Someone asks me, “What’s your favorite movie?” My answer is instantaneous. I may have a list of favorites, but there is only one that stands at the top.
Oh fuck no. I can’t imagine picking a single book over all other books. How can I? Books are magic. I love them all. I love some genres over others (romance is at the top, there), but I will read any damn thing put in my hands.
So, instead, for this I am going to make a very quick list of books that have… affected me… in one way or another.
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C O’Brien – Ok – if I do have to pick favorites, this will always be toward the top of the list. This is a book read to me by my mom while at an exceptionally early age, and one I keep coming back to over and over again as I’ve gotten older. Wonderful characters, amazing storytelling, and (despite being about mice and rats) a book I’ve somehow always managed to identify with.
I own two copies of the book… the one that my mom read to me when I was little. Yellowed pages, missing a cover, and nearly falling apart from years of being read by an entire family. And the beautiful hardback I purchased years ago… the copy that I will probably hang on to until IT is yellowed and falling apart, too.
Letters to a Young Poet, by Ranier Maria Rilke – A guy named Andrew Good, whom I dated my freshman year of college, gave me his copy of this book. I was over at his place, and it just hit him that I needed the book, as it had similarly been given to him. I’ve never felt more at peace while reading a book in my entire life. Everything Rilke wrote, whether about writing, or life, or love… it all just made sense to me the way nothing had before. I still find quotes from this book to be a source of inspiration, a source of guidance, and a source for new ideas and ways of thinking. I think I am on my 10th or 11th copy of the book so far.
Like Andy, I keep giving away my copy to someone who inspiration tells me needs the book. The first one? Even though I had notes in the margins and passages highlighted, I gave my friend Chris my copy of the book, anyway. I didn’t have time to get a fresh copy for him. And, like then, it just kept happening! Always lightning quick. If I have given you or if I ever give you a copy of this book, it’s really something special to me.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding – This isn’t even close to being on my “favorites” list, but it is one of the most important books of my life. Despite no one ever bothering to test me, I had been reading at roughly a college level since I was… 8 years old? And since even earlier than that I had been a natural speed reader. My mind allows me to take in huge amounts of information quickly, and process that information immediately. My family never believed me. My teachers never believed. I was always accused of lying, of cheating, and of pretending I was smarter or better than I really was.
Begging for attention.
Why didn’t anyone believe me? Believe in me?
The reason this book is so important is that I read this in 7th grade. In about an hour… maybe closer to 30 minutes? Whatever. It’s a short book. I read it quickly. My sister wouldn’t believe me. She was reading the same book for her honors 11 English class and she insisted I couldn’t read a book THAT fast and I was too young anyway to actually comprehend the intricacies and nuances of a book that she, in her older and much greater understanding of literature, was studying in her class.
I was SO TIRED of being belittled and told I was lying and cheating and pretending just so I could get attention that I begged her to test me on it. So I could prove, finally, that she was wrong. And I passed her test… with flying colors in the full spectrum of the rainbow. I managed to shut people up. Finally.
You know… I had planned to go somewhere else with this. But something new has hit me. No matter how good that felt when I was 12, the damage had already been done. I can’t believe that I just nailed down, after all these years of pondering, the question of why I have such deep seated beliefs that I am not good at anything. Even when I know I am.
Ok. That’s something to unpack another time. Moving on.
ROALD DAHL is my favorite author, hands down. The imagination and craziness of his books just delights me. And yet Danny, the Champion of the World is my favorite of his books. There is no magic. There’s no colorful zaniness with the illustrations of Quentin Blake. It’s a simple story. And there is a difference from the rest of his work in there being a close relationship of love and respect and trust between the father and his child.
This is the first (and thus far only) book that I have found and gone out of my way to purchase a first edition of. Probably not worth much of anything to anyone but me, but I treasure this book tremendously.
Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery – Anne… the optimist and the imaginative dreamer… the girl I dreamed of being. I truly believe that Anne Shirley is the reason I am such an optimist. Of being able to look at the world around me and see the beauty, the positive, and the hope. She is, without a doubt, my favorite character to ever come to me from a book.
Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes – a bit of a departure from the rest of the books, right? But, you see… I had always dreamed of traveling. But like I’ve explained before, travel from Alaska is difficult and very expensive. So dreaming was all I ever got to do. This book was the first “travel memoir” I ever read. It opened up the world to me, and allowed me to experience things I never thought I’d ever get to experience and it further spurred my dream of someday getting to see the things I only ever read about in books.
The Great Influenza, by John M Barry – Fiction, memoirs, poetry… those are things I absolutely love. But what always gets me caught is a good story. My dad taught me that history is a story. Who tells the story influences it, of course, but it is a story. And, well, stories are what helps make sense of a world that is scary and messy and complicated and confusing.
And John Barry is an amazing storyteller. In this book he writes about the influenza pandemic of 1918. What led to it, why it was so deadly, and the medical breakthroughs that brought it under control.
He does not talk down to his audience, and yet he is able to say things so clearly that I think anyone would be able to follow along and understand what he is saying. The story is riveting, and I was just unable to put this down.
Reading it in this day and age makes what it has to say even more powerful, and amazingly worth reading.
And, the last book here on this particular list…
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (also known as Alice Through the Looking-Glass or simply Through the Looking-Glass), by Lewis Carroll.
I want to preface this by saying… I hate the book Alice in Wonderland. HATE IT. I hate the chaos of it. The lack of any sort of cohesion. The lack of an actual story. (And yeah, I hate The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for many of the same reasons.) I also just don’t like Lewis Carroll’s style of writing.
But this one? I identify with it. We have a character who KNOWS what is on the other side of that mirror. She knows what she is getting into. She knows it is a world of craziness and chaos and confusing characters. But she steps through, anyway.
Then, she’s given another choice. Does she choose to believe in the impossible? Does she choose to take the steps that will move her forward toward a goal, despite the chaos that lies between her and the other side of the board? She chooses to believe.
To believe in the impossible. To open herself to it. To dream.
And to not let anything stop her.