I feel completely lame that I haven't read anything since that tiny little Twilight parody a month ago.
I feel even lamer that blogger lost the two or three paragraphs I wrote the other night on this topic and only kept that lame first sentence, and I know I'll never be able to recreate them as gloriously as the original writing. I remember that I blamed blog-reading for taking away some of the urgency from my need to read. And I made other excuses and justifications. I have been reading the Daily Bible (except for the part where I told you how behind I am), and I read some picture books in storytimes a couple weeks ago.
But reading so little (I've completed only two books since January 1 though I've started more than that) is completely unlike me. Over the past couple of years, I have been reading less and less, and though I can pinpoint the things that are taking up more of my time, I don't exactly know why I'm choosing to devote less time to books. I'm not blaming Jess, but reading at home is harder than it used to be. When I lived alone, I read so much more and tended to lose all sense of time and responsibility. But Jess and I watch certain shows together as a family, and we talk to each other sometimes. We distract each other, and time for getting completely lost in print is harder to come by. And I think I watch more tv than I did a few years ago, and that commitment eats into my time significantly as well. And the internet addiction certainly doesn't help, but that's a therapy topic for another day.
I have several books right now that I want to read. I've had several books lately pass out of my hands because I didn't get them started before they were due back at the library. And one day very soon (after I pack up and move all my possessions to a new home), I'm going to stop whining about not reading and just read instead. But not today. Today I'm going to talk about books that I love and make a list.
The ten most important books/series of my life:
Lonesome Dove I can't remember exactly when I read this book for the first time, but I think it was in the neighborhood of sixth or seventh grade. I'd seen the miniseries a couple years earlier and loved the story and characters already. But this reading experience taught me that the book is always better than the movie, and with very few exceptions, that's a lesson that has stood the test of time. It's hilarious and sad, full of horses and cattle and cowboy goodness, life and death, snakes and Indians and guns, and characters that will always live for me. I will say that though the miniseries has its share of grit, it's still something that was made for tv in the 80s. The book itself is grittier, more vulgar, more real, perhaps more than my twelve-year-old self was strictly ready for. But in addition to garnering more knowledge about late 19th century western whoring (yes, I just said whoring, hope you weren't letting your kids read the blog) than a seventh grade girl probably needs, I really think this was the first book that showed me how deeply I could be moved by characters, that I could feel their joys and suffer their losses and care so completely about words on paper. My love for this epic story that has survived several re-readings and about eighteen years. Lonesome Dove also had the distinction for a year or so of being the longest book I had read at 969 pages. But I read my moma's copy of Gone with the Wind in seventh or eighth grade, which is lovely 1037 pages, but I don't think it's making the list here. Consider this sentence its honorable mention.
Daring to Dance with God From 1992-1996, I went to Uplift, a church camp at Harding with Robyn and sometimes some other folks. For most (all?) of those years, Jeff Walling was a featured speaker. We were and are fans. The year this book came out , he talked about some of the ideas from the book at Uplift. And he signed copies, so of course, we bought them. This is maybe the first book about being a Christian I ever read (not counting the Bible), and it was a huge and important deal in my life. There are phrases and images that still come to me that I first encountered through Jeff Walling. And though I didn't learn this from the book, Jeff Walling is solely responsible for teaching me the Beatitudes in the right order.
Harry Potter I would like to be able to tell you that I was with Harry Potter before he was cool. My dearest wish is to say that I read the first book in 1998 (or even better the British version in 1997) and had a hand in spreading the gospel of HP from the beginning. It would thrill my soul to not be a bandwagon jumper. But, alas, in truth, I never intended to read the books. Ever. In my defense, I was in college when the first books were released, and I wasn't reading much children's lit. I also frequently proclaim that I don't like fantasy. So though I had some friends who were ahead of the trend and reading them, I was staunchly opposed for a long time. But in 2001, the first movie was released, and in the time leading up to it, lots and lots of my friends were hyped up, and my resistance was wearing down. I knew, based on the hype, I wouldn't be able to live in the world and not be bombarded with spoilers, so if I was ever going to read them, the time was now (uhh . . . then). So I read the first four books in a ridiculously short amount of time, and it changed my life. The story consumed me. I love a big story, and I love meaty characters. And though it made me insane, I loved the anticipation of waiting for the end of the story. I was terrified of Deathly Hallows because there was so much riding on the ending, for me. I had six years wrapped up in this world, and it could have been heart-breaking. And it was, in some ways, but it was also very right for me, in most ways. It was always going to be hard to get to the end, and I knew that beloved characters would have to die. But overall, I'm satisfied with the ending. I reread (and relisten to) the entire series on a regular basis.
Pride and Prejudice Sadly, I can't remember the first time I read P& P, but it was either high school or college. I had seen and loved the BBC miniseries version (the Colin Firth one) and based on the recommendations of book folk that I trust, I read it. And it's lovely. The language is so dense and formal that it creates a reading experience very unlike a lot that I read. I've read all the other Austens (I think) too, but P&P remains my favorite. I love Elizabeth Bennett, but who doesn't? All of the sequels, spin-offs, or retoolings of the book are a testament to its quality. The number of people who feel such an attachment to this story that they need to write a companion to it, is somewhat staggering to me, but clearly there's an audience for them or they wouldn't get published at such an alarming rate. I'll admit that I've read several of the knock-offs through various stages of my Jane Austen obsession, but Bridget Jones's Diary is definitely my favorite of these and one of the few that can stand on its own. Some of them are pretty horrific, especially the ones that are sequels. It's a dangerous thing to mess with the lives of beloved characters, and you better have your history and style down if you're going to attempt period fiction. But the point I'm trying to make is Pride and Prejudice is awesome. It fills my soul.
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson I picked up the first book in this series (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging) the summer of 2002 when I was teaching two sessions of summer school. The young miscreants under my tutelage were supposed to spend a certain amount of time reading, and I decided to model good reading skills for them, so I borrowed this book from the junior high library. As it turns out, it wasn't a great book for modeling sustained, silent reading because I couldn't read it silently. I guffawed, loudly, lots--an embarrassing amount, actually. Then I got Robyn to read it, and Hailey and Mo have read it too. It's forged a bond amongst us all. The main character Georgia is a British teenager, who tells the story through her diary. It's hilarious and crazy, with addictive catch-phrases and a glossary, that is allegedly supposed to decipher all the British-isms for the American readers. There are ten books in the series, and it's nonstop fun. It'll have you laughing like a loon on loon tablets, like a laughing loon from Loonland. It's as funny as three funny things. Plus it'll help decipher the nonsense that I say.
Anne of Green Gables Oh, how I love these books. I've been reading and rereading them for years, and they still have the power to make me laugh and cry and get wrapped up in the world of Prince Edward Island. In general, I'm a huge fan of series of books. I tend to get immersed in stories and attached to characters, and if there are multiple books in which I can delve into that world and meet up with those characters, so much the better. One of the things I love about Anne and Marilla and Matthew and Gilbert and everyone else here is that at the heart, the characters are all so good. Just good, kind people, and though spite and malice and hardship come to call, the goodness of these characters I love shines through. It's a balm to my soul. The later books focus on Anne and Gil's kids, and they are just as delightful and funny and kind and likely to get into scrapes as Anne herself. Oh, how I love them all.
On Beyond Zebra This is another book with an Uplift connection. We went to a class one year called "On Beyond Zebra." I think we picked the class because the title amused us--that's how we usually picked. Until about two minutes ago, I was completely confident I knew the name of the guy that taught it, but now I'm feeling uncertain. I think it was Mark Miller. Robyn will correct me if it wasn't him. Anyway he used this lesser-known Dr. Seuss book as a jumping off point for the class, where we talked about going beyond the ordinary and stuff. It was a really cool class, and I've had a special love for the book ever since. Plus Dr. Seuss is awesome. Besides being a big bunch of fun to read, there are some pretty interesting themes in a lot of his books. There's a really empowering message here about not accepting easy answers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time There was a span of about six years when I was a faithful Entertainment Weekly subscriber. As such, I felt very strongly that it was important to get my money's worth by reading the magazine from cover to cover. That was my first experience with influential book reviews. I was influenced by other EW reviews and features also, but once I started working at a bookstore and the library, I went on a mission to read any book whose review intrigued me. And that's how I met this book, back in 2003. The narrator is a British teenager with autism who solves mysteries, sorta. It wouldn't matter what Christopher (the main character) was up to in this story, because how it's told is so much more important than what's told, in this case. It was a book unlike anything I'd read before. Talking about it has made me want to reread it so much, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a book.
Blue Like Jazz I read this one a few years ago on a recommendation from Mac, cousin, theologian, scholar, and number one blog fan. The subtitle for the book is "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality." The only five word synopsis that better describes it is perhaps "funny guy's encounters with God." Not that it's all funny . . . Miller's journey to faith has some twists and turns, and he's asked some hard questions. And the answers are sometimes challenging. But challenging can be a good thing, and reading this book and being challenged by it was certainly one of the better decisions of my reading life. I got Miller's latest book for Christmas, and if I don't change my mind, it will be the next book I start.
*****Lame blogger's note: All of the cover art here matches my copies of these books. That, for some reason, was extremely important to me and severely affected the speed with which this post was constructed.*****