What books have a lasting impact? What kind of impact? Why?
I have a long list because from the time I was a child, books were an important part of my life: the Bible (I can’t imagine teaching college classes in literature without a sound knowledge of this tome), children’s books that my Aunt Muriel Adams who had a master’s degree in library science from the University of Kentucky brought into my life, an old copy of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” that my mother’s father gave her when she was a girl.
When I was almost 14 and we moved to Toledo, I quickly located the main library and every week brought home and read a stack of books geared for young girls. Before that time the only books I had read, which were designed to appeal to girls my age, was the Nancy Drew series. Now I never wanted to be a detective like Drew: I was more interested in her car and her friends as depicted by the author Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym for a host of authors. Although I was not introduced to Thoreau’s Walden until I was a young adult, that is the book that has had a lasting impact on me (more about that later).
In celebration of National Book Month, I’ve asked a few friends to tell me about their favorite books.
Cinda Anderton, a retired teacher who lives in Arizona, was the first to respond: “The Little Prince” is a book I’d like to buy by the case and give a copy to all my friends and family, from my 7-year-old grandson to my 90-year-old friend. I feel confident both would love it. It is ageless, and it satisfies those things in life that are important to me: Relationships, travel, surprises, children, diversity and a sense of wonder. Depending on where you are in life, you will take away different ideas.”
Director of Nursing Research at a hospital in Houston, Texas, Dr. Claudia Smith, responded next and I endorse her choice. When I read Frankl’s work or listen to his speeches, my heart melts and I think I don’t do nearly enough with my life. Smith’s choice is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. She reports, “This is one of my favorite books. I have read it several times and always find new meaning in it. One of my favorite quotes: ‘Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack of meaning and purpose.’ This profound book helps to center me.”
University of Delaware student, new bride, and former student of mine in American literature spring semester of this year is Mandi Riegle who says, “I’ve always loved “The Hunger Games” because of its eerie resemblance to our new American society. They rebuilt from the ashes of a nuclear war. And in the ruins of North America, the nation is divided in districts based on class. I guess the scary part is something like this could actually happen, and it seems like we are all well on our way to destroying each other and being divided. But I also love the book for the characters and plot line and how well it’s written in first person.”
Retired Air Force L.t Col. and college faculty member, actor and vocalist, Mike Taint, says, “Stendhal, The Red and the Black. The first great character study. Crime and Punishment, the second great one.”
Former student of mine and nurse practitioner from Colorado, Greg Johnson, writes “The New Centurions” by Joseph Wambaugh. Neither apologetic nor accusing, it gives a little window into the world that most people never really see, and it explains what happens to those people who see it every day and go home and be normal. Not so much a character study as a study of nature written vibrantly by a cop-turned-novelist who knows exactly how hard these stories are to tell.”
Once a telecom worker and student in my on-line creative writing class, Keith Fountain,indicates, “I’ll give you four; it’s too hard to narrow it down beyond that: The Stranger, Wise Blood, The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. The Stranger and Wise Blood are similar in feel, characters a bit unlikable yet captivating. Grapes and Mockingbird are in a way the other side of the coin. Here the characters are heroic, unselfish, and willing to challenge the status quo.”
A California voice from my decade of work in Orange County is Edgar Martinez, one of the finest fathers I know to his daughter Flor. “Rain of Gold” by Victor Villasenor. The story is of two families who migrate from Jalisco, Mexico, to Southern California during the Mexican Civil War and with time unite through a marriage. It is similar to the stories of many Mexican families. The story is rich in history and culture, a passionate story of the ups and downs of life. It is the first and only book I’ve ever picked up and couldn’t put down. I read it in three days and was hungry for more.”
A second California voice from my time in California is that of college professor Dr. Jessica Ayo Nina McKinney-Alabi. “Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Classified as a sci-fi, but an amazing book about antebellum slavery and time travel. It was sobering and cleansing for me. I planned to read it over summer but couldn’t stop until I finished it in a weekend. My heart is heavy for those who will never read it because it is sci-fi. A life-changing work.”
I hope you see the variety of books that resonate with a few of my friends and have come to understand that words from authors can ground you, can educate you, can take you into other worlds.
Finally, back to Thoreau and me. In the chapter of Walden entitled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Thoreau writes, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”
My journey in the woods began on the Cumberland River, on Cloverlick, on the trails to Raven’s Rock and continued on Cherry Street in Toledo, in and out of towns and cities, from one college to another, from one community to another, where I was always alert to the nuances, learning what life had to teach me.
At times the lessons were less than-positive, even painful, but I was enriched because this broadened my own understanding of others and myself. We find that to choose to be anything other than strong and courageous is to be defeated. When it is time to die, we want to know that we have lived, truly lived.
(May you rest in peace, Dawn Nunez. You have been a good and faithful servant and have enriched my life immeasurably.)
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