Books That Have Stayed With Me

Big news yesterday:  Harper Lee's got a new book coming out!  It's new to us, but it was Ms. Lee's first attempt at a novel, which was eventually abandoned when her editor liked the young voice of Scout, rather than the adult.  So the novel was dropped and instead Ms. Lee wrote one of the greatest books out there (in my opinion).  Now this "lost" treasure has been found and will be released "as is," which I think is the way it SHOULD be released.  Good or bad, Go Set A Watchman will be what Harper Lee intended when she wrote it "way back when."

This news, along with my current project of reading all the novels awarded the Pulitzer Price, got  me thinking and made me realize that what, in my opinion, make a great book is not necessarily a great author (although I think every author listed here is pretty darned great), but a great storyteller.  You can be one without being the other (and vice versa).  the books that have stayed with me and made an impact on my life are by authors who not only write well, but know how to tell a story.  Also, great stories stick with you and for me becomes part of my time frame. For each book listed below I can tell you where I was when I read the story and what was going on in my life when I did.  These books made such an impact that I have weaved memories around them.

Here they are:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird:  No surprise here, right? I'll never forget reading this my freshman year in high school.  It was probably the best thing I read in high school (and we read some good stuff). I've read it several times since and seen the movie countless times as well.  Yes, it's a tale of race and intolerance, but that's just a small part of it.  It's the voice of a young girl as she grows up in the south during the Depression.  It's not just about a trial; it's about life as it once was.  There are many lessons to be taught in To Kill A Mockingbird, but more importantly it is just a darned good story that should be read. And read more than once.  Each time there is another nuance that reveals itself to me, so I will never stop re-reading it. (And I'll probably re-read it before or after reading Go Set A Watchman.)
  • The Secret of the Old Clock/The Hidden Staircase:  Two books, but at one point in my youth they were bound together as one as the whole Nancy Drew series was available by mail month by month.  I can remember getting a new "book" (which again was actually two books bound together which meant you missed out on some cool cover art) and eagerly reading through them.  The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase were the first two in the series and I read them in their "original" form.  That is to say, when the books were first published in the 1930s (copies of which my mother still had), the books were longer:  25 chapters instead of the chopped down 20 that they would become in the 1950s/60s.  Nancy was younger (16) and the most independent teen you might ever find.  The original text was beautifully crafted.  My mother read The Secret of the Old Clock to me and I can remember getting tired of waiting for her and ended up finishing the book on my own.  I think it was the first time I completed a chapter book on my own/for pleasure.  The Nancy Drew series will always hold a place in my heart (I even wrote a paper on the 1930s versions versus the latter ones for a college course), but these two, the first in the series, mean the most to me.
  • Beach Music:  Pat Conroy is a master storyteller and I loved The Prince of Tides, but there is something about Beach Music.   I've read it several times.  I used to bring a copy to the beach to read.  The copy was well worn and I didn't care much about getting sand in it.  Having it in my beach bag meant that there was always something to read.  It is perhaps fitting in some way that this well-loved copy was destroyed when Sandy swept through the barrier island in October of 2012.  I have yet to find a proper replacement copy.
  • Sullivan's Island:  I found this gem in my local book store (a rarity that still lives on in the next town over).  They sold new as well as used, but my copy was brand spanking new.  Obviously influenced by Pat Conroy (if you're going to be influenced it might as well be by the best), this book so moved me that I not only recommended it to friends; I gave it to several.  (This included my son's birth mother.)  I've enjoyed everything that Dorothea Benton Frank has written, but this was her first and it will always have a special place in my heart.  It isn't summer if I don't have a Dorothea Benton Frank to read.  I may have not visited the low country of the south east that she writes about it, but I have felt and lived it through her wonderful stories.
  • The Great Gatsby:  Another one of my favorites from high school.  I can remember reading it towards the end of my junior year; a year in which I read more than I ever did before or after thanks to a wonderful English teacher.  Fitzgerald drew me into the opulent world of the 1920s and I never wanted to come back.
  • Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing:  What would my childhood have been without the writings of Judy Blume?  Didn't every girl read Are You There God It's Me Margaret and Forever?  I read everything she wrote.  But I picked this book because I several years ago I re-read it (and eventually the rest of the "Fudge" books) to my son.  Times may have changed since the 1970s when this book came out, but he still giggled at Fudge's "adventures." (Although I worried a bit about the end of the book where Fudge eats his big brother Peter's pet Turtle.  My son is very protective of marine life and his favorite stuffed toy is a turtle.  Thankfully we got through it without the breakdowns that followed Charlotte's Web and the Velveteen Rabbit.)  You don't have to have a younger sibling to know/understand what Peter is going through.
  • Time and Again:  I knew my husband was the man for me when he compared one of my short stories to the work of Jack Finney.  He was one of the few people I know who owned a copy of the book Time and Again and is it coincidence that the sequel From Time To Time was published the year we became engaged?  Not just a brilliantly written tale of time travel, but also a wonderful pictorial history of New York City. I am forever in the debt of my friend Susan who introduced me to Finney's writings; not just this novel but his wonderful short stories.
  • The Green Mile:  How to pick just one Stephen King when he is one of the greatest storytellers I know?  Just about anything he has written I have read more than once.  However, if I had to pick one; this would be it. Uniquely written as 6 short "serials" it captured me from page one.  I anxiously awaited the next book/chapter.  Stephen King has that wonderful ability to grab a hold of you and never let go.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:  The whole series is a MUST read, but this is the one that started it all.  Not yet too dark and wonderful introduction into the world of Harry Potter.  I'll admit it took me a long time to read the whole series.  The timing just had to be right and it wasn't until this summer that I actually sat down and read the whole series back to back.  I cried when it was over.  The greatest compliment I can give J.K. Rowling is that when I was finished, the next day I missed my lunchtimes with Harry and his crew.
  • Where the Truth Lies:  Forget the pina coladas and getting lost in the rain; I got completely wrapped up and lost in this mystery/thrilled from Rupert Holmes.  So many twists and turns with plenty of pop culture, I really couldn't put this down.  I read started reading it on my lunch break and then found myself trying to sneak read it at work and finally sat in my car, NOT heading home after work because I just couldn't put it down.  It was that good.  (Please ignore the movie and stick with the book which is so much better. If you want dramatics from Rupert Holmes go see "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" or "Curtains".)
  • The House With A Clock In Its Walls:  Gothic horror in a children's book with illustrations by Edward Gorey?  This is it.  The cover drew me in and freaked me out.  The story kept me.  Before there were the wizards of J.K. Rowling there was John Bellairs' story about orphan Lewis Barnavalt who goes to live with his uncle Jonathan.  Another one that I loved so much that I read it to my son.  (Thankfully he wasn't freaked out as much as I had been when I read it as a child.)
  • No Matter What:  This wouldn't qualify as a "book" as it's a children's picture book, but I, and my family fell in love with it.    I can still recite most of it from memory...”Small was feeling grim and grumpy.  'Good grief,' said Large, 'what is the matter?'"  This story by Debi Gliori is short and sweet and will stay in my heart forever.

I realize that I've already gone over 10...and there are so many more that I could list.  But for now, just looking over the list I created, I am taken back by each story and author.   I'm hoping that this list will grow (especially as I make my way through the Pulitzer Prize winners and Harper Lee's new book).  

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