Book Meme, Part 2

Picking up where I left off a couple weeks ago, here’s a few more books that have been meaningful or influential to me.

I went through a serious classics phase in high school. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that we read a lot of classic plays and novels around that time, but I went above and beyond. For a while, I had starry eyed visions of reading all of the books on any “100 greatest classics” list.

At any rate, one of my absolute favorites to this day is Pride and Prejudice. It probably surprises no one, as it has everything I gush over in a good novel – romance, mystery, unrequited love, comedy, Mr Darcy…
Oh, come on. Anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice is in want of their own Mr Darcy after reading it, even more so if you’ve ever watched the BBC adaptation.

If you don’t want to be courted by Mr Darcy’s smoldering glare, aristocratic good looks and accidental classist remarks, we’re done here. I have nothing for you.

(Runner up in this category would be Emma. Also a fantastic read, and the BBC adaptation is also equally delightful, though lacking in Colin Firth)

I remember the day that I finished Wuthering Heights. I was sitting in my dad’s chair in the afternoon, and I let out a deep sigh. This might be my favorite book ever.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood how really messed up the book was. I wasn’t swooning over Heathcliff, and Cathy was kind of a petulant brat. But I loved the novel nonetheless. Maybe it appealed to the part of me that likes soap operas, except this one is more demented slash possibly incestuous … oh wait, that’s pretty soap opera-like too.

Unlike the relative lightheartedness of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights is grim. Even the sort of happy ending is bleak at best, because the really super tortured generation has died off and the slightly less tortured generation can now rebuild. So I guess I understand why people might not be as in love with the book as I am. But as a kid, I also liked to read obituaries, so clearly I’ve got a bit of a taste for the grim.

I debated whether to lump The Hobbit in with the classics or with the fantasy books. More than anything, this book will always be a sentimental favorite.

The first time I “read” this book, I didn’t read it myself – my dad read it to me. I can’t remember how old I was, but I was definitely in grade school, and I think we did this because of some “read to your kid for X minutes” incentive.

I would crawl onto my parents’ bed with my dad, sometimes with an apple (not sure why I remember that detail of all things), and he would read The Hobbit to me. I’d lay my head on his chest, and I could feel the vibration of his voice as he read to me.

It’s honestly one of my favorite memories ever. I didn’t come back to The Hobbit again until I was in high school and Lord of the Rings was popular. But I loved it then, and it likely has something to do with my enjoyment of fantasy now.

Also, the book is way, way, way better than the movie adaptation.

Book Meme, Part 1

There’s some meme going around on Facebook where you post the covers of ten books that have been meaningful to you or your favorite, or something. I haven’t paid that much attention, to be honest. I just keep waiting for someone to tag me, because clearly I love books, and no one ever does. Maybe they’re afraid it would be ten cat related books.

At any rate, I think part of the meme is that you’re not supposed to explain your choices, and clearly I am not a person of few words on a topic like this. So I’m going rogue and making my own rules, just like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. (Okay, maybe not quite that rogue)

So, I’m going to share with you ten books over the next few weeks that have had some sort of impact on me – some current favorites, some that I grew up with. No particular order, because that would be like ranking children, and we just don’t do that, okay?

I can’t talk about books without mentioning the Little House on the Prairie series. I could have lived and breathed Little House if left to my own devices. For a while, the show would come on every day at 9am, right after Bananas in Pajamas, so I would make myself comfy on the couch with my bowl of cereal and sit through the end credits to Bananas while I waited for Little House. For a while, I could pretty much identify which episode it was by what actors were listed in the opening credits.

I had some supplementary material for Little House, too. My parents bought me this book – it wasn’t entirely cookbook, because it had crafts too – anyway, I remember that it had a recipe for Nellie Olson’s lemonade in it. That was the first time I squeezed actual lemons for lemonade and it was delicious.

Between Little House and the Oregon trail, I may have been well-equipped to live in the mid 1800’s. I haven’t read the series in many, many years now, but some of my fondest memories are because of it, so Little House has to earn a place on my list.

Speaking of series, the Glenbrooke series by Robin Jones Gunn was another influential one for me – this time, in my early teens.

This series was my first foray into romance – don’t worry, they were extremely chaste. But what hooked me wasn’t just the sappy sweet romance, but that the characters carried over from one book to the next. Jessica may have been the main character of the first book, but it was her friend Teri whose adventures we followed in the next one. But these books didn’t just drop former characters like hot potatoes once they’d met their match – they continued to be minor characters and make appearances in subsequent novels. In short, these novels were set in their own world, and I loved them for it.

Ever since reading the Glenbrooke series, I’ve wanted to write stories like this, set in a world where we followed up on former characters. It’s been at least ten years since I visited any books in the series, but I haven’t forgotten them, so they have also earned a spot on my list.

Swedish Books

Recently, I read both A Man Called Ove and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared. They’re both by Swedish authors, which is a fun coincidence, because I didn’t set out to read 100 y.o.m – it was a book club pick.

Having read them nearly back to back, I noticed that there was a similar feel to both books. I don’t know if that is because of the content of the books, or reflects the culture of Sweden. Perhaps a little of both. I did a quick google search, and I don’t know that I’ve read any other books by Swedish authors – not recently, at any rate.

Both books tell the story of their older male main character, sharing both their current predicaments and weaving in their history through the chapters. I like this way of storytelling when it’s done well – and it is in both novels – because it gives valuable insight into the character without having to go from a purely chronological viewpoint. That, I think, would slow down the story considerably. Bouncing back and forth keeps the pace punchy, and leaves you wanting to know what happens next in both threads.

Ove tells a story that is more plausible. It’s serious and heartwarming, with moments of lightheartedness. 100 Year Old Man is a much more exaggerated tale. It doesn’t pretend to be realistic, and overall, feels something like a modern day myth. Both are really enjoyable reads, and worth your time.

I find that I slightly preferred Ove, however. It feels a little bit more tightly written. There are times where 100 Year Old Man wanders a bit too much from the main character for my liking. Every once in a while, the book would wander into the viewpoint of someone so random that it felt like too much of a stretch. I knew we wouldn’t be back in this character’s head, and the exposition wasn’t crucial. It could be amusing, but it slowed down the pacing just enough that I really didn’t care about it. But, these moments were few and far enough apart that the book was still fun.

So if you’re looking for something to read this summer and you haven’t read these books before, give them a shot. For me, at least, they were a fun departure from my normal choices.