Sunday, November 7, 2010

"15 in 15"

Last night, I attended an awards celebration.  In his acceptance speech, one of the recipients talked poignantly about a moment, a letter actually, that absolutely changed his life.  I started thinking about those moments that were pivotal in my life and at first the obvious milestones came to mind- marriage, birth of first child, birth of second child, and so on.  But there were other moments, perhaps quiet, unplanned moments when the earth shifted beneath me and I found myself moved to another place altogether.  Some of those moments occurred because of literature.

Last week, my friend Nancy, who seems to have a way of getting me started on things without even trying, sent me an invitation to participate in Facebook game called “15 Books in 15 Minutes.”   The idea is that in just 15 minutes, you post the titles of 15 books that had a big impact on you for whatever reason. Then you tag your friends and compare lists.  Unlike most Facebook games, this has been fun and very instructive; between Nancy’s list and those of some other friends,  I have my reading list for winter all worked out. 

Anyway, the first book I put on my “15 Book” list was “Stuart Little” by E.B. White.  I remember checking it out of the Wethersfield Public Library after school one day when I was seven or eight.  I brought it home and sat down at the kitchen table and started to read.  I was captivated by the adventures of the little mouse and his human parents and brother.  I simply could not put the book down and read it straight through without stopping.  I can’t say with any real certainty, but I think it was the first time that I was completely engrossed in the pages of a novel.   That book essentially changed me from a child who could read into a reader.    

As a kid, I devoured the “Little House” series,  all of the Beverly Cleary books, and others.  By  late elementary school and early junior high, I was reading a lot of mysteries- Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and was just getting started on the Perry Masons that my mother loved when my brother shoved a copy of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” in front of me.   This was a whole different ball of wax and I loved it.  When I finished Huxley,  he gave me a copy of William Goldings  “Lord of the Flies.”  These were the first  ‘adult literature’ that I read and they redirected my reading for many years- moving me to George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and others for the duration of high school.  Neither Huxley nor Golding made my “15 Book List” but they probably should have.

My passion for reading was one of the things that I shared with my mother.   Normally, our tastes In books were quite different, but there was one book, Alex Haley’s “Roots”  that we both loved.  (It is also on my “15 Book List.”)  We read it before it was widely available to the public.  A close family friend worked for Doubleday Publishers and had an early copy at her home when we visited for a weekend.  I was in high school, and bored by the adult conversation,  I picked it up and started reading.  Like my experience with “Stuart Little, “ I was unable to put the book down and read  late into the night, long after everyone had gone to sleep.  The next day, our friend offered to give me the book.  That is my memory of the story.  My mother had a different version, claiming that Jean had given the book to her.  For years, my Mom and I cheerfully argued over the ownership of that book, stealing it from each other’s bookshelves whenever we got the chance.  Once when I was in college, I stole the book and in its place left a poster for a genealogy conference that advertised "Find your own ROOTS!"  But finally, I lived too far away to continue this game, and I gave up and bought my own copy.   When I went through her things after she passed away two years ago, I found the original, and for the record, stole it back one last time.   I will probably never read this book again; its place in my life is as a symbol of that particular connection between us.  What if I read it and didn’t even like it anymore?  Too risky!

In case you are interested (and not a Facebook user), here is my full “15 Book list”  as it was posted originally.  I need to edit it at some point.  I can’t believe I forgot Winnie the Pooh! 

In no particular order
1.  Stuart Little  (E.B. White)
2.  To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
3.  Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
4.  Yosemite and the Range of Light (Ansel Adams)
5.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig)
6.  Why Christian? (Douglas John Hall)
7.  The Wasteland (T.S. Eliot)
8.  Roots (Alex Haley)
9.  The God Particle (Leon Lederman)
10. To Infinity and Beyond (Eli Maor)
11. The Shipping News (E. Annie Proulx)
12.  Poems by Lanston Hughes (Langston Hughes)
13. Intepreter of Maladies (Jumpa Lahiri)
14. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
15.Cellist of Sarajevo (Stephen Galloway)
15a.  Flatland (E. A. Abbott)
15b.  Cat's Eye (Margaret Atwood) 

Today I am grateful that my mother nurtured my love for reading, while my father encouraged my interest in science.  And I am especially grateful that my life and work allows me the opportunity to do both!  

And yes, I do know that my "15 Books" list contains 17 titles.  The edited one has even more! 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Deb. This almost made me cry! Oh - I couldn't believe the response to the 15 Books challenge - I've put together quite a nice reading list, too.

    Another great post!