Two books I read recently made me think about books I’ve read in the past and how they have influenced my thinking and life. The pair couldn’t be more different: one a hilarious, profane, insightful look at books and ideas that had an impact on a librarian’s life; the other a literary, academic study of books that affected a teacher’s life.
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life is by Annie Spence, a real-life librarian in the Detroit area whose epistolary homage to the best and worst books she’s come across as a librarian and reader will have you laughing so hard you cry. And crying so hard you laugh at yourself.
What person doesn’t get a little teary reading about books by Judy Bloom, Anne Frank, Audrey Niffenegger, and Adriana Trigiani? There’s so much more than laughs, though. There’s needle-sharp analysis, pathos, insight, lit crit, and cool lists.
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English, leads readers through her childhood, her angsty young adult years, and into adulthood via the tropes embedded in books such as Great Expectations, Gulliver’s Travels and Madame Bovary. She made me wonder about what books influenced me and how. She made me think about how novels and poetry speak to all of us through story and metaphor.
So, somewhere between the hilarity of one book and the literary analysis of the other, is a list of books that I read again and again. I offer little critical analysis as to why, and certainly no deep dive into my psyche.
- A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. As a child I loved this book of poems and line drawings interspersed with beautiful, four-color art. I found the book at my parents’ house some years ago. It’s inscribed as such: To: Ann, Mark, Dean; From: Daddy and Mommy, Christmas 1968. I would have been six years old.
- A biography of Luther Burbank. Why, in late elementary school, I repeatedly checked out a biography of a plant breeder/botanist is beyond me. I kill succulents, perhaps the easiest plant to keep alive ever. This book must have been the start of my love for memoir and good biography.
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carolyn Ryrie Brinks. A tomboy living on the Wisconsin frontier—what’s not to love, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans? I adored Caddie (and Laura).
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I read all of the Anne books in hardcover, each one a different pastel color. Don’t get me started on why I no longer own these books in this format.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison. This book is powerful and awful and hopeful all at the same time. I read it three or four times and still don’t think I got everything.
- Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. I met Kaye at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing and had her sign the same book twice, once in 1994 and another in 2002. I read the book again twice—one right after the other—just last year.
- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. One of my favorite Southern novels, and I like a fair number of them (see: The Help, Ellen Foster, To Kill a Mockingbird).
- Eleanor Oliphant Will Be Just Fine by Gail Honeyman. I just read this book for my first-ever book club and am completely in love with it. Read it!
There are many others not included—children’s, popular fiction, memoir, biography, literary fiction—that touched me, taught me, or got me thinking about life. These books, however, stayed with me for reasons unknown or only lightly considered. Perhaps one day I’ll dig deep into why these books are still in my heart. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading.
Would love to hear your list of books that are important to you!