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Read What I Read

These books in particular have had a big effect on who I’m becoming.

1.  Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, which I first read for a class sophomore year in high school.  It’s a history of philosophy set within a narrative about Sophie, a teenage girl who starts taking correspondence courses in philosophy from a mysterious penpal.  When I got to the big twist in the middle, I literally threw the book.  I have never read anything since that has evoked such a strong reaction.  I was like the little kid in The Never-Ending Story.  But more importantly, it changed the way I think at a pretty crucial age, and I doubt it will ever leave me.

“The truth is a diamond with many facets.” Jostein Gaarder

2.  As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  I read this Spring term of the Intro to English major series as a sophomore in college.  That Fall and Winter term had been miserable for me.  I’d gotten my first D on a paper, and even when I improved my grade, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on something that my classmates were getting.   I was ambivalent about the first few chapters, but the passage “I don’t know whether I am worrying or not.  Whether I can or not.  I don’t know whether I have tried to or not.  I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” so perfectly described how I was feeling at the time that I was instantly absorbed.  Professor Peppis’s lectures about it were the literary equivalent of walking into a dark room and abruptly turning on the light, and it was the turning point for me academically.  I started studying because I cared instead of studying for a grade.  If it were not for this book and Peppis’s delightfully fire and brimstone lectures, I don’t know that I would have finished my undergrad, much less gone to grad school.

3.  Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin.  When I was kid we had copies of this book and the sequel, Catwings Return, that were tiny (roughly 3 inches x 4 inches?).  Since they were so small, I took them with me when I spent a year as an exchange student in the Netherlands.  It’s about a New York City tabby cat who has a litter of kittens with wings, and sends them away so that humans won’t capture them.  I like cats anyway, but the story is simple, sweet, and hopeful, and always makes me feel better.  When I have a migraine, my fiance reads it to me.  Last year we were adopted by Moses, a stray kitten who came running up to us one rainy night and has been ours ever since.  It made me remember my first cat, Milo, whom my family acquired under eerily similar circumstances when I was four.  Thinking about Milo made me remember Catwings, and the lines

” ‘ Oh Hank ‘ Susan whispered.  ‘ Their wings are soft.’

‘Oh James ‘ Harriet whispered.  ‘ Their hands are kind.’ ”

My graduation present to myself that Spring was a tattoo based off of an illustration from the book.

4.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  My first encounter with this book was on a high school IB test in Literature.  We were given a single passage from the book to analyze, and it was so mind-bogglingly intriguing that I got a copy of it soon later.  The prose is absolutely beautiful; the entire book is a celebration of life, religion, science, and art.  The story follows Pi, a young Indian boy who begins following Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity as an adolescent, before being thrust into an several month long ‘adventure’ involving a row boat and a Bengal tiger.  It never gets old to me, and I return to it whenever religion is on my mind.

“Richard Parker has stayed with me. I’ve never forgotten him.  Dare I say I miss him?  I do.  I miss him.  I still see him in my dreams.  They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love.  Such is the strangeness of the human heart.”  Yann Martel

5.  The Flock by Joan Frances Casey.  This book was assigned to me for a course on women’s religious narratives by Professor Mark Unno.  All of the reading for the course was quite frankly, incredible, but this book in particular actually helped me with my personal life.  It is an autobiography of a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder, supplemented by the notes of Lynn Wilson, the woman who treated her.  It’s a remarkably unique perspective on the meaning of identity, and by the end, I cared about Joan and Lynn like they were my sisters.  (Warning; sexual abuse triggers)

“I was the thought, the voice of all who were, of all that I could be.  Evolving, growing.  A person.”  Joan Frances Casey

6.  Diary by Chuck Palahniuk.  I saw Fight Club when it came out, but this was the first Palahniuk book I read.  It blew my mind.  It expressed ideas about art and creativity that I’d never been able to articulate.  It feels naive to say now, but it also changed the way I thought about popular literature.  Palahniuk is raw like a cheese grater to your skin when you’re covered in bug bites.

“Your handwriting.  The way you walk.  Which china pattern you choose.  It’s all giving you away.  Everything you do shows your hand.  Everything is a self-portrait.  Everything is a diary.”  Chuck Palahniuk

Some of my other Palahniuk favorites are Haunted, Invisible Monsters, Rant (interesting folklore focus, cites Victor Turner), and Survivor (New Religious Movements and apocalyptic belief).

7.  Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.  This is a hard one to describe, but it’s diachronic narrative about a family who runs a carnival.  I’m interested in carnival in a general sense, so when my Mom told me what this book was about and warned me that it was incredibly dark, I knew I had to read it.  The story itself is a page turner, but it’s also an interesting look at standards of beauty and morality from an etic perspective.

“The truth is always an insult or a joke.  Lies are usually tastier.  We love them.  The nature of lies is to please.  Truth has no concern for anyone’s comfort.”  Katherine Dunn

Some other good reads:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind by Maura O’Halloran, Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong-Kingston, Wicked by Gregory Maguire, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Aama in America by Broughton Coburn, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, the Youth in Revolt series by CD Payne, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, Angelhead by Greg Bottoms, Intersex by Thea Hillman, Running With Scissors and Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs, The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

One Comment leave one →
  1. Micah Bowling permalink
    April 3, 2010 6:23 pm

    Cant wait to get to all of these books, “Life of Pi” is really burning a hole in my pocket so to speak. So far every book you have recommended to me has been excellent!!

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