9.24.2010

Books, books and more books

There was an interesting covnersation going on over at washingtonpost.com the other day. The National Book Festival is taking place on the National Mall this weekend, and in gearing up for that, the Washington Post posed this question to readers:
As we gear up for the National Book Festival, we want to know: Which books did you love as a kid? Which books defined your high school experience or got you through college? Tell us what you loved to read before BlackBerrys and iPhones ruled the world. Which books changed your world?
I have a difficult time saying that any book that "changed my world," per sé, but there certainly are many books that I've adored over the years and do mean something to me. Did they change my life? I don't think so, but who knows, maybe my values and beliefs would be different today if I hadn't read them. I was once asked a similar question about albums, and I had a hard time with that too. The music I listened to as a kid definitely influenced what I listen to now, but I can't say that any one album changed my life.

Anyway, for the beginning part of the Post's question--which books did you love as a kid?--my top answer has to be anything by Judy Blume. My all-time favorite was Are You There God It's Me, Margaret. These books taught me about being a girl, about being a teenager, about boys, about insecurities, about life. As a young kid, before I got into Judy Blume, I read all of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary as well as all the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol. Starting in 6th grade, I also read a lot of V.C. Andrews' stuff, starting with Flowers in the Attic. Those books were so scandalous for a sixth grader.

My whole sixth-grade class passed different books around with the corners of pages with juicy scenes turned down so you could flip to them easily. In addition to Flowers in the Attic, I also remember passing around Judy Blume's Forever, which is about a young girls' first love and first sexual experience. We also passed around Amityville Horror. To this day, all I remember about that book is a black toilet and large flies. Ew. For what it's worth, our sixth-grade teachers introduced us to Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree. All was not lost.

As I moved in to junior high, my friends and I got into romances. We'd skip through most of the plot and read the hot sex scenes. I remember spending the night at a friend's house and we were reading Judy Blume's Wifey, which is basically about an unhappy woman trying to find fulfillment through sex. When we heard my friend's mom coming up the stairs, we would quickly hide the book under the bed, and pretend we were just talking.

In 8th grade English, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, and that remains my favorite book. Scout and Atticus definitely left an impression on me that's lasted throughout my life. But, can I say it changed my world? I'm not sure.

In high school, college, and for some time after, I read a lot of trashy novels. They were guilty pleasures. I spent a lot of time reading Jackie Collins (favorite=Lucky), Danielle Steele (Fine Things), and Sidney Sheldon (The Other Side of Midnight). In college, I used to go to my math classes (yep, I majored in math) and would hear other students fretting over the fact that they couldn't solve question #7 of the homework. Meanwhile, I would sit there and read Hollywood Wives, figuring the professor would explain #7 when he got there. (By the way, my favorite "trashy" novel of all time is called Butterfly by Kathryn Harvey. I read it every couple of years and it still manages to keep me on the edge of my seat. You should check this one out ladies--on Amazon.com it has a 5-star rating, with 97 reviews. It really is a good book!) Anyway, I also went through a period of long books. There's no rhyme or reason to it, but I read Gone with the Wind, Roots, The Stand, It, and maybe some others that I can't think of now. I also read several gangster books (The Godfather and Donnie Brascoe come to mind), and I also went through a Vietnam phase (Bloods, FNG).

All of this brings me to where I am now. My tastes are all over the place. I still like to read fiction, but I also like memoirs. I like satire and humor (Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro, Jen Lancaster). I like reading books that I can relate to (i.e., "chick lit"). Or books that make me smile or warm my heart (Water for Elephants), or tug at my heart (Art of Racing in the Rain). Or are clever (Ella Minnow Pea, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and make me think (Barbara Kingsolver, Life of Pi). I like page turners (The Firm, Dragon Tattoo books). I'm always thrilled when I find a book that I want to read without stopping. Every once in a while, I'll challenge myself with a classic that I've never read (my favorite of these being Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen). I always say that Sci-Fi/Fantasy isn't my thing, but I enjoyed what I read of Dune (I didn't finish--got sidetracked by something else, probably. I'll get back to it again one day), and I loved Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

Whew! I could go on and on, but I guess my point is that I love reading, whether it's changing my life or not. And despite BlackBerrys and iPhones (and Droids) taking over the world, this will never change.

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