My dream bookshelf

one of the very many bookshelves in our house

When Amy tagged me several weeks ago with a meme about one’s top five books, and then Kristen wrote about her dream bookshelf, I decided it was time for me to think about this.  It’s heroically difficult for me to name my favorite books, and on any such list I know I will have left off some important titles and writers.  But I love reading lists like this from other people, so I wanted to give it a try.

I come by my passion for books honestly.  My father has said, famously, early, and often, that “home is where you keep the books.”  I grew up tripping over stacks of books (in English, French, and German) and in an environment where it was a game to flip open the Norton Anthology, read at random, and ask the person listening to guess the writer and piece of writing.  Dad read us Treasure Island and Swallows and Amazons and Mum made me a Pippi Longstocking Halloween costume one year.

Anne Lamott wrote of her family in her beautiful column for the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, “Books and wine were our glue, and so also our grace.”  This is such an apt evocation of my own family that it brought tears to my eyes.

With that, here is my attempt to list my favorites.  In some cases I’m cheating and listing a few I love from a writer or even a category.  People, this is still really hard for me.  I know I’m leaving some important writers and words out.

Annie Dillard:  Holy the Firm, the Writing Life, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Annie Dillard, more than anyone else, shakes the truth in my eyes that divinity is right here in front of me in the natural world.  Her voice is a clarion call that reminds me to open my eyes and to see.

Devotion by Dani Shapiro.  To say this book changed my life isn’t an exaggeration.  I read Dani’s book and Katrina’s (below) within a couple of months and my entire sense of the world shifted.  I felt known and seen – by people who were, at that time, strangers – in a way that was eerie, unsettling, and profoundly reassuring.  I understand in a new way the power of memoir and personal writing.  I felt a surge of fierce hope: I want to (try to) do even a fraction of that.  And then the universe, in its incredible grace, introduced me to both Katrina and Dani.  I’m wildly honored to call them both mentors and teachers now.  My life has never been the same.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison.  See above.  I’m certain that Katrina’s new book, Magical Journey, will join this list immediately upon my reading it.  I’m counting days.

Harry Potter: the whole series by JK Rowling.  I’ve written endlessly of my passion for Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts.  I’ve named Dumbledore as my favorite fictional character.  School as safe haven, teachers as protectors and guides, the magic that is revealed in learning, the quest to find out who we are, the power of love.  Rowling’s world has it all.  I’m on my third reading through of the series, and I love it more each time.  My faith in this series to transform the reader’s sense of the world and of self is so strong that when I meet someone who is not a Harry fan (which has only happened a couple of times) I am instantly skeptical of them as a person.  Literally.

Poetry: The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich, Collected Poems by Mary Oliver, The Selected Poems by Wendell Berry.  Poetry is my lingua franca.  I love novels and memoir but it is in poetry that I feel most at home and to poetry to which I turn when I need solace.  Lines of poetry that I know deep in my marrow run through my head all day long, pulled from their residence in my brain – my spirit! – by some subconscious need or impulse whose order I would love to divine.  It’s very, very difficult for me to pick favorites, but I think these three are they.

Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient, Divisadero, The Cat’s Table.  Ondaatje’s prose is poetry.  His lines, like those of Rich, Oliver, and Berry, recur in my thoughts several times a day.  The novel I’ve been working on on and off for years is named for a line from one of Ondaatje’s books.  His stories stay with me, shimmering, and their messages reveal themselves over time, layers and layers of image and metaphor and sensual detail.  If I was forced to name a favorite novelist, it would be Ondaatje.

What is on your dream bookshelf?  Please tell me!  “What are you reading” is among my most-asked questions, and the various ways that people respond tells me a lot about who they are.  “What are your favorite books” is also on that short list of common, and telling, questions.

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  1. Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, thanks for sharing your list-you’ve given me some new titles to dig into. I think we are compatible…and I, too, loved HP, especially when I saw how it opened up my son’s world as a youngster. Poetry…maybe the English major in me. Maya Angelou is one of my favorites, William Bronte, Blake…authors Anne Lamott, Morrrison…I’m inspired to write my own post now. I’m currently reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”-fascinating. Just finished “Wild”.

  2. Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’ll need to think about this, but I need to confess something: I still have not read Harry Potter. I KNOW. I meant to read it with Mason, but then Mason didn’t want to slow down for me. Maybe I will read them with Ben? Maybe I should give up and read them on my own. But I have seen the movies, and all the points you make speak to me. xo

  3. Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, Can’t put into words how deeply honored, and humbled, I am to be on this list, and on the shelf with these writers. So I will just say thank you and carry on, in gratitude that our paths crossed, both on the page and in life.

  4. Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Wonderful list, Lindsey. I’ve added some to my “to read” list. I’ve never really found my poetry niche, but have a desire to, and your suggestions are helpful. The two memoirs that you mentioned keep popping up places, so I will take that as a sign that I need to read them.
    These lists make me so happy. Thanks for posting yours!

  5. Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I am so glad that you did this! While I certainly wasn’t surprised to see certain titles here, I was happy for the reminder of your love for Annie Dillard and Michael Ondaatje. And here’s a quote from The English Patient that seems to fit you and this post: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” xo

    admin Reply:

    Of course it won’t surprise you that I know that quote by heart, and adore it. xoxo

  6. Posted November 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    From one mom to another Re: Harry Potter and JK Rowling…AGREE! AGREE! AGREE! I’ve read each book at least 3x. I can not read or watch part II of number 7 without weeping from the moment they meet Aberforth, from the deepest part of my soul until the very end and I truly am skeptical as well, of any person who is not a fan. Literally. 🙂

  7. Posted November 30, 2012 at 1:38 am | Permalink

    Oh, how this piece speaks to me! I love hearing how reading has always been a part of your life, and of wine and books and grace. That is essence for me, too.
    I haven’t yet read Devotion, but have read other books of Dani’s. Devotion will go on my to-read list. Thanks!
    I’m currently reading a stack of books: Sarah’s Key (novel a week reading), a couple of writing books that I read a few pages at a time, and one of my favorites that is taking me months to read in small tastes, A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. Her book (non-fiction) Walking on Water is one of my all-time favorites. I’d love to hear what you think about it.
    Thank you, Lindsey. I can’t wait to read your novel someday. Write on!
    xo jk

  8. Posted November 30, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I always enjoy your reading related posts. I too read Devotion and both of Kenison’s memoirs close together. I was impacted in powerful, provacative ways by the journeys these two amazing authors shared. Karen Maezen Miller’s Hand Wash Cold resonated with me in the same way. I am always eager to hap upon a good memoir.

  9. Posted November 30, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I am so glad to see that you had two books that truly changed your life. Good writing has a way of seeping into our marrow, and changing us forever in the way we feel, see things, and hopefully changes (for the better) how we relate to one another. I will now add Devotion and The Gift of an Ordinary Day to my TBR list.

  10. Posted November 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I love reading lists. I love this/your reading loves. Will let the question marinate…what are my favorites? Thank you, and happy weekend.

  11. Posted November 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Ooh yay! You’ve given me lots to read (and reread, in the case of Harry Potter). It’s good to read another grownup waxing poetic about that series. I love love love it so.

  12. Posted December 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    A wonderful list! I, too, am always excited to learn what other people are reading. I hear about so many great books that way. Of course the downside is that my TBR list is overflowing!

    It sounds like books and reading were ingrained in your family from the time you were a little girl. That is a gift to be treasured for sure.

    One of the best books I read this year was Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I have a feeling that you would enjoy it too.

    I am a big fan of Mary Oliver also. Her poem Mornings at Blackwater is among my favorites.

    “Put your lips to the world and live your life.”

  13. Posted December 3, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Wonderful list, Lindsey. I’m currently reading the Gift of an Ordinary Day and every page is revelatory. Another book I’ve enjoyed this year include Marion Milner’s A Life of One’s Own. I would include on such a shelf the Pooh books and the Mary Poppins books, along with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. And some of my favorite memories with Hannah and David involve reading Harry Potter. For poetry I would include Marianne Moore, especially “What Are Years,” “Nevertheless,” “The Pangolin,” “The Steeplejack,” “The Hero,” “Silence,” and “When I Buy Pictures.” I could go on though this is what comes to mind.

  14. Posted December 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, I started reading *Devotion* by Dani Shapiro this morning. I’m hooked, in awe, and ready for the ride of my life! Thanks for recommending this treasure of a book! xoxo

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