I decided to join Book Blogger Appreciation Week because I felt like over the past several years I’ve not done a great job at connecting with my fellow book bloggers. When I saw the topic for Day 1—discuss five books that define you—I thought at first I would have no problem, but then I spent the weekend thinking about it and realized what a very difficult topic that is. Naming five favorite books is an easy thing to do, but naming five books that basically tell the world who you are? Whole different story. After careful consideration, here are my selections:
The Secret History, Donna Tartt. I was only 23 the first time I read The Secret History. It had just been published, I and I was in my first semester of graduate school. I grew up in Texas, but I have always had a fascination with New England, with the idea of going “back East” to school, with academic life…I could go on, but let’s just say I identified with Richard Papen in so many ways, an outsider always unsure, a natural dreamer, a drifter looking for a place to belong.
M Train, Patti Smith. I read this whole book on a long flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. When I finished it I felt like I’d just finished a book-length letter written exclusively to me by my best friend. Smith loves books, gets so involved in her favorite television show she worries over the characters almost as though they’re real people, watches Law and Order marathons, and is possessive of her favorite seat in her favorite coffee shop. If people know us by our friends, I certainly wish I could count her as one of mine.
Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood. “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.” Back in the 1990s, way before Mean Girls, this was the book that put a narrative to my own experience growing up as a female. I was always more comfortable in one-to-one friendships, wary of groups, and even today I’m sometimes stunned by the dynamics of women in groups. I’m definitely a feminist, but I also don’t kid myself that as a sex we are always all for each other.
The Best American Short Stories Series. For most of my early reading life, I read novels and biographies exclusively. Short stories were things I read in my English classes only, and like a lot of people I thought we read them because they were easier to discuss and be tested on. It was only after my best friend suggested that I try to write a story that I realized I really had no idea what that meant. How was a story different than a novel? This series supplied my answer, and introduced me to authors like Lorrie Moore, Charles Baxter, Richard Bausch, and Alice Munro, and made me dare to try to write something of my own. (Still trying, by the way.)
What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman/In the Woods, Tana French. I’m kind of cheating here and counting these two books as one, because they changed my reading life. Before I read these novels, I ONLY read literary fiction or classics, and I definitely looked down my nose at people who liked to read mysteries and series. In all honestly, I don’t know where I got the idea that it was all pulp fiction, and I’ve certainly learned my lesson. Reading mysteries has deepened my reading of other types of literature as well. Really, everything is a mystery of one kind or another.
So that’s enough about me. I look forward to reading everyone else’s picks!