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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Books and Why They Touch Us

I've always been a fairly avid reader and can rarely remember a time when my nose wasn't in a book. One of the great highlights of my life while living here in Stockholm is my book group. It is comprised of American women living in Sweden and we have rip-roaring discussions and loads of fun together. We also subject, I mean, expose, one another to all kinds of books that under other circumstances we might not ever read. Sometimes it's a real score, like The Help was this past year. Other times, there are total stinkers, like Inheritance of Loss, which I chose a few years back. Everyone hated it, including me, but at least the cover looked cool, which is more than we could say for The Senator's Wife, which the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden picked and was really, really, really bad, in my humble opinion!
Book Club is over for the season so now I'm reading stuff that been on my shelf for awhile. I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I'm not entirely sure I had ever read the entire book or at least it has been so long that the details were buried deep within my sub-conscious. I got interested in it by reading Truman Capote (A book club nudge...we read In Cold Blood a few years back. Loved, loved, loved it and was not disappointed by the movie Capote that came out a few years ago.) The movie revealed the close relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote and thus To Kill A Mockingbird came back onto my radar. Of course, I loved the book and desired immediately to travel to Maycomb, Alabama, even though it's a made up town. I want to rent the movie and watch Gregory Peck in this great role. But even beyond the actual story, it got me thinking about what makes a book a classic. Why is it that a book Like TKAM has had such an enduring quality? Why is it referred to as a Great American Classic? Are there any classics that are being written and read today? When will they emerge as classics and then eventually be self-described as a classic?
I don't have answers to these questions, but I am genuinely interested in what bookies think about how a book becomes a classic.
For the record, I have several books that are favorites of mine and I really don't know if they would be considered classics. But in my opinion they are stories worth reading and savoring certainly more than once in a lifetime. So here's a sampling of Jodi's Classics.
My all time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany. I LOVE this book. I love John and Owen, the two main characters. I want them in my life. I love the theology, the commentary on war, the way in which the relationships are complex and meaningful. I love Owen's good heart and John's need for his friendship. I love what they mean to one another and how they influence one another. I seriously doubt another book will ever emerge as more beloved than this one.

My favorite book when I was a kid was Harriet the Spy. I read it again as an adult and was amazed by some of the humor and references that I know I more fully understood as
an adult. I could read it again, with ease. This is a great story. I so wanted to be Harriet. Probably still do in some ways. I may have to go get a red sweatshirt.

My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev are two books that are worth lingering over. Set within the Hasidic Community of New York, the stories trace the life of a young Jewish boy seeking to figure out his life as he discovers the artistic gifts that lurk within.

Glittering Image by Susan Howatch. This is actually the first book of a 7 book series that is set within the Church of England. Lots of theology, sin, forgiveness and redemption.

Life of Pi. Beautifully written, full of deep and abiding themes. Surprises all along the way. Must read it more than once to fully appreciate what the author is doing.
If I sat down with a list of books, I'd likely come up with other titles that I would rate more highly than these. For but today, these come to mind and I suppose in one way or another, they would always make a favorite book list and now, I am dying to re-read each and everyone of them!
How 'bout you? What are your favorite books?