It’s been said that in order to be a good writer, you should be a good reader but that is not why I started reading. I started reading because my oldest sister offered to pay me .25 cents for every book I read. (This was in the late 70s when .25 cents was actually worth something.) Before she paid me, I had to prove I read the book by writing a brief paragraph about it. Clever me used to paraphrase the back cover, but eventually my sister figured it out and would ask me specific questions about the book I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t really read it. I was probably not pleased at the time, but eventually, I discovered the wonders of reading and the power of escape it afforded and I never looked back. I’ve been an avid reader ever since. It’s been probably 30 years since my sister began this exercise and although I no longer get paid, I’ve since read a countless number of books. I’ve read good books, bad books, great books, terrible books, lousy books that I loved anyway and classics I couldn’t bring myself to finish. I obviously cannot remember all of them but these are some of the books that hold a special place in my heart.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – this book came out long before the paranormal frenzy and it was the first time I’d ever read a book written from the perspective of someone who had died. The novel was haunting, beautiful and sad and it touched me in a way I recall each and every time I see the light blue cover in a book store.
The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum – this novel came as a recommendation by my mother. She was so enthusiastic about it that I suggested it to my book club. I found myself deeply relating to the protagonist, her fears and insecurities – and was motivated to take a good look at myself and make some much needed changes. I am forever grateful for this book.
Watermelon by Marian Keyes – I believe this book was my foray into the “chick-lit” genre. Before this book, I read mostly deeper women’s fiction from authors such as Jodi Picoult and Wally Lamb or psychological thrillers and contemporary fiction from authors like Dean Koontz and Tom Wolfe. I had no idea that books about women could be so funny and relatable to a twenty-something like myself. Since then, chick-lit has been my “go-to” genre for pure escapism and fun. I organize a chick-lit book club for other lovers of the genre like myself and my own novel, Just Friends With Benefits, is written in humorous and conversational voice and most often categorized as “chick-lit”.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles – Of all of the classics I had to read for Junior High and High School, A Separate Peace was my favorite. Maybe it was because it was about boys in prep school and maybe because the movie starred that actor from the Hardy Boys, but I really loved this book back then. As an adult reading the book by choice, I was better able to appreciate the themes of friendship, trust, competition, jealousy etc. and I still loved it.
All of the Ginny and Geneva books by Catherine Wooley – these were the books of my childhood, before I entered my pre-teen years and devoured every novel by Judy Blume (more to follow). If I recall, my favorites were Ginny and the New Girl and A Room For Cathy. I loved reading about girls my age and their adventures in friendship. Sometimes I am tempted to spend the day in the library, reading these books all over again and perhaps getting a little bit of that innocence back, if only for the afternoon.
Everything ever written by Judy Blume – I am forever beholden to Judy Blume for writing books that reassured me I wasn’t much different than other tweens/pre-teens. Are You There God, it’s Me Margaret, showed me I probably wasn’t the only girl to lie about when she got her period; Blubber was evidence that it is not easy to stand up for yourself or others when you are afraid of being the next victim of the mean girl in school; and while I did not relate in any way to Sally J. Freedman, I think I read Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself more than any other books as evidenced by the worn cover and ripped pages. There was something so exciting about reading about Sally’s time in Florida, her crush on Peter Hornstein (the Latin Lover) and her fascination with a man she thinks is Hitler in disguise. I had never heard of a “nocturnal emission” before reading Then Again Maybe I won’t. And, of course, Forever – the first book I read with sex scenes. ‘Nuff said.
The Promise by Danielle Steele – I’m not typically a fan of Danielle Steele because she uses about six pages to describe a wooden table and, to me, “wooden table” is a good enough description. That being said, I loved The Promise. I loved the story about a couple tragically torn apart by a car accident that leaves the man thinking his lover died when the truth is that his wealthy mother paid a surgeon to reconstruct the woman from the wrong-side-of-the-track’s horribly damaged face in exchange for her agreement to let him believe she died. When the man and woman reconnected and he somehow knew it was her despite her completely different face, well, it was magic.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb –I was half-way through reading the book before I looked at the cover, saw that the author’s name was “Wally” and asked my sister to confirm that “Wally” was, in fact, a female. When she said “Uh, no, Wally Lamb is a man,” I was astounded. I met Wally Lamb at a writer’s conference once and was so excited for the question/answer session so I could ask him how he could so believably write from a woman’s perspective but someone else beat me to it. And whenever I discuss the book with other women, the sentiment is echoed. It has been more than ten years since I read this book but, still, whenever it’s mentioned in conversation, my first thought is “Damn, I can’t believe that book was written by a man!”
A Shore Thing by Snookie. Just joking. I just wanted to make sure you were really reading!!
So, what do you think of my list? Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear about the books on your list!