“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.” – Alan Bennett
There are so many studies that tout the importance of establishing good reading habits in children as early as possible. Personally, I can’t imagine a world where I don’t have time to read – I’ve often been in a position where I didn’t necessarily have the time to read for fun but reading has become such a fundamental part of my routine. If there’s a day where I don’t read, it’s like I’ve missed a meal (like a mental meal or an emotional meal). I will say that a huge part of getting into those habits (which I thoroughly believe helped me with all my subjects in school, not just English) was my parents. Beyond bedtime stories and teaching me to read, they surrounded me with books. I might have seven or eight bookcases in my bedroom on my own but I acquired those over many years. We had four or five overloaded bookcases spread throughout the house growing up including one that was full of just kid’s books. We were never at a loss for reading material in my house and my parents never really told me what I could or could not read so I was reading some of the same books as my parents as early as fourth and fifth grade (mostly mysteries like Agatha Christie or the Murder, She Wrote series).
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
In high school there was an occasional book club that I really wanted to take part in but the times they met so often clashed with my own extra curricular activities that I never could make my schedule work for it. I don’t remember too many of the books they read but I do remember being particularly disappointed that I could take part the month they read A Clockwork Orange (other than knowing it was considered a “classic” I didn’t know much about the story; if I had, I don’t know that I would have been quite so interested in reading it). I had a difficult time getting into the book with the Nadsat playing such a heavy role right off the bat (though its predominantly Russian roots were fascinating). I know that plenty of people are huge fans of the book because of Kubrick’s film adaptation but I think in too many cases the wrong aspects of the book are fetishized and dealing with it as a whole is too problematic and frustrating (with the excessive amounts of violence, particularly against women and then there’s the whole issue of the means undertaken to “correct” Alex). The message just gets lost when it comes to most popular discussions of the novel (which I find disheartening and discouraging).
Summer by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton remains one of my favorite turn of the century novelists and Summer continues to examine the difficulties of being a woman in a male dominated society and the unhappiness/dissatisfaction that comes with being forced to choose between what you want and avoiding humiliation. Though the setting is not as flashy as some of her most famous works (and the characters aren’t as wealthy), the fact that these she was able to emphasize these double standards at all levels of society and at the time she was writing continues to fascinate and inspire me.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment is still one of my all-time favorite novels. The Brothers Karamazov is… less so. I remember that I began reading this book when I was called for jury duty. I was tempted to bring Crime and Punishment for obvious reasons but ultimately settled for a good long book I hadn’t already read since I didn’t know how long I would be there. It was July and hot and the room we were made to wait in had no air conditioning. I believe I got through the first seventy pages before they finally called us down for the real selection process and not fifteen minutes later I was excused and headed home (they sent the jury notice to my college dorm address and had me report to that county which was quite far from where I actually lived). I slowly made my way through the rest of Karamazov eventually making it my between-books book (read a chapter each time I finish a book I actually want to read until the difficult/frustrating book is finished). College classes, homework, and reading were another factor but ultimately I simply didn’t care enough about any of the characters (or even like them in any way). I wasn’t motivated by the story or the topics it examined the way I was with Crime and Punishment.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I think I would have enjoyed The Remains of the Day more if I had read it a year or two after I did which was just before the Downton Abbey craze hit. It wasn’t that I wasn’t already intrigued by that time period and the logistics of that way of life and the reductions in large houses staff but I needed the larger context and the visuals provided by the show to help establish that connection. I think if I went back and read it now, I’d enjoy it a bit more simply for having a greater understanding of the historical context. I was also a bit surprised because the last Ishiguro I’d read before this was Never Let Me Go and though the prose style is quite similar, the subject matter are leagues apart.
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Someone in the house was flipping through the television stations one day and came upon the film adaptation of The Cider House Rules. It was somewhere in the middle of the story and soon went to commercials (at which point the channel was switched again) so I had very little understanding of the story itself from that brief glimpse (I distinctly remember an x-ray, a sterilized room for medical procedures, and I definitely remember Michael Caine). But that was all years before I read the book and I certainly never dreamed that the medical procedures in question (given the time period in which the novel was set) would be abortions. I actually really liked this novel (not sure where I would rank it in relation to A Prayer for Owen Meany) and the way it presented the issues it addressed – the way it was able to reconcile religious factors with the practicalities of the women’s individual situations and needs is something I think all “pro-life” advocates should probably read.