A Few Of My Favorite Things – Books

I love to read.  I enjoy most books, though I gravitate towards nonfiction, particularly about history or food; historical fiction; fantasy; and murder mysteries, particularly from authors with a scientific bent a la Kathy Reichs.  My favorite genre, however, in fact the genre in which all three of my top three favorite books reside, is memoir.

I want to preface this post by mentioning how sad I am that I lack the vocabulary to discuss literature on any real level.  That’s how I feel about a lot of the topics that I would like to blog about, actually – I have a million thoughts in my head but I don’t have the vocabulary essential to getting those thoughts out into a coherent post.  I know that sounds kind of funny as a former English major and English teacher, but those days feel like they were several lifetimes ago at this point.

Instead of pontificating, I’ll just share a brief synopsis, a quote, and a super short explanation of why I’ve deemed these particular memoirs worthy of 8 million rereadings.

So, briefly, my three favorite books…

{1} Wasted, Marya Hornbacher

wasted

A brutal, comprehensive telling of Marya’s eating disorder: EDNOS with periods of anorexia and bulimia.  I have always been a big reader, but this is the book that changed literature for me. It is the reason I love memoirs, and having read it was probably a major factor in my choosing a career in English originally.

I read this book for the first time in 8th grade and so many of Hornbacher’s choices made a lasting impression on me.  This is the book that showed me the story that a true author can pull from real life.  Beauty in memoir is made even more magnificent to me by the fact the story is working within the confines of reality.  Hornbacher taught me that it is okay to be a sesquipedalian; having to read with a dictionary at my side was part of the fun; I learned the word “bereft” from a passage she wrote about shaving her armpits.  Finally, I love the way that Hornbacher is able to put her reader into her mindset, with different parts of the book reading magical or manic depending on her outlook at the time.  Never mind the fact that she is regularly lauded for the wonderfully truthful, realistic job she does of presenting life with an eating disorder.  She does a fantastic job of weaving facts about eating disorders in with her personal story.

Until I was twelve, I was probably still afraid of bulimia, though my bulimia became increasingly serious, to the point where I was bingeing and purging every day after school in the morbid silence of my parents’ home.  My mind pulls away from the early years, doesn’t want to watch.  My brain says: This is still the warm-up.  Still prep school.  Things were okay.  I had the usual crushes, school yard catfights, and melodramatic crises.  I had plenty of friends, tight friends whom I loved very much and eventually lost.  Nothing was so bad, I kept telling myself.  Nothing that losing weight couldn’t cure.

But I became less afraid, and there’s the rub.  One really ought to be afraid of self-torture.  But it tempted me.  It begged.  The dark place that my mind was fast becoming blends, in my memory, with the dark womb of church: the chant, the fugue or prayer, the strange exotic energy that carving a very small cross into my thigh with a nail had brought.

In the garish glaring picture book sun of that small town, I was carefully constructing my own private hell.

{2} Black Boy, Richard Wright

black boy

I’m going to steal the text from the back of the book – “Black Boy is Richard Wright’s powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South.  It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment – a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.”  I sincerely hope that this is still required reading in most high schools; Wright’s words would do a fabulous job of yanking modern students away from their cell phones and sitting them firmly in the dirt Mississippi in the 1960’s.  I also loved Native Son.

I am normally not a reader who wants a ton of descriptive language, I like to focus on the plot and keep things moving.  Case in point – I’ve never managed to make it through more than a page of Melville at a time.  Wright’s descriptions are so alluring that not only do I not mind wading through his setting of the scenes, I relish his descriptive passages.  I actually think that Hornbacher’s novel, The Center of Winter, had a lot in common with Black Boy in this way.

Somewhere in the dead of the southern night my life had switched onto the wrong track and, without my knowing it, the locomotive of my heart was rushing down a dangerously steep slope, heading for a collision, heedless of the warning red lights that blinked all about me, the sirens and the bells and the screams that filled the air.

{3} All But My Life, Gerda Weismann Klein

all but my life

A Holocaust memoir of Klein’s experience from childhood before the concentration camps to the life she rebuilt after the war had finished.  This story is truly a testament of the resilience of joy in the face of horrors.  Klein helps her readers to quickly fall in love with the people that she loves.

Fun fact – in one of my many lifetimes, I almost went to Binghamton to earn a Master’s in English.  My plan was a thesis on Holocaust literature and I did a sort of trial run in undergrad with a 20+ page paper in which Klein’s work served as a central text.

In the morning we did not talk about the train that was to leave a few hours hence.  Silently we sat at the table.  Then Papa picked up his Bible and started to read.  Mama and I just sat looking at him.  Then all of a sudden Papa looked up and asked Mama where my skiing shoes were.

“Why?” I asked, baffled.  //  “I want you to wear them tomorrow when you go to Wadowitz.”  //  “But Papa, skiing shoes in June?”  //  He said steadily: “I want you to wear them tomorrow.”  //  “Yes, Papa, I will,” I said in a small voice.

I wonder why Papa insisted; how could he possibly have known?  Those shoes played a vital part in saving my life.  They were study and strong, and when three years later they were taken off my frozen feet they were good still. . . .

{Honorable Mentions} The Hands of My Father, Myron Uhlberg’s story about growing up as the hearing son of two (kind, funny,) deaf parents.  And anything by Augusten Borroughs, the funniest man alive.

What are your top three favorite books?

5 thoughts on “A Few Of My Favorite Things – Books

  1. True story- Greta Klein came to my high school to speak, and one of my classmates asked her if she ever understood the Nazi’s point. Fortunately, Ms Klein didn’t understand the question.

  2. I am also a huge fan of memoirs! Thanks for sharing your favorites. I will definitely be adding “Wasted” to my TBR list this winter. I wanted to recommend a book to you that I think you would enjoy called “Don’t Stop Dreaming: Sex, Death, Fear, Bigotry, and Greed: A Scientist-Physician’s Odyssey at the Dawn of AIDS” by Dr. Russel Tomar (http://russtomarmd.com/). I am not old enough to remember when the AIDS virus first became mainstream and had very limited knowledge of the subject. This book was a real eye opener for me. It is written in such a passionate and personal way, I could not put it down. I feel it is the duty of each individual to educate themselves on things like this that have had such a profound impact on such a large number of people and this book was the perfect way for me to do that. I hope you will check it out

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