“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
In honor of National Library Week, I want to write about some of the books that I have treasured most in my life.
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – When I was a child, I fell in love with these true stories about a young girl and her family braving the elements of woods and prairie in the late 1800s. From tragic deaths to frightening encounters with bears, this pioneer family lived the true definition of “roughing it.” At the same time, they enjoyed simple pleasures like Pa’s fiddling, homemade dolls, penny candy and maple sugaring time.
Half Magic by Edward Eager – This book introduced me to the magic of fantasy. Three children discover a magic coin that will grant them only half wishes, leading to some amusing adventures as they learn how to make this strange magic work to their advantage. Along with other books about magic by Eager, I began to explore classic fantasies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and A Wrinkle in Time. These books transported me into another realm, and my own existence seemed quite dull by comparison.
The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace – Like the Little House books, these stories about best friends growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota, were based on Lovelace’s own childhood in Mankato. The stories of the young Betsy, Tacy, and their friend Tib were charming. But I absolutely adored the tales of their high school years. It seemed filled with such innocent fun as dancing, making fudge, and ice skating on the local pond, all the while trying to catch the eye of the local high school boys.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I was a little young when I first read this Gothic tale of a poor young governess and the mysterious employer she goes to work for. But I was entranced by the mystery and romance and the elegance of all things English. Reading Jane Eyre led me to an obsession with Gothic romance novels that lasted through high school. However, rereading the novel in college gave me a deeper appreciation for the themes Bronte had developed, including the designation of women’s overt sexuality as madness.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – I have taught this book to high school freshman a number of times, as well as reading it when my children studied it in school. It is a flawlessly rendered period piece about small town Southern life during the Depression. It is also a timeless tale of courage, empathy and growing up. Each chapter is a small gem, a true treasure.
Beloved by Toni Morrison – This was a difficult and haunting book about the repercussions of slavery. I had to read it over several times until I understood this strange but beautiful story of a black woman haunted by the terrible choice she made years before. I had the good fortune to attend a talk with Toni Morrison and was able to have my copy of Beloved signed by the author.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – The interwoven stories of Chinese women and their daughters captivated me. After each chapter, I would force myself to stop reading so as to savor what I had just read as well as to prolong the pleasure of reading this wonderful novel. Since then, I have read almost all of Amy Tan’s novels featuring Chinese women and Chinese history.
There are so many more great books of both fiction and non-fiction that have enthralled me over the years. I have gone through phases of reading various genres: fantasy, Gothic romance, satire, magical realism, Shakespearean drama, historical fiction, memoir and popular nonfiction such as Freakonomics by Steven Leavitt and just about everything by Malcolm Gladwell.
So in honor of National Library Week, why not visit your local library and find your next favorite book? Happy reading!