Saturday, September 6, 2014

Confessions of a Binge Reader

My friend, Jennifer D. Munro, responded to a Facebook challenge and listed books that had influenced her. Instead of passing on the challenge, Jennifer gently suggested she would like to see my list. So, I'm putting together today's version of that list.

I'm a binge reader and I tend to think of books in clumps linked by my craving at the time. Here are some of the most vivid clumps in my ever-dimming and cluttered memory;
  • The Oz books. I obsessively collected, read, and wrote all over the original fourteen Oz books, in order, of course, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz through Glinda of Oz. Someone gave me one of the "pseudo Oz" books written by Ruth Plumly Thompson, but I wasn't taken in, only the L.Frank Baum originals make my list. When my younger brother Ken, was old enough to enjoy them, he read them and left his marks on the pages, and then younger sister Valery took her turn. As a young mother, I reclaimed the set and passed them on to my children who also read and wrote in the books. Just this year, my son Kevin asked if he could have them. I gathered those I could locate and shipped them off to him. Some of the books are missing and Valery has a couple of them she is not quite willing to part with yet. Kevin has just finished reading the first one to his foster children. 

  • The Nancy ,Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene, again collected and read in order from The Secret of the Old Clock through number 28, The Clue of the Black Keys. I guess I lost interest or aged out of the series by then. Nancy Drew was a wonderful role model for girls in the pre-women's lib days (if only she would dump Ned).
  • Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins, and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott. Oh, Jo, my hero, my role model. And why, oh why, did Beth have to die?
  • Late in high school, my binge reading became even more serious. I wanted really big books that would satisfy a deep thirst for escape. In this group I lump Forever Amber, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Marjorie Morningstar, and Gone With the Wind. My mother thought Forever Amber was scandalous and nearly forbid me to read it, but I prevailed.
  • Next came more Herman Wouk, James Michener, and Leon Uris. History in painless doses. 
  • The holocaust. When I discovered the holocaust at about eight years old in 1947, I couldn't believe it and I still struggle to believe both the horror and how little we learned. I read everything about it I could get my hands on. And I still do. Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, an amazing novel/memoir, written in occupied France is a recent and powerful contribution.
  • English Literature -- all the usual stuff from Shakespeare, through the Brontes, Thackarey, Dickens, and Trollope, to P. D. James and Ian McEwan.
  • Russian Literature -- Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Bely (Petersburg), Chekhov. Interesting how English lit. is about human nature independent of place, but Russia is always a central character in Russian Lit.
  • Twentieth century American men of letters -- Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and John Updike. More important than Steinbeck and Hemingway to me. I think American writing opened up in the second half of the twentieth century; the first half suffered from inhibition. I like John Updike's book reviews in the New Yorker even better than his novels.
  • Twentieth and twenty-first century American women -- Amy Tan, Anne LaMott, Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible should have had the Pulitzer), Diana Gabaldon (yes! literate and full of great history, albeit a bit formulaic after a while), Ann Morrow Lindbergh, and Joan Didion. I know I'm leaving many important writers.
  • The Mann Booker Short List -- whenever I'm at a loss for what to read next, I check out the Mann Booker Prize Short List for the past few years, I love British writers.
I'm sure if I made a list tomorrow, it would look nothing like this. I've been blessed by having thousands of books in my reading past and an ever-diminishing memory.