Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment: Books to be Grateful For

Since yesterday was Thanksgiving, I'm going to copycat Looks & Books and list the books I'm grateful for.

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Believe it or not, I had trouble learning to read and at the end of first grade, was still struggling.  At the start of the summer vacation, I picked up my mother's old copy of Little House in the Big Woods and was immediately engrossed and in the space of ten minutes, mastered reading utterly.  I read the entire Little House series that summer, along with most of the Betsy-Tacy series, and several other books.   Over the course of my life, I've reread the books countless times and read them aloud to my children.  Laura's character--her fearlessness and independence--hugely influenced my own.  This is one of those series in which the illustrations are as much a part of the book as the words.  I can't imagine these stories without the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams.

Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

Of all the characters I've encountered in literature, Anne is the most real.  The books are alternately funny and tragic.  It's hilarious when Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk, but I always cry when Matthew dies.  I love the entire series, which concludes when Anne is in her forties and her children are grown.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Another book I read that summer after first grade.  Mary Lennox, raised in India, is sent to England to live with her uncle after her parents die of cholera.  She has been ignored by her parents, allowed to tyrannize her nanny, and at age 10 is as spoiled a brat as you will ever see in literature but her new life in England, where no one is willing to spoil her, effects a marvelous transformation on her character. The Tasha Tudor illustrations are essential.  The Secret Garden was another important piece of the phalanx of comfort literature with which I armed myself in childhood. It was my mother's too.  When she learned she was dying, she called me and asked me to bring her copy of The Secret Garden to her in the hospital.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

This is the book that made me want to be a writer.  I know, everybody says that, but it's true.  At any rate, it must only inspire people who are already inclined to be writers.  My kids have all read it and none of them say it made them want to be writers.  Anyway, it's not just about writing, it's about a girl who unwittingly causes her nanny to be fired and suddenly finds herself rejected by her peers.  I read Harriet when I was seven and immediately started my own spy notebook. I still have it.  My seven-year old observations of my siblings, parents, neighbors, and the shopkeepers of Eggertsville, NY are hilarious.  My mother observed me with my spy notebook and gave me a diary for my 8th birthday and I have been keeping a handwritten journal ever since.

The Diary of Anne Frank.

I read this book twice before I turned ten and was too young to understand it.  I didn't fully comprehend the horror of the holocaust, I was appalled at Anne's crush on Peter, but I immediately grasped the concept of diary as confidante.  Now I am grateful to Anne Frank for writing--I believe this is the last line in the diary before she and her family were discovered by the Nazis-- "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart."

The Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum

If you are familiar only with the famous first book in this series, then you are deprived because there are fourteen books in the series and The Wizard of Oz is not the best.  I am partial to The Road to Oz and Ozma of Oz and we owned the entire series--they had been my mother's when she was a child-- and she read them all out loud to us.  It seems like it took my entire childhood to get through every book, but we loved them. I loved reading them to my own kids.  I'm grateful to Baum for creating these fantasies as a vehicle to cheerfully mock American society.

I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

This is the first book by Bill Bryson I read.  Its daft cover photograph, looming down on me from a high shelf at the library attracted me at once.  Bryson, an American, lived in England for twenty years, then returned to the US with his family and this book is a collection of essays about the contrast between our cultures.  It's the sort of book that makes you laugh out loud in public, and I'm grateful to it because it led me to look up Bryson's other books, and these are now firmly entrenched in my collection of books I read when I need cheering up.

Flannery O'Connor:  The Complete Stories

I read this in college and loved it so much, I used it as a template for my own writing.  My early short stories are identifiably O'Connor-like.  They make me laugh, even while I am cringing.  I'm grateful to have found Flannery O'Connor to be my muse because there's so much worse I could have found.  That sounds like damning with faint praise, but these stories are really, really excellent, and the supreme example of the darkest of dark humor.  I think even now, there's a bit of O'Connor's influence in my writing.

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist

Another collection of short stories that influenced my writing and made me want to be a southerner.  Once you've been introduced to "Rhoda" you never forget her.

This post is getting very long and I'm thinking of more and more books to be grateful for.  Barchester TowersExcellent WomenCollected Stories of Eudora WeltyMary PoppinsTowers of Trebizond!  The Lord of the Rings series!  I will stop here.  What books are you grateful for?


  1. You know, the Little House books are the only books I still HAVE from my childhood - the complete set in a yellow cardboard carrying box. Surprisingly, I never read them aloud to my kids. You've inspired me to try again while my daughter is still young.

  2. I loved the Little House books when I was growing up and occasionally reread them now. For some reason, they haven't resonated with my girls in the same way.

    On the other hand, I never finished read Harriet the Spy as a child and couldn't even finish it as an adult, but one of my girls has read it at least a dozen times.

    I also didn't read the Anne of Green Gables books as a child, but have as an adult and, again, one of my girls has gone through them numerous times.

    I have read that particular Bill Bryson several times and laugh out loud every time.

  3. I also loved the Little House books as a kid. I read the first few to my daughter, but in the beginning of one book, where Mary goes blind and the dog dies, E started crying and didn't want to continue.

    And I LOVED all the Anne of Green Gables books. I read the first one to E when she was younger --some books are just so fabulous to read out loud.

    My favorite Bill Bryson so far is A Short History of Nearly Everything --he can always make me laugh out loud.

    Another series I'm so grateful for, and love to read out loud, are the Narnia books.

  4. After I read this post I got so excited.
    A new Bill Bryson I hadn't read.

    I went straight onto Amazon to order a copy or download it, but as I read the blurb it felt strangly familiar...

    It's jut as well I didn't buy it immediately. I discovered that I had already read this book, as it was publushed in the UK (and NZ) as Notes from a Big Country. I enjoyed it, but not as well as his "Notes from a Small Island".

    I think I'd have to have oestrogen injections to read some of your other suggestions (with the exceptions of Anne Frank and the Oz books), so I'll give them a miss at the moment.

  5. I've passed down both my Little House AND my Anne of Green Gables books to my daughter. She has since taken my Little Women and is now working her way through my Jane Eyre.
    We both still cry when Matthew dies.

  6. I'm glad to see so many fans of my favorite books. :)
    TSB, I'm going to be featuring a less well-known Bill Bryson book this Friday, so let me know if you've read it.

  7. Our taste is so similar--I adored Anne, you're right about the illustrations being so critical to the Laura books and I too read the entire Oz series, not just the Wizard. And I loved Betsy-Tacy books, The Great Brain books and all the Shoes books.

  8. Flannery O'Connor was a graceful and wonderful writer.