This past week, I read an article on the NPR site titled, In Winter, Keeping Warm with Beloved Books, by Juan Vidal. That got me thinking about books that stick with me, the ones that I might return to when I have time to re-read them. What books make me want to curl up in the chair next to the fireplace? What books make me forget about what’s around me or, alternatively, make me re-frame my world? This list is a good start.
1. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver. This book of poems about dogs is, naturally, not just about dogs. It’s about unconditional love, which we could all use a little more of. And it has bite-size nuggets for those days when you only have five minutes to spare. It will wait patiently for you to return until all the nuggets have been digested. Dog Songs was a gift from my husband for Christmas a year ago; I love this book nearly as much as I love him.
2. The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston. This was a book I chose for a women’s book group I used to be part of. I adored it, loved the way it moved between fiction and nonfiction, how it threaded grief and antiwar sentiment into a cohesive idea about how we move toward peace. My book group at the time was not so keen on it. In fact, one of the women outright hated it. Maybe two of them did, come to think of it. Anyway, that has not dimmed my love of this book and I later took it with me when I went to hear Kingston speak at the University of Minnesota. She signed the book for me. It’s never leaving me.
3. Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks. This is not a typo in the previous line; bell hooks does not capitalize her name. I read this memoir of how hooks became an amazing feminist writer during a bout of some flu-like illness one winter several years ago. I didn’t know anything about bell hooks at the time, but the voice captivated me. She had me from the very first lines:
Not everyone goes to poetry readings to find love. She did. Growing up, poetry had been the sanctuary, that space in words where longing could be spoken.
4. In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones. I am a short-form writer. This book, which I acquired in graduate school, was one of my introductions to what very short forms can accomplish. Bite-sized stories can have planet-sized impact. This collection includes a nice array of writers, including Terry Tempest Williams, Maxine Kumin, Tim O’Brien, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Rita Dove, Sherman Alexie, Andrei Codrescu, and many others.
5. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell made me think, plain and simple. I’ve long been someone whose gut-level feelings will not be ignored. Blink offered a framework for examining instinctive reactions, the way we just know things. Great book to revisit every so often.
As I look back over this list, I’m a little surprised that there’s not much fiction on it. But, then again, there are good stories and poetic beauty all around.
Happy Friday. What will you read next?