Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ten Books that Stick with You

This is one of those Facebook memes that I think will make a good blog entry, so feel free to do your own spin in your own space. But Tria tagged me for this one where you list ten books that stick with you. All immediately came to mind. It took no effort to think of this list at all, which shows how each of these has truly stuck with me over the years.

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Though I am not ranking this list, this one has to be first. It has literally followed me for years. I read it the day I graduated from high school. Yeah, I did. I woke up that morning, picked this up, and read it from start to finish. That was not perhaps the smartest move, to read a book about someone who has a seemingly bright future but who then falls apart. But I did read it fast since there was an instant connection. I wrote two papers on it in college, at least. I taught it, and I led a discussion of it at local libraries, one last year and one last month. I couldn't get away from this book if I tried, and I'm not trying.

2. Beloved by Toni Morrison. I read this in college and loved it so much that I was afraid to read it again and find out that I was wrong about it. But when I taught it a few years later, I found out that I clearly wasn't wrong. In arguments about what is the great American novel, I always say that this is my choice. It's the one, in so many senses of the word.

3. Angels in America (Part One) by Tony Kushner. I read this in grad school and chose to teach it the next year. What I have loved about it ever since is that I find it so easy to teach. There is so much in the text and so many ways to go at it. When I decided to teach it again years after last teaching it, I went to the file I had for it and found a ton of notes and articles and ideas. I love talking about this one.

4. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. People always say that they can never choose just one favorite book, but I can. This one. She does an amazing job of weaving together the stories of her mother's death and the destruction caused by the rising of the Greast Salt Lake. This book is about intense, incredible pain, but it has such a tone of hope and joy. I love how this book makes me feel. I haven't read it since my mother died, and I'm thinking I should.

5. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction by Michel Foucault. I once quoted Foucault in an article, and one of the reviewers said that no one should ever quote Foucault because no one understands him. Whatever. I just know that this book really spoke to me and was one of the few texts to get me excited about critical theory (an excitement that has not lasted). At the end, when he writes, "Sex is worth dying for," I get chills. So much richness.

6. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. This book has come to me in my life at two points when I was in despearate need to process the pains and pleasures of being in love. Both times, I read it in one fell swoop and just let me feel everything it made me feel. It's such a sensual text.

7. In Memory of Angel Clare by Christopher Bram. I found this in a used bookstore in Houston about six months after Blane died. I read the back cover, which described a young man who had lost his older lover to AIDS and how the older lover's friends and families disliked the younger man, which made him feel more even more alone. That was my exact story in a nutshell. I bought it, went back to my apartment, and crawled into bed for the day to read it. Bram is more known for Father of Frankenstein, which became the film Gods and Monsters, but this out-of-print novel is the one that means the most to me.

8. The Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds. The summer after graduating high school and before starting college was a difficult one. But it was the events of that summer that led me to Sharon Olds. For the next few years, I would study and practice the craft of poetry, and the narrative, experiential poems of Olds always spoke to me more than the poetry of anyone else (including Plath). This was the first one, and it contains some of the work, like "My Father's Breasts," that still speaks to me the most.

9. Dry by Augusten Burroughs. I read Running with Scissors because I thought I should, and I liked a lot of it, but it also bugged me because he wanted to use humor to discuss something so serious. He wanted to do what David Sedaris did, but in Dry, which came out right after I read Scissors, he didn't try to be funny. He just told an incredibly touching story of loss and suffering. And I knew I'd read everything he ever wrote after it.

10. Between the Lines: Relating Composition Theory and Literary Theory by John Schilb. This is not his most famous book. In fact, it's out of print. But when I read it my last semester of coursework, I felt like I found the book that brought all of my previous thinking about the career I was about to enter together. I was amazed at how he wove all of English studies together in a way that argued for its place in a democratic education. I quoted form it heavily in my dissertation and think of it often.

1 comment:

  1. Nice list! But I guess I'd think so, given that we overlap in surprising ways. Nobody ever mentions Written on the Body, and it was one of the books that changed my life. (As did Angels in America and Beloved.) I still remember exactly when and where I read WOTB, down to the wine I was drinking.