The scene: My office. 11:18 a.m.
I stomp in with hell on my angry heels after the end of a meeting that went sour quicker than last month’s expired milk. I was angry. I was stressed. My feelings were a little hurt. And I was 28 minutes late for my trip to New L______ with the Boss Lady (bye bye lunch break). She could tell I was at my breaking point and defaulted to a calm almost-whisper, “It’s ok. I’m not in a hurry.” *deep breath*
“Hm. Well, I am because I don’t want to burst into tears in the office, so I’ll meet you at the car.” (I can be a real gem to work with sometimes).
I was able to keep my cool – sorta – I was able to keep my composure . We made it to New L_____. On the way back, I begged Boss Lady to stop at The Book Barn. She had never been there before, but caved in easily when I described it as a hidden paradise of cheap books. Niantic’s little jewel. Booky Book Book Book Books. I bought a dozen. Four were old friends that I’d lent out never to see again and wanted back in my collection. I welcomed them with open arms. Two, I bought for the covers alone. You’re not supposed to do that, you know, but I couldn’t help myself – one looked like it had fallen out of a 1950’s school girl’s bag at recess and the other had a graphic novel style cover and was about a female scientist that invents a pill for heartbreak after she gets dumped. One was by the only author whose books I purchase for no other reason than I trust him – Leon Uris. The other 5 were recommendations.
I said good bye to two twenty dollar bills and hello to an armful of books. And my day felt better.
On the car ride back, I inhaled in the stale moldy smell of used books. I love it. I momentarily lost myself in sensing my new books – An intoxicating smell, the feel of soft and well worn pages, so full of promise and potential, the sound of pages flipping and covers flopping, the colors and textures, everything together so yummy, you can almost taste it. How does anyone read on a Kindle?
Buying a dozen books at a time might seem a little excessive to most people. I don’t really consider it unusual, but I come from a family that systematically buys and tears through books. In college, friends used to make fun of me for “eating” books, which just meant I read way faster than they did and I was crap company for walking to class because I always had my nose in the book of the week. During the not-so-stimulating weeks, I’d read three books. Nobody believed I had the time to “read for fun.” I would tell them, “It’s easy. I don’t read any more than you, I just read these books instead of text books.” And that was pretty much true. I mean, I was the girl that had to excuse myself from Physics II because I was reading Little Women in the back of the class and burst into tears when Beth died. So Sad, gets me every time. My teacher never asked questions, he must have just figured that my emotional response was directly related to the lecture on Electric Current and Resistance.
My Dad read a lot of books. He used to give me recommendations; recommendations that had been passed down from his dad. I’d read the book and then we’d talk about it. It was our own special Father-Daughter book club. I like to think that my Grandfather would have enjoyed joining in, had he not passed away back when I was still in my Babysitter’s Club days.
I don’t have much from my Grandfather. Minus his role in my genetic makeup, of course. But, I do have a few of his books – a hardcover copy of The Winds of War by Wouk, Centennial by Michener, Trinity by my beloved Leon Uris, to name a few. And, I have his book list. A copy of the original written on a typewriter. Typewriters are Cool.
Here it is:
*Disclaimer, Grandpa didn’t bother much for political correctness. If you don’t want to risk being offended in the next 34 pages, I’ll just write some of the highlights from his dictation below.
“I would like you to read at a minimum the four books that in my opinion tell you where you come from. They will influence you for the rest of your life. To the good.”
*These four books are Centennial by Michener, Trinity by Uris, Borstal Boy by Behan and The Last Hurrah by O’Connor.
“Incidentally, I will never recommend a book which is not absolutely enthralling. I may recommend some books that might take an hour to get into, and all the time that you are trying to get into the book you are thinking what in the hell is the old man thinking of, and then the next thing you know it will be 1:30 in the morning and you won’t want to go to bed. Every book I recommend will be a pleasure to read. That’s my promise to you, and have I ever lied to you?”
Now, Grandpa begins listing (and criticizing) –
“The first book in order of importance is Black Boy by Richard Wright. All I will say about Black Boy is that the man who has not read it is just not educated.”
“Next in order of importance is, I think, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. I consider Remarque to be the equal of John Steinbeck….Anything that Steinbeck writes – read.”
“Next in quality, I think, is Graham Green’s, The Power and The Glory. I just can’t say enough of the power of that book…The book will grab you every step of the way.”
“One of the next books I would recommend is Gerald Green’s The Last Angry Man….Green, incidentally is the author of Holocaust….He did a crappy job of writing Holocaust but the man is a good author and he can write well if he wants to.”
“Don’t, of course, pass up any of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His work constitutes a literary experience that you should learn about, but not all of his stuff was good. I’ve always liked Hemmingway’s description of his writing, that it had the beauty of angel wings dipped in sand. He later lost that ability and never regained it.”
“A good critic never gives away the author’s punch line.”
“I know this comes under the heading of Papa nagging, but I’m urging you to start this list right now. It will give untold enjoyment the rest of your life. An added benefit is what it does to you as a human being. Reading like this gives you growth, compassion, kindness, understanding.”
“A really good author learns all that there is to know, absolutely everything, about the subject to be written about and then writes the fictionalized story.”
“…It’s always been an obscure book, it never was a best seller and it never won any critical acclaim, but it’s one of my personal favorites. I ran across it strictly by accident and it is A Canticle for Leibowitz. Canticle is a church name. I’m not really sure what a canticle is, even after all my years as a Catholic. A good exercise and a good habit you should get into, even though I never did and I should have, is this: anytime you’ve got a word you aren’t sure of you should look it up in the dictionary and check its pronunciation.”
“In my opinion, Gone With the Wind is one of the lousiest books ever done…read forty or fifty of these [books I am giving you] and then pick up Gone With the Wind sometime and see if you don’t think it was written by a total amateur.”
“1984 has got to be red. If you don’t read it, you are not educated.”
“I have purposely ignored most of the classics…because they will lay that stuff on you in school. But don’t forget Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin and Tom Sawyer. They should be read. They have enduring values.”
“Sinclair Lewis was one of America’s most popular authors for about ten years. He couldn’t write a lick. He was one of the worst writers who ever was published, but he wrote the type of thing that Americans wanted to hear…I mention Elmer Gantry here, not because it’s a great book, but because it is typical….Gad, the utter cynicism that underlay that book.”
“To a person lacking [a deep appreciation of good literature], such an appreciation is merely a bauble. To one who has it, it is a fine and wondrous jewel.”
OK, clearly, I come from a family of book snobs. But I can attest to the quality and enjoyability of Trinity, The Winds of War, Centennial, and everything I’ve ever read by Steinbeck – so I’m going to give Grandpa’s reading list a shot.
I’m currently working on The Catcher in the Rye. (That’s on his list). Once I’m through that, I’ll go through it again and start lining up my to-reads.