Boy, they're asking people to blog about their favorite book. How do you do that? My favorite books seem to rotate like the seasons in the upper latitudes, filling me with new wonder and appreciation with each change, and carrying me forward.
So many books changed my life. Is my favorite book the one that started me looking for more books to read, a book that I read for a book report? Fifth grade, the book was "The Bamboo Curtain". Later, it was "Fighter Jet Ace". Simple and straight forward morality stories about spies and political good and evil.
My teacher -- Mrs Cowan -- suggested that I might like "A Wrinkle In Time," "The Red Badge of Courage", "Grapes of Wrath", "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." I was flattered anyone thought I'd want to read anything but I was more surprised that I sat down with the books, opened them, and lost track of this world as I fell into other worlds. Reading was better than television: no commercials. The books left me parched for me. "Star Trek" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." lost their glamor. Their adventures were silly and transparent. More reading was needed. I came in at night, after school, after sports, with new booty from the library. I read not just fiction but non-fiction about the speed of light, electronics, code-breakers, the universe, and future devices like 'the microwave oven'. Later that year, I read "Franny and Zooey", "The Count of Monte Cristo", and then classics. Each book read became my favorite.
Sixth grade brought me a new teacher, Mrs Fogle, and with it a new practice where she read a few pages of a book each day. The first book: "Flowers for Algernon".
Wow. While the other books encouraged me to read and read more, "Flowers for Algernon" provoked me to think. Mrs Fogle tortured me the way she miserly released the words. What madness. I cared. I needed to know what happened next. It's probably her fault that I'm such an impatient person.
She had the book on her desk so I stole up to it, checked the cover, noted the title and author's name, and went hunting for another copy, finding a second one in our school library. Excellent! The book was dispatched but then, I knew what was going to happen. I didn't want to listen to her reading it to us any longer so...I read other books as she read.
That happened all year. She would begin a new book and I'd need to go find it and finish it, impatient to know what was going to happen next, and then read something else as she read to the class. She caught me time and again but she always smiled about it, and I know she was pleased.
Eight grade, I found "Junior Great Books" where they gave me books to read, asked me what I thought about them, and gave me extra time for reading. Sometime that year, I found Holden Caulfield and "Catcher In The Rye".
Oh, Holden. Holden worried me. He was so damn irrational and unpredictable. "Let them help you," I begged him. "Trust your sister. Listen to her. Don't leave, don't leave, and God, don't do anything stupid."
Mom's life with her husband wasn't working out. My Dad was over in Germany and I wasn't happy. Things were a bit...tense...at home. I ran away. I took a worn copy of the book with me. It belonged to the library, though, and I had to take it back. Those were the rules. Later, I found a copy. I think it was the first book in my personal 'library'. I lost that copy but later bought another one and kept it in my permanent collection. It's traveled the world with me.
The next book I recall adding is a book I read in ninth grade: "Catch 22". Where Holden frightened me and made me worry about him, "Catch 22" dazzled me. It was such a catch. The brilliance still astounds me, and I love explaining to people what 'catch 22' means. So many don't seem to appreciate it. It was my favorite for a long time but I'm a fickle bastard.
Dad, in the Air Force, returned from Germany and was stationed in Ohio. I moved in with him in June. I was alone as he worked all day, just him and me. I quit playing sports for most of that year so I learned to pretend I knew how to play a guitar, got a cook book and cooked, dabbled in art, designing my own cars, aircraft, forts, and cities, sometimes modeling things in clay, and read like mad. I found "The Hobbit" and the rest of the series. "A Separate Peace". "Papillon." Wow. "Deliverance". Jesus. "To Kill A Mockingbird". "War And Peace", "Crime and Punishment", "The Cancer Ward", "Herzog", "Portnoy's Complaint", "In Cold Blood". "Stranger In A Strange Land", re-introducing me to science fiction, which I hadn't read since "A Wrinkle In Time".
I had never considered science fiction much before then but turned to the genre, devouring books by Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Ursula Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Kate Wilheim, Damon Knight, so many others and...Douglas Adams. Each one gave me a new favorite book. Then I went on to fantasy.
I enlisted in the military and embarked on a career. Adult books of later life moved me, stirred me, awed me. "Working" and "The Good War". "The Handmaid's Tale". "The Color Purple". "The Hunt For Red October" and "Red Storm Rising". "Motheless Brooklyn". "Wonder Boys", "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay", "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh", "The Yiddish Policemen's Union", "Running With Scissors". "The Kite Runner". "The Corrections", "Gun, With a Little Music", "Seabiscuit", "This Much I Know Is True", "The Whole Shebang", "Einstein's Dreams", "Atonement", "Everything Is Illuminated", "The Lovely Bones", "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", "The House of Scorpion", and collections of Billy Collins poetry.
But...as I sit, remembering and writing, one book does remain a favorite. It arose above the rest. It stopped me from thinking about reading and prompted me to think about writing. I don't really know its correct title. I just remember, "The Norton Reader".
In "The Norton Reader", I found new authors and fantastic, moving short stories, poems and novel excerpts. It was big, a vault of words. As the class read stories aloud, I finished them and went on to other stories, ones they didn't read, like "Paul's Case", "The Open Window", and "The Lottery", along with "The Wasteland" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
So I guess that's it, my confession. It's fun remembering them all, seeing myself at different times reading those books, but my favorite book is a textbook, hardback and blue, a long ago edition of "The Norton Reader" that I read in tenth grade.
Or maybe not. My favorite book might be "To Say Nothing Of The Dog", Connie Willis, on my desk beside me. I'm two thirds through it and it is really good. It might a new favorite...but there are so many books to read and so little time to read them. I keep trying...so maybe a new favorite will emerge.
I'll let you know.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com