Friday, May 29, 2009

Name Fifteen Books in 15 minutes!

Originally uploaded by jhhymas
My nephew challenged me to name 15 books that stick with me (think fast!) and challenge 15 other people on Facebook. Well, it took me half an hour (which was This Blog time) and I want to talk about some of the titles, so I'm challenging YOU (wherever you are) and he gets his answer here, as follows:

The Little White Indian Boy; given to me at age 11 by my parent's friends when I started it while babysitting for them. I think they got it from the Book of the Month Club. It started my fascination with Indian Captivity Narratives, which endures to this day.

Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White which began my fascination with books about little people. (See The Borrowers, etc.)
Also a model of excellent writing.

Stuart Little/Charlotte's Web I think now that Charlotte's Web is the better book and an enduring classic, but true to my fascination with the SMALL, for years I preferred Stuart.

Gone with the Wind, which I read in one sitting far into the night about age 12 and rewrote the ending for YEARS!

Kristin Lavransdatter; this one took me all night (it's a trilogy) and I got up at 6:30 and went to high school. The impressive remembered thing (for this reader) was the handful of books (five, seven?) owned by this entire family in the Middle Ages.

The three perfect short novels (a previously assembled list) (not one superfluous or awkward word!) are:
The Life of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis,
The Hessian by Howard Fast and
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

The Shipping News--every odd person and word a delight, and completely unlike anything I knew.

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme
also Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America both by John Keegan. I am still reading this military historian after seeing him on CSPAN's In Depth. These are quite short and perfect books, which gave me the ability to think about wars with balanced and factual information I never had before. You will never be the same, if you read the Face of Battle!

Cadillac Desert; the American West and its disappearing water, by Marc Reisner. Of all the ecology books, this really made me see how all life is interrelated. It opened my eyes in the way Silent Spring did for an earlier generation.

Father and Son by Edmund Gosse; a son's recounting of a dysfunctional relationship--really puts the nail in the coffin of unbending religion which comes before all else.

Now we have entered the biography/memoir zone:

Grant by Jean Edward Smith. A fantastic recreation of the life of the General and President, never dull, allowing opinions and conclusions to be stated, and recreating the life of an era.

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

John James Audubon; the making of an American by Richard Rhodes

A life of Picasso (3 vols. so far) by John Richardson

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
The River of Doubt; Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
and Theodore Rex all these books on TR are good, can't choose.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wild Swans; three daughters of China

Party in the Blitz by Elias Canetti

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Bells in Winter by Czeslaw Milosz is my favorite book of poems but I've had to leave the rest of the poetry off this list. It will require another post.

Have You Read 100 Great Books? I haven't dared to make a final count, but the list has more than 15. This is the book that started it all, an oversized paperback that I had in my teen years. It was assembled by asking 100 (?) of the famous, educated and smart to list their best 100 books. Then a master list was assembled of the 100 most-cited books. I made it my goal to read all of these. I had the most trouble with The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which I cannot claim to have finished. I also had trouble with Of Human Bondage and David Copperfield, maybe because the male protagonists were silly about women, if in different ways. But I read all the others and was quite proud of having done so. It was probably the first big goal I set for myself that had no relation to what others might plan or suggest for me, or indeed to anyting sensible or useful . . . Good night, for tonight!!


  1. When I think about it, in my shorter lifetime so far, I don't even think I could whip up a total of 15 books. I'll throw out the titles I can think of though.

    Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman; One of my favorite books to date, I was at a Costco, browsing through the books and saw it for like $5.99. I read the back snippet, and said sure, why not! Since then, I've read the book so many times, I couldn't tell you what the count is. It's a book that has everything in it, from love, to gambling, and everything in-between.

    Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; this was one of the first books I remember reading during elementary. It was a story of overcoming adversity, that really caught me.

    Epitaph by James Siegel; This was the first book I read, that really sent me on my way to be a writer. I remember reading his writing, and it intrigued me. His writing form was something I had never seen before! Many of his sentences were one word phrases, and that astounded me! I had been taught to follow structure, with full sentences, and he blew that all away.

    Those are the main books that really stick out in my mind right now.

    I really enjoyed your list though, and I shall be looking forward to whatever your next blog contains!

  2. There are several things about this list I find really interesting. One is that our overlap is the Keegan, which wouldn't have been my guess if I'd have guessed one at all.

    I had Copperfield on my list and took it off to put the Merton on. I love it, but as a cartoon of how odd life is, and an amusing confection of writing.

    One of the things that I took from it was how stupid he was about women, and how cartoon his relations were. Especially when I later learned how autobiographical much of that was. And I remember how enamored dad was of Micawber - he took great joy in my discovering him.

    I also had issues with what poetry to include. In the end I deferred it except for Shakespeare and the Kirby. And Kirby is there more as a milestone. Before that book I was in a very diff place (Paz, Neruda, Sexton, Donne were my keys) and I at least associate it with a big taste shift, or at least broadening that happened right about then (McDonald, Collins, Wakoski, reassessing Stevens)

  3. I have not read a single one of your books. I am putting several of them on my list, now!

  4. War and Peace-recommended by mother and it took me the whole 9th grade to finish it

    The Secret Garden-the first book given to me by my mother

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes-given to me by a wonderful English teacher in 10th grade

    Things Fall Apart-the story just threw me

    Tess of Duberville-This story still gets me...the plight of women

    All Quiet on the Western Front--I knew I hated war

    Confessions of Nat Turner--the first time I understood the plight of Afro-Americans

    The Bell Jar--Helped me through my own depression

    Portrait of a Lady--when I realized the money can actually be harmful and that people can actually be harmful

    Manic--a memoir of a woman with Bipolar Disorder-I realized I was more fortunate than I thought

    Ariel-Sylvia Plath

    Leaves of Grass-Walt Whitman

    Kite Runner--spoke to me in so many ways

    The Portrait of Dorian Gray--what a fascinating story!

    Metamorphosis-Kafka--scary as it sounds, I related to the story

    She Walks in Beauty-Shakespeare


    Has it been 15 yet?

    I'm nobody-Emily Dickinson

    Octavio Paz-I can't remember the title of the poem, but I love to read it in's so beautiful!

    I could keep going for a while, but I shall stop here. This was so much fun! I wasn't sure I could do it, but once I started, it came flooding out!

    Have a great weekend!

    p.s. I'm writing my memoir story today...halfway finished...should be done by Monday.