Did you know it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week? Yep, it is. Once upon a time, I considered myself a book blogger, but these days my content is far too varied and random to allow myself to claim that title anymore. I’m always reading something, but it’s only fiction every now and then, so I never end up posting reviews anymore. There are some great book blogs out there, though. Check out Estella’s Revenge for lots of fun things to celebrate this week. Andi’s always got something good cookin’ over there. She’s also got a million links to other book blogs if you want to start reading. Or just see what everyone else is reading.
I’ve always been a book girl. Always. I remember my mother having to tell me to turn off the light and threaten to take away the book so that I’d stop reading and sleep. I pushed through the years when it was uncool to be smart and stayed smart anyway, continuing to read. I went to college as an English major with absolutely no plan except to read books for a few years and write about them. I love to talk books, especially with friends and occasionally with strangers. For years, I lived and slept books 24/7 in order to be a damn good teacher and maybe ignite some of that same excitement in my students. I get excited when I walk in a bookstore, and I read anywhere…. in waiting rooms, on my couch, on my porch, on the beach, in my bed. It’s a way to pass the time, yes. But books are often far, far more than that to me. A home has no heart without its books, and I love my stuffed bookshelves. I’ve learned a lot from books along the way as they have not only entertained me but maybe stretched my mind that little bit (or that big jump) that it needed to see the world a little differently than it did before.
So in honor of Book Bloggers’ Week and the book blogger I once was, I figured it was a good time to talk books. Back in my teaching days, kids would always ask what my “favorite book” is, and we all know it’s not that simple. There are some books that changed me for the better though, and I know everyone has a list – long or short – of those works that really affected you and maybe changed your worldview in some small way. Not to be overdramatic and all this-book-changed-my-life, but sometimes that little tweak in your perspective is all you need to alter your view and become something better than you were yesterday. So here are mine, and I’m including a passage if I have the book handy to look it up.
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – Yep. You probably want to stop reading right here because that sounds like the most boring book on the planet, but hold on a minute. It’s the only nonfiction/informational book on this list, and I can’t not include it. I read this book in the first trimester of my pregnancy, and it is no exaggeration that it changed my life. It allowed me to stop looking at childbirth as a problem and instead as something natural and even beautiful. Without Ina May’s words and her included powerful narratives, I would never have pursued unmedicated childbirth, and I feel like that one decision put me on a road to other significant things as well – from breastfeeding to natural living and better health overall. This is essentially the BIBLE for all midwives and doulas. Some background: Ina May is the head midwife at a place called The Farm in rural Tennessee, and in an oversimplified nutshell, it’s a hippie commune that settled there in the 70’s and (duh – free love and youth) 9 months later, there were babies being born. Ina May became the resident midwife, and she still is. Her record is impeccable, and she looks at childbirth as a beautiful rite of passage, not just a means to an end. Acknowledging that complications arise, she deals with the subject matter realistically but empowers women to see their role differently. She tells the reader, “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” This was my mantra for my previous pregnancy when I would get nervous. We all know how that turned out, and yet I know that when the next time rolls around, I’ll repeat her words again and again to remind myself of the power and beauty of the female body and the task before us. Even aside from the subject of childbirth, her message continues to guide me. So many women beat up on their own bodies because we aren’t skinny enough or tall enough or curvy enough or whatever. Remembering our perfection and capabilities in spite of perceived imperfections is so important.
- Fair and Tender Ladies – Oh, where do I begin? This novel follows one amazing woman throughout her life, and it has all my favorite ingredients – a southern setting, epistolary form, surprising character twists, beautiful description, and a feisty, admirable female lead. I’ve memorized passages from this book and reread it so many times that my copy is battered and bruised and marked. Ivy sucks the marrow from life in a way that inspires anyone. She shares my love for carpe diem-isms and warns you, “The days seem to go faster and faster…the days whirl along like the leaves blowing off the mountain right now. I want to hold up its flight like you would hold up a train and steal what I can from each day…” How many times I’ve thought the same thing in those happiest moments or stages of my life. When you depart from Ivy at the end of the book, it’s like turning the page on a friend, but she continues to inspire; “We spend our lives like a tale that is told, I have spent my years so. I have loved, and loved, and loved.” What better way to reflect on a life well-lived? Might be on my tombstone one day; I’m only half kidding.
- Wise Children – This work of magical realism focuses on twins Dora and Nora Chance, and it begins on their 75th birthday. They spend much of the novel reflecting on their life which has been deemed marginal or illegitimate in so many ways. Despite their challenges, they continually remind readers, “What a joy it is to dance and sing!” and this book reads like a carnival. It’s so inspiring and I finish it wanting to consume every last morsel of Life with no regrets. There’s so much more I can say, but I’ll babble. I love this novel. I love Angela Carter.
- Eat, Pray, Love – Umm, yeah, this memoir is overdone. It’s a movie and women flock to see it. Oprah-lovers read it in their book clubs, and it is ubiquitous right now, but I can’t deny the power of one woman’s firsthand account of literally traveling the world to find herself and finally claim her happiness after years of living what felt like someone else’s life. There are passages in this book that are pure magic and really, really worth something. I love that this work reminds me that you have to chase after the life you were meant to live, not fall lazily in to someone else’s. Every passage is quotable, so I couldn’t choose only one. Plus my copy is upstairs at the moment and I’m lazy.
- The Bluest Eye – I read this in high school and then reread it years later. I am white, middle class, and admittedly come from pretty sheltered beginnings. It is only through literature like Morrison’s that I could experience the life of someone so different from myself. Pecola obsesses about her eye color, but we all know that wouldn’t fix everything about her troubled, sad existence. Morrison is such a master. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.” This book is heavy, but I realize we are not all that different from Pecola….if only I had more money, if only I lived somewhere more exciting, if only I had a different career, if only I was beautiful, if only, if only…..All of us could benefit from the reminder that life does not hinge on one fact alone. We are all beautiful. We are all meaningful. Life your life as such.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife – This is another one that might be overdone with a blockbuster movie and a prominent place at Barnes and Noble, but I can’t praise this novel enough. I am usually ashamed to read love stories, but this is an honest, unabashed, bold, and beautiful story that, at the heart of things, is really about the incredible love between two people. I read it during a 3 week break from graduate school courses when I was planning my wedding, moving, and beginning my career; I relished this novel and did not want to turn that last page. I love that it makes time irrelevant while also reminding the reader that time is tickin’ and you’d better be bold with your life and your love. “Time is priceless, but it’s Free. You can’t own it, you can use it. You can spend it. But you can’t keep it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Such a sentiment we all need to hear. And at the end of my journey, I hope I too can say, “There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” Oh, Henry and Claire.
- Billy Collins [Poetry] – I adore Billy Collins and have seen him read twice. I even got his autograph – my claim to fame. I love that he makes poetry accessible for all of us. Do you love poetry? Pick up a Collins book. Do you hate poetry? Pick up a Collins book, and he will change your mind. The second time I heard him read, he stated that all literature “is about the same thing: Life is beautiful. Then you die.” I love this man.
- Keats [Poetry] – Oh, my crush Keats. Only a man who dies at 25 and knew he was dying for much of his life could affect us the way he does. Go LIVE, now. he seems to say to me. His work is nothing short of beautiful, and I could waste so much time just reading and rereading his poetry. I love that he values love and beauty, art and sincerity, knowing that in the end, not much else matters. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” The irony is that he proves that more than anything else. Centuries later, we are reading his work when he only lived for a brief moment.
So that’s my list, books that shape my life in many ways. What are yours? Is there a work that changed you? A passage that changed you? I’d love to hear.