It's nice that this is a book meme, because I can ramble on about books for HOURS on end. I was a huge reader as a kid, largely due to the fact that there was no television in our house during those years. (Now, of course, my two parents have no fewer than four televisions. Bygones!) I also was a very solitary kid in elementary school, as I had skipped a grade and ended up being close to two years younger than most of my (very socially advanced and somewhat cruel) classmates for the duration. That was tough, and the retreat that books offered was nothing less than salvation.
Which is not to say that I read particularly good books in those elementary years. I remember a strong affinity for Agatha Christie, primarily the novels but also the short stories. I also remember a huge, ancient collection of Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, and similar series that I used to plow through with alacrity. I remember discovering V.C. Andrews and devouring the "Flowers in the Attic" series; I also remember my mother being appalled when she realized some of the content of said series, and her trying to interest me in "Lady Chatterly's Lover" instead. (I guess her reasoning was that if I was going to be reading smut, better that it be highbrow, British smut.)
(Eventually I got around to S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume. I distinctly remember one evening in the sixth grade [which would have put me at age 10ish], upon hearing that my father was headed to the mall on an errand, begging him to duck into the bookstore and pick up a copy of "Forever" for me. Duck into the bookstore he did, and unfortunately, he took a moment to rifle the pages before parting with his dough. How acute my mother's embarrassment must have been, as she was the one deputized to whisper to me at bedtime that Daddy had inspected the book, and had decided it was a little "R-rated" for me. Thus eliminating any chance I had at becoming the coolest sixth-grader in school that year.)
I did eventually read "Lady Chatterly's Lover," but did not really understand it until years later, and D.H. Lawrence never became one of my favorite writers. Oh, but! How I remember seeing the film of "A Room with a View" as a teenager and running out to purchase the book, and being stunned by the revelation that even with a good movie, the book could be even better. (It still annoys me that the filmmakers did not find a field of violets for the crucial scene in which Julian Sands plants a nice smooch on little Helena Bonham Carter. Buttercups Are Not The Same Thing.) My collection of E.M. Forster grew quickly, and he is one of the authors that I still revisit fondly from time to time, re-reading through all of work in succession.
In fact, most of my reading these days is of a re-visiting nature. That is to say, I am more of a re-reader than a reader. Michael manages to find time to tackle such esoterica as Proust and the long, historical novels of Dorothy Dunnett, but my reading minutes these days (months, years) are confined to the half-hour before sleep. I have a tendency toward insomnia, and if I pick up anything new, my brain comes alive and starts to buzz, and before I know it, it is the wee hours of the morning, and just as I did in elementary school, I am reading by the tiny circle of light cast by my bedside lamp, turning pages as softly as I can, trying not to waken my husband (then, mother) and get caught in the act.
But when I travel, whether with the family or for work, I always bring along something new to chew on. Outside of the pressure of the regular week (and particularly at the beach), I devour new books. Most recently, I thoroughly enjoyed Joshilyn Jackson's "gods in alabama" and am half-way through "Bel Canto", which I started while traveling for my grandmother's funeral recently. Last year, "The Kite Runner" stunned me -- I'm not sure whether I've recovered from that book yet. Slowly but surely, I add authors and titles to my collection of friends to visit, and re-visit.
Total number of books I own: About fifty-bazillion. (Only a slight exaggeration.).
Last book I read: Last week I re-read Anthony Summers' investigative biography, "Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe." I really don't know what moved me to pull it off the shelf, but I'm still impressed with his research and her story still saddens me.
Last book I read before sleep last night: I finished re-reading the play "The House of Blue Leaves." Stunning, heart-wrenching work.
Last book I finished: See above.
Last book I bought: When I was in Chicago in September, I was afraid I would run out of reading material. I wandered into a used book store and grabbed a copy of Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin." I still haven't read it.
Five Meaningful Books:First position must go to John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany." My favorite contemporary writer, and this is his best work. (I keep trying to like "The Cider House Rules" better than "Meany," but I can't.)
A close second, "Sophie's Choice" by William Styron. Breathtaking. ("Lie Down in Darkness" was a strong contender, but it evokes "The Sounds and the Fury" [which I also love] a little too neatly.)
Third, "Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Less perfectly composed than "Gatsby" but more heartfelt.
Fourth, "Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger. Perfection, deftly writ.
Fifth, "Mystic River" by Dennis Lehane. As good as the movie is, it does not hold a candle to the book. Lehane has an incredible command of tone and character, and he casts a spell of dread and inevitability that is haunting.
Sixth, honorary special mention, non-fiction category: "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. This book could, and might, change the world.
I think I'm supposed to tag 5 other bloggers to carry on the meme, but I don't know who to tag, so -- if you're lurking and a blogger, you are IT. Hopefully by the next meme, I'll have a posse of my own to pass these things along to. Meanwhile, I hope my ramblings will inspire you to discover some new authors. If you do nothing else, go read "The Kite Runner." It's brilliant and will move you in surprising ways. Just don't start it at bedtime, or you'll be up until 3am. Don't say I didn't warn you.