[Guess who is an a-class Dingus and forgot to put up a hiatus notice on her blog? This girl right here. I’m very proud of myself right now.]
Weeks ago I was tagged on Facebook by my friends Anne and RJ for the 10 Books That Have Stayed with You post that was going around. As much as I love lists and books there was something terribly daunting about trying to identify the 10 books that the list wanted so I putzed and hemmed and procrastinated and once I began to feel comfortable identifying titles the meme had become passé on Facebook. So here it is up on my blog because why not? I want to start writing blog posts again but I’m still job hunting, college applying and settling into my new apartment so writing longer pieces just isn’t an option and this feels like a nice way to get ease my self back into blogging.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire: The first book that really shook my idea of the world. Eleven year old Constance found Maguire’s carnal, murky, morally-loose interpretation of Oz to horrifying andexactly what my little New England Puritan mind desperately needed. I still draw on Elphaba in my daily life and like to pretend that I can hear Maguire’s style in both my fiction and prose.
The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones: Jones accomplished more in her career as a book editor than I can hope of achieving in my entire life. Besides introducing American audiences to The Diary of Anne Frank she also was a literary midwife for new ideas in American food (publishing, among others, Julia Fucking Child as well as Marion Cunningham, Lydia Bastianich, Madhur Jaffrey and Jacques Pépin.) The cookbook was written after the death of husband, whose death forced her to learn how to cook without her partner of decades. Full of lovely prose with beautiful photographs, tips and glorious single-serving recipes I’ve found this cookbook to be an ode to eating alone, the exact book for a spinster like me.
The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher: There is one book that lives on my bedside table and it’s the book I open up when shivering anxiety keeps me up at night. Fisher’s simple language carries deep, succulent essays on various themes of food. I picked up the omnibus (five books in one volume) from my home library when I was 17 or so and can remember reluctantly returning the white paperback several months later, its edges bent and dirty and its spine covered in fresh lines from my repeated readings. During writer’s block I pick up my own personal copy just to get my own sentences out of my head and let Fisher’s crisp ones distract me.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: Dark, brooding, craggy, stark in language, awash in emotions, Wuthering Heights was the right book for teenage me. Fun fact: one of my first blogs had the subtitle “a long thin dark book,” one of my favorite images from the novel.
The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagel): How much of a Good Read is contextual and how much is the book itself? I spent a semester in high school reading the epic for an independent study conducted via e-mail and Skype with a Boston blue-blood battle-ax of a woman who’d relocated to Texas and whose words I still cling to. She drilled me on symbolism, never took my bullshit and held my fingers to the fire when it came to my hated commas. The theme of Nostos, a physical and/or spiritual homecoming, has been playing out in several strands of my current life.
Edna St Vincent Millay: Selected Poems edited by Colin Flack: Speaking of the importance of reading and context! I read this slim volume on a family vacation camping in a forest that touched the Maine coast. I’m convinced that Millay should be read in New England, probably with a Main blueberry pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with Vermont maple syrup. When I read her poetry I’m consumed with a desire to wear skirts and pearls and tweed jackets and rent a tiny room and become a poet who spends months on a four line poem while chain smoking thin cigarettes.
The Waves by Virginia Woolf: I’ve held off on trying to put my emotions for The Waves into language but I’ve written up the rest of the books on this last so I guess I really have to do it. I suppose the best way I can describe my relationship to this book is to say that at any point in the day I’m probably thinking about it in some form. Unlike some books that I turn to only when my depression closes around me I open up The Waves in darkest depression and once-a-week moments of pure joy and during loose mania swings. You can’t really just open up The Waves to read it, you end up falling into its rushing language.
Heckedy Peg by Audrey and Don Wood: I was fortunate enough to grow up with a Grama who loved gruesome fairy tales as much as I did (and still do). The dark illustrations go so well with the dark story (there’s almost a case of cannibalism which is awesome) and it burned into my child brain. Even all these years later I still mumble, “I’m Heckedy Peg and I’ve lost my leg, won’t you let me come in,” as I go about my day.
Seasoned Timber by Dorothy Canfield Fisher: Millay might be New England but Fisher (the namesake for that prestigious Vermont literary award, the DCF Children’s Book Award) put rural Vermont onto paper in her novel about a small-town school principal in the first half of the 20th century. I’m a Vermonter abroad and though this old school novel is several decades older than me it has been one of my greatest lifelines to the home that I love. It’s not a nostalgic or romantic or sweet portrait of Vermont, there’s hatred and xenophobia and close-minded bigotry and I love it dearly.
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel: Can I count this? Technically I read Dykes when it was in syndication but I did also later read the book when it was published. To a bi trans lady in rural Vermont in her preteen and adolescent years Dykes was a phenomenal experience. (The image of a topless Mo playing “pool girl” to her topless girlfriend playing “Martha Stewart” was a vivid one that keeps popping up into my head at the worst times.)
I’m supposed to tag people now but honestly I bet everyone who I might tag has already done this. Actually I am going to tag my good friend Skye over at My Kingdom for a Hat because I feel like she’ll do something cool and artsy and fashion-y as a response. You can find all of these books and more over on my Goodreads’ favorites shelf.
And just as I begin to polish this post for publishing I realize that I’ve forgotten my dear, wonderful, terrifying, perfect Mary Poppins by PL Travers. See this is exactly what I was afraid of, leaving a loved one behind. Ah, too late now, I’ll soldier on.