As anyone who has ever met me for 30 seconds could tell you, I love to read. Usually I read book only if someone has recommended it to me. I can only think of twice off the top of my head that I bought a book I had heard nothing about and LOVED it. One is Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. It’s about the life of a Hawaiian girl named Rachel Kalama who contracts leprosy when she’s seven and is sent to Moloka’i, an island where the government actually sent lepers in the 1890s through the 1940s or so. She lives her whole life on this island, and the novel is about her coming to terms with her disease and the family she makes while on the island. It was touching and beautifully written.
Also, I randomly picked up I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the woman who created 101 Dalmations. I Capture the Castle is the diary of a seventeen-year-old girl in the windswept plains of England who lives in a ruined castle with her famous author father with writer’s block, her nudist stepmother, and her vain, unhappy sister. The main character, Cassandra Mortmain (dead hand, get it?) writes these funny and poignant diary entries about her life and her observations. That sounds boring but it’s incredibly charming and engaging. This book inspired me to begin keeping a journal because it showed me a completely different way of journaling than the boring “This is what I did today; these are my lame feelings” thing. But those two books are the exception to the rule — usually if I pick up a book I’ve never heard anything about, it sucks. (I lied — I didn’t pick this book up randomly; I now remember that I picked it up because it had a quote from J.K. Rowling on the cover.)
The most foolproof way of ensuring I won’t waste my time reading a crappy book is to get books directly from other people, usually Jacqueline, my mom, and Sadia. (I gave Moloka’i to my mom but I don’t think she’s read it yet. Tsk, tsk, Mom.) That’s how I read one of the best books of all time (and I’m not exaggerating about that, Blair), The Thirteenth Tale — Mom and Jacqueline read it and said I absolutely must read it, so read it I did. And they were right. If anyone asks me for a book recommendation, I always tell them to read The Thirteenth Tale. Jacqueline lent me Harry Potter after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, and we all know how that went down. Sadia lends me a lot of books. Right now I’ve got her copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and her copy of V for Vendetta, both of which I’m halfway through. A few months ago she lent me The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, two young adult fantasy novels written in the 1980s. The Blue Sword was nominated for a Newbery Award and The Hero and the Crown, which is the prequel to The Blue Sword, won it in 1985. And Ryan lent me Watchmen a while ago and I’ve got his copy of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and From Hell. (Can you tell I recently discovered graphic novels?)
Although now that I’m sitting at my dining room table looking at my bookshelves, I’m realizing that not all the books I’ve read were recommended. Really only about half were. Other books I picked up because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about — Twilight (so help me God), Wicked (which I read before I listened to the musical, and it led me to read everything else Gregory Maguire has ever written), The Other Boleyn Girl and its sequels, one of which I haven’t read yet. Or I picked it up because I liked the cover (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The stark black and white cover with the antiquated typeface pretty much made me buy it on the spot.). Others, like The Eyre Affair, I can’t remember why I picked up, but I’m glad I did.
Next on my to-read list is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. My dad actually called me to tell me I had to read this book, which has never happened before, then gave it to me when I went home for Christmas. All right, Dad, you got it.
And now we come to the large list of books on my bookshelf that I have acquired from various sources and not yet read. I have them all in a particular section of my bookshelves so if I ever run out of reading material I can go straight to that section and pick up something I haven’t read yet.
- Rincewind the Wizzard by Terry Prachett
- A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- The World According to Garp by John Irving
- Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (started this a while ago, not very far in)
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
- The Stranger by Albert Camus
- And a lot more not really worth listing.
Not to mention the kajillion books I’m in the middle of reading right now.
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I cannot put down
- Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, a fun book about the myriad origins of English
- PPZ as mentioned above
- V for Vendetta as mentioned above
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- A History of God by Karen Armstrong
- I’m sure there are more but I’m lazy and don’t feel like finding them.
When I read a book, I’m not just passing the time. I’m auditioning a story, a set of characters, and the feelings the book evokes to become a part of my consciousness. If I love a book, it becomes my friend; if it has been a very good friend to me, I will revisit it from time to time to say hello. And just like proximity to my human friends helps nourish our friendships, proximity to my books helps keep them alive inside me.
And that is why I will lug my books around with me the rest of my life.