I work in a library. This is not the peaceful sanctuary of quiet contemplation you might think it is (if you are not one who visits libraries very often – and if so, shame on you!). Sometimes it is very noisy and chaotic, with people yelling and throwing stuff . And that’s just the staff room.
This morning, as I processed the returns and issued items to the early morning patrons, I thought about what makes a library a welcoming place. What makes people line up outside in the cold, waiting to rush inside as soon as the doors are opened (a little late this morning, I apologise…I wasn’t watching the clock) and why do people brave the elements to come in and browse our shelves, week in, week out?
To me, it’s because people still love books. I know lots of people who have embraced the new technologies and got themselves one of those E-Readers (my husband, bless him, has two) or download titles to their phones. But I still think the majority of people love an actual book. The feel of the pages, the colours of the illustrations and the texture of the paper as well as the life in those pages – the feeling that someone else has also read and enjoyed the story or information gives a sense of connection. I admit I am somewhat of a Ludite. I don’t get excited about the newest advances in computer technology or any technology particularly. I use it, of course, but I am still drawn to the older, more traditional forms of words and literature. I don’t want to curl up with a Kobo or a Kindle; I want to hold a book in both hands and turn real pages.
Having said all that, I am aware that the e-readers have brought reading back to those who find books too cumbersome and heavy. They are excellent for travellers and public transport users. They fit neatly in a briefcase or a travel bag. They don’t weigh a tonne and you can “pack” more than one book into them, again saving on space and weight. I get it. Doesn’t mean I want to join in just yet.
So, today’s post I dedicate to the books I love best. The titles that have enthralled and entertained me (usually more than once – a good book is always worth revisiting) and given me respite from the real world. Maybe one day I will be reading them on an electronic screen, but for now I prefer them as they are, on my bookshelf, a little bit shabby, a little bit bent or dog-eared, but still the works of art that they are – my books.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – I cannot sum up in words what this book means to me, but I’ll have to try. It’s the book I turn to when I am sad and feel like I have no one to turn to. It makes me cry and smile all at the same time. It makes me sad and hopeful and understood. It would not be overstating it to say this book saved me at a time in my life when I was in serious danger of wanting to just disappear and cease to exist. Now it’s been made into a movie (starring Emma Watson no less!) and I’m not sure if I want to see it brought to life. Some things are better left alone. But I have to admit, I had always thought it would make a great movie, if treated right, so I live in hope that it will become one of my favourite movies too
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – Perhaps this one seems like a strange choice but I loved the writing. The characters are so real and human. It scared the heck out of me but still I wanted to keep reading because I cared about the characters. The follow-up “Legion” is perhaps even better and gets right inside your head.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – An easy and obvious choice. I have read this book so many times I’ve lost count and still I lose myself in it every time. I want every man to be like Atticus Finch (and am usually disappointed). If you too enjoyed the book, you should read “Mockingbird : a portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields. It gives the reader insight into Lee’s life and childhood – much of which is reflected in her novel in almost identical detail.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Still one of the funniest books ever. It makes me laugh out loud so I have learnt not to read it whilst alone on public transport or in doctor’s offices. It’s portrayal of the brutality and lunacy of war is spot-on. Again, I just love the language and dialogue in it – the flow and rhythm of the words and the ridiculousness of the situations that the characters get themselves in to.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Worthy of the hype surrounding it, this book is one you want to hug to yourself. The story is, at times, heart-breaking and a tear jerker – you find yourself caring about the characters so much it is hard to leave them when the book is over.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – I have to admit to not always falling in love with Ms Morrison’s books. Shame on me, I know. I’ve tried hard with most of them, given up on some of them but absolutely loved The Bluest Eye. It’s shocking and heartbreaking and just beautiful, even when it’s being ugly and cruel.
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall – I picked this title up at one of those “MAMMOTH BOOK SALE!!!” events for a couple of dollars. I hadn’t heard of it, or the author, before, but it sounded interesting so I gave it a go. I was rewarded many times over. It’s just such a great book! The tale of a orphaned half-Apache boy who goes from one traumatic experience to another (starting with being run over by the mailman when he is 7 years old) and meets a host of crazy characters along the way. It goes from heartbreaking to hilarious and all the emotions in between. It has a “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” feel about it with perhaps a few more redeeming qualities and a gentleness that envelops the whole story from beginning to end.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg – Everyone has seen the movie, right? It’s great, but the book is even better and makes me cry (that’s pretty easy to do – I cry at everything). It’s colourful and wonderful and the characters are so believable and real. I’d recommended pretty much any of Fannie Flagg’s books – they’re all pretty awesome
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – I have read this one over and over again. It is laugh-out-loud funny and beautifully written. Recently orphaned Flora Poste visits her relatives the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm where she discovers a crazy bunch of relatives all in desperate need of “organising” and sorting out by Flora who very quickly does just that. It’s beautiful and eccentric and wonderful. Two very well-bred thumbs up
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende – Now, I know what you’re thinking…this is a kid’s book! It was a rubbish movie! It’s silly and childish and lame! But wait, I say, there’s much more to it than that. The first movie in the series actually is only a fraction of the full story (hence the sequals that were even worse than the original and pretty much no one even bothered to watch) and although I have to admit I love that movie (oh come on, who doesn’t cheer at the end when Bastian is flying around on Falkor and getting everything he could wish for?), the book is so much better. It’s not even really a book for children at all (although it generally sits in the junior fiction section of most libraries). Sure, it has fantasy/fairy tale themes and all that but it has so much more underneath. Scratch the surface and you will find the story of a boy just wanting to connect with his equally lost father and who both need to remember the special person in their life that they have both lost (ie Bastian’s mother) and share their sorrow instead of avoiding it and each other. It’s just an awesome story and very emotive and heart-rending with lots of adventure and excitement along the way.
So that’s just a few of the books I would recommend reading. There’s lots I left out and I’m sure there’s more than a few I’ve forgotten to add (and will kick myself for later). What are your favourite books? Do you read them over and over again, or are you the “read ’em once and then move on” type? Do you keep them neatly shelved, alphabetised and orderly, or are they piled up on your floor in haphazard stacks, threatening to collapse at any moment under their own weight? Either way, I think it’s nice to have books around, don’t you?