Well, apparently there’s something to be said about reading books in different phases of life. According to Laura, Catcher in the Rye is extremely poignant if you read it at the right stage. (I didn’t read it until after college and found it rambling and ridiculous.) I didn’t read Wuthering Heights until I was well along in my English major, and I adored it, while I know many who read it in high school found it abysmal.
I don’t think I had actually read The Saving Graces since early on in our marriage. The summer before we got married, my daddy’s best friend died from liver cancer at age 50 … and looking back, I think perhaps that affected my reading of the book more than anything.
At 29, I’ve struggled with infertility. I am married with two kids. I’ve held a job, I’ve wanted to be a writer, I’ve gone through some deep depressions. I might have too much in common with some of the characters now.
I was eager to reread my battered copy after I wrote about it this October. But in those water-stained and creased pages I found none of that original emotion. I shed no tears. I felt no real pull to the characters.
Too far away from a cancer experience? Too long without intimate women friendships? I don’t know.
I hate to recant my statements but in this case … I wouldn’t want anyone to buy the book, read it, and think I was nuts. Compared to most else of what I recommend to you, it’s just not my cup of tea anymore.
I think reading tastes change … and I think that is OK.
Are there any books that have led you to say, “What was I thinking?”
For starters, I need to apologize. I just lost steam on my 31 Days series and this week is very full for our family: two birthdays, in-law visits, parents’ weekend at the school, Halloween parties, birthday parties … I just don’t think I am making it past 26 days! I hope y’all enjoyed the reading posts and I am planning on one more post for Monday.
And with that said, here are some links I visited and loved recently:
I recently read The Book That Changed My Life. No, really. That’s the title! It’s an excellent collection of essays from writers ranging from Anne Lamott to John McCain to Frank McCourt. All share a book (or few books, for those who are like me and can’t make up their minds) that changed them.
It’s been sitting on my shelf for probably two years. I stocked up on books when I started using PaperBackSwap and as a result have spent the last year trying not to acquire any new books while I read the 200+ that I have. But now that I’ve read it, I’m sad I waited so long. As someone who loves chatting about books more than most things in life, reading this was like sitting down with a group of good friends and finding out their very favorite books of all time.
(Although I’m not sure I trust anyone whose life was changed by Catcher in the Rye. I just don’t get it, I guess.)
The Books That Changed My Life
I can’t pick one. Are you surprised? I would guess not if you’ve read any of my postsaboutbooks. But I can narrow them down to two: one that changed my reading and one that changed my writing.
I’ve waxed poetic about A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving before (see this post). I first read it for a creative writing class in high school–by far the best gift I received from that particular teacher. I had never been presented with a novel so intricate, one that was so incredibly thought-out.
I don’t know if Irving writes with such a detailed outline that he knows each and every event that will happen (Bird by Bird refutes that this actually happens, but I still wonder!), or that he goes back and tinkers with precision once he has determined his characters’ paths, but either way this book has such a sophisticated road to the end it takes my breath away. Above all else, it caused me to think about what I am writing and not just blab on in train-of-thought–although we all know I do that some too.
The book that changed my reading is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was in a 200 level English class entitled Great Novels with the lovely Susan Heroy. I was flip-flopping around about my major, having discovered that I would need more than a summer study abroad to obtain an International Studies major and not really wanting to go that route. Opening Garcia’s masterpiece led me on a wild goose chase. I scribbled in the book. I asked questions of my professor. I was fascinated by his use of mysticism, smells, colors.
Shortly after I closed the text, I decided to declare a major in English despite not having one class toward the major. I wanted to read more books like One Hundred Years of Solitude. I wanted to spend my time talking about them and writing about them with the hopes that one day I would write my own.
I have a small confession: I am a comfort reader. Whenever I am in an emotional mess, I turn to familiar books and read myself through the crisis. My favorite comfort-reading books are Echoes by Maeve Binchy, the Harry Potter books, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, and the Glenbrooke series.
My very ultimate comfort read, though? A short children’s chapter book called The Attic Mice.
Aren’t the illustrations charming? They were done by David Catrow, who has illustrated many books. These sketches are very unlike his newer illustrations, but were perfect for the antiquated charm of Ethel Pochowski’s short book.
From the precious Robert Southey poem used as an epithet to the mice performing a Christmas pageant in their spacious attic home, The Attic Mice is enchanting, delicious, and the perfect read-aloud.
But this book is a thousand times more special to me than just its contents. My uncle’s ex-wife, a children’s librarian and elementary-school teacher, gifted me the tome when I was in its correct age range. She always gave books, and they were always ones I’d never heard of but loved passionately.
I was in college when she and my uncle divorced; it broke me a little, because I hadn’t known it was coming at all. Any divorces on either side of my family had taken place before I was could remember them. All of my grandparents were living. This was the first time I was losing a family member, and I couldn’t do a thing about it.
Perhaps it was just the point in time, my junior year of college, where I was cramming in as many English major courses as possible while my best friend and confidant was studying abroad in England.
Either way, I grieved their relationship and my loss. And my sweet boyfriend, also known as Mr. V, just didn’t know what to do. Finally, I figured out a way he could help.
Is there an author that always manages to touch your heart, no matter what she or he writes?
That’s how I feel about Robin Jones Gunn.
I was really too old for them when I started reading the Christy Miller series. I think I was probably in college. It’s a 12-book series of skinny volumes; I could read the whole series in a day now. We follow Christy through her teenaged years, as she moves from Wisconsin to California, through the ins and outs of her (mild) teen angst, relationships, and love for God.
Sometimes a little too perfect, Christy still deals with all the normal aspects of being a teen: fighting with her parents, getting a part-time job, unrequited love, troubles with her friends.
Gunn really captures the essence of a teenager who grew up in the church but didn’t really know Jesus until she was older. Through the series, the central plot is God’s wooing of Christy and how that plays into her life.
After I read the Christy books, I immediately jumped in the Glenbrooke series, which is Christy for grown-ups. Real women, real problems, lots of romance with many different angles. Yes, they are romance books, but still the main point is about healing your relationship with God above all else.
It’s what makes Robin Jones Gunn just a little bit different. Her books aren’t just fluffy romance with a little church thrown in, like many Christian fiction books are. It’s obvious that her heart is to bring women of all ages closer to their Heavenly Father.
I’ll confess I find the Sisterchicks books a little more cheesy, but still something draws me to read everything Gunn writes. The Katie books, a spin-off involving Christy’s best friend, are pure fun and a delight to read. The Sierra books offer another look at Christy’s group of friends and a younger teen’s thoughts. (And I know Gunn has even written a children’s series, although I haven’t read any of those yet!)
Don’t you love it when your favorite author has a zillion books to read? It’s so convenient.
I liked them all in their own respect – I haven’t read a Chicken Soup book since high school, but someone gave this to me and it was sweet and a good reminder to savor every moment. Tam Lin is a little strange but a good read. But I adored the Gelman memoir.
After a bitter divorce, Gelman decides to sell everything and live as a nomad, with no permanent home. She writes of her travels around the world, including an extensive stay in Indonesia. But tonight, near the end of the book, she finally landed in Thailand, and it strummed up such good memories for me.
If you are new to my blog or don’t know me, in March 2006 I went to Thailand for two weeks with a group of Tennessee Baptists to help with tsunami relief as a part of an extended effort there. It was a phenomenal experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I made some good friends that I still keep in touch with. I met amazing and kind Thai people, painted their homes, spoke with national Thai Christians. And the food. It kills me to eat in a Thai restaurant here because the food is nowhere near as good as real Thai food. This passage in the book struck me especially:
“Lawn,” says Nark, holding a bowl of red sauce and adding some to his bowl. Then, in English, he says, “Hot. Thai like hot.”
“I do too,” I respond, spooning about the same amount into my soup along with marinated chilies and assorted leaves. I feel the heat on my lips, my throat, and all the way down. It is hotter than anything they serve in the U.S., but I’m determined to eat Thai food the Thai way. I only choke a little.
I learned quite quickly that if a Thai person says something is a little hot, I should stay FAR AWAY from it. I am extremely sensitive to spicy foods. I even packed my bags with tons of trail mix and snacks in case I couldn’t eat anything in Thailand without being sick. But the food was phenomenal. We helped cook our own breakfasts and dinners at our guesthouse, but lunch was cooked by the wife of a local squid farmer in authentic Thai-style. You haven’t tasted squid until it is fresh out of the ocean! And those chicken feet really add flavor to a soup.
I wonder sometimes if I will ever travel again like I have; I’ve been to China, Brazil, Thailand, the Dominican Republic. I love doing short-term missions and interacting with other cultures. I was a Chinese minor in college, and I know my language skills have gone down the tube. I long to be able to practice them again. But now I’ve entered this new phase as a mom. I’m excited right now to get to leave the house two days in a row.
It’s a new adventure. Where we don’t quite speak the same language, and this little one will have to adapt to my culture!