“Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” – Chinua Achebe
One of my favorite things that can happen while I read is when time ceases to have meaning. I imagine it’s like that mental place surgeons go that allows them to focus, perform, endure through a surgery that lasts for ten hours or more. I stop feeling hungry and miss meals; I stop feeling tired and read through the night; I don’t notice that the sun has gone down and I’m squinting at the page until someone else comes in the room and flicks the light on overhead. It doesn’t happen very often, mostly because I don’t let it. I know that it’s pretty unhealthy but every once in a while it’s fun to indulge the impulse.
Now, I carefully plan when and why if I want to get completely swept away. If there’s a new release I’m really looking forward to or another special occasion, I’ll make sure the time is reserved in my schedule and warn people that it’s coming so they know better than to interrupt me. I do these things because I will never get tired of the rush I felt when I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at two o’clock in the morning or the frustration of being interrupted forty pages into Mockingjay (only to learn the phone call was from my friend to tell me how much she loved her mother who’d bought the book and delivered it to her at work for her lunch break). The vicarious adrenaline, anxiety, and embarrassment are more potent when the rest of the world has been adequately banished to the other side of a closed door.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
I have fond memories of this book in part because it was the subject of one of my favorite papers I wrote in college (an essay that won a small contest and publication on campus). It also shows how small the steps we take towards irreparable change can be. Before we realize where we’re headed, it becomes impossible to turn back or fight. I also remember reading several essays of Achebe’s as part of my criticism classes but precisely which, I can’t recall. Looking forward to Arrow of God, which is also included on this 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone say that they didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird. It is such an iconic piece of American literature and can be read by just about anyone at any age and they will find something valuable in it. I first read it in middle school when my classmates and I were close in age to Scout, so many of the heavier themes and messages might have gone over our heads but by the time we watched the film in high school, we all understood not just how well written the book was but how important it was too. For so long it was Harper Lee’s only novel. Now with the prospect of a second book from her, I will undoubtedly join the ranks of those rereading To Kill a Mockingbird in anticipation and preparation (though I haven’t preordered my copy of Go Set a Watchman just yet).
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
From a young age, I was never one to shy away from books that have been traditionally directed at boys. I didn’t care whether the main character was male or female and I always enjoyed adventure stories. I bought and read Treasure Island somewhere along the way (though my first introduction to the story was, once again, Wishbone, my favorite version will always be Muppet Treasure Island). In college I took a history class called Piracy in the Atlantic that, for the purposes of sounding official, was meant to focus on the economic impact to the colonies and Europe. In practice it was even cooler than a college course of pirates sounds. My friends and I affectionately refer to that class as Pirate Story Hour. Treasure Island was the first book on our syllabus and the first (optional) assignment was to rewrite the Gettysburg Address as Long John Silver addressing his crew (then there was a bonus option for those who chose to perform any of the versions students in the class wrote; it was the best first week of a class ever). The class was also offered only in the fall and Talk Like A Pirate Day coincided with one of our earliest classes.
Unless by Carol Shields
Unless is a book I doubt I ever would have noticed if I didn’t have to read it for one of my Lit courses in college. I don’t remember much about the story at all (in fact, what little I do remember has started to blend together with the events and characters from another novel I had to read in that class, Three Junes). I do remember that I really didn’t care for it at all. I don’t remember my specific complaints, only that I was relieved the day we finally finished and moved on to The Poisonwood Bible.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
I have read bits and pieces of Walden for almost the entirety of my academic career from high school through college. I’m pretty sure I read the entirety of the book in one of my undergrad classes but the parts that stick in my memory the most are the ants fighting with each other and Thoreau’s thoughts on the trains and technology creeping in on the landscape. Walden is probably one of my least favorite books. It’s up there on that list of “glad I read it cause it’s referenced/alluded to so often but really I hate it” with Moby Dick. That said, I love Walden Pond. It is beautiful and relaxing, even though the solitude has been broken by a multitude of people lounging around on its beaches, swimming in its waters, and hiking the trails around the pond. I completely understand the impulse and inspiration behind Walden and I agree with many of the sentiments he expresses, I find the manner of his expression tedious at times (I much prefer his essay on civil disobedience).