Like most shy, awkward children, my refuge was books. All bookworms know this joy. My mother, in an effort to get through those endless summers with 4 children, took us to the library frequently. We were allowed to take any books we liked – no guidance or interference – and the pleasure of a large stack of unread books remains the same to me now as it did then.
I love reading so much that it feels it must be a guilty pleasure, akin to watching Poldark or eating all the tortilla chips. Even in retirement, I find it difficult to allow myself the daytime indulgence of reading fiction. But, bedtime is fair game.
In 2007, mostly because I could not remember if I have read something or not, but also because I love Excel and have a touch of OCD, I started recording the books I read in a spreadsheet. In this time, I have recorded 294 books (well, 293 because I read Emma twice in spite of keeping a list.) I also began keeping a “to read” list on my phone so that I would never be stymied in the library or bookstore.
My interests range wide and far, but I am a sucker for beautiful, complex prose, for really long books and for tales about epic journeys.
I was recently scrolling through my book list an came across a few that I marked as “loved.” Here’s an early gift: 5 suggestions. These cover a wide range of genres, but each touched me in some way.
Lila – Marilynne Robinson. Part of the Gilead trilogy, but this stands alone. It is sad, but also warm. It is very thoughtful on organized religion vs. the religion that is the natural world. It is about love. I was sad when this book ended. The plot summary: a toddler (Lila) is saved from a worse fate by being kidnapped by a migrant worker (Doll) who serves as a surrogate mother. Via an epic journey, Lila lands, as a young adult, in a small Ohio town where she is taken in by the minister.
Casebook – Mona Simpson. I read Simpson’s first novel Anywhere But Here in my 20’s and it was an important read for me. I followed her career but lost track of her until I recently discovered this. A young boy and his pal, fancying themselves as spies, seek to discover the truth about his parent’s divorce. It is very witty in its mocking of California, and is warmly unsentimental in representing the minds of children. This one made me cry.
All the Little Live Things – Wallace Stegner. Written in 1967, with a plot line that sounds like the hippies vs. the establishment, I expected this book to be quite dated. Instead, I was drawn in by the realistic characters and the quiet intensity of the story. Stegner was a wonderful writer and this is a little known gem.
All the Living – C E Morgan – maybe a subcategory for books with “All the…” in the title? Need I mention All the Light We Cannot See? If you haven’t read it, do. If you have, try this. (Warning: they are nothing alike). This is a short, desolate but hopeful story about the drama and loneliness of farm life in the south.
Voyage of the Narwhal – Andrea Barrett – This is a great epic journey tale, albeit an ill-fated one. It sets in 1850’s and the voyage is to the arctic in search of scientific discovery. The gripping story of the the power or nature and the weakness of men makes for a satisfying page-turner.
Ok – those are 5 novels I can heartedly recommend. But, I must provide a bonus selection in homage to one our greatest parenting achievements. Yes, I married a constant reader and we have reared two dedicated readers. Neither of them would strike you as bookworms, but one of my favorite things is when they recommend a book to me. My daughter and I have similar tastes and I am frequently adding her selections to my list, but it was my son who provided one of the greatest achievements of my reading life. It’s over 1000 pages of difficult reading with over 100 pages of footnotes. No, it’s not War and Peace – that was a piece of cake. Sorry to do this to you, but the bonus pick is
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace. No writer nor any book has ever shouted “genius” and “masterpiece” as much as this. As a avid reader, I knew of it, but brushed it off as too weird (too long is never a deterrent). But if my son, a mere babe in book wonderland, could tackle it, I had to. Weird, indeed. But, so funny, so convoluted, so unique, so insightful, so difficult. Whole college classes are taught on this book, and it will take a semester to read it. What is it about, you ask? You might want to check wikipedia, but set in the near future, it is about tennis, addiction, politics, Quebec separatism, film-making and an entertainment so powerful that to view it is to literally die. This book has stayed with me and a started an on-going fascination with DFW and a recognition of Infinite Jest’s truths in daily life. And, yes, you need to read the footnotes to make sense of the story.
If anyone is aware of a board book form of Infinite Jest, I am looking for one for a certain future reader.