Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ten books that have stuck with me

There's one of those things going around on Facebook that I actually want to do (ice bucket challenge, I get tagged five or six times AFTER I already said I wasn't dumping ice water on my head - I did film my cousin's, though. We dumped some ice in the water on the shore near the cottage and he jumped in. Nothing icier than the north Atlantic! - and had already donated) but of course, no one is tagging me. What is wrong with these people?! I need new Facebook friends (or it's time to prune my list again; I'm over 200 friends and that's a little high for me).

So I'm posting it here, with some elaboration on why these books have stayed with me - be it the story or my life at the time.

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think hard. They do not have to be the "right" books or great works of Literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.

1. The Protector of the Small series - Tamora Pierce

I am a huge Tamora Pierce fan. I love all of her books, with a special fondness for the Tortall books. Alanna, Daine, Kel, Aly and even Beka have entered my heart and never left. And even though I am probably most like Aly personality-wise, Kel's books are my favourites. I think Alanna sums it up best at the end of Squire: "But you, bless you, are real." Kel isn't spectacular or magical or anything. She's just Kel. 

2. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

I used to say I never had a favourite book, but I was always kind of lying. Very recently, I finally admitted that I Capture the Castle is it. It is a beautiful story, at home in the 1930s and also at home in the early 2000s, which is when I first read it. I think I was ten the first time, and I finally bought my own copy at fourteen or so. I have reread it every year since, and always find something new.

3. Bright Shiny Morning - James Frey

First off, I hate the way James Frey formats his stories. Barely any punctuation? Fuck that. But. I picked up my copy in The American Bookstore in Amsterdam in 2008, shortly after it came out. I wanted something different (aka I had already read all nine books I brought with plus the one I bought at a train station). And despite, my quibbles with Frey's writing style, this is a damn good set of stories. It's not really a novel in the pure sense - it's a series of short stories about people living in Los Angeles, with some characters lasting only a paragraph and some many stories. It will make you cry and laugh, and at the end, I felt deeply moved - as much as a self-absorbed 16 year old can be, anyway.

4. Gideon's Spies - Gordon Thomas

I originally read the first two chapters of this for a seminar on comparative politics in my fourth year. The seminar specifically focused on spies and espionage, and to date remains my absolute favourite class I took in my favourite of years. The fist two chapters were assigned as part of the readings for the class on Mossad and Shin Bet. Also the class that I had to lead the seminar in. I was sucked in. I proposed a paper for my final one exploring the relationship between the United States and Israel in terms of intelligence, and sought out my own copy of the book. I ended up buying a copy, and the first night I sat down to read and take some notes for my paper, my roommate ended up asking me if I was doing my work or just reading. I devoured this book. Israeli foreign intelligence is fascinating. It remains one of the most entertaining narrative non-fiction works I've ever read.

5. Notes from a Big Country/ I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Bill Bryson

(There are two titles. Notes from a Big Country is the British version, and the one I first read, because in Canada, we have both editions freely floating around.) My dad picked this up at the used bookstore one Sunday, and spent most of his time reading snippets of it at us for the next couple weeks. So I picked it up after him. It's a collection of articles Bryson wrote for The Mail on Sunday's Night and Day supplement in the mid to late 1990s, after he had moved back to the USA with his British family after twenty years of being abroad. Most of it is perplexed observations comparing America to the UK, and it is hilarious. It is my favourite Bill Bryson book, and I have since read all of his work.

6. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

My list would not be complete without some Atwood. I love her. The Blind Assassin is a book within a book, and the story of two sisters. It is my favourite Atwood book. It's wonderful. Funny and tragic. I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Atwood in 2011, and had my copy signed by her. She is a delightful speaker, very morbidly funny. 

7. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod

If someone wanted to know about the world I grew up in, and the cultures that collided in my house and in my city, I would give them La Sagouine by Antonine Maillet, a copy of the Poirier-Bastarache Report, a copy of my undergraduate thesis, the best of the Rankin Family CDs, and a copy of this. No Great Mischief is probably steeped more in Gaelic culture than my family has ever been, but the ideas are the same: this is a place where you grow up and leave, to spend the rest of your life somewhere else. But you're always tied to home, and you'll always go home, when the occasion rises. Maritimers are also a very clannish lot, and it is demonstrated very strongly here. It's a very sad story, though. 

8. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I feel like everyone has this on their list. But it was the book series of a generation. I was first introduced to Harry Potter in the fall of 1998. My cousins were visiting and they brought the first one with them. I got to the Hallowe'en chapter that night. For Easter of 1999, I finally had my own copy of the first book - a battered, well-loved paperback version that is living out its life quietly in my parents' house, who generously got me a box set in exchange for the ones I left there. I got the second and third books the following summer. My younger brother, just six at the time, decided to teach himself to read better so he could read them too, and it started a journey we shared in together. I always read them first, because I read so much faster, and then he would, and then we'd talk about them. Years of waiting for the latest one are pleasant memories.

9. The Last Summer (Of You and Me) - Ann Brashares

I'm never quite sure why I love this book so much. I think it's because even when I first read it, at fifteen (my mom ordered it for me - I miss my mother just agreeing to buy whatever books I wanted. I was an expensive kid that way, but she never minded. Keeping in mind that the Canadian dollar was ~62 cents to the American for most of my childhood and you can see why it was), I knew I would continue to relate to it for years to come. My cousins and I agreed it's because it captures that summer feeling of all of us at the house, rambling about, the days of kids tables and late-night cards. In recent years we have gone up by ourselves, and there are no kids tables, and the late-night card games are driven by beer, and there's no longer any electricity or running water. But reading that book, and the description of summers at the beach and I remember all of the years unfolding around me: the early ones when the West coast family would join us, the middle ones when we ached to be recognized as responsible, and the most recent ones as adults.

10. The Story Girl and The Golden Road - L.M. Montgomery

I know, this is two instead of one. But they are an inseparable duo. I'm about to get on my L.M. Montgomery soapbox here, so bear with me. I firmly believe that The Story Girl and its sequel, The Golden Road are way better than the Anne series. (Anne of Green Gables isn't even the best book in that series! Anne of the Island is, or Rilla of Ingleside. I have a lot of feelings about her books, okay?) There was a TV show about The Story Girl, where they ruined the story, so please ignore that and just read these two. They are just better, more poignant, better writing, better story, better characters, etc. If you liked Anne of Green Gables, but never read anything else, you need to a) finish the series (even Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, even though they are obviously money grabs by the publisher) and b) read these two so we can talk about how awesome they are. 

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