Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"Read in order to live"

Today my wise and irreverent boss gave me my Christmas present - a small notebook labeled "Books to Check Out," fashioned to look like the card tucked in the back of library books. It has a few clever quotations about books and reading, and has space to list books you've loved, books you covet, etc. But I am using mine to list the books I've read for pleasure. I started keeping this list on loose leaf in December 2000, and I tell you, it is one of the best decisions I've made.

Tonight I transcribed the old list into the new book, and as I did it, all these memories of where and how I read books came flooding back: reading Dave Eggers in the backseat of a rented Malibu in California; William Styron at beach week in Myrtle Beach; Zadie Smith in Seattle; Italo Calvino in the bathroom of my apartment in Charlottesville; Colson Whitehead in Boulder; Michael Chabon at home; Alice Sebold on my first night in New York City; Graham Greene in Barcelona; Leo Tolstoy in Chipotle; Margaret Mitchell in Costa Rica.

Anyways, this made me really happy tonight, to consider where I've been and what I've read. Among the many identities I carry around with me (white, Catholic, male, etc) "Reader" is one that I have come to treasure. Here is the list of the most well-loved books I encountered in the last four years - the ones I devoured, the ones that devoured me. Chronologically:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Personal History by Katharine Graham
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Silence by Shusaku Endu
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Washington Square by Henry James
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Why I Am A Catholic by Garry Wills
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Random Family by Adrian Nicole Leblanc
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

.... To remember these books and recall how they affected me, how they changed the way I see the world! To me it's more than a list - it is a spell, an incantation. I am so thankful to be literate.

That title quotation is from Gustave Flaubert, 1867 (as if I needed to tell you that!).

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