Top Ten Books That Have Stayed With Us

If you’re on Facebook and have friends who read, you may have come across the recent meme which asks you to list the top ten books that have influenced and stayed with you in some way. You’re not supposed to think hard about this or take too long to do it. Just list ten!

I thought that it would be interesting to conduct a (very unscientific) poll of the library staff to see which books have stayed with us as a whole. The results included a lot of children’s books and that might be because we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from these years are more likely to lodge themselves deeply into our memories. It’s probable that the book that made you love reading was a children’s book because that’s when you first had an all-night, under-the-covers, flashlight-lit reading binge.

So what did I do with my responses? I tallied them up, of course, and rated them by their popularity. That, unfortunately, left many favorites by the wayside. I have included a quote from each book that got at least two votes. Here they are in all of their glory:

index (1)The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was the clear winner with a total of four votes. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  I read the whole series over and over again and it was pure pleasure to read about a young girl who was happy to have an orange at Christmas.

index (3)Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montegomery was a close second with three votes. Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This series would make an excellent family read-aloud. Anne: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

index (4)The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien was right up there with Anne and that’s no surprise. This book is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

index (5)Rounding out the three vote category is (gasp!) an adult book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is a humorous memoir of a Scottish vet who roamed the remote Yorkshire Dales treating every patient that came his way, from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen eye. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” This is superb comfort reading.

There were many, many books with one vote, but these are the ones which got two votes (in alphabetical order):

index (6)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy isn’t one that I read as a child, but it was one I read in college and the one that taught me to love great literary works. It has been described as the best novel ever written and is considered flawless by many. Anna Karenina tells the story of the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

index (7)Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little, is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect.  “Some Pig. Humble. Radiant.” These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

index (8)The Harry Potter series was THE most popular on Facebook, but just one of our books with two votes. We must be older. This is the book that ushered in an entire generation of readers, my children included. You know the plot: Harry is an orphan who lives a rather dismal life until he gets a message from an owl which summons him to a life of magic and quidditch at Hogwart’s School. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.”

index (10)The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was perhaps the first Sci-Fi book you read. Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs, travel to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space. You either love this or put it down like a hot potato. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

index (11)I read all of the Nancy Drew Series the summer before fourth grade and oh, how I loved Nancy and Ned! This series had an enormous impact on the popular imagination because it features a female main character who is smart and brave and rescues her boyfriend instead of the other way around. These books were so much better than the Hardy boys. “Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”

indexPaddle-To-The-Sea  is a 1942 Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. At Lake Nipigon Canada, a native boy carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. The story follows the progress of the little wooden Indian on its journey through all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, finally arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. “Put me back into the water for I am Paddle-to-the Sea.” 

So, there you have it. Perhaps you can get some of these books into the hands of an impressionable reader, or would even like to re-read them yourself. I can’t leave you without giving you my own personal list. I love each and every one of these!

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Spot-Lit for October 2014

Spot-Lit

Every month our fiction buyer scours the new fiction landscape and presents here a curated list of some of the most anticipated new releases based on advance review praise, publisher enthusiasm, library- and lit-crowd blogs, and other sources (some well below the radar).

Here are a few highlights from this month’s installment:

  • Garth Stein, past Everett Reads author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has a new novel out, A Sudden Light – a Puget Sound-set, coming-of-age ghost story.
  • It Won’t Always Be This Great, Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman’s first novel, came out in mid-September so this is cheating a bit (it just sounds too good to not highlight) – but take a look at the other stellar debuts too.
  • The Zone of Interest, Martin Amis’s new holocaust novel is being called brilliant, audacious, and haunting, and it’s stirring up controversy in France and Germany.
  • Among returning favorites you’ll find new books from Jane Smiley, Marilynne Robinson and Debbie Macomber, and from crime fiction stars John Grisham and John Sandford.
  • Additionally in the mystery genre, Felix Francis really hits his stride in Damage, the latest in his continuation of his father’s horse-racing series.

Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Zone of InterestSudden LightLilaSome LuckHuman Body

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
A Sudden Light  by Garth Stein
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
The Human Body by Paolo Giordano

First Fiction

WallcreeperMurder at the BrightwellLife We BuryIt Won't AlwaysFour Corners

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
It Won’t Always Be This Great by Peter Mehlman
The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Crime Fiction /Suspense

click to enlargeTruth Be ToldGray MountainDealineDamage

Quartet for the End of Time by Johanna Skibsrud
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Deadline by John Sandford
Dick Francis’s Damage by Felix Francis

SF / Fantasy

Ancillary SwordDie and Stay DeadBlood of AngelsFalling SkyShotgun Arcana

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Die and Stay Dead by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
The Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Belcher

Romance

ScratchAt BluebonnetRowdyMr MiracleAmerican Duchess

Scratch by Rhonda Helms
At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot
Rowdy by Jay Crownover
Mr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
An American Duchess  by Sharon Page

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Conversion by Katherine Howe

conversionWhen I was in high school there was this kid with Tourette syndrome and a glass eye. None of us knew what Tourette syndrome was. We just knew he blurted out things that came as half swears: “Fu, fu, fu!”  Or “Shi, shi!! shi!” He had a few facial tics, his body would twitch and he was exhausting to watch because he was constantly moving. We thought he was an annoying kid. We also thought he was lying when he said he had a glass eye. You couldn’t tell like with Colombo or Sandy Duncan when you look at them and go ‘Yup! That one’s the glass eye. It goes off a little to the left.’

But one day in theatre class he was on stage and his glass eye fell out. I was sitting in the theatre seats with some other students and was looking down at my lap reading a book (because theatre class was boring and the girls wore all black and the meat head footballers thought it was an easy A which it was) when I heard everyone gasp. I looked at the stage to find the kid bending down scurrying around for his eye. There was some nervous laughter and he may have wiped the eye on his corduroy pants but I was just pissed I missed the actual eye falling out of his actual head.

In Katherine Howe’s Conversion, Colleen Rowley attends St. Joan’s Academy, a school known for producing graduates that go on to Ivy League universities. Colleen is at the top of her class and is a runner-up for valedictorian. The aim to be top student is unbelievably stressful. Some of the girls begin to have breakdowns which the parents and teachers brush off as hormones. But when Clara Rutherford topples over in class and begins to have a seizure, the entire world of St. Joan’s Academy grinds to a halt.

Girl after girl begins to have tics and Exorcist-like contortions that lands a few of them in the hospital. Parents begin to worry. Is there something in the environment that’s causing the girls to collapse one by one? Fearing that she might be the next girl to be hit by the mysterious illness, Colleen begins to read about a girl in the 1700s who, along with other girls, began to have strange fits that were blamed on demons and the cranky old ladies in town. That town was called Salem.

A therapist explains to Colleen that the girls are suffering from conversion disorder which produces neurological symptoms (tics, fits, blindness, sometime even paralysis) but has no real cause. It was once known as hysteria or as I like to call it: This corset is suffocating me and I haven’t eaten in 3 years because these are  Victorian times and I have to be the paragon of femininity and that means I have to faint in a pretty and lady-like way and then spend a week every month being reminded that I’m a woman and should cinch my corset a little tighter.

The media descends on Colleen’s town, camping in front of the school and hollering embarrassing questions at the girls. At a time when Colleen and her classmates should be excited (and nervous as hell) about their last year of high school and the new possibilities of university, they’re terrified, hiding away, becoming sicker and more paranoid as the days go on.

Katherine Howe has written a kick-ass book full of insight into the minds of driven girls and who they think they are when every last bit of them is stripped away. As I read this book I had flashbacks of my time in high school. Well, mostly about skipping classes so I could go home to read. I was an almost straight A student but that was more out a fear of being ordinary than any real ambition to be a stellar student. I still have those high school dreams, though. I’ll be trying to get my math book out of my locker, can’t remember the combination and realize I haven’t done any of the math assignments for 3 months. Just as I’m about to topple into despair that I won’t graduate, I’ll remember I’m 37 years old and done with high school. All these years later and high school still slips in and gets a hold of me. Ugh. Shake it off, Jennifer.

Being 16 is hard enough. Add in the pressure to get into a top university and live up to the expectations of everyone else and no wonder the human body goes into meltdown.

Still, I wish I could have seen that kid’s glass eye pop out of his head.

In Memoriam: David White

We here at A Reading Life have lost one of our own. Our friend and colleague David White passed away unexpectedly September 20th. I’m having a difficult time coping with the fact that he is really, truly gone. In trying to process my grief I’m going back through and reading all his blog posts and picturing his voice reading the words.

In Memoriam - David White

Our memorial to David outside the Main Library Circulation Office, where he worked, along with some of his favorite books and music.

As you may have been able to tell from David’s posts here, he really loved the cult classics. He was big into what I call cheesy B movies, but also just into films in general. Over the years he picked up a lot of information and trivia about these and other topics, and was always ready, willing, and able to share them with the likeminded people he met.

I met David 10 years ago when I moved to Washington State from Illinois. Not surprisingly, one of the first things I did was get a library card. Guess who issued my library card? David. David was also the person who updated my account when I got married and changed my last name. His eyes would light up when I’d check out the few MST3K or Red Dwarf DVDs the library had back then. He recognized a fellow fan in me. In later years David came to understand how scatterbrained I can be. He started going out of his way to remind me when a new MST3K boxed set was going to be released so I would be sure not to miss it. David was one of the few library employees I interacted with until I started working here.

Calm and friendly, David wasn’t the type to throw on a fake smile and greet you in such a way that might make you uncomfortable. He always asked, “How can I help you?” like he really meant it. And he did. David would listen with a sympathetic ear if you had a tale of misfortune to relate. It didn’t matter if you were a library patron he’d just met or someone he’d worked with for 25 years. David had empathy in spades.

He was also so damn funny! David had a wicked sense of humor, and just hearing the distant sound of his laughter somewhere in the massive downtown library always put a smile on my face and made me know it was going to be a good day. In recent years we bonded over our shared love of RiffTrax, and would often bump into each other at the movie theater when there was a rare theatrical screening. We would recount our favorite scenes or lines and share a hearty laugh. There’s a show coming up next month and I will feel lost there without him.

The sadness is heavy like a rock inside of all of us, knowing we won’t see David again. There are few people in this world I have met who were truly kind souls and never rose to anger. David was one of those rare few who made each person he met just a little bit better than they were before.

David’s family has been amazing during this tragic time. They have kept both the library and library patrons informed of arrangements and have read every single story about David that has been posted to our Facebook page. We invite all of Everett and beyond to join us at a memorial for David:

Saturday, September 27
2:30-5pm
Main Library Auditorium
2702 Hoyt Ave.
Everett, WA 98201

Bring your stories to share with us and David’s family, and also bring cookies. David really loved a good cookie, and his family would like to pay tribute to that by having cookies at his memorial. Gifts may be made to the library in memory of David, per family request.

David

David loved Doctor Who, and had a variety of Doctor Who T-shirts he wore to work. Fans would strike up conversations with him about the show upon meeting him.

I’m still struggling through writing this, so I’ll leave you with some heartfelt words from our mutual friend and colleague Kathy:

David and I were members of the same secret handshake society: The Whovians. That’s the cult of Doctor Who, for those of you who don’t belong. We initially recognized one another by our T-shirts, which are indecipherable to outsiders and yet don’t stand out in the general population. We had different favorite actors and episodes, but it’s a friendly cult so it was all cool.

David, I’ll miss you trying to convince me “your” Doctor was better than mine.

Don’t blink.

Whoops! BANNED Book Week

Well.

I humbly compose this retraction. As many of you probably realize, this is not Band Book Week but rather Banned Book Week. Obviously an ostrich of an entirely different color. Sure, band books are important, and what with the sex and drugs some of them are probably banned band books, but what we really celebrate this week is freedom from censorship.

Libraries and schools are targets for those who feel that certain types of materials should not be accessible in a public venue. They challenge these books, approaching those in authority with a request to have the books removed from circulation. Sometimes, sadly, the books are removed (banned), but more often they remain available.

Many recognized masterworks are frequently challenged, including 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and The Grapes of Wrath.

Books 1-4Newer challenged books include Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lovely Bones.

Books 4.1-4.2

Children’s and young adult materials are frequently challenged, including Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Books 5-8

Graphic novels are not exempt from attempted censorship. Bone by Jeff Smith was number 10 on the 2013 most often challenged list. Other critically acclaimed graphic novels such as Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel have also been protested as containing “obscene images.”

Books 9-11All of these examples are wonderful books in the eyes of some readers, but books that should be hidden from the light of day by others.

Why, you might wonder, would someone think a book should be banned? Reasons ranging from sexual overtones to anti-family content, from promotion of smoking and drinking to coarse language, from sexism to nudity are all used to justify the challenges to these books. There will always be materials that someone objects to, but fortunately we have a system that allows people to object, their objections to be reviewed, and censorship to generally not be tolerated.

Let me regale you with a couple of stories from my life that help illuminate my attitude.

My high school librarian was not a very friendly person. Most students did not like him. It came to light that he took it upon himself to hide books in a back room if he thought that they were not suitable for students. These books did not show up in the card catalog and he did not go through any channels to have the books banned. It was purely one individual’s decision. And of course these decisions impacted hundreds of people each year. This is not a shocking story that ends with our hero being wrongly tortured and executed, but it did shape my attitudes towards censorship.

The second story is that of living in a country which practices censorship. For two years I lived in Malaysia and this provided an interesting introduction to censorship. Certain books and magazines were not allowed in bookstores (I never interacted with the library system if there is one). Movies were edited to remove language and objectionable scenes, as were television shows. Of course this censorship was carried out for religious reasons, and I respect this, but it did make me appreciate the freedoms we have here. And on a side note, much like Prohibition times in the USA, the censored materials were available if you knew where to look, but getting caught was not a desirable outcome.

Getting back to the books that were listed above, I’ve read about half of them and I’m a better person for it. I sometimes read books that disturb me but often gain something from them. I enjoy themes that might disturb others and I’m glad that books with those themes can be found in my public library. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to secretly obtain censored books and live in fear of being discovered with them.

So celebrate! Check out a banned book and see what the fuss is all about. Come to the main library to see our banned book display. Find a book that you think should be banned and try to approach it with an open mind, perhaps searching for redeeming qualities. In all activities, rejoice that you have the freedom to object, to read and most of all, to benefit from the collections that we maintain in the library.

Band Books Week

Just last night I was thinking how indescribably important music is to me. I started playing organ at age 4, then guitar, viola, trumpet, French horn, mandolin. And along the way I began composing and studied this in college for some 12 years. I’ve played in various rock bands since the early 80’s, currently play in two. Music is the thing that keeps me going. So imagine my joy to hear about an entire week celebrating books about bands:  Band Book Week. Here are but a few of the titles available at Everett Public Library. Bands 1-3 Motley Crüe: The Dirt
Cockroaches, rats, piles of beer cans, Tommy Lee and the boys, alcohol, drugs, music and girls. Everything one could want in a heavy metal band biography.

Jonas Brothers: A Big Buddy Book
Embarrassed to admit that you’re still in love with Kevin, Joe, and Nick? Well my friend, you are not alone. This book is aimed at the younger crowd but will certainly satisfy those more mature Jonas fans as well. The pages are Burnin’ Up with interesting tidbits, so read it Tonight. No need to be Paranoid, just wait A Little Bit Longer and the Jonas juggernaut will come to you!

Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys
Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Beach Boys? No, there is not. This book looks at 50 songs by the seminal California surfer band. As well as the band’s history, its influence on current artists and culture is examined.

Bands 4-6 The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard
In Seattle we claim him as our own. No one else has ever played guitar like Jimi, probably no one ever will. Here we find photos from 1967 of Jimi and the lads at the height of their experience, perhaps the finest ever taken. This book is worth a look for any fan.

I and I: Bob Marley
Poems and paintings bring Bob Marley’s biography to life in this children’s book. Some of the Jamaican terminology might prove incomprehensible, but this beautiful book is well worth a look.

The Clash
At the front of the punk rock movement, and then careening around a hairpin turn to create London Calling, considered by many one of the greatest rock albums ever. While many punk groups demonstrated little intelligence or creativity, the Clash brought reggae into their first album, featured thoughtful lyrics, and crafted clever and enjoyable songs. This book is created by the band and includes materials previously unavailable for publication. If you don’t know The Clash, take advantage of this chance to meet them. Bands 7-9U2 by U2
Whenever I think of U2, I recall a Ben Stiller skit where he portrayed Bono saying, “I’m not actually a god, I just play one on TV.” And while the band has become a frequent target of parody, there is no denying their impressive success. I discovered the lads with their first album, Boys, and this remains my favorite, but the remainder of their catalogue reads like a world’s greatest hits list. So read about their origins and rise to fame, praise them, mock them and perhaps learn, like Bono, to be a god.

Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones
Much to my eternal surprise, this former underground American punk band has grown to be an American icon. Their songs are frequently heard on television commercials and myriad bands imitate their style and cover their songs. This is the no-holds-barred story of the Ramones, filled with bad decisions, in-fighting, drugs, and bad health. Gabba gabba hey, read this one today!

Radiohead and Philosophy:  Fitter Happier More Deductive
I have to admit, Radiohead came into their own sometime after I stopped listening to new bands on a regular basis. So I’ve never thoroughly absorbed their oeuvre. However, I know them to be a creative, innovative band. This heavy-hitting book looks at the influence of big-time philosophers on the band.

Yes indeed, I do love music, so…. What? What do you mean it’s not really Band Books Week? I gotta check this out, dear Reader. I’ll get back to you.

A Novel Debut

Pity the poor debut novel. First it has to overcome the almost impossible odds of actually getting published. No mean feat with an unknown author. Then it has the daunting task of competing for a reader’s attention with books that are from established writers who have a dedicated fan base and a big publicity machine behind them. All these obstacles have a benefit for the reader though: debut novels are often unconventional. To grab a reading audience, an unknown author will often go out of their way to establish a unique style, theme or ambiance. Sometimes this flops, but other times it produces a unique and mesmerizing reading experience. I’ve never found a foolproof way of discerning the good from the bad, but recently I’ve come across two debut novels that are well worth your reading time.

Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter
whyareyousosadRaymond Champs, an illustrator of instructional manuals at a large furnishing company, is not a happy camper. He casts a jaundiced eye at the world around him and sees little to celebrate and much to criticize with biting humor.  Instead of seeing his resulting despair as a personal problem, however, he becomes convinced that his condition is universal. Everybody on the planet is suffering from clinical depression, they just don’t realize it. In order to prove his theory, and save his sanity, he decides to create a questionnaire to probe his coworkers supposed afflictions. To get them to actually fill the form out, he claims it is from Human Resources. Not a smart career move, but it gets the job done. His coworkers begin scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to answer questions such as:

If you were a day of the week, would you be a Monday or Wednesday?
Are you for the chemical elimination of all things painful?
Do you think we need more sports?

Porter’s novel is definitely a modern office satire and any fellow denizen of bureaucratic culture, be it corporate or governmental, will find themselves chuckling throughout the work. The author clearly also has an absurdist bent and likes to play with language, especially dialog, and plot. This turns what could have been a more conventional satirical novel into something more experimental. The ending especially, which is far from conclusive but ultimately satisfying, might be a hard sell for some. Still, if you are willing to leave a few conventions behind, and have no problem laughing out loud while reading, this novel is for you.

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
nightguestRuth Field lives in an idyllic Australian seaside home just steps from the beach. She is recently widowed, her husband having died suddenly from a heart attack, but is slowly getting used to living alone. She stays in contact with her two adult sons and also has memories of her early life growing up in Fiji to keep her company. There is one problem though; when she wakes in the evening, she hears what she thinks is a tiger prowling around her house, knocking over furniture and trying to get into her bedroom.  One day a woman named Frida, stating that she is a caregiver sent by the government, shows up and begins to help Ruth out in small ways for an hour or two a day. Ruth is taken aback at first, since she is not used to having a stranger in the house, but slowly comes to rely on Frida for most things. As the relationship develops, however, it soon becomes clear that Frida is not what she claims to be.

The plot of this novel may seem somewhat conventional, but the presentation is anything but. Most of the book is from Ruth’s perspective as she struggles to figure out what is real and whether Frida is a force for good or ill. Slowly her ideas of the past and the present begin to blend as she tries to make sense of events that could be either real or imagined. The author’s use of language is the key here, with it beautifully reflecting the strange state of consciousness that can come as the mind slowly slips away. The effect is quite haunting and produces a gothic ambiance that has no need for paranormal activity to produce a sense of dread and foreboding. What‘s in the mind is more than enough.

So why not try a debut novel or two? There’s nothing wrong with being unconventional from time to time.