually go in for slapstick comedy and general buffoonery, but the Jeeves-Wooster combination is pure fun. I highly recommend the audio versions of the Jeeves books. There’s something about the cadence of Wodehouse’s words that are even better when read aloud.

The last book that made me laugh…and the last one that made me cry
Oh, David Sedaris. You had me at hello.

I’ve gotten teary in certain bittersweet sections of Me Before You and Eleanor & Park (both wonderful reads), but I needed to keep a tissue handy for Between Shades of Grayby Ruta Sepetys, a story about keeping hope alive when all else is lost.

My favorite movie versions of books
I’m usually in the book-was-better-than-the-movie camp. That said, I thought The Book Thief, Atonement, and Brokeback Mountain were very good adaptations. Can I list To Kill a Mockingbird again?

What I’m reading right now
Graham Swift’s Booker Prize-winning Last Orders. about four men who are charged with scattering their friend’s ashes at sea. I’m still getting to know the characters

Why I read
Reading is an act of empathy. That’s true of bad vampire fiction and experimental beat prose and Swedish thrillers. It connects us to each other by conversations just like this one through the universality of common human experiences.

“We read to know that we are not alone.” — C.S. Lewis

 

Do you have any lifelong hobbies? How has it defined your life? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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45 comments

  1. Great post! ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is an amazing book 🙂 I’ve never read any Joyce either – I bought a book of short stories to ease myself into him; didn’t get past page 4. Don’t tell anyone 😉

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  2. We met online at BEA, where we met Colm Toibin for the signing of NORA WEBSTER. I haven’t read it yet either, but fell in love with his prose in THE MASTER. Your post is pushing me to read BROOKLYN very soon. Thanks for that, and for your wonderful take on things. Lorraine

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    1. Hi Lorraine! So nice to hear from you. I haven’t read The Master yet, but I know I plan to read it after Nora Webster. On your recommendation, I also have Painted Horses on my nightstand. I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Up next is All the Light We Cannot See. Have you read any of Elena Ferrante’s novels? I’ve heard very good things about her writing style.

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      1. Hi Jackie,

        I’m reading Nora Webster right now. Your comments about Brooklyn ring true here too.
        All the Light You Cannot See is amazing, prose and story. If you’re up for something that flows, touches your heart, but not WWII heavy, Michael Nichol’s Us is charming. Haven’t read Ferrante. Love your postings. Happy Thanksgiving. Lorraine

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      2. Thank you for the update on Nora Webster. I’m so glad it’s living up to expectations.
        Is this the same Nichols who wrote One Day? I read that a few years ago and enjoyed it.
        Happy Thanksgiving to you as well. Enjoy!

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  3. Oh no. I started to write the list but realized some of the hobbies have sadly (adverb inserted) been put aside for tamer things. Age and ability to heal from trauma within a reasonable time frame are contributing factors. Reading though, has always been high on that list and remains. As I now write more I read different things. More researchy things and not just fun or interesting things. My reading is more directed toward producing my fiction.
    I confess I never spent much time on the classics or fluffily (love that made up word) prose. I guess I spent too much time out among the citizens in their best and worst moments. I’ll leave the finer things to others.

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    1. Luckily reading is one hobby that we can continue to do well into advanced years. I love that I’ll be able to keep it up for a lifetime. There are so many good books out there.
      Do you read a lot of crime fiction? Do you have any books that you would recommend for a novice reader like myself?

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      1. In my early career I read Joseph Waumbaugh but stopped reading about crime as I was knee deep in the real thing. Later in life I picked it back up again along with all the other fiction, biography and historical stuff. I like John Sandford, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, even Tom Clancy (his main character’s dad was a Baltimore detective) because of the way he inserted back story into his novels. Any author who writes good but flawed good guys and believable bad guys. I can be thrown off by bad technical or procedural things but hey, even the best real life cops do stupid things. I should know.

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  4. Loved this. I had the same experience with Forever only it was my copy that was read by half the junior high. I convinced my mom to buy it. She was pretty liberal minded but I’m not sure she really knew the details of this book. A “popular girl” who normally never spoke to me asked to borrow it in homeroom and then I saw it in the hands of various girls but I never had the guts to ask for it back. I listed it on Goodreads as an “Unofficial sex ed book” =)

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  5. My lifelong passion is film. I added theater to the roster about ten years ago. I’ve easily seen 400 plays in that time (ushering one tomorrow afternoon, might see one with Milton tomorrow night and we have tickets to two more next week; it helps to have a friend who is a fellow theater-whore). About books that are adapted into film: I agree with you that “Brokeback Mountain” was very good. I would add to that list The Silence of the Lambs and Away From Her, a film based on a short story written by Alice Munro called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. That film of that story, adapted and directed by Sarah Polley (she was nominated for an Academy Award for adapted screenplay), impressed me so much that I saw it twice. Unlike you, I am not a much of a book reader but I have read The New Yorker for close to thirty years. They published both Brokeback and Bear.

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    1. I know plays for you are like books for me. How great that you can usher and see a play at the same time. I have two work friends who do the same. Good news that I got tickets for The King and I — for 7 months from now. 😛

      I think one reason “Brokeback Mountain” was a good adaptation is because the screenplay nearly matches the short story word for word. Really, when you have an author like Annie Proulx, there’s no need to go tinkering with the dialogue. I’ve read several of Alice Munro’s short stories, but not “Bear.” I’ll add it to my list. Thanks for the suggestion.

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      1. Milton and I are seeing K&I May. We wanted the best seats we could get. On Saturday I ushered “Grand Concourse” at Playwrights Horizons. I highly recommend it. Tonight, we’re seeing “Disgraced” and Thursday, “Sideshow”. We’re psyched!

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  6. I never tire of books and I absolutely love sharing reads with people. It’s a special feeling sharing a story. Great post. Your local bookstore looks like a nice place to hangout. Now I’m going to think about how I would answer these questions. Have a good weekend.

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    1. I think giving a book is one of the best gifts. Sometimes I worry that the recipient won’t like it as much as I did. (There’s no accounting for taste. 😉 ) But I like to have conversations about stories and books, especially with other people who love reading them as much as I do.
      I was at my neighborhood bookstore yesterday. Right across the street is a fun coffee shop, so it’s great way to spend a couple of hours.

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  7. Jackie–How beautifully you express this: “Reading is an act of empathy. That’s true of bad vampire fiction and experimental beat prose and Swedish thrillers. It connects us to each other by conversations just like this one through the universality of common human experiences.” That is so true. The act of reading helps us understand that in our struggles to understand ourselves and our place in the world we are not alone. –Patti

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    1. So well said, Patti. Whether I’m reading about a boy floating down the Mississippi River or a woman in the Amazon jungle, there is that universality that connects us. That’s why, to me, there is nothing false about fiction.

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  8. Jackie: I absolutely adored this meme and loved your answers. We share many similarities:
    I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, I’ve read and reread Walden and I am not a Herman Melville fan (just can’t get past the first few pages with any of his stories/novels). David Sedaris is hilarious. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him in person and he does not disappoint.

    P.S. I am considering doing this meme myself (with credit to you, of course:)

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  9. A friend of mine recently asked me if I get lonely because The Better Half works so much and I responded, “No, I love to read.” I love the quote by Lewis. And Atticus says yes, you can list To Kill a Mockingbird as many times as you want. I have many fond memories of sitting in my rocking chair way back in the day reading Nancy Drew. I can’t remember any of the stories, but just show me a cover and I get nostalgic.

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    1. Thanks, Att! I’ll take that as a rousing endorsement. He has very discriminating taste. Is To Kill a Mockingbird is on your movie list? I can’t remember if you reviewed it already. I hope so. It’s hard to get enough of Gregory Peck.

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  10. I LOVE this post! So much book goodness. I have never read Moby Dick so we can be in that good company together. And I know every person under the sun loved The Book Thief but I could not wrap my mind around the concept of the narrator. Have never gone beyond the first chapter. Can I still see the movie?

    Yes to Forever! Highlighted and passed around to friends.

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    1. Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I think the movie of The Book Thief might have been better than the book in that the narrative flowed more easily. The narrator of the book was a bit odd for me to wrap my mind around. So, yes, see the movie!

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  11. We have very similar taste, Jackie. I laughed out loud at your comments on Moby Dick because I feel the same way. I got past the first page this year and thought “this is the year!” Nope.
    Currently reading All the Light We Cannot See and loving it.
    A Man Called Ove made me weep, but I loved the story.

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  12. I recently finished A Walk In The Woods based on your recommendation, and loved it. I’ll tackle Brooklyn next.
    Also loved Jeeves and really liked what Hugh Laurie did with the series on the small screen.
    I just read your Iceland post – my daughter is going with a friend at the end of this week! Sounds like a fascinating place.

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    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed A Walk in the Woods. I’ll read anything written by Bill Bryson. If you’d like to enjoy another of his travel narratives, check out In a Sunburned Country, about his trips to Australia. Talk about laugh out loud!

      Your daughter is very brave for going to Iceland at this time of year! We went in June. I hope she gets to see the Northern Lights. That would be amazing.

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    1. I just finished Last Orders. Graham Swift has a gift with language. It was fascinating how he nailed the cadence of the way people speak and how that translated into meaning. What they say almost becomes less important than how they say it. I’ll be interested to get your thoughts on it.
      Thanks for stopping by Lindsey!

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  13. I love this post! And am a bit envious at your to read list, I really need to get my reading back on! Since having kids it’s really gone downhill.

    I adore Colm Toiban but haven’t read Brooklyn yet (silly in a way since I just moved from there). His prose is so beautiful.

    Reading has been my lifelong passion, and nothing rivals it.
    -Dana

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    1. Have you had a chance to read Colm Toibin’s latest book, Nora Webster? I can’t wait to get to open the cover on that novel. I live in Brooklyn also, maybe that’s why his last book caught my eye. 🙂 Where did you live in Brooklyn?

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