I love to read. I will read just about anything. I have been this way since I was very small... I didn't ever have a "lovey" or suck my thumb or anything, but I would ask for a "bunch of books" at the end of my bed before I could fall asleep, even at the young age of 3 or 4.
I grew up watching my parents read all the time, too. It was not uncommon, especially during vacations, to see my Mom or Dad toes up on the bed or the couch totally engrossed in a book. We had a rule in my family ... when someone was nearing the end of a book, they were excused from all regular chores. We called it "thin pages".
"Mom's in the thin pages!" I'd shout to my Dad and my sister. "Don't bother her about dinner!"
My favorite thing to do as long as I can remember is to curl up with a good book. The first series I can remember loving were those ones where you got to control how the book went... anyone else remember those? You would read a few pages, and then you'd have a choice. "If you think the boy will go in the hot air balloon," it said "go to page 83." "If you think the boy will go into the creaky woods, go to page 71." Throughout the book you controlled the momentum of the story. I read these over and over again, for hours.
Waaay before the days of Harry Potter, I lost myself in Lloyd Alexander's series "The Book of Three", or the "Chronicles of Narnia". I also love TinTin comic books. I read and re-read all of these until the pages had worn thin.
So I've been thinking about books and authors that have influenced me over my life. There are authors that I consistently enjoy: Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Hamilton, Sue Miller, Richard Russo. The best whodunit writer I have found is Michael Connolly and his Harry Bosch series. Or Jeffrey Deaver, especially the Lincoln Rhyme books. I am by no means a literary snob. I get enjoyment from just about any kind of book, although I admit I'm not a fan of romance novels. The scariest book I ever read was "Gerald's Game" by Stephen King. I am still haunted by the imagery in that story. The saddest book, or one of the saddest, is "The Deep End of the Ocean" by Jacquelyn Mitchard. The funniest book is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by the late, great Douglas Adams.
So over the past couple of days, I was thinking about those few books that have had special importance to me. You know the ones you can read over and over and not grow tired of? Each time you read them, especially at different stages in your life, you get something more out of the story. The writing is lyrical, the imagery so powerful it is like the story plays out like a movie in your head. You become so attached to the characters you feel like you know them. When you finish the book, you are sorry you're done, because you know you will never read that book for the first time ever again.
It was hard for me to narrow this list down to only five. So here is a list of six. Six books that have stayed with me, regardless of how long ago I read them, or how many times I have read them since. I reach for them again and again, because I know they will deliver the whole package. So here they are, in no particular order:
1) The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles - I first read this when I was 21 and fresh out of college. It has been made into a movie, but it is the book that really gripped me. I read it again recently, thinking perhaps youthful wander lust is what made me love it so at 21, and it spoke to me on entirely different levels at 40.
2) A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton - I first read this before I became a mother, and the storyline gripped me and held me from the first few pages. It is a story of human failings and frailties, misunderstandings and regret. It is beautifully written, with a wonderful eye for plot.
3) Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver - Barbara Kingsolver is one of the great writers of our time. I loved the Poisonwood Bible as well, but I read Prodigal Summer in the throes of active alcoholism and this book still touched me deeply, even though it has nothing to do with addiction. The writing is so beautiful it reads like a musical score. Re-reading it sober was like receiving a gift all over again. Just beautiful.
4) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini - one of the more predictable books on this list - many, many people loved this book. I didn't expect to like it, reading the jacket cover. It was about a part of the world and a culture that I had sort of a visceral reaction against. It moved me deeply - it was difficult to believe this story came out of a person's imagination. I didn't see the movie, and I'm not going to.
5) Memoires of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden - Again, not a subject matter I felt particularly drawn to when I read the book jacket. I somehow missed that the author was male, and was about halfway through the book when I realized this powerful woman's tale was written by a man. An engaging and beautiful story, and one that can be read again and again.
6) Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo - Just read it. It is so good. And don't see the movie until you have read it. If you have already seen the movie - read it anyway.
There are many authors of note that I need to mention - I read all their novels and love most of them: Andre Dubus III - I am currently reading The Garden of Last Days and am in awe of his character development, eye for plot and ability to draw the reader in immediately. The House of Sand and Fog was an amazing book, too. I read all of Jodi Picoult's books - my favorite is still The Pact - she is always great for an entertaining plot line with lots of twists and turns, but sometimes I think she is reaching a bit. Sue Miller, who I have already mentioned, has insight into the frailties of familial relationships, marriages and the human heart that I find moving. Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres is a great read, however I haven't been as fond of her other novels. The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton is a work of dramatic genius. Richard Russo's Straight Man is a work of comic genius.
And I will always have a soft spot in my heart for John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire. That was the first real "adult" book I read, and I still use a line from this book in my daily life ... "You have to keep passing the open windows".
I didn't even touch upon the classics, because I simply don't have that much time. I need to get back to The Garden of Last Days. I'm in the thin pages.
I'd love to hear from all of you - what books would be on your all-time favorite list, and why?