I like to think that books (like relationships) come to people at specific times. And sometimes when you pick up a book you’re just not ready for it. Sometimes it’s the perfect pairing of life drama and book plot. Most of the time though, the ones that truly move us, push us forward with reading momentum, are books that were supposed to be put in our hands. A bit of book fate, if you will. (Humor me). This list is those books. I can remember when most of them came to me (not thieves in the night or anything), and I can place myself at the scene of the crhyme. (Is the corniness too far yet or should I keep going). Below is the list of books that made me a book lover. You can just look at the list, steal a few recommendations. After that, I’ve strategically placed (for your CLEAR reading pleasure) how these books found me and what was happening in my life at the time. Maybe we will have similar “plot twists” in our life and you can use one of these books to be changed. Let’s hope so. Please share with me any recommendations paired with life situations in the comments. I haven’t yet made my September TBR and I need a few books.
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
This is actually the only book on the list that I don’t remember why I was reading it. I believe I just liked the cover. Never in my life have I used google translate more. Or just google. To figure out all the ins and outs of the Dominican Republic’s political climate. Oscar is also the narrator of the century, he’s completely endearing and wonderfully romantic (in the old fashioned literary sense, kind of like Manny on Modern Family).
2. God-Shaped Hole – Tiffanie DeBartolo
Holy tissue boxes, batman. Just prepare yourself for this one. DeBartolo was the first author that I actively stalked on social media. I found her website. I might have emailed her a few times. I fangirled all over her Twitter account. I was in a place in my life where I just wanted to be noticed. I believe I read this sophomore year of college where I was in the intense heat of a creative writing program at NCSU and people were willing to metaphorically bleed out their best friends from five minutes before. It was terrifying, overwhelming, and kept me on a teetering balance of critical and warm for the entire year (probably mostly critical). Because when you critique in writing workshop it just floods into other parts of your life. Thank goodness for my roommate, Christine, who loved me beyond this and still does.
3. Eating Fire – Margaret Atwood
This is a collection of some Margaret Atwood poetry books. She does write poetry. It is disturbing and thoughtful and everything you think it would be for Atwood. This was the same time as God-Shaped Hole. I was required to choose a poetry collection to use for my end of semester broadside and we were given a list and of course the professor said “You can choose off of this list, but I must approve it.” If you give me the option to be different, I’m going to choose the path less taken (which is truly probably the path everyone takes). So, I read the entire dense collection. I highlighted. I wanted to eat my own hands. I wrote little notes to myself that I hung on my bathroom mirror to remind me that my writing wasn’t good enough (I’m one of those self-loathers). It was hard, but here I am, a better and more disturbed person thanks to Atwood. She also taught me so much about American Lit that I can use in the classroom because she has a very distinct idea of what Americans and Canadians view differently about the wilderness.
4. Head Off & Split – Nikki Finney
I teach her every single year to my students. I think this is when I realized (I was a late bloomer) that poetry can be political. Again, I was in college. I had no idea that people could write with such anger and such hope at the same time. I had no idea how large the divide was becoming of categorized people (i.e. black/white, happy/sad, today/tomorrow).
5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
I don’t know. End of high school. I hadn’t read anything required of me except some of Gatsby (Sparknotes was still a viable thing then). I didn’t like reading. I had lost that profound sense of personhood that I somehow had in middle school (even after a terrible haircut and a backseat of the movie theater boyfriend). This found me. I can’t even explain it. Jane was what I was feeling, but she was in a different moment in time. I realized that life is just a pattern of history. And Jane was like me in another life.
6. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
I was on Bald Head Island. This island is seriously so rich that they don’t even really drive cars, just golf carts and if they want to go ANYWHERE other than a very small grocery store, they have to ride a ferry (or take their own boats). It’s a wonderful place to visit and biking around it is one of my fondest memories. However, the juxtaposition between Vietnam War memories and Bald Head Island was too great for me. As soon as they kill the baby hippo, I was done. I was a bit of a tear-jerk all week after that. This book is so moving and as a woman who’s always circling the histories of war but never really allowed into the gory bits, this took me where I needed to go in order to better understand America’s war history and just the point of war and the aftermath of war. It is a work of fiction, but it is a truth as well.
7. Bee Season – Myla Goldberg
Weird. As. Hell. which is what I am.
8. The BFG – Roald Dahl
This book is my favorite book in the entire universe. I would have The BFG tattooed on my forearm right now if my father wouldn’t have a heart attack at the sight of it. I have my fifth grade copy (with highlights and notes to myself in my larger than life handwriting) and it’s everything to me. If there was a fire, my copy of this book would definitely be searched for (leading me to die from smoke inhalation). In tenth grade, I wrote a screen play of it, 100 pages, maybe the hardest assignment I was ever asked to do. I adore this book. It’s been with me through generations of hurt and happiness and I just want to cuddle it right now after typing this.
9. Columbine – Dave Cullen
“She said yes” was given to me as a child. It’s about the girl named Cassie who told one of the shooters that she believed in God before he shot her in the head. At the time Columbine came out, investigators had recently found that she probably wasn’t the one in the library who said it and another student did. I was also going through a religious null (still kind of finding my way) and so I read this to figure out the whole story. It’s an unbelievable book. Seriously, unbelievable. And it taught me that nonfiction can be just as moving as fiction. I still believe in that girl named Cassie who died kneeling under a library table.
10. Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
I fly through books. I often don’t remember what the plots are or the main characters names a few months after finishing. If I pick the book up again then I will remember it suddenly, but usually it’s lost on me (because I hate rereading books). This book has stayed with me. The characters, the plot, the moments of silence. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it while I was reading it, but when it was finished, I was moved to tears and change.
11. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Foer
This was my first introduction to Foer. I had read his wife, Nicole Krauss, but not him.
This is a story of September 11th.
This made me want to read every single detail of that day.
This pushed me to read further.
12. The Arrival – Shaun Tan
I found Shaun Tan when I lived in Australia. I also found a library card and graphic novels. I left for Australia the summer after I graduated from college. I was definitely in a reading slump. I hadn’t really read anything beyond what was required of me in class. However, I walked to the library almost every day in Australia. I worked in a college bookstore and a tea shop so I was often inundated with people reading. Seeing what they were reading, and having discussions about literature, led me back to the library, my second home. That library was a safe haven for me in a time where my life was placed in a box (literally I lived in a room with my then boyfriend) and because I had no idea what my next step was even though I thought I had it all planned out. Shaun Tan is magic, everything he illustrates I own.
13. An Empty Spoon – Sunny Decker
My Mom found this one for me at a consignment store. It’s the book that actually led me into taking teaching classes and deciding that it was something I might want to do. I was working at a teen center and I felt like I just had an epiphany. My Mom has been there for every key moment of my life. She can see the moments on my face even. This was one of those where she just knew that I needed a little push I think.
14. The Essential Etheridge Knight – Etheridge Knight
Or in other words when I learned the following things:
- People who go to jail are not idiots.
- Poetry can be raw inside the edges.
- Cuss words should only be used with severe meaning.
- Anyone can be a poet. And anyone can be good.
15. Forth a Raven – Christina Davis
I just love this poetry collection. It’s beautiful. I wasn’t reading poetry and this reminded me that I must.