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All the Books I've Loved

February is here. I’m grateful the doldrums of January are behind me, though now it feels like days are slipping by too quickly. In our family, birthdays are stacked up in both February and September. Just this month, we celebrate four of them. For a short month, it’s a busy one!

It’s also my favorite food month: Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, and the start of Girl Scout Cookie season. And, according to Marcel Proust, “there is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

Although, I’d amend it to include books.

On this first day of love month, I thought about all the books I’ve loved. So many come to mind. I can hardly say I have a “favorite book of all time” though there are plenty that I’d call unforgettable, the books that linger in my mind, or that have had notable influence over my writing and my life.

Here’s what I’ll report:

My First Love(s): The “Nancy Drew” series and National Geographic Magazine.

This is the literature of my childhood. My Dad subscribed to National Geographic and even before I could comprehend the words, I’d study the photographs. Then, as now, the images were so stunning and so compelling, they’d spark my curiosity and (I believe) created my lifelong sense of wanderlust. As for Nancy Drew, it was almost a rite of passage. Everyone I knew read Nancy Drew and/or the Hardy Boys because these mysteries were intriguing, and I always wanted to know what was going to happen.

Most Cherished: A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My mother gave me this book when she was still alive. It speaks to the struggle of womanhood, motherhood, personhood. It’s a beautiful book and reminds me of her. I pick it up and flip through the pages, often gleaning new wisdom from a single, random line.

The Book that Humbled Me: Beloved by Toni Morrison

This book floored me as a reader and as a writer. It opened my eyes to a world I have never known: to be an enslaved and marginalized person in this world. I sobbed for Sethe, I ached for Beloved. Morrison’s voice and the power of her words on the page are unparalleled.

My Love/Hate Relationship: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I was “forced” to read this book in ninth grade. As a rule-following, achievement-driven kid, I despised Holden Caulfield. What a lazy, sad loaf, I thought of him then.

I read it again in my twenties, when I found my high school copy of it while moving all my worldly belongings out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. In this reading, Holden was a little rebel. I didn’t admire him per se, but he was an independent thinker, and I thought him more advanced than his peers.

I read it a third time in my early forties. It was in this reading, I finally understood that Holden had suffered two great traumas: the loss of a sibling and the effective abandonment of his parents. And then my heart broke for him.

It was really fascinating to have these three different reactions to a character, but it proves that we read from our own perspectives (even when they change).

I’ll Read Anything S/He Writes: Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Keegan

It was way too difficult to narrow this down. To be clear, I have not read the full cannon of these three, but when they publish something new, or if I can’t decide what to read next, these are my default authors.

The Book that Made Me Do Something Uncharacteristically Impulsive: Anton Chekhov’s Collected Stories, edited by Cathy Popkin

When I heard Uncle Vanya was coming to Broadway, I booked tickets to NYC on a complete whim.

My Guiltiest Pleasure: All (!) of Kate Morton’s books

I really don’t suffer any guilt from reading, but sometimes I read without purpose (only writers understand this; in fact, becoming a writer has almost stripped me of the joy of reading). When I read something with no pencil in hand and for the simple act of enjoying a story, Kate Morton is my reliable source.

Books that Never Leave Me: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (fiction) and On Writing by Stephen King (non-fiction)

I have read Sing no fewer than six times. It is also the book I pull off the shelf when I need inspiration for prose. It is BY FAR the most dog-eared, tattered, highlighted, notated book in my collection because Ward’s writing is simply stunning.

Of course, On Writing offers the best writing advice in the most accessible way. I have the utmost respect for King, who is a master of the craft and so willingly shares his wisdom with the rest of us.

What books have you loved? Which ones have had the greatest influence on your life? I’d love to know why. Maybe, your favorites will become mine, too!


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