15 November 2010

What did I Read?

I thought maybe this week as we head into the release of the 7th Harry Potter movie, that it might be fun to look at what makes a book REALLY MEMORABLE.

The Harry Potter books obviously succeed on MANY levels... not least because they urge me to read them again and again, and repetition increases recall, but what OTHER books have you read that really stuck with you... you know... FOREVER.... And perhaps more importantly... WHY? So here are some of the truly memorable reads I've had... (chronologically, because that is how my brain is organized).


Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: My mom read this to me my first time, but I think I've read it twice on my own. It's funny, as I age, how my preference for sisters has morphed. As a 9-year old, I liked the petulant Amy, though it was Beth who moved me... sickly and weak, but wise. It's clear as an adult that Jo is the real heroine, but I think my draw to this story is the SISTER tale. I was an only child, and I think I fell in love with this interdependence—being able to lean, but being leaned on in turn.

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain: This is another I read with my mom first, and then read alone (I've even read this one to both my kids). This tale is fabulous, because you don't NEED to know it is important to enjoy it, but it IS important—perhaps less obviously than Huckleberry Finn, but it gives us a slice of history (a not always pretty history) with truth and humor. Mark Twain will always be a favorite of mine.

The Shining, Stephen King: I loved the paranormal piece of this... a hotel as an entity, causing people (and ghosts) to do things... the evil underneath... This book was really the single work that made me a READER. I mean... I could read, obviously, but the kind of girl who carried her book along with what was needed between classes and rushed in and opened my book while everyone was getting sorted...

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens: I struggled through this—it was required reading when I was a freshman in high school, but this book has the best beginning lines and the best ending lines in literature, and in reality, the story itself is quite elegant. I think Dickens takes a little sophistication, language-wise—but it is simply a matter of how language has changed and it takes a little while to fall into it. I've fallen in love with other Dickens' tales over the years, most notably David Copperfield (a character who, oddly enough, was Daniel Radcliffe's first acting role, but I digress).


The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas: OH, this is a good tale! Betrayal, revenge, intrigue... I think this is the best example I can think of of a REALLY elegant PLOT.

I remember Five Smooth Stones and The Fountainhead holding important places for me here, but barely remember the plot for either—they were more philosophical prods than memorable books...

All of the above books I read before I finished high school. There are a lot of great books since then, but I think the power may be definable at this point. The books that stuck with me from childhood—more than 30 years in some cases, were all written by people who have lasted as household names. In fact, only Stephen King is contemporary, but even with King, one can hardly argue people don't know who he is. He is the leading man of a certain genre and probably will not be dethroned in his lifetime, or even after.

I have fallen in love with other classics: War and Peace, Les Miserables, Don Quixote... and other nearer contemporaries... Lolita, The Poisonwood Bible, The Drifters, Jitterbug Perfume... I think, though, it is of note that among my list is no author who was a one-shot wonder... I suspect there is a deep resonance of voice that has caused me to truly love—that unique sound that tells us who is speaking, and begs us to continue... As a writer that is encouraging and discouraging at once... in the positive, it seems that if we are true to ourselves, we are more likely to have that voice that continues to come through, but in the negative... think how many hundreds of books I've read that didn't quite stick...

So who are the voices who ring true to you?


Little Women Permission
Tom Sawyer Permission
Don Quixote Permission

11 comments:

Chary Johnson said...

Some voices that really resonate with me are:

1. Down These Mean Streets- Piri Thomas. It was the first book that I read in which I truly identified with.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee. I remember really being into social change and this book was social change incarnate.

3. Are You There God, It's Me Margaret- Judy Blume. This book helped me through many of those awkward pre-adolescent years.

I have so many more but will leave you with those . . . for now. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

For me my signpost books were :

BEAU GESTE - it was the beginning of my young reading group (The League of Five) that followed it with Fu Manchu and Sherlock Holmes.

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Verne -- I was the young boy with the heroes on that strange island with the extraordinary ending with Captain Nemo.

LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelazny -- that showed me prose could be both poetry and epic adventure at the same time.

What an excellent post you wrote.

LTM said...

Yep, Little Women was one of the first books I read, and I loved it. Still remember it. Still can't believe Jo didn't end up w/Laurie. :D

Poisonwood Bible... OH MAN. What a great book. LOVE it.

I don't know if there's one particular voice that rings true to me, but I do love a great, moving story! :o) <3

Cold As Heaven said...

I would say Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Henrik Ibsen, Jean Genet, Thomas Bernhard and Jens Bjørneboe. All of them were writers with strong and characteristic voices.

I never liked Harry Potter (nor Lord of the Rings), but that's probably because I don't like the genre, so it's probably more correct to say that the books don't interest me. From the little I've read (with he kids), there's no doubt JKR is a good writer.

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Chary-Those Judy Blume ones were pretty good at a certain age, weren't they?

Roland--love that--that language can be both poetic and tell a great tale!

Leigh *snort* Oh, sure... focus on the romance! I think as I was older, that was the strength I saw... that a man won't give you happily ever after--you have to make your own.

CaH--not a fantasy guy, eh? My husband, either. I think a lot of men really aren't. They ARE great though.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Wow, such a tough question. It seems like everything I read had something that rings for me.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I read and reread Little Women and Jane Eyre in 7th grade. In high school I was stuck in Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye.

ciaraknight said...

Little Woman! Also, one of the books that stayed with me throughout life is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It was powerful and not for the weak of heart.
Of course, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are fantastic!

Songsnwords said...

Most of the books you mentioned are my favourites too...
One's that really touched me : Oliver Twist and Mill On the Floss....maybe reading tragic moments as a 12/15 yr old leaves a indelible impression...I loved P.G. Wodehouse (not his Jeeves series and O. Henry too.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Twins again!
I loved Little Women, and precisely for the reason you mention.
I read that about the time I read a whole bunch of other 'classics' but I am not sure I remember much of the rest of them- somehow, at that age Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and David Copperfield manage to merge into a single entity.

I was a bit older when I read To Kill a Mockingbird- probably the best book I've read. And at around the same time I read To Sir with Love, and have never forgotten that line "live, mind you. Not survive, dragging your soul like a worn out coat behind me."

There must be others, but am too gob smacked to think :-(

Anu said...

Good one!! my list is almost the same as yours,..,, except that i haev read ittle women countless number of times and somehow it is Jo who has always been the one who i identified with! all the charles dickens books are next on the list.... and fountainhead makes the list too,,,

among others, i would add Gerald Durrell and James Herriot... and Of course, my all time favourites whom i read even now - Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie!