Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reading Rainbow

At some point in our last book club get together, the idea of get-to-know-you questions was proposed. Seeing as we’d been doing this sort of thing since the start of the year, and since just the thought of the term Icebreaker gives this introvert hives, my immediate reaction was not one of joyful enthusiasm. But I tried to tamp down my nerves quickly (hopefully, no one noticed my instantly sweaty palms or my deer in headlights expression) and set my mental wheels on hyper-drive to think of my favorite dessert, travel location, and book.

I am no good at picking favorites. I am fundamentally incapable of selecting one thing as the pinnacle of anything in my mind and always come up with qualifications, additions, or explanations of some kind, which is why I described my love of tiramisu, crème brulee, and anything chocolate and my unflagging affection for Disneyworld as tempered by my desire to visit both Hawaii and Europe. (See how I did that, using an entire continent so I wouldn’t have to isolate a specific country? My middle name should be Dodge.)

But favorite book? I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t think of one. I read, I do, but I was really late to the game as far as reading for pleasure is concerned. I was in college before I did that, really. For far too many years, reading was a chore brought on by selections out of my control and under order. Since I was a very slow reader, it was always a slog to get through anything. A book report assignment was the equivalent of hard labor to my elementary school brain. And if pressed, I have to admit I’m fairly certain I didn’t fully complete my entire summer reading assignment for any of my high school years. I’d usually get through 2 of the 3 books, but I’d already read and hated The Hobbit before my freshman year, so I relied on past history for that one, Hemingway was dry so I skimmed A Farewell to Arms the next year (I know, club me now), no one should have to read Brideshead Revisited, and Anna Karenina AND Don Quixote in one summer is too much for any human being, period.

As an adult, though, I do cherish the fleeting moment I can sink down with a book. My choices usually aren’t of high literary esteem (I have read the entire Tori Spelling oeuvre), but seeing as I’m a mother of 2 and wife of 1, there’s precious little time to devote to my personal hygiene, let alone reading enjoyment, so I pick what I like, and if that’s fluff, bring it on. I will say my whip smart fellow book club members (gee, doesn’t that sound so proper) have chosen some excellent volumes that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise, so thank you, ladies, for broadening my horizons. I’m also thrilled to have rediscovered the joys of the local library, knowing that I have thousands of books I can try at my leisure without touching my wallet. Bonus points!

So, I flaked on naming a favorite book, citing some nonsense about studying engineering and having to read nothing but formulas forever. But that’s not entirely true. I’ve been thinking about this since then, and I can tell you some of the books that have influenced me over time. I warn you, remember my point about fluff.

Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. Shel Silverstein was the first poet I ever read, and I maintain he was a genius for making poetry down to earth for kids. I (unsuccessfully) cited “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony” in my quest to get a TV for my bedroom in the third grade (for the line “This is a good story / To read to your folks / When they won’t buy / You something you want”). I will be reading these to my kids, but I think I’ll skip that particular verse.

The Sweet Valley High Series. I think it was the summer after my freshman year of college that I discovered Half Price Books and, for some reason, became obsessed with collecting every volume in the series for pennies. At one point, I had every one from 1 to 125, minus #92, which I never did acquire. I read them at the pace of 1 to 2 per day, which I find impressive having a full time job at the time, so I must give these books the credit for helping me sped up my reading ability. And , you know, wanting to be a willowy blond with a Fiat.

Anything by Danielle Steel. See above: Half Price Books discovery. I was a sucker for trashy (and I use the term affectionately) and romantic since I got suckered into a Harlequin Romance book club scheme years before, coupled with my penchant for soap opera watching, what can I say.

The North and South Trilogy. I fell in love with the 1985 miniseries, and it’s still my favorite miniseries of all time. It spurred me to read the books, and start recognizing the difference between original written works and their Hollywood interpretations. The first 2 installments of the miniseries were quite faithful to the source material. Let us not speak of Volume 3. (I actually have the trilogy on DVD, and you’re welcome to come swoon over young Patrick Swayze with me anytime.)

There were actually a few choice selections of some literary note:

The Great Gatsby. I read it my junior year in high school, and enjoyed it, unusual at the time for school-assigned material. I’ve read it again, which is even more unusual, and will again. I notice something new every time.

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” I wrote a paper on this short story about for my sophomore English class, in which I’d been struggling to doing more than decently average work. My teacher called me at home to tell me how impressed she was with my writing. Turned around the entire year. I will never forget the teacher or the story.

“The Country of the Blind.” I remember this H.G. Wells story from junior high for its detail about how people would function if they didn’t (or never had) eyes. It made perfect sense to me that they would work outside at night when it was cooler because they wouldn’t need the light, and it fascinated me to look at a society much like our own, but with a twist. And it totally blew my mind when my teacher pointed out that a character who knew nothing about the concept of sight would use the words “You see, my dear.” Author oversight or clever Easter egg?

I’m sure there are other books and stories that have impacted me, but these are the ones that I’m remembering now, since I was asked that fateful question. The book I read tomorrow could very well end up on that list. Time for another trip to the library.

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