There is this “posting to your status” request thing going around on Facebook lately. Have you seen it? The request goes something like this:
In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.
While I didn’t post any response to my status, I did compile a list that reflected 10 books that have “stayed with me in some way.” Though, as requested, I did not “think too hard,” I will admit that I think about books that have touched me all the time, so coming up with the following list took less than a minute.
Here is my list of books, in the order in which they popped into my head.
1. The Grapes of Wrath. The Joad family left me shaken to the core. Here is a family willing to leave the only home they knew, to move across the country, to work 12 hours a day, and still they end up shattered, impoverished. Steinbeck taught the world why unions were necessary.
2. The Road. This has to be the most beautifully-written book about survival in a post-apocalyptic world that exists. I remain haunted by the bond between the father and son and by their hopeless journey across a barren and perilous land.
3. The Old Man and the Sea. This novel has it all; a classic underdog story, the alluring sea, and the caring friendship of the old man and the young boy. Like Romeo and Juliet, every time I read it, I long for a happy ending. Heartbreak or not, this one lingers.
4. Bird by Bird. Of all of Anne Lamott’s offerings, this is my favorite. Ostensibly, Lamott is offering insights into how to become a better writer, but what has stayed with me are her life lessons. She is incredibly honest, generous, and witty.
5. A Lesson Before Dying. A young, innocent black man is charged with murder, found guilty and faces the death penalty. His godmother asks her nephew to meet with her godson, to help him make peace with his circumstances and, ultimately, to face his unjust death with dignity. It may sound predictable and dripping with pathos, but this one just broke my heart.
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The story of Francie Nolan and her family is set in Brooklyn, New York, and opens in 1912. They are, of course, painfully poor and incredibly hardworking. They are also flawed, yet utterly admirable. I was so sad when the book ended, and I continue to wish Betty Smith had written a sequel.
7. A Movable Feast. Yes, Hemingway again. This book begins: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Most of us were not lucky enough to have lived in Paris, among the ex-pats, in the 1920s, but that doesn’t matter. Having read this book, you feel as if you had been right there. There are passages in this book that are gorgeous beyond words.
8. The Memory of Running. Written by Ron McLarty, who hails from my hometown, this is the story of a sweet loser who transforms his life and overcomes his demons while biking across the country. I’m not sure why this story has stayed with me. Perhaps it’s because the main character is likable and is so earnest throughout his journey.
9. The Sweet Hereafter. The story of how a small town struggles to cope in the aftermath of a school bus accident that resulted in the deaths of a dozen children. This book felt so real to me. Again, the characters are as flawed as they are heartbroken.
10. Sons and Lovers. I can’t even recall much of the plot from this book, but after I finished reading it, I knew I would return to it and D. H. Lawrence again. And I have.
That’s it. Ten books that have left a lasting impression. If I’d taken more time to compile the list, I may have tweaked it to include: The Good Earth, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Wuthering Heights.
Now it’s your turn. What books have stayed with you?