I was adding to my book list on http://www.goodreads.com/ and realized two things. One, I have WAY too many books on my shelves that I haven't read yet and secondly that books have a powerful hold on me. I suppose I've always known both those things but going through my library reinforced it.
To me books are like friends - good close friends who sometimes make you laugh (anything by David Sedaris), sometimes make you cry ('What they Wanted' by Donna Morrisey...warning, you'll need plenty of tissues when reading this one), sometimes really piss you off (I was so annoyed at the ending for 'My Sister's Keeper' and as I kid couldn't finish a book if someone was being 'double-crossed'. Speaking of sister's, my own was so annoyed at the circumstances in 'Careless in Red' by Elizabeth George that she put the book down and refused to finish it or even talk about it).
Books are powerful things. The ability to write a phrase that stays with you long after reading it, the ability to create characters that come alive in the reading and stay alive when you've finished is a rare art form. I often go back to Rohinton Mistry's 'Family Matters' for the quote ... "A letter is like perfume. You don't apply a whole bottle. Just one dab will fill your senses. Words are the same - a few are sufficient."
As I added to the list on Goodreads I remembered some of my other favorites as well. 'Can you Hear the Nightbird Call' by Anita Rau Badami. 'Bishop's Road' by Catherine Safer. 'Walking after Midnight' by Kay Hutchison. And many more.
I also remembered where I was - or at least what I was going through - when I read some of them. I read 'Beyond Crazy' and 'The Last Taboo', both by Scott Simmie and Julia Nunes, when I was going through a particularly bad patch. Any and all of my books on Celtic spirituality or the Orthodox church remind me of when I was mad for learning as much as possible about those two subjects - subjects which are still close to my heart.
I still have the very first book I ever owned as a child, my first 'grown-up' book anyway. It's called 'The Five Circles' by Barbara May and I can clearly recall how proud and thrilled I was to have a book to call my own. That's partly why I'm so partial to a charity called The Children's Book Bank (http://www.childrensbookbank.com/) located on Berkley Street in Toronto, Ontario. The Children's Book Bank collects books and GIVES them to children. It's a phenomenal idea and to anyone who loves reading and realizes the power of a book for a child visit this website and donate, donate, donate.
I also remember feeling so stupid the first time I opened 'The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty' by Paul Evdokimov. It was in the very early days when I found myself enthralled with icons and iconography and wanted to learn as much as I could about them. And, instead of starting with something basic, like 'Sacred Doorways', I chose Evdokimov's book. It begins .... ' "Beauty is the splendor of truth." So said Plato in an affirmation that the genius of the Greek language completed by a coining a single term, kalokagathia." ' HUH????? Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt so stupid as when I started reading 'The Art of the Icon' (well, maybe with the exception of the first class I took at Trinity College as a VERY mature student but more on that another time) . But I got through it and think of it often and, remembering how stupid I felt then and realizing that I 'get it' now is a special feeling as well.
I've begun to give books as gifts as much as possible. A few years ago I gave 'I never saw another butterfly ...' to all my fellow acolytes at church. I gave both my sons 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' by Shel Silverstein this Christmas. When they were little boys the three of us used to read the poem's in that, and all of Silverstein's books, over and over. It turned out to be one of their favorite books. I gave 'Bel Canto' by Ann Patchett to two of my best friends for Christmas as well, one of whom loved it, the other - well, I've not heard what they thought of it yet so ... who knows. After all, just because I love a book doesn't mean that others will.
I remember recommending 'Family Matters' to my best friend ..... and hearing that they HATED it. They went to the trouble of taking it on a family vacation, sitting down on the beach to read this "great book" and HATING it! 'Too depressing' was the comment I got back. Honestly, the way they went on made me feel guilty for even suggesting it to them! Also made me a bit cautious to recommend books to anyone for a while but then I figured, even if they don't like them, reading pretty much anything is an experience worth having. And I still love it. It remains one of my all time favorites, along with 'Bel Canto'.
Now that I've realized how many books I have on my shelves that I haven't read I'm planning to take care of that. I'll keep you posted on any true gems I discover .... well, in my opinion anyway!