I used to love to read. So much so, in fact, that I majored in reading things. I mean, c’mon. Literary Studies. Fancy words for “reading really cool stuff.” And it isn’t that I don’t love reading, anymore. It is just a different sort of love. Sort of a compulsion to break ideas down into their basest components, examine them, put them all back together, and see what new ideas have been created in that process. I no longer read for the sake of enjoyment, if enjoyment is not to include masochism.
But I often think about what I read when I liked reading. And what I read that brought me to love reading. And how I love the things I’ve read because of what they’ve shown me about living in this complicated world of ours.
So, I’ve compiled a list, or two, of books that brought me to where I am now. (It is Spring Break. I am making to-do lists every ten minutes, so the brain is in listing-mode. My apologies. But then, no apologies, because I like lists.)
Stories I read when I was little that made me love reading:
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. I think my dreams of travelling the globe began with Madeline. She wasn’t scared of anything, and I thought that was so cool. Plus, she lived in an old house covered in vines. What isn’t to love about old houses covered in vines?
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I didn’t realize how much I loved this story until I went to Boston. In the public garden, they have statues of the mother and the ducklings from this story. I cried when I saw them.
- What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss. My FAVORITE Dr. Seuss story. Which is saying something, because I love Dr. Seuss. Aside from learning to love rhyme and the ability to create new words and phrases, I loved how each conflict ended in reconciliation. Someone vowed to take care of the truffula seed. The Sneetches with or without stars upon thars became friends. And people decided that it didn’t matter if you ate your bread butter-side up or butter-side down. But this story was my favorite. I’ve always been easy to scare; a worrier; a paranoid. But this story reassured me that sometimes we just need to get to know the things we are afraid of, in order to realize how irrational our fear is.
- King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood. Sometimes, you have to join in the crazy. Embrace people in all their eccentricities. Like King Bidgood. Other times, you have to be the one to sneakily pull the plug–because it’s time for bed. Also, I love most everything by Audrey and Don Wood.
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I still cite this story when I’m having an especially awful day. My desire to flee the country when things get tough probably came from reading this book. But it puts into perspective how everyone has tough days. Even in Australia.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I have yet to see this movie, because I am worried it will ruin the book for me. But Max taught me that no matter where I go, it is always nice to come home again.
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I have this need to “sign off” when the day is over. I have to say goodnight to people. Oftentimes Jennifer is said people. But, it helps me to calm down. To end my day by wishing someone well for the night. This book is to blame for that.
- The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. The power of positive thinking. I don’t buy into it as much anymore, but I still find myself saying “I know I can” when things have been really rough and I need that extra push to get over the hill.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. This is how I learned the alphabet. Well. This and Barney and Friends. He’s a dinosaur sensation. Don’t judge me. Anywho. Alphabet.
- Corduroy by Don Freeman. Even if you’re missing a button, you deserve love.
Books and things I have read throughout my life that have made me love reading:
- Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I got the first book for my 8th birthday. It had only been out in the US for 9 months. I fell in love with Hermione, and also somewhat with Harry, and so I hopped on the roller coaster that was the entire series. But this is still one of my favorite literary experiences.
- His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. This is how I came to love dystopian fiction. It took me ten years to finish the trilogy, but I did it. And I love the way Pullman makes you rethink what we call God’s word, and shows how this line of thinking isn’t toxic…unlike C.S. Lewis and those who don’t fall in line for the cause of Aslan.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry. Another dystopian piece. Let us think about memories, and how important it is to remember where we come from.
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite novel. From Billy Pilgrim’s adventures being unstuck in time to the narrator’s description of the bombing of Dresden…this book changed my life in ways I cannot convey. I think I owe my academic preoccupations to this piece.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A dear, dear friend gave this to me, just weeks before I graduated from high school. It is heartwrenching and beautiful.
- Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I read this on assignment for my Honors English class, junior year of high school. I always believed that literature had prophetic properties, but that belief was reinforced by this novel. Now it is less of a belief in prophecy, and more a profound respect for those who can observe the workings of the structure they have been in and predict accurately where things are headed. Regardless. Paton does some great work in this novel.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. SO many people interpret dystopian literature as the nay-saying against communism or godlessness. I have always just seen it as arguing against totalitarianism of any sort, or fundamentalism in any regard. But Atwood’s world illustrates a system that is more within our grasp than Huxley’s or Orwell’s, and more sinister in many respects. I hope to someday teach a course on dystopian fiction, and this will definitely be on the syllabus.
- The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld. The same person who wrote Uglies and its sequels. Major guilty pleasure. I loved the idea of an alternate dimension. People with different powers. Creatures for whom multiples of 13 are kryptonite. I read these while my friends were reading the Twilight series. (To be fair, I read all but the last book in the Twilight series. I just liked The Midnighters better.)
- Richard III by William Shakespeare. I was six years old (not exaggerating) when I read my first Shakespeare play. As You Like It. I thought it was boring, but I kept reading the Bard’s works anyway. In second grade, I recited the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet for show-and-tell. Now you know why I have so few friends. As time went on, I became more involved in theatre. I learned to love Shakespeare by performing his pieces and approaching the text as an actor, rather than a reader. The last Shakespearean piece I performed, as a solo actor and not as part of an ensemble, was a monologue from Queen Margaret in Richard III. I read the play after I had performed my monologue and fell in love with Richard’s lines. Such an eloquent villain. I still have great respect for people who can write villains that I love to hate.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I don’t believe in “aha!” moments, but I sometimes have them anyway. I was sitting in my Introduction to Literary Criticism class, part deux. Retaking classes has been a habit of mine, because I have a tendency to break down partway through the semester and then never show up to class again. Anyway. I was sitting in Intro to Lit Crit and I read on the syllabus that we were to read Hemingway. It was a summer class, so there were only 7 weeks in the semester. However, Hemingway was the only non-theoretical text we were reading. “How the hell are we supposed to focus on one novel for 7 weeks?” I thought, and then later asked Jennifer. But I started in on my first Hemingway. I was only two chapters in when I felt this feeling of contentedness settle over me. It was through Hemingway that I found myself committing to English as my primary discipline. He holds a special place in my heart.
And now that I have sufficiently bored you with the listing of things I have loved reading, I am going to return to Supernatural before sorting laundry, and watching Slavery by Another Name. Heavier things.
Now, go away. Read some books.