Friday, February 11, 2011

Books that Have Saved My Life

I have never had a ton of friends, other than that time in middle school when I was popular for a tiny spell. Oh, and there was that time in fourth grade when the mean girls demanded everyone vote for class president and I won. I was one of the only authentically nice kids. I get bored and lonely in my isolation at times. Sometimes I think that if I hated reading I may not be alive.

Here is another list.

1. Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neil

This is a book about “Baby” and her junky (junkie) father, Jules. Reading this book was like reading Seventeen magazine and instead of seeing cheesy girls buying lame prom dresses, you see these smart, street girls learning how to score heroin, become prostitutes and then, transcend this bad scene and escape into an almost fairy tale ending. This book created my obsession with the idea of an alphabet book for street kids. And it gave me a literary father.

2. Flowers in the Attic, VC Andrews

This is not a joke. If it weren’t for Catherine, Christopher, and the creepy savior of a doctor who wants to “have his way” w/ Catherine while she’s still in high school, I’m not sure I would have developed a reading addiction. These books, and others of their ilk, were all I read during middle school.

2. The Color Purple, Alice Walker

This was the first book I ever read (at age seventeen) that made/helped me believe in a God of my own understanding. Later, I realized that "believing in a God of my own undrstanding" was a term created by the 12 step cult, AA. I will say now that this is the first book that truly modeled for me how one can beleive in God, but that it does not have to be the creepy Jesus type God that never appealed to me.

3. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman

I read this while I was doped out on painkillers after having my son. I still gain great comfort from the notion of a sisterhood/coven of mothers giving babies bottles filled with Dr. Pepper.

4. Squandering the Blue, Kate Braverman

These short stories taught me that the best fiction writers are also poets. One story about a single mother struggling with alcoholism gave me these lines (about her addiction) which I have remembered for almost twenty years: “It is the blue that knows you. It knows where you live. And it is never going to forget.” Interestingly, though I still love these lines, I know now that this characer was stuck in the AA cult and did not know it, nor did the author who created her. Later, the auther described in anther book, Small Craft Warnings, the inauthenticity of people the AA.

5. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

“Stay gold, Ponyboy.” I think I used to say this in middle school. I should start saying it again.

6. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

I believe that this world is divided into two parts: those who have read and loved this book with their whole hearts, and then the other people. The idea of that poem-covered baseball glove still astounds me.

7. Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon

This book made me realize that poetry is often the same thing as prayer.

8. The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Carolyn Chute

This was the first book I remembering my parents talking about in an in depth way. I snuck parts of it. Reading it later inspired a summer long research project funded by UNH on rural poverty and its depictions in literature. I heart Ruben Bean.

9. Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison

A book that helped me understand that not all mothers are willing to take a bullet for their daughter; Allison helped me out of this scary emotional isolation.

10. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

This whole story—and the very notion of “tesseracting”--is astronomically cool. However, here is why I love this book: whenever I feel grouchy about having small boobs, or being kinda mousy, blah blah blah, I remember that Meg Murphy was not popular or pretty. Yet, she totally rocked and she rocked hard.

11. A-Z Picture Book, Gyo Fujikawa

There are so many alphabet books; this is the best one. And I am almost certain that this was the book that ushered me into the world of reading.

12. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

…Because every time I reread why it is a sin to kill a mocking bird, I still cry.

13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

I love that all Oskar wanted to do was take a sad song and make it better, even though he just did not know how.

14. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

This book blew my mind. “Caddy held me…she smelled like trees.”

15. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

This book made me think that my freak-showish-ness was somehow cool which is always a super great feeling.

16. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

As a young girl, I escaped from an afternoon filled with mean girls, went home, sat on my bed, and read this book cover to cover. I still feel like Margaret is my literary twin, as her birthday, like mine, is March 8th.

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