01 August 2008

So Many Books -- Hopefully Enough Time

I’m so glad I’m alive! I thought I was the most well-read person I knew, but it turns out there are dozens of books I need to read here before moving on to the vast libraries in the post-here. (Sometimes referred to as the hereafter.) My blog today on Six LDS Writers and a Frog is a very long report on what I learned from my small and very informal survey. Since you can read it all there, I won’t repeat it here.

I will, however, post my list, but only because I practically promised. A few weeks ago I could have done it easily; now, I’m not so sure. After pondering fifty lists of more than four hundred works, I’m not as confident in my choices as I once was. In fact, I’m not sure at this point that I could choose one hundred best-books that I felt absolutely solid about.

Over on the Frog Blog Hilary commented: Ask me again in six months because my list will have changed by then. That’s so true for me, except that mine changes daily. Hourly. If I’m melancholy I’m apt to go with Steinbeck – or maybe Twain if I want to overcome rather than languish. If I’m soul-weary, a little Dickinson or Barrett-Browning will cure me, but if I face long days of solitude, for sure I’ll take Tolstoy or Hugo. (Maybe Dickens or Faulkner.) Now that I’ve listed masters, I must confess that I don’t always reach for classics first. I’ve gone a couple of months, maybe, without reaching for them at all. I am also hopelessly addicted to at least a dozen modern authors, many of them considered hacks by literary critics. In my opinion, everybody should read Star Girl. Also Jesus the Christ. But isn’t that rather like recommending aardvarks and artichokes? (In that they have very little in common besides pages and covers and periods and all.) I don’t know. I could ruminate on this topic forever except that I’ve already thought myself thoughtless.

My list for today, and possibly only today:

1) The LDS Standard Works. The Bible defined my life and the Book of Mormon refined it. If the Book of Mormon were the only book extant in the world there would still be poetry, drama, romance, insight and inspiration to spare.

2) Jesus the Christ by James Talmadge. This book has changed my life every time I’ve read it. (Like the scriptures and the temple, it is too profound to comprehend all at once.)

3) Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues that will Heal Our Hearts and Homes by Gordon B. Hinckley. Like Virtues, this book could – should – change the world. President Hinckley talks about the Polar Star and this book is that star. I can’t write about it without tears coming to my eyes. I love it that much.
4) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It isn’t his best work, or even my favorite, but it provided my first literary “ah ha!” I’ve remembered, and cherished, that moment my whole life.

5) The Collected Works of Mark Twain. (Okay, so it’s not one book. I never said I wouldn’t cheat.) This man peered into the soul of humanity with a jaded yet infinitely compassion eye. Only Twain can rip my heart out and make me laugh while he does it.

6) A Midsummer-Night’s Dream (or Macbeth or Cymbeline or Othello or Hamlet or . . .) by William Shakespeare. I love the English language and nobody in the history of the world has used it more skillfully than the Bard.
7) Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. I know she’s the poet many lit professors love to hate, and, yes, you can sing many of her verses to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” but I found Emily in my girlhood and am stronger, wiser, and in every way better for it. No one can make the mundane as sublime as did Emily.

8) The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Absolutely chilling as well as amusing. I read it as a teenager and walked around for weeks terrified of the “voice” in my head. Clever, meaningful, revelatory, even. Every Christian should read this book. Every person, probably.

9) The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. An absolute gem. I read it and A Christmas Carol each December without fail. (But it’s not a Christmas book. Read it today.)

10) I simply cannot make myself list a tenth. By naming Faulkner I leave off Tolstoy—and his fables are classics most often quoted by latter-day prophets. If I list Ray Bradbury because I am simply mesmerized by Dandelion Wine, what of Viktor Frankl and Corrie ten Boom whose books affected me so deeply I could scarcely breathe? – volumes I’ve pressed upon each of my children. Okay, that decides it. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is my tenth choice.

Today. Maybe we’ll do this again in six months . . . or ten years.
The winner of this site’s drawing is . . . Lisa Anne! She may choose any book from my list or the compiled Top Ten on the Frog Blog and I'll see that Amazon ships her a paperback copy. (I'll need your address. Please e-mail me.)

My deepest gratitude to each of you for playing along in the comments trail and in the several e-mails I received. (And especially for playing so nicely and insightfully. Quadruple thanks to all of you who listed one of my books just to be nice.) If you’re interested in a list of the two hundred books recommended by my blog readers, let me know and I’ll type it up and send it out.

Congrats, Lisa Anne! But you are all winners in my book! (Stop by my house and I'll loan you a book.)


Anonymous said...

I’m going to try very hard to get these books into my collection, Kerry, by hook or by crook. I already have the Standard Works, like every good little Mormon girl should have. Although I can’t say I’ve read every page as of yet, I’m still relatively young, statistically speaking.

A dear friend told me about the book “Jesus the Christ” by Talmadge, and I was going to ask to borrow her copy, but I had an armful of books from her shelf already, and I thought “Next time”. Now I’m sorry that it wasn’t the first thing I borrowed. I’ll remedy that now.

I’ll read President’s Hinckley’s book “Standing for Something”, next, and I’ll make sure I have a full box of Kleenex within reach.

Would you believe that I always thought that Charles Dickens wrote “Grape Expectations”? And the story revolved around, yep, that’s right, the making of grape juice. Do you still respect me? I’ll read it with great expectations and see if I get my own epiphany.

After reading your top ten-ish books, Kerry, do you think I might catch a deeper glimpse into your strange, Latin reading, Shakespeare loving, mystery driven psyche? I hope so.

Or ... maybe I’ll just display most these titles on my bookshelf, and let others think I’m as well read and intelligent as you are.:)

Deb (And I’m not biased.)(Much)

Karlene said...

Loved Screwtape Letters.

BTW, did you get your Summer Road Trip prize?

Kerry Blair said...

Deb: You're pretty biased. Don't read GE. I'm going to write a blog someday about that "aha" and you can get the gist of the thing there. Just read the scene with Miss Haversham and you'll have hit the highlights. :)You are my hero.

Karlene: I did! Apparently you didn't get my e-mail. Thank you so, so much! That's yet another thing I'd like to blog about -- still trying to figure out how I can join in the party. I LOVE your fragrances!

Rebecca Talley said...

Loved Star Girl, especially now that I have a child that some might think is different.

I love, love, love The Other Wiseman--I cry and cry when I think about it.

There's just too many books and not enough time!

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