An old friend, and fellow English major, recently took a break from grading papers & asked for us to list the ten books that have touched our lives. I listed my ten on facebook, but wanted to also give a little insight here into how each book has affected me. Here’s my ten:
1. The Awakening – Kate Chopin: This insightful look into Creole society at the turn of the century is set in my home state of Louisiana. It’s my favorite novel ever – I remember being shocked by the ending when I first read this in high school. Kate Chopin was ahead of her time in her examination of a woman who refuses to give in to the oppressive Victorian social conventions.
2. The Lake of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman: Carol Goodman weaves a story of past sins colliding with current attempts to move on. A little mystery & a little gothic horror, this novel took some time to get going. But once it did, I couldn’t put it down. It was the atmosphere that moved me more than anything. Goodman’s word are haunting & elegant, creating a aura of suspense.
3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn: This book showed me the ability of voice to influence what a reader believes to be true & how things aren’t always what they seem. Gillian Flynn delves into the mind of an unwitting victim, explores what goes on behind the curtain of a perfect marriage, and makes you relate to a sociopath.
4. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I am always amazed that du Maurier could craft an entire novel without revealing the name of the central character. It’s the lack of name that shows us the lack of identity felt by the second Mrs. de Winter. This story is a woman’s struggle to assert herself in the shadow of the glamorous and seductive first wife. And the setting! Manderley is a character unto itself.
5. On Writing – Stephen King: Half memoir, half how-to guide. This made me believe that I could be a writer. The value of writing advice from one of the bestselling authors of our time cannot be understated.
6. My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Piccoult: This is one of the reasons I went to law school. Jodi Piccoult has the rare ability to make us understand both sides of what is typically a very divisive issue. From the beginning I felt for these characters & wanted to do something, anything, to ease their pain. It led me to question how far I would go to save someone I love.
7. Barrabas – Pär Lagerkvist: The story is all about perspective. It was my first experience with viewing a story from the perspective of an outsider. Barrabas was the man whose life was exchanged for that of Jesus. This is the story of a man who is haunted by the fate of a man he did not know & cannot begin to understand.
8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte: I loved the story when I first read this in high school. It’s a story of power, obsession & love. As in Rebecca, the setting is a character on its own. The moor mirrors the darkness of its inhabitants. The raw passion exhibited by the characters would be out of place anywhere else.
9. Macbeth – Shakespeare: Shakespeare was meant to be performed & I didn’t truly appreciate Macbeth until I saw it. Macbeth was one of my favorite things to teach. At the most basic level, it’s a cautionary tale of the destructive effect of blind ambition & greed.
10. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston: I’m a southern literature fan. I first read this in high school and later wrote on it in college. It’s only after you’ve lived a little that you can truly understand a woman’s struggle to find & assert her own voice. I saw some of myself in these characters, but also appreciated the freedoms that I have to assert my own independence.