09 September 2014

Ten books that have stuck with me

The delightful, brilliant Chuck Wendig published an interesting post about ten books that have stuck with him.

It's an interesting list, and an interesting prompt. Lots of people are asked what books are their favorites, or what books have shifted their perspectives on the world, but books that "stick with you" is a different concept. It suggests writing or stories or characters that you connect with in a way that keeps the book in your mind long after you read it. Or perhaps it transforms the book into one that you read again and again.

Here's my list (in no particular order).

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This was the first "big girl" book I read because I wanted to. I was in middle school I think, and I checked it out of the library one Friday. I spent the entire weekend reading it, taking in the story, learning about Jane, and falling in love with this new world of stories that extended so far beyond The Babysitter's Club and R. L. Stine. Here was an "adult" book. I read it and understood it. Perhaps not on as deep a level as I would now, but it was still read and enjoyed. It was the first time I read a book and didn't feel like a kid reading a book that was beyond me. Instead, I saw value in books that weren't written specifically for my grade level. I didn't have to stick to Ramona if I didn't want to. I could go into a library and read a book because it sounded interesting, and that was good enough reason to check it out. It's been quite some time since I've read Jane Eyre, but it's a story I know and love, and will be with me for a long, long time.

2. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year in high school. I was intrigued by the book because I had to have a permission slip signed in order to read it in class. And when I read it, I loved it. I liked the self-contradictory nature of Holden, I liked that Salinger hinted at events and moments rather than hitting the reader over the head with them, and I liked that throughout the reading, I didn't quite believe everything that Holden told me. I always felt like there was more to it. It was a book that was accessible to me, but challenged me in a new way as a reader. This was my first experience reading a book critically. I read it to understand it, and not just to read a story. After this book, I had a deeper appreciation for other stories I read. Because of that, Catcher will always have a special place in my personal library.

3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I didn't read The Handmaid's Tale until a women's literature course in college. This book has stuck with me because I know people of the religious ilk that would try and overthrow the government as described in the story. These people I know would be among those who would welcome a theocracy, and would likely contribute to some of the hypocrisy that would exist within the rigid, misogynistic government and society. Additionally, this book is a chilling reminder to me of why Christianity--and religion overall--can be a destructive, scary force in this world. And, as if that isn't enough, there are moments I read headlines or watch the news and Atwood's story immediately comes to mind. How much longer until it becomes reality?

4. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

When I was a senior in high school, I took a British Literature class. During one quarter, we were asked to choose a book by a British author and do a report on it. I asked the teacher if I could choose Angela's Ashes--I argued that Ireland is, in fact, closely related to Britain and we did read The Importance of Being Earnest by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, so could she really say no?--and was given permission. I think Angela's Ashes has stuck with me because it was the first book that evoked a real emotional response in me. I'd read books and been amused or saddened by what happened, but when I read Angela's Ashes, I wept. I had to put the book down because I couldn't read through the tears. It made me feel for the characters in a way I hadn't experienced through literature.

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurtson

I love this book. It's among my favorites. Like Gatsby, it's one of the books that reveals something new every time I read it. I learn more about Janie and her experiences, and find myself connecting to her on a different level each time. It's a beautiful, extremely well-written book, and one that I hope continues to be read in classrooms for generations. It's very much worth reading frequently. If there is any book on this list that haunts me, it is this one. I wish I could be more descriptive and explain exactly why I feel so connected to this book, but I can't. Sometimes stories just stick with you for lots of reasons (or none at all), and this is one of them.

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Is it a cliche to put this book on my list? As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I discovered Plath at a good time in my life. I was struggling, and Esther's story made me feel a little less alone. Plath gave voice to my own experiences, in a much more eloquent way than I ever could. The Bell Jar, to me, said it was okay to struggle, and it was okay that others didn't really understand the struggle. It is, after all, my struggle. It's been quite some time since I've read The Bell Jar, but it's one that I always include in book lists because it has been important to me since high school.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I didn't read Gatsby until college. I know lots of people read it in high school, but I didn't. However, I'm glad for that. I think if I'd read it in high school, the obligation of reading it plus the discussions of the symbolism of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's eyes and the green light at the end of the dock would have likely turned me off from really reading the story. And that would have been very sad. However, Gatsby gave me a very real experience of how literature rewards rereading. I've read it many times (and will continue to read it regularly), and each time I read it, I walk away from it feeling almost as if I've read it for the first time. I see the characters differently, connect with them differently, and interpret the story and its nuances differently. Every time I read The Great Gatsby, it is a new story to me. It has stuck with me since the first time I read it, and I look forward to every reread. And always will. I've heard there are two types of people in the world: those who are Gatsby people and those who are not. I am a Gatsby person.*

8. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I discovered Jasper Fforde accidentally. I adored Jane Eyre, and saw The Eyre Affair on a bargain book rack at a bookstore, drawn to it because of the reference to Bronte's character in the title. However, when I read it, I was hooked, and Jasper Fforde became one of my favorite writers. This book, in particular, has stuck with me because of its whimsy. It's sort of a dream alternate reality for writers and readers, it has a strong female protagonist (I love Thursday's character!), and it takes what I knew about literature and fiction and sort of put it on its head. Fforde did something I'd never encountered in literature before (and haven't since), and that was enough to make me a fan. The fact that he did it so well has changed my reading life forever.

9. Wit by Margaret Edson

I read Wit in a college literature course. It's a play, and it's heartbreakingly beautiful. I love the concept of this play and its execution. I love the subtle scene shifts and the fluidity of the story as it is told. I love the complexity of Vivian's character, watching how she changes as her cancer changes her. And then when it comes to the end... Well, I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it, so I'll just say that I cry every single time I read it. I think it's that characterization that has caused this play to stick with me. There is something about Vivian that I can't let go of. I desperately want to see Wit on stage.

10. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a short story rather than a book, but important for me to include in this list. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was not the first story I read with an unreliable narrator (Catcher in the Rye was), but it was the first story I read in which I understood that the narrator was unreliable and studied it in my analysis of the story. Unreliable narrators fascinate me. I love that a reader only really has what the narrator says to understand the story, but an unreliable narrator can't necessarily be trusted. So the reader is left to sort out the story using clues dropped by the author. I love that. And that's why I like "The Yellow Wallpaper" so much. It gives the reader a glimpse into the narrator's world, which is not necessarily her reality, and the reader is left to sort of piece it all together and figure it out.

So that's my list. What's yours?

*And the recent film? Seriously?

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