Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Responding to a Meme

I found this meme at a variety of blogs and decided to answer the questions just for the purpose of providing a better sense of how I approach reading as an activity.

Total number of books owned:
I have nearly 600 titled cataloged on Library Thing, but I know that I would have closer to a thousand if I got everything cataloged. And since I keep things rolling through the shelves, I'm sure I've probably owned collectively two thousand titles over the course of my life.

Last book bought:
Imaginary Gardens: The Lives of Five American Poets by Dr. Rosemary Sprague. Earlier this week. Think Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Milay, etc. Read it in college in the mid-seventies and felt like revisiting. I don't often get into a mood for poetry but it comes around periodically.

Last book read:
The War of the Worlds; now reading Shooting at Loons for a book talk at the library this week and The Unburied as my last book in the RIP challenge. I suspect I'm going to like The Unburied more than most of the reviewers on Amazon did.

Five books that mean a lot to you: -- Well, I'll do only three.

An Old Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott. I still own the copy I got for my 10th or 11th birthday. It is so out-of-fashion, and yet it made more sense to me growing up than almost any other book I owned. Yes, it may suffer from the moral tone of nineteenth-century children's literature, but Alcott's views on learning how to stick to your own principles and stand on your own two feet while living amongst people who may not share those values is a good lesson for growing up.

My favorite chapter is this one. It gives a sense to young girls what they ought to strive to become as strong adult women. Certainly, what I've felt a woman ought to be has been shaped by that description. It's a portrait of strength and recognition of all the things women can do.

It is true I don't re-read it often enough, but I love the book and take heart from it every time I do re-read it. Without cheating on the boundaries of the question, I will say that I have all of Louisa May Alcott's children's books on my shelf and see no reason to be ashamed of re-reading Eight Cousins or Rose in Bloom now when I'm in my fifties. And while people cry over Beth's death in Little Women, I cried as a little girl when Demi's father died in Little Men.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is meaningful to me for what some might consider to be a foolish reason but a friend once told me that he thought this story was absolutely indicative of my overall personality. There is a segment in Jane Eyre where she is observing her adult cousin, Eliza, and how she spends her day. Eliza studies a little book and when Jane investigates, she sees it is "a common prayerbook". She asks Eliza what the attraction of it is for her and Eliza responds "the Rubric". When I was in junior high or high school, this sent me out to buy a Book of Common Prayer to find out what the Rubric actually was. I was somewhat disappointed when I finally understood that the Rubric was just the description of the ceremonial procedures used in the liturgy, but that step from reading one work of literature to reading another is pretty much how I've built up my philosophies and attitudes over time. Besides that, Jane Eyre is the perfect book to read in sweats on a snow day.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I've no idea why, except that I do enjoy watching Mildred work her way through real-life challenges. Probably it's the very Britishness of the book that charms me (so alien and yet so recognizable) . There's a wonderful bit where she and an old school chum go on a bus tour to a cathedral and Pym's observations of each little tourist group are dead-on! I so enjoy Pym's character development, gentle yet realistic. Each individual in the book is so *very* clueless at times (Julian, Winifred, Allegra Grey, Rockingham, even Mildred herself at times). I've kept this book with me for years and years as well. I think I first read it at some point in my twenties or thirties.

I can't name for sure what other books "mean alot to me." By and large, I think I return to favorite authors more frequently than I return to specific works. Ursula K. LeGuin, P.D. James, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, etc. Specific works evoke affection or act as milestones for specific points in my life. I read Jane Austen's Emma when confined to bed during a rough pregnancy, and it's the book by Jane Austen I like the least. I have a certain fondness for The Wind in the Willows which I read as a child, but I haven't gone back to it very often. (My favorite chapter there is Dolce Domum where Mole and Ratty trip over Mole's old home in the snow.) I came to appreciate Margery Allingham's Campion mysteries only in the past ten years (and I really only like the early ones...).

I re-visit books from across the span of my life. I really believe that you can't appreciate a work until you've read it more than once, even if it's only light reading. The first time you read it is for the story; the second and third times are when you can actually gauge the intent and skill of the author.

This makes me sound so conservative and I'm not really.