There is (or was depending on when you read this) a Facebook meme asking users to list 10 books that have stayed with them in some way. The books did not have to mean anything to anyone but the user.
Here is my list in the order of which they popped into my head:
1. The Kushiel Legacy (Series) – Jacqueline Carey
2. Harry Potter (Series) – J.K. Rowling
3. Spenser (Series) – Robert B. Parker
4. X-Men (The Phoenix Saga) – Chris Claremont
5. The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso) – Dante Alighieri
6. Othello / Romeo & Juliet / Macbeth / Hamlet – William Shakespeare
7. Teacup Full of Roses – Sharon Bell Mathis
8. If Beale Street Could Talk / The Fire Next Time / Go Tell It On The Mountain – James Baldwin
9. Incarnations of Immortality (Series) – Piers Anthony
10. Holy Bible (King James Version)
#1 (The Kushiel Legacy (Series) – Jacqueline Carey) and #9 (Incarnations of Immortality (Series) – Piers Anthony) on this list I have written about in an earlier blog post and you can read why I love them here. Below I give little summaries not of the books themselves (I trust that you know how to Google or Wiki it if interested 😉 ), but why they remain with me.
Harry Potter (Series) – J.K. Rowling
As a reader of the books and watcher of the movies I adore this in its entirety. Not having children of the target age initially designed for I didn’t come into the Potter world until I saw the first movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. As a sucker for things magic, warlock, wizard, witches et cetera, I had to read the book that created such a delightful movie. Only then did I learn a) it was a children’s book and b) it was series. Still, by the time I finished reading the books published to that point Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I was hooked. Author J. K. Rowlings has invented such an amazing in-depth world that is and yet is not part of our own, while never forgetting that at its core it is still a young adult book. In most children/young adult literature series the characters stay relatively the same age for years. J. K. Rowling penned theses character in as true sense of a bildungsroman possible given the fantasy. Reading/watching the characters develop over the years, I really did have a sense of watching the characters grow and come into their own. The entire series was phenomenal storytelling that captivated me and opened up a genre of books (young adult) I never would have considered reading otherwise.
The following quote has been attributed to actor Alan Rickman who portrayed the Severus Snape character in the film version of the books:
When I’m 80 years old and sitting in my rocking chair, I’ll be reading Harry Potter. And my family will say to me, “After all this time?” And I will say, “Always”
That sums up my love for the books and their movies in its entirety.
Spenser (Series) – Robert B. Parker
I admit it, were it not for television, I likely still would have never heard of Robert B. Parker. Luckily for me, the television series “Spenser for Hire” happened. I fell in love with the characters; none of whom were perfect (though the leads were perfectly cast in the show). I found out in the third (and final) season that they were based on books and after reading “Ceremony” it was a done deal. Robert B. Parker’s writing is witty, intense, mellow and detailed with nuance as he slides you into his Boston. Both the requisite tough and tender, Spenser (with an “S” like the poet), a former boxer, former Boston cop, now private investigator is a well-read, often quoting classic poetry, yet one smartass S.O.B. and an excellent cook. He has his own very strong sense of morals and what happens when doing what’s right clashes with doing what’s right– as it often happened. It is both the strength and the albatross of what makes his friendships and relationships work.
X-Men (The Phoenix Saga) – Chris Claremont
Yes, X-Men as in the Marvel comics and movies, The Uncanny X-Men comic books to be specific. Yes, Storm – a character who was strong, female, and stop the presses, Black – opened the door introducing me to X-Men and the Marvelverse, however, it was Chris Claremont’s writing that kept me in the building. From the Phoenix’s fiery ascension (ironically from the waters of New York City’s Jamaica Bay), to its death, The Phoenix Saga took a little over three years to tell in its entirety and I was there for every step of it. The very human dynamics of the mutant x-men working with their powers, and in the case of Phoenix powers that eventually prove to be far beyond her ability to control with dire consequences, was not something I expected in a comic. The world at large was just coming into the concept of a graphic novel, so this level of storytelling for a comic book was unheard of. Yes, they were humans with extraordinary powers, but they were human first and that is what called out to me.
The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso) – Dante Alighieri
Finally reading this as an adult away from school, I needed two detailed abridged versions along with the original to fully appreciate the scope of this masterpiece. Yes, on the literal surface, The Divine Comedy portrays Dante’s adventures in his imaginative realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, which is intriguing enough. However, these adventures or so much more than what is on the surface. Other than the Holy Bible, it was the first book I read that dealt with the demands Christianity makes on invariably fallible human souls. Though told through the character’s view this is not just one man’s struggle, but the struggle of all who strive for morality and find unity with God as we try to travel the right road.
Othello / Romeo & Juliet / Macbeth / Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Who is better at delving into what makes man, and woman, tick and then deliver it to us in finer verbiage than Willie Shakes? No one. While his comedies show display our foibles with rapier sharp wit, it is his tragedies that really cut to the human heart of us. These four in particular being the prime examples of his craft.
Teacup Full of Roses – Sharon Bell Mathis
Though technically a young adult novel, I was ten when I read “Teacup Full of Roses” at the suggestion of my teacher. I fell in love with the book because it was the first book I read clearly where the characters were contemporary (1970s), from the city and above all the characters were Black. I could easily relate to the hopes, dreams, nightmares and failures of these people because they lived in my world. There is much conversation on how the media does not provide an accurate portrayal/accounting of people of color compared to real life, and this is at the adult level. Imagine how much more this is so at the child level. Until then the only black character I knew in books was Jim in Huckleberry Finn. Some will never understand how amazing and important this is to a child of color, but it is.
If Beale Street Could Talk / The Fire Next Time / Go Tell It On The Mountain – James Baldwin
Ah Baldwin, in turns made me yearn, made me made angry, made me resolute. Not yet fully aware of the world at large, I did not know the importance of his writing at the time. I just knew this was our lives being told true as I knew them to be. I was exposed to passion in black love, anger and Christianity in a way that was not toned down and pretty. Teacup impressed the ten-year old me, but Baldwin blew the teenaged me out of the water.
Holy Bible (King James Version)
Ah the Bible. I worried as Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. I understood the father’s joy when his prodigal son returned home; Abraham’s torment as he led Isaac up the mount, as he resolutely obeyed God’s word and Mary’s pain as she cried for her child on the cross. And Song of Solomon / Song of Songs – well, that’s its own love. For me The Word was never about my potential destination to heaven or hell. It never really about His word per se, the analogies/parables between man and deity took second place to the stories of the people themselves and how we relate to and with Him.
Dissecting this list I realize the connection between all of them is that, it is always about the people in them and their stories. Whether fictional/biographical/auto-biographical – it is how the protagonists / antagonists relate to themselves, to the immediate people who are a part of their daily lives and how they relate to the world the world at large. Good or ill, it’s all about what makes them tick. And how deeply can they pull me into it their world and make feel me it in mine.