Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Books I Love

As I prepare to move to England, I've been cleaning out my books. When I was in college, one of my professors said that every time he moved his book collection got smaller. At the time I marveled that he could ever get rid of a book. I had hundreds of books back then.

But sure enough, each time I moved, my collection got smaller. Now that I have to box them up and send them to England, they're going through an even more thorough purging.

But there are some books I just can't bring myself to sell or give away. Here are 15 that I expect to always keep.

1. "The Sheltering Sky," Paul Bowles. This is the quintessential North Africa book, and it connects me to my experiences in Morocco -- though happily I didn't go through anything as traumatic as the characters in the book. I first read "The Sheltering Sky" while living in a Moroccan village, and I was awed by Bowles' writing and my total immersion in that landscape.

2. "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," Edna Buchanan. A former reporter for the Miami Herald, Buchanan wrote this book about her years of crime coverage in Florida's most exciting, colorful city.

3. "The Martian Chronicles," Ray Bradbury. I latched on to Bradbury in the seventh grade, and I've never let go. A brilliant book not only about space travel, but about the follies of humanity and the hope that our better selves will persevere.

4. "The Bell Jar," Sylvia Plath. It can be a tough book to read, but Plath's autobiographical novel about descent into mental breakdown is fascinating -- and she's one of the best writers ever.

5. "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald. Undoubtedly one of my favorite novels.

6. "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway. Another favorite, and one that inspired me to try to live and travel abroad. (And drink.)

7. "A Passage to India," E.M. Forster. Not only a terrific novel, and another one that inspired me to travel -- my copy also has personal significance. I bought it in college for a term paper, and it's full of my notes and highlighting.

8. "Letter from New York," Helene Hanff. Best known for "84 Charing Cross Road," Hanff wrote these sketches about life in New York City for the BBC. They're terrific accounts of everyday life in the Big Apple, written in her simple, charming style.

9. "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," Joan Didion. A must-have book for any journalist, Didion's collection of essays distills life in the 1960s in California into brilliant, descriptive prose. Once again, my copy has significance -- a vintage paperback that I picked up at a memorable used book sale in college.

10. "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote. Another must-have for journalists, this book will scare the hell out of anyone.

11. "Valley of the Dolls," Jacqueline Susann. I have a vintage hardback copy of this, the best-selling novel of all time. The essence of camp, and yet, an incredibly good read.

12. Three books by E.B. White: "The Points of My Compass," "One Man's Meat" and "The Second Tree from the Corner." Books of essays that White wrote for The New Yorker and Harper's in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. He's one of the best writers ever, a god to people who aspire to write, and always a pleasure to read.

13. "Out of Africa," Isak Dinesen. Another quintessential Africa book that inspired my global wandering. I never fail to tear up at this passage: "If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?" I wonder that about Morocco. How much of me is still there?

14. "Slaves of New York," Tama Janowitz. When I first read this book in the mid-'80s, I knew I had to live in New York someday.

15. "The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger. Who can't identify with the adolescent frustration and confusion that permeates this book, and permeates all of us well into adulthood?

I love these books so much, I'm mailing them all across the ocean.


Barbara said...

You have great taste in literature! I think Sheltering Sky has to be one of the best books I ever read. I'm sure it has special meaning for you because of all the time you spent in that part of the world. That's a good exercise to name your top 15 books; I'll have to try it!

Reya Mellicker said...

What a fantastic selection - high road, low road and everything inbetween.

The Bug said...

Boy The Bell Jar was really freaky to me - by the end I finally understood why someone might consider suicide. But you're right, it's an excellent book.

I live with a historian. Any book given away is a mighty victory in our house :)

Susan K said...

No Jane Austen, but still a great list.

37paddington said...

Three of these books, The Sheltering Sky, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and In Cold Blood, really define my reading life in my twenties.

Add The Executioners Song, Edie, and The World According to Garp and you have all the books that most transfixed me back then.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. (Looking back, I must have been in a fairly dark and ironic place.)

herding tapeworms said...

hey, i haven't checked your blog in ages, so I had NO idea you resumed writing (no RSS readers to warn me of your return) and left the US. congratulations on the big move. can't wait to read all about it.