Introduction to Part Two
Part Two Contains some titles without commentary. I will add the commentary as I find the time.
This is Part Two of Five lists of books I have read and want to remember for many reasons. Among those about which I have commented are many that I cannot remember at all. I know I read the book and can tell you in general what it is about by the title, but nothing meaningful about it comes to my mind. Sometimes I even remember the cover, vividly.
“How can that be?” I ask myself.
I have decided that that fact may be as important as having much to say as an endorsement for reading or not reading the book.
Since this Five-Part list is for me, I feel free to list what I want to list and say what I want to say but just because I liked or did not like the book I would not expect that other people would necessarily share my feelings.
You are on your own if you use my list !
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Futuristic Fiction. This was a popular book when I read it but I found it disturbing. It is a futuristic story but it left me feeling terrible. There was a movie made of the book starring Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway. I started to watch the movie but changed my mind.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Fiction. This was a delightful book. I have to say that most discussions about the treatment of blacks in our country bother me. However, in this year of 2020 mobs have taken over some cities in the name of justice. I have not found justice yet in anything they are doing but it is a terrible struggle and I have no idea what they want. In the slave-holding South, everyone understood the goal. Blacks and Whites. Blacks couldn’t fight very hard for justice but the whites worked very hard to keep it unequal. I cannot imagine living in the South today, let alone in the past. I loved the characters in this book, and while I read less fiction than other kinds of writing now and then I love a book like this one. I did not see the movie which was made from the book. It won several awards.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Futuristic Fiction. I read this book in high school but have revisited it in discussion many times with Tom, who taught the book as a teacher. My favorite thing to consider from this book is the last scene. This scene was made more memorable by the fact that there was a movie made of the book, which I have seen more than once. The scene I am referring to is when all of the people who have run away are walking along the river in the light snow, reciting out-loud the words of the book they have chosen to remember. The people will become the library for the future since they cannot know whether all of the books will eventually be burned but they suspect they will. I often wonder which of the many books I have read I would choose to memorize if I had to choose one. I still have not decided and I pray that our world never comes to that point of censorship or political upheaval.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Fiction. I tried to read this book. It is very popular on lists and was made into a movie, which I did not see. I found the book hard to follow and quite complicated. I couldn’t shift with the scenes which were back and forth in the present, past and future and did not enjoy what I was reading. Life is too short to read a confusing book. Just my opinion.
Life of Pi by Yann Martell. Fiction. I have both read the book and seen the movie. Both were mesmerizing. I was glad that Tom and I could discuss both. He had gone deeper into the representations in the book while I had interpreted things quite superficially. After our discussion I could see that the animals on the boat were really people. I needed a second reading to fully appreciate the writer’s craft. The movie was beautiful. Discussing a book really helps to sort out what the author may have intended and I am amazed how differently two people can see things.
The Lost Art of Listening by Michael P. Nichols, PhD. Self Help. Best book I have ever read about learning to listen to people. It had logical and insightful information about how to listen productively to adolescents which I shared with my children. I found myself guilty of so many of the mistakes that people make without knowing they are making them and how some quirks and phrases can shut down conversation altogether. I found it especially helpful in relation to our current culture of vicious disagreement and plan to read it again very soon. I learned from it, however, that some people can be taught to be better listeners but others simply like the way they feel and the positions they have taken.
Frankenstein – 1818 Text by Mary Shelley. Fiction. I first read this in high school but have read it several times since. It is a shame that those who have not read the book have likely been exposed only to a Hollywood version of the story which has no interest in digging deep enough to capture the development of Ms. Shelley’s monster and the various ways she helps the reader to understand the other characters. What a strange topic for a woman to write about so long ago.
The Stand by Stephen King. Fiction. I don’t read many horror stories or mysteries and not much Science Fiction. While I didn’t feel comfortable during the reading of The Stand I understood why I felt the way I did. It was because without a theological basis for his beliefs, Mr. King couldn’t resolve the true nature of evil. He didn’t seem to know that there was an actual Devil who worked to destroy “good”. Instead, his views were loose and unformed and thus unresolved. Nevertheless, I think that Stephen King is a master of scary writing.
The Shining by Stephen King. Fiction. Oh, my. The book was a thriller but the movie was worse. I believe that most people who have read the book or seen the movie have several unforgettable scenes in their minds. Scenes they might wish they hadn’t seen. The theme of dead people hanging around in order to torment live people is as old as the world. Mr. King used a Hitchcock-style in his writing which carried over to the way the movie was made. I couldn’t turn the page fast enough and I kept my hands near my eyes all of the time I watched the movie.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Fiction. A difficult book to read, emotionally. I only read it once but did see the movie that brought Ophra Winfrey to fame. It is so difficult to read about other people’s suffering. Images form in your mind which you can’t erase. The plight of black people in our country, especially in the South for the last several centuries, breaks my heart. I could not have lived in the South to see the mistreatment in person. I would have objected and been killed myself. I just know it.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Historical Fiction. Oh, my. What a wonderful book. My appreciation of so many books has been enhanced by the insights Tom, The Teacher, has shared with me. He has taught this book for many years and always has something to point out, usually important points or connections that I have missed. This is a book of contrasts and heartache and of true history when it comes to the flight of poor people from the Dust Bowl to California. I do love the old black-and-white movie starring Henry Fonda. I have watched it more than once and have picked up new things each time.
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. Historical Fiction. I knew that Seabiscuit was a race horse but that’s all. I read the book and enjoyed it but I have found no desire to re-read it.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Fiction. A story during the French Revolution The two cities are London and Paris. It is not my favorite Dickens book but I dutifully read it.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Historical Fiction. This moving story, wrenched my heart and haunted me for some time after I finished it. It is a book for children who are old enough to have learned about the Nazis, Concentration Camps and World War II. It captures behavior and innocence that is so common in children while at the same time it begs an answer to the question “how was it possible for people to love their own children just a few feet from other children who they, the parents, were helping to kill in horrible ways?” I thought that the literary vehicle for forcing this Nazi Commandant to face that question was chilling. I read it twice and kept the book for future reading. I am not sure what age of child should read this book or whether a child could fully understand what had happened or whether I would want the child to understand. It is too horrible.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Fannie Flagg. Fiction. Female, Southern writers have a special gift. I loved reading this book and loved the movie even more. Just like the humor and craft of Harper Lee, Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, Fannie Flagg has written a fast-paced and colloquial book about some very unpleasant topics. I have read it more than once so that I could pay more attention to her craft. Fannie Flagg has written other books in the same genre but I didn’t enjoy them. This one is my favorite and I especially liked the quip “Because I am older and have more money and have more insurance.” If you have read the book, you will know exactly who said this and under what circumstances. Fun.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Fiction. Such a Classic. Such a study of the two sides of human nature: good and evil. Not only have I read the book on more than one occasion, I have seen at least two versions of the book made into movies. I prefer the version that was made earliest in black and white.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Fiction. I love the style of Dumas. I have read this book several times during my life and love the story, it’s suspense and its language. I have also seen versions of the book in movie form. While I love this book, my favorite Dumas book is the next one.
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. Fiction. I have read this book several times as well. It seems that after a few years, a book feels new again and it is possible to enjoy the story although the ending is already known to me. I cannot imagine the horrible, claustrophobic feeling of being imprisoned in a heavy, thick, hot, iron mask, without any way to remove it. What a frightening premise on which to build a story. I especially liked the part where the tables were turned and the mask was placed on the villain. Earliest versions of the book made into movies were more true to the story and thus more enjoyable for me.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Fiction. I am not sure why I picked this up at the thrift store but I did and read it as relief between chapters of a stuffy-to-some-but-interesting-to-me book of Russian History. It was a murder mystery with twists and turns and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wouldn’t read it again, but it served the purpose of relaxing my mind, which was trying to retain what I was reading in the history book and which was full of numbers and names which I wanted to remember and knew that I would not. I loved the fact that I was surprised by almost every twist that the author put into the book. I hate it when I can figure it out before the author gives me any clues.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Historical Biography. This is the story of Louis Zamperini who competed and received a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and later was shot down over enemy territory and kept as a prisoner during World War II. It was fascinating to learn about his courage and resilience in the face of deprivation and torture and to watch him triumph in the end. Very inspiring true story. This author also wrote Seabiscuit.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I bought this book because my granddaughter Clara was reading it and said that she liked it. It was a little strange and the character of Ove was non-redeemable or so I thought. As I progressed through the story and the development of Ove’s character I grew to understand him and by the end I thought he was a diamond-in-the-rough. Tom read the book but just said “hummm”. I actually enjoyed it enough to buy three additional books by the same author which overlapped with the lives of several characters I had come to know in the Ove book. I kept Ove but gave the other books to Clara to take back to Texas because she loved Ove and I thought she would likely like the others as well. I KNEW she would love the stories about Britt Marie. Wonderful give-your-mind-a-rest fiction.
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. History and Economics. Read it because I am interested in the topic but can’t remember much about it. Must not have been as interested as I thought I was.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl. Psychology. Timeless book about Mr. Frankl’s incarceration in the concentration camps of the Nazis in World War II. A psychiatrist by training, he has helped many people to understand the power of deciding how they will react to an unexpected horror or disappointment. I have read this book several times during my life and each time I am amazed at Mr. Frankl’s resilience and positive attitude. I so hope that I never have to put his ideas to the test because I am afraid that I don’t have the strength of mind and heart that he had. It is certainly a classic and on every book list.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. History and Economics. Read the book but don’t remember what I read. Second time I have said that about the same author. Ahh. There is the clue.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. History and Biography. True stories about this voyage and the courage and ingenuity of its men. So many people have been willing to risk their lives to know what is on the other side. Not heaven but the other side of the mountain or the world. I am not one of them so I am always interested in those people who are. Might be more interesting to boys and men than women. Might be a sexist statement but who cares.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. History. Captivating and exciting, made even more so by the fact that it is a true story. I don’t understand how anyone could go through what many whale-men and sailors did and ever set foot on a ship again. Time to re-read it. It was that interesting. Great reading along with Two Years Before the Mast, The Perfect Storm and Moby Dick.
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. History and Biography. A companion in my mind to The Grapes of Wrath. Personal stories of survival and scientific explanations for the desolation.
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. History and Economics. The type of book I enjoy. I take Salt for granted. I even throw those little packets away that come in the bag with fast food. Oh, I shouldn’t do that.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger. History. More horrible because it is true and could have been prevented. Fishing in the wilds of the earth’s seas is such dangerous work. People didn’t do it with a hope of ever being rescued if they were hit by such a storm. The book was excellent but the movie put it all into my mind to stay. I try to remember how hard fishing is whenever I eat tuna or salmon. Silly, huh?
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. History. I like Ms. Goodwin but I prefer to read biographies rather than small snippets about people. This was a good book but soft on the development of the personalities of the players.
A Distant Mirror: Calamities of the 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman. Historical Fiction. I first read this book years ago. I have always been fascinated with the Middle Ages because I don’t know how people lived through them. Were they ever happy? Well-fed? We know that life expectancy was about 30 years and that people were quite small. I have read it more than once.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. Historical Fiction. Nothing gives me the creeps more than thinking of padding around in the Amazon with snakes hanging from the trees and spiders climbing on my back. Yet, civilizations used to thrive there and many still do. Very interesting book if you are an explorer or like to live on the edge.
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is a short story in a book of many. Tom brought it to my attention when he taught it from a large anthology. It is about mental illness.
It is written in a “stream of consciousness” narrative with the main character, a woman, as the narrator. It is an incredibly smooth and subtle story and so I thought I might like other stories by this author but I did not. In my mind, the “other stories” will remain other stories. This story is beautifully uncomfortable.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop. Fiction. Love these. Re-read them now-and-then just to smile and laugh. I love the fact that the fables deal with most of the vices we see in ourselves and other people. Greed and Vanity come to mind.
Dracula by Bram Stoker. Fiction. Oh, the very best of all Vampire novels and I have read a few. I like this original picture of a Vampire without all of the psychology that came with later Vampires such as those conjured up by Anne Rice. Many movies have been made about vampires. Since the earliest days, it seems that people’s superstitions have imagined vampires. I can still see the carriage driving up the brick road to the castle on the hill at sunset with someone standing in one of the dark windows. I can still feel the eyes of the hidden creatures of the forest staring at me as the coach drives by. That is what I think about whenever I read the original Dracula. Read it at Halloween time.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Fiction. Excellent book about the good and the bad of human nature, mostly the bad. I tried to read other Joseph Conrad books but didn’t succeed. This one I can read again.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. Fiction. A very strange and hard to follow book. Complicated relationships and a somber setting during World War II. Read it once but won’t read it again although some of the language is beautiful.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Fiction. Somewhat autobiographical. I do love the writing of Mr. Defoe. I like him even more now that I have read his Journal of the Plague Years about the Black Death of 1688 in London. It is priceless in understanding the horrors of a pandemic.
All’s Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Historical Fiction. I first read this book in high school but recently thrifted a copy and read it again. Of course, because I am older, I read it more carefully and understood the pathos of the story as I hadn’t as a young person. I was so taken with the prose-like language and form and was so touched by the first-person descriptions of things seen and not seen, felt and felt with horror. It is a story of young soldiers during World War I and was written originally in German but translated into other languages such as English. It is a small book and I highly recommend it.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Expose’. On every book list. The story of the meat-packing industry abuses in America. Worth reading if you aren’t eating a sandwich at the time. I do look skeptically at meat sometimes and wonder if I want to eat it. I don’t eat very much of it and want to have great faith in the USDA.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Science Fiction. Love this book. Who hasn’t wanted to go back in time to see “how things were ?” Remember the hero’s little disk? Looked like a DVD to me. Excellent writer of Science Fiction. Especially love The War of the Worlds.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Fiction. A good, sad, sniffly book by a Southern writer about Southern things. A girly book. I love the title as much as I enjoyed the book. It is a book read by girls in high school. I doubt if many boys who became men have read the book. Eudora Welty whose stories I love, love, love, didn’t like Carson McCullers, who was her contemporary and thought she was too much of a braggart about her writings. I love Eudora Welty and think she is the queen of Southern writing.
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. History and Biography. A very difficult book to read for its truth and portrayal of the plight of blacks in South Africa. It is told through the life and death of Steven Beko, a black man, who fought for reforms and was murdered. It was made into a movie staring James Earl Jones which was also excellent. An important inclusion in an educational pursuit to understand Apartheid.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Historical Fiction. Read it. Like his poetry better but the book was very good. Usually a high school read. Have only read it once.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. Historical Fiction. I knew this was considered a classic and I was interested in the problems the Indians had trying to keep from being driven from their land so I read it. It was difficult reading because of Cooper’s style. The style I am referring to is one where paragraphs are long and separated by millions of commas. I always have trouble finding my way back to the main point in works of writers of his time. The movie from the book was beautifully made.
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally. Historical Fiction. Such admiration for Oskar Schindler and his courage. I enjoyed reading the book although the topic is always difficult and heartbreaking and I loved the movie starring Liam Nissan. I suspect there were many Schindler’s during the Nazi Concentration Camp era, who saved people in smaller numbers but nevertheless took the same chances. I would highly recommend this true and touching book.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo. Fiction. I saw the movie as a young person and didn’t read the book until I was an adult. I tried to read it because I felt that I should but found it difficult reading. I was surprised because I loved Les Miserable’ and short stories by the author Victor Hugo. It is a relatively short book but I still struggled.
Silas Marner by George Eliot. Fiction. Love the book and love Mr. Marner. What a tragic figure but one who is redeemed by his charity. The author developed much-desired attributes in Silas which I didn’t see coming. Sometimes in quiet, eccentric people there are shining gifts. It stays on my list and Silas Marner in my heart.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Fiction, Poetry. This was high school reading and it felt like an elephant sitting on my brain. Nevertheless, I formed imagery in my mind which has stayed there over the years. I will always associate the Albatross with the Mariner.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Fiction. Small paper-back book with a punch. It was a wonderful story, starting out as innocently as the sun coming up but that is where the ordinary ended. It was suspenseful and one that kept you calling out (quietly) “don’t do that” and “don’t go in there”. I loved the movie made from the book. It followed well and dealt with common human frailties like vanity and greed. Disney made the movie. My children often talked about Mr. Dark. Sometimes, when I hear a train whistle in the distance, I think about the carnival train carrying Mr. Dark.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Science Fiction. Campy and silly British humor and description in this novel about seeds coming from outer space and growing into killer Triffids. It was wonderful. The book cover was even campy and British. The movie was so bad that it was good, and one night Tom and I couldn’t turn the TV off after we found the movie on an old TV in a motel room on a little over-night trip we were taking. It lasted for three hours. I can still see those ghastly, swaying Triffids. When we see something growing out of control in our garden we refer to them as Triffids.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Fiction. Didn’t like this book. The style was what killed me even though I have loved other Hawthorne stories. His paragraphs were the longest in history. I would have to catch my breath more than once on a page between commas. You know what I mean and I am not exaggerating
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. Historical Fiction. Read it but can’t remember a thing about it. Taught by Mrs. Wilhite when I was a sophomore.
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. Fiction. Loved this book because I love books about whaling and the adventures and perils of going to sea. I loved the movie as well. Russell Crowe was a perfect Master and Commander and it turns out that I actually bought the musical sound track from the movie because it was so compelling. I rarely do that.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Science Fiction. Because I had seen the movie, I decided to read the book. It was small and I enjoyed it. It is one of my grandson Holden’s favorite movies. He and Grandpa have watched it together a million times.
Billy Budd by Herman Melville. Fiction. Loved-hated Moby Dick. Couldn’t get through Billy Budd even though it looked like a small and harmless book. It may be that I already knew Billy’s fate which the story was building toward and didn’t want to witness it. This is on Tom’s list of favorites and one he taught to his students years ago. He told me I would love it.
The Stories of Washington Irving by Washington Irving. Fiction. It is almost Halloween and I will read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow again because it is part of celebrating the season. I especially love the character Ichabod Crane. There are many stories by Mr. Irving that I love and this is one. I also love the story of Rip Van Winkle. Irving is delightful, easy reading.
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. Fiction. A girly book. I liked it better than the main book Ms. McCullers is known for: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Ms. McCullers is a Southern writer and a contemporary of my favorite Southern writer, Eudora Welty.
That Was Then-This Is Now by S.E. Hinton. Fiction. Usually read by high school-age kids. I can’t remember when I read it but it was okay.
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk. History.
War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. History.
My Name is Asher Lev by Chiam Portok. Fiction.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub. Fiction. Yes. I read the book but the movie was better. I will never forget the face of the woman, begging with her eyes as the car she was in sank into the pond with her inside. From that point, the men told ghost stories around a fire as they had always done and tried to pretend that her death could not have been prevented. She, of course, haunted them and it was splendid.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Science. Important book to read but I liked it better when Mr. Hawking tended to be a believer rather than an atheist like Mr. Sagan. I admire him however, for many reasons.
Misery by Stephen King. Fiction. Oh, my. What a terrible tale, masquerading as a sweet, little story. It reminded me that crazy people lurk everywhere and should be avoided before they step over the line. The movie was very well done and was horrifying.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Fiction. This book has won awards and is beautifully written but there were some parts that were hard to reconcile and didn’t feel comfortable when all was said and done. I do not recommend it.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Non-fiction. Some people are just plain tough. I read this book during a time when Tom was climbing and taking our children to far-off places like Bolivia. I don’t remember details from the book because it was too long ago. I do know, of course, that Mr. Krakauer was climbing Mt. Everest. Tom’s friend Lee McCullough and his wife Pam went to climb Everest about the same time I read the book. They spent a month at a base camp at 17,000 feet but didn’t get any further although I don’t remember why not. I think they were just too sick.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Fiction.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Biography. I am not a fan of President Roosevelt but the book was interesting and the man does have drive. I mostly found his life-long struggle with asthma to be interesting.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie. Biography, History. I would love to hear from a psychiatrist who had studied Catharine. Her habit of taking young boys and men as “favorites” until she died made me a little ill. She and Potemkin were certainly a pair and did amazing things but there wasn’t a shred of morality in her life or his or the lives of other people in the court. One has to include her in their reading about Russian history to have a complete knowledge of the Czars and Russian history. I have read more than one well-written book about her and do admire some of her strengths.
A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. Biography. The true story of John Nash and his incredible mind. It was a story of profound difficulty and stress for Mr. Nash and all who came in contact with him. In this case, I would recommend the movie of the same name starring Russell Crowe as it follows the book and story almost perfectly. John Nash paid a terrible price for his intelligence and seems to have suffered more that most people because of it.
Edison: A Biography by Matthew Josephson. Biography.
Catherine the Great and Potemkin by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Biography, History.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Children’s Fiction (1922).
Coma by Robin Cook. Mystery and Suspense.
Contagion by Robin Cook. Mystery and Suspense.
Peter the Great: His Life and Work by Peter Massie.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Body (Stand By Me) by Stephen King. Mystery, Suspense.
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud by Max Ehrilich. Mystery, Suspense.
The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paul Coelho. Fiction. Pleasant book but won’t re-read it although it is on many lists and is quite popular.
“My grandchildren are readers. I give their parents credit for that. You have to read books yourself in order to plant those seeds in your children. You have to make books available and then you have to talk about them.
It’s good to leave books lying around the house.”