This week's prompt from the good women of The Broke and The Bookish is one I think every reader can relate to: Top Ten "Gateway" Books/Authors In My Reading Journey. I'm in my 50s, and the decades are littered with books and narrowing it down to ten is tough. So, here is one version of the top ten, a nostalgia filled list of books, in roughly the order I read them, and why they stay with me. I think I posted a very similar list to Facebook late last year, but I know I'm including some different choices this go around.
I don't know if this is the first book I read on my own, or if I memorized it because I made my parents read it to me so often. Either way, I loved this so much that it was one of the first books I read to my daughter when she was little. My husband bought me and the girls a print from the book for Valentine's Day a few years back and it hangs in our kitchen and I hope it always will.
Pressed into my hands by an elementary school librarian in the late 1960s, I read this in a single sitting and many times since. I loved it because Claudia was as averse to discomfort as I was, and still am. I loved it because it made a big imposing museum into a magical treasure box of possibilities. I loved it because it gave art a mystery that Claudia was stubborn enough and smart enough to solve. Thinking about it now, I wonder if my love for this book was behind my decision to major in the History of Art in college?
I read all of Zenna Henderson after seeing a truly terrible adaptation of some of The People stories in a made for TV movie starring Kim Darby. I loved them then because I yearned to be an alien with unearthly powers, a longing any social inept alienated girl would share, I'm sure. Now I want to reread them because they are incredible portraits of the American Southwest and rich with insight about what brings communities together and how they can tear themselves apart. And, as I probably sensed at some level when I was ten, these stories are always looking at what does it mean to belong or not? Can you be different and still be accepted? The original books are out of print, but the two original volumes plus other uncollected stories are available in Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson.
I Read this the summer I turned thirteen while traveling with my family through the southwest. Who knew a 'classic' could be funny?
A tragic tale I devoured one saturday evening my junior year of college. Full of all the female suffering and misery so dear to my teenage heart, I was also genuinely surprised by the ending. I remember trying to convey to my father over the phone why I was so moved. The final plot twist had stunned me but was even more staggered when neared the climax of my synopsis, my father, accurately, beat me to the punch and without having read the book, told me how it ended. Lessons learned? There are only so many plots that are really new (there are some, but fewer than I thought at the time). And, if you want to convince someone that a book is good, there may be more to it than summarizing the story.
For all the reasons that Rebecca Mead brilliantly synthesizes in "My Life in Middlemarch." If you have read "Middlemarch" read Rebecca's wonderful book. If you haven't read "Middlemarch" read Rebecca's wonderful book and you will want to read "Middlemarch." Trust me on this.
Another book I first thought I loved because it's plot was unexpected, but in truth loved for it's rich inventive voice, its exploration of female and family relationships, its dark humor and inventive literary and pop culture references particularly "The Wizard of Oz." The opening sentence is a fabulous riff on "Tristram Shandy" which I only learned by reading an essay about the book a number of years ago. As a mother of a toddler with a demanding full-time job, I stayed up into the wee hours on a work night to finish this. I read it just after publication in the US and have been a Kate Atkinson groupie ever since. This is the book I'm most likely to shove into someone's hands if given any reason at all.
I was in business school learning the intricacies of finance and such when I ran into this as a remainder at a local Border's and picked it up because I loved the Burne-Jones cover and the synopsis the jacket copy that reminded me of "The French Lieutenant's Woman." The marketing was spot on. I loved this grand melange (I would call it a genre mash-up, but that would most definitely not be Byatt approved language!) of literary mystery, tragic love story, and academic satire. I am proof that you can read it and skip all the show-offy use of French, Latin and poetry. Underneath all of the frills and window dressing, this book has great characters, feminist themes and a juicy story.
Truly the most exciting piece of science writing I've ever read ordered on a whim from the Quality Paperback Book Club (remember that in the days before the internet?). I learned far more from this book than I ever did in the classroom. The book is passionate and thrilling, but it also challenges everyone to question what was done in the name of science and if it could have been avoided. Rhodes brings Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi and so many others to life and makes you share their intellectual excitement in finding new ways to understand the universe. I need to go read it again.
The vibrant character study of a man filled with contradictions that at the same time is a history of Texas and US Politics in the 20th Century. I read this first volume ages ago (the early '90s) and zoomed through the second one as well. Ihave yet to read the third and fourth books because I don't want it to be over, also they are long, but I swear I'll get to at least volume three this year. I'm also holding my breath that Caro finishes this epic biography before time stops him. Fans of G.R.R. Martin don't even know what waiting and hoping an author finishes a great saga before he grows too old to continue. "The Song of Fire and Ice" is in its infancy when compared to "The Years of Lyndon Johnson."