Hard to believe 2017 is nearly halfway over. I’ve read precisely one and a half Graham Greene novels, written about one of them, and blogged about none. While disappointed by my lack of progress on my “intellectual project,” I’m trying to show myself grace about it, both because it’s a beneficial habit to have generally and because the last few months (last year, really) have been stressful and draining. I look at people my age–many of them younger than me, actually–who have children and wonder how they manage to accomplish all that they do. I’m thirty-one and it sometimes feels like I can barely manage through a “grown-up day” of work, housekeeping and a bit of exercise, with maybe half an hour of reading or Netflix before lights out at ten.
Unfortunately, I regularly allow my tiredness to become an excuse for not writing. “I’m too tired to think straight. Anything I write will come out as a load of nonsense. Or, I don’t have enough time to devote to writing properly, so why bother starting?” The more I tell myself things like this, the easier it becomes to believe them. So, I’m trying to be more diligent about combating the stream of negativity, if only a step or two at a time.
For today’s exercise, I thought it’d be fun to try a meme I came across recently on Stuck in a Book, a book blog I began following a month or two ago.
1.) Go to your bookshelves…
2.) Close your eyes. If you’re feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or… basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself – where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc…..
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn’t matter if you’ve read them or not – be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to…
I found it a bit hard to truly pick at random, since our bookshelves are organized by genre and alphabetized, but I made an effort to collect a varied assortment. Without further ado, here are my ten books:
- The Velvet Room (1965), Zilpha Keatley Snyder
I bought my copy of The Velvet Room a couple of years ago, but first read the book when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I don’t remember how I came across it. Probably because I enjoyed The Egypt Game and thought I’d try something else by the same author. It was perhaps the first time when I consciously identified with the protagonist: a lonely misfit who finds solace in a secret library long since forgotten by the rest of the world. Along with A Wrinkle in Time, The Velvet Room helped me to anticipate a phrase I wouldn’t actually hear until much later: “We read to know we’re not alone.”
- Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding
Like most people (I imagine), I was assigned Lord of the Flies in high school–12th grade AP English Lit with Ms. Cloy, to be precise. I remember being struck by how tangible and concrete the prose was–even today, I remember how at their first appearance Golding described the boys as having a “hambone frill” at the collar of their choir robes and faces with “the complexions of newly washed plums.” The fact that Golding used beautiful language to describe such horrific events made the effect all the more striking.
- Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (1987), Rick Bayless
I had to have at least one cookbook on this list, and I’m glad it turned out to be this one. It might be my only signed copy of a book. Being from Arizona, I’ve always loved Mexican food, and Rick Bayless’s show, which started on PBS when I was in high school, opened my eyes to the great variety in the cuisine of our southern neighbors. As I was trying to find my way in my 20s, I used to joke, “Maybe I’ll just move to Chicago and beg for a job in Rick Bayless’s kitchen.” Amazingly enough, I have a connection to him–my mom used to work with his sister, who was kind enough to ask him to autograph a birthday present for me.
4. The Four Quartets (1943), T. S. Eliot
A brief quotation Stephen Fry recited at the end of an episode of QI sent me in search of its origin. I’ve never read much poetry, but I sat down with this slender volume and read it cover-to-cover in one setting. I don’t claim to understand it all, but it struck a chord at the core of my being.
This is a photo of my own copy, not a stock image, as I wasn’t able to find an image of this particular cover.
5. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1993), Kathleen Norris
A priest friend of mine who spent his high school years in South Dakota mentioned this book in a sermon once, and I came across it some months later in a secondhand bookshop in Connecticut. Of all the books I’ve read, I think this is the one I most wish I could’ve written myself. It deftly balances personal and spiritual reflections, grounding both in a strong sense of place.
Fun fact: this is the book that brought me and my husband together. We met online, and in his first message, he asked me if I was familiar with this book, since it seemed like something I might like. I said yes, and the rest is history.
6. Warlock (1958), Oakley Hall
I don’t recall where I first came across Warlock. Maybe it was an Amazon recommendation, or maybe the title was referenced in an article or something. Not many people have heard of it, and that’s a real shame. On the surface, it’s a retelling of the legendary shootout at Tombstone, but there’s much more to it than that. I really ought to read it again and better collect my thoughts. I do remember that immediately after I finished it, I sat on my sofa for at least half an hour, soaking in the afterglow.
7. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007), Michael Chabon
This was the first novel recommended to me by my now-husband. (The first novel I had him read was Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.) It was also one of the first audio books I listened to on my hour-long commute between the college town where I lived then and his city. The plot is engaging, and I loved the characters with all their gritty imperfections. I hope I can make it to Alaska at least once in my lifetime. Not in winter, of course.
8. Backpacking With the Saints (2014), Beldon Lane
My now-mother-in-law gave this to me at the first Christmas I spent with their family. I haven’t read it yet, but I have read another book by Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, and found it meaningful.
9. The Overcoat and The Nose (1842 and 1836), Nikolai Gogol
This is another one I haven’t read. It’s actually my husband’s book, and he hasn’t read it either, though we both noticed it referenced in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. I think it’s probably the smallest book on our shelf: roughly 4 inches by 5 inches, and 88 pages long.
10. In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians (2012), John Dougill
I found this book last summer after reading Silence, and it provided a lot of helpful historical context. The kakure kirishitan of far western Japan are all but extinct now, and I’m glad someone took the time to chronicle their story before it fades out of memory.
- The Velvet Room (1965), Zilpha Keatley Snyder