Monday, February 14, 2005
Favorite Books and Authors: High School

In high school, I discovered Charles Dickens. His style was difficult for me at first, but once I got used to his voice, I loved his books. A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby were all wonderfully charming and thought provoking.

Jack London's Call of the Wild and White Fang showed the harshness of nature, Edgar Allan Poe's short stories were dark and exciting. Catcher in the Rye made me look at life, or at least books, differently. Holden Caulfield's voice was so wry, so real. Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey were books I'd read again in college. I hope J.D. Salinger has continued to write.

I read 1984 in 1984. I would have been 14 or 15, but I remember it vividly. The smell of cabbages in Winston's apartment building. Hiding from his TV to write in his journal. I remember Julia's sash. Winston and Julia watching a woman wash her clothes. I would like to re-read it to see if it has a different effect on me, and if my memories of it are accurate.

I read Gone with the Wind and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I remember crying at the end, even though I knew from the start how it would end.

Heart of Darkness and Of Human Bondage were books I read because they seemed deep and important. My reasons for picking them up were pretentious, but the books themselves were worthwhile. In Of Human Bondage, the little boy (Philip) has a club foot. He reads in the bible that if you have faith, you can move mountains. So, he decides to ask God to make his club foot whole. He has absolute faith that God will do this for him. Maugham builds this moment up - Philip is so convinced that his foot will be whole in the morning he shivers with delight. In the morning, when Philip limps down the stairs, it is devastating and perfectly written.

Thanks to The Cure, I read Camus' The Stranger. The main character was so detached, isolated and numb - and so modern. I started L0l1ta because of Sting ('just like the old man in that book by Nabakov'), not a book I'll be recommending to my daughters. When they went on their roadtrip, it just got very, very boring and I quit. I decided there were too many good books out there to waste on this garbage (I should've made that decision on the first page). To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, The Good Earth and The Metamorphosis all stand out. I wrote a paper on The Metamorphosis. It was one of the first that I wrote on a computer. It would be neat to read it today.

I read Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed it - in much the same way I did Dickens. Understanding the subtle and carefully chosen language was rewarding. I did not read more Austen until well after college, though. I discovered John Steinbeck and read The Pearl, The Red Pony and The Winter of our Discontent. In college I would go on to read all his books. His voice is plain and honest and his characters are incredibly real.

I went through a phase (similar to the one I'm in now) where I read about WWII and the Holocaust. I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Anne Frank's Diary, The Hiding Place, and I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Anne Frank's diary was powerful, but the reality of the war didn't hit me. Years later I read about her death in a concentration camp, and realized that she really died. I'd left her in the Annex, still safe. I went through a phase where I read about Vietnam, too, and I remember things about those books (men returning home that were spit on and called baby killers, a book from a nurse's perspective), but the only book I remember is Born on the 4th of July.

We went to the library a lot, but my parents also had bookcases filled with books at home. It was in those shelves I found The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, The Hiding Place, The Thorn Birds (not recommended), a book about the busload of children that were kidnapped in Chowchilla (we lived in Fresno for a number of years and everytime we went through Chowchilla I would think of that), and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (I tried to read them, but I did not get them).

I read a little poetry. Sylvia Plath, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson's shorter poems, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. I didn't have the attention span (and still don't, really) for longer poetry. One of the few poems I memorized in high school was The Hollow Men (by T. S. Eliot). I was in speech and for a time did extemporaneous speaking. We all had the same anthology of poetry and prose and would randomly be given a piece to perform. We would have 15 or 20 minutes to practice and I remember walking down the hallways of some unknown high school with 20 kids practicing to the lockers. The Hollow Men was one of the possibilities - I think I only chose it once, but I remember the way I read the end (light emphasis):

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

It's a good poem, but it was probably pretty pathetic. A poem is better read silently than performed. Words on a page are more powerful than the huff and puff of someone trying to get you to notice them. Not to say I was huffy or puffy.

William Carlos Williams' name itself was a sort of poem. The simplicity and the beauty of his poetry made the littlest things, from plums to wheelbarrows, precious.

This Is Just To Say
William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
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Name: Laura

I have five kids including triplets. I'm too busy to blog, but I do anyway (uh, sometimes).

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