What book has mattered most to you?
An intriguing question for those who have read throughout their lives. My PageTurners book group recently read The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood. It’s about…well a book group that distributes a year of reading to each of twelve members. Each must choose the book most important to them, explain why and lead that month’s discussion.
The best part of our PageTurners conversation centered on our own personal choices. The books cited by the assembled women were very varied, and through each heartfelt description, we learned a lot about each other.
I thought long and hard about this assignment, discovering that different books stood out depending on my life’s stages and circumstances. My mind resurrected images of myself in contexts of my youth, adolescence, college days and through my adult life. People I read with, read for, and read to came to mind. Finally I settled on two to discuss.
The first was The Bobbsey Twins…yes my first childhood chapter book. It was the winter of 1948, I was 71/2. It arrived as a surprise last minute gift from my dad, who handed it to me as I sat buckled into my airplane window seat. As I visualize that moment, I recall I was wearing a blue and white checked suit…(we dressed well for travel in those days). He briefly boarded the Eastern Airlines plane about to fly me off to Florida with my mom, then quickly disappeared as the hatch closed behind him. I spent the entire flight immersed in and enchanted by the world of the twins, Nan and Bert, Flossie and Freddie. This book launched my self-propelled reading career. I read right through Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins series and then moved on to Nancy Drew.
As I got older, my dad would strategically bring large hard cover, beautifully illustrated classics to me from our treasured – rather antique and rickety – St. Agnes Branch library on Amsterdam Avenue. I remember sitting propped in my sick bed absorbed in Treasure Island, Around the World in Eighty Days, Don Quixote, and more. How much I now appreciate his low key encouragement.
The second book that rose to the top of the book stack of my life was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was twelve, close to the age of the protagonist, Francie Nolan, and living in New York City. I remember being shocked and frightened by her stalker, and inspired by her choice of a hat pin to protect herself from pinches and gropes in the city subways. The emotional impact of the story has stayed with me, but I couldn’t recall more details of the narrative…so I recently reread it.
What intrigued me this time was the historical context. Now considered an American classic, this coming of age story chronicles the lives of a poor and struggling extended family in the early 1900’s, in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It was the very context in which my dad lived as a child. He, the youngest of six children, worked as a boy in his father’s corner grocery store. As I read, I caught a glimpse of his neighborhood, and his neighbors and the spirit of those times. It was again a memorable read, but in a very different way.
Books remain part of my life, comforting, intriguing, enlightening, and entertaining; wonderful escapes to other times and other lives. My favorite of this year, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
I’ve discovered that this question, about one’s favorite book, is a terrific conversation starter. Those asked immediately pause to review the life-long landscape of their readings. Some ask for more time to decide. There’s so much to reflect on – and to talk about.
What books have meant the most to you?
I hope you’ll share your choices and recommendations with our 70Candles! family.