My dad told me that one day when I was 3 or 4, I sat down with him and my hardcover storybook of Disney’s Cinderella and began to read it to him. He was stunned, because I guess my parents hadn’t made a huge push for me to start reading yet. I know he taught me my alphabet, or at least reinforced what I learned from The Electric Company and Sesame Street. But reading on my own was unexpected.
I went to day care for preschool, so I had to be “interviewed” (evaluated) by the vice principal to enroll in the public school kindergarten. I was already older than many of my classmates because the birthdate cutoff for new students was September 30, and I was born in December. I remember my mother bringing me up to the elementary school one day in the summer, and after she had talked with the VP for a while, it was my turn. I remember feeling like she didn’t believe I could read, because she had me read a Dr. Seuss book to her. Then she asked me what I was reading at home. Charlotte’s Web, I answered, which seemed to impress her. Back then, that was apparently a fourth-grade book, and one of my many favorites to come.
I’ve read and forgotten more books than I can count, but I have to admit that I haven’t read nearly as much as an adult, unless you count the books I’ve had to read for work. When you spend your days pouring over the manuscripts of long, dry medical textbooks, reading in your off time doesn’t have the same appeal. I don’t even like having to read subtitles in movies if I can avoid it. But I’d like to try to list the books I can remember reading over and over again or books that have meant something to me at random ages. So today’s list is….
My Favorite Books
Books from childhood that I remember loving and reading repeatedly, some of which I still have copies of today:
- Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
- Gypsy from Nowhere, Gypsy and Nimblefoot, and Gypsy and the Moonstone Stallion, by Sharon Wagner
- The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley
- The Island Keeper, by Harry Mazer
- The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
- Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
- The Nancy Drew mysteries, by Carolyn Keene
- The Bobbsey Twins series, by Laura Lee Hope
- Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren
- A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Freckle Juice, Blubber, and others by Judy Blume
- S.W.A.K.: Sealed With a Kiss, by Judith Enderle
- The Sweet Valley High series, by Francine Pascal
- The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade, by Barthe DeClements
- Choose Your Own Adventure books, especially The Throne of Zeus by Deborah Lerme Goodman (most of what I know about Greek mythology actually came from that book)
- The Haunting at Cliff House, by Karleen Bradford
- Several novels by Victoria Holt, but the specific titles escape me
- Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, Garden of Shadows, and My Sweet Audrina, by V.C. Andrews
- Beginners’ Love, by Norma Klein
- My Secret Garden, by Nancy Friday (found in my mother’s nightstand)
- If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, by Erma Bombeck
In sixth or seventh grade, we had our annual Scholastic book fair, and I remember going to the middle school library to browse the offerings. There I found the book that stayed with me for the rest of my life: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. My username here comes from Jane Eyre. My first website on Geocities in 1998 was called “Thornfield Hall” after the house in the book. In high school, I took French because I wanted to be able to read the French passages in the story without having to look at the footnoted translations. My French teacher had us all choose “French” names to be used in the class, and I chose Adèle.
The other book that has had the biggest impact on me since childhood is A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord. It was my first Titanic book, and the start of a lifelong interest (obsession?) with the doomed ocean liner. Long before Jack and Rose. I read the sequel, The Night Lives On, several years later. I have a substantial library now of Titanic books, many of which I’ve even read.
We started reading novels in English class in high school, and I quickly learned what I hated: Hemingway. Faulkner. Shakespeare. Chaucer. The only book I never finished was The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck, but I remember having to lock myself in my room with the windows shut in the summer to get through The Scarlet Letter. Many, but not all, of these were assigned reading that I actually enjoyed:
- Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
- Le Petit Prince, by Antoine Saint-Exupéry (in French)
- Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
- The Bell Jar, and poems, by Sylvia Plath (Plath was my teen-angst goddess)
- Dracula, by Bram Stoker
- A Woman of Substance, by Barbara Taylor Bradford
- Something’s Alive on the Titanic, by Robert J. Serling
- No Greater Love and Kaleidoscope, by Danielle Steel
- The World According to Garp, by John Irving
- The Eyes of the Dragon, by Stephen King
- A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, and every other legal thriller by John Grisham (I’ve read all but the most recent)
- Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Then on to college, where I majored in English, but a lot of what we read came from Norton anthologies rather than novels. And there were many I hated, like Wuthering Heights. Still…
- Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
- The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
- Herland and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
- Beloved and other books by Toni Morrison
- Kindred, by Octavia Butler (I LOVE THIS BOOK)
- Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
- The Jack Ryan series and Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy (I stopped after The Bear and The Dragon, though)
- Daughters of a Coral Dawn and Curious Wine, by Katherine V. Forrest
Since college, my reading has come in waves, depending on time and interest. I continued reading the latest Grisham novels, and I also read some Crichton, but none of those stand out in my memory. Some of the Clancy books were published after I graduated, so those also filled some of my time. As mentioned, my work had me reading all day, so reading at night was uncommon, except the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, perhaps. Then my son was born, and my reading didn’t get past Dr. Seuss, EXCEPT for the Harry Potter series. I remember I read Half-Blood Prince in 4 hours the morning after it was released and cried like a baby at the end.
In 2008 I avoided the Twilight series until I couldn’t anymore, and then I became obsessed with it. I really don’t know why, because the writing is terrible. My favorite of the series is the third, Eclipse. I read the entire series obsessively on repeat for a month, losing 8 lb in the process. After the first film was released, I joined online groups and went to fan conventions and a lot of stuff happened that changed my life, including getting divorced and returning to work full-time. There was no time for leisurely reading.
In recent years, I’ve tried to get back to books. Many are crime and legal books, but not all:
- Neurotribes, by Steve Silberman
- Everything by Michael Connelly, John Lescroart, and David Baldacci
- The Women’s Murder Club series, by James Patterson
- The Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs
- The Rizzoli and Isles books by Tess Gerritsen
- Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick
- Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
- Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
- The Witch of Lime Street, by David Jaher
- The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott
- The Alienist, by Caleb Carr
- Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen
The most significant books for me in recent years have been by Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy. I’m anxiously awaiting her next book, Broken, due out next month. Most of my friends are online friends, and most of them are Jenny fans. We’re our own little cult, almost. Maybe.
I have a lot on my To-Be-Read (TBR) shelves, including crime novels by Joseph Wambaugh; The Angel of Darkness, by Caleb Carr; 1776, by David McCullough; The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley; some of the Anne Rice books, which I’ve never read; and In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. I’m in the midst of packing my books right now, so I’ve had to decide which can be left unpacked because I might read them and trade them in and which can be packed because I fully intend to keep them even after I’ve read them. It’s a system, what can I say? I’m happy to be reading again, although with anything more intense than a standard crime novel I’m taking longer to read them than I used to, and more and more I find I need my reading glasses and the apartment can never quite be bright enough to see the words. I hope our next place has a nice, sunny corner where I can put a reading chair in and claim it for myself.
“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”