What book has mattered most to you?

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.


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7 Responses to What book has mattered most to you?

  1. Sharon Sadler says:

    At the age of 71, I can say that by far the most important, intriguing, meaningful, enlightening book that I have ever read is called The Urantia Book. I had always wondered why we here (Mom always said, “there’s a reason for everything”) and my search took me above and beyond all of the contemporary books and articles, during my twenties. At the age of 33, this book appeared in my life as though by magic! (another intriguing story for another time). It has been my constant guide, mentor and companion for 37 years! And I have been blessed to have met the most wonderful people in the world through this extraordinary work.

    • Bunny Withers says:

      I belong to a Book Club that is very similar to yours. The difference is that we suggest our favorite books and not the book that has been the most meaningful. Although I haven’t been a member that long the Club has been meeting 25 years. We meet the fourth Friday of every month.

      Each November we gather and each member brings a book to recommend to the group. Our focus is on books by African-American females. The member gives a brief synopsis of her book. The membership votes and the top ten books are the books we read the following year. After the vote we take time to organize our Book Club meetings for the following year. Month by Month we decide which book will be read, who will host the meeting and who will facilitate the discussion. By January we will have a printout of our schedule for the entire year.

      The only problem is that during the year new books come out that I cannot possibly wait a whole year to read. What that means is that I have usually read half of the books that we choose. I have so many books that I have had a book shelf built in my living room. It is about 11 feet wide and 8-9 feet high. I love it! I use to say my house can be falling down around me and I will continue reading.

      My books are actually my most prized possessions. In addition to my collection of books by African-American authors I love ‘beach reads’, books that are based in the South, and anything that is close by the ocean, and Fern Michael’s Sisterhood books… In other words, ‘Chick Books’ .

      My other love is magazines. I use to say I would spend my last $$ on a magazine. As I have gotten older though, it has been harder to find magazines that interest me. Most of them have ‘been there, done that’ articles. I find myself leaning towards decorating magazines. I remember years ago there was a magazine that was for ‘women of a certain age’. I loved it, but it folded. We need another one. Maybe it’s time for me to act.

  2. Diana says:

    Four books have come into my life when I needed them and had a lasting impact.

    I read ‘The Feminine Mystic’ the summer between college graduation and graduate school. Its insights are still impacting my life.

    At twenty-seven I married and moved to small Alabama town not known for its culinary expertise (after all, I was comparing it to Louisiana French cuisine).
    I stumbled on a paper copy of ‘The French Chef Cookbook’ and Julia Child opened a new world to me.

    At twenty-nine I became pregnant with my first child – still in that small Alabama town and far from family. As an only child, I had no experience with babies. Enter Dr. Benjamin Spock. Dr. Spock’s ‘Baby and Child Care’ gave me the basic knowledge and confidence boost that I needed.

    Then around the time my last child left home, I found a copy of Hannah Holmes’ ‘Suburban Safari’ in a Chicago bookstore. I’d camped throughout the USA and Canada and gone on birdwatching trips, but Holmes’ little book gave me lasting insight into my own backyard. I never see a crow or squirrel or watch the insect catchers skim across the sky without thinking of her observations.

    These aren’t my most loved books or the ones that I go back to repeatedly, but these are the books that helped make me the person that I am. They opened that door to new thought….

  3. Scottie says:

    Right now I’m reading The Mitford series by Jan Karon. Loved them so much I bought every one instead of using copies from the library. However, I’m almost embarrassed to say that as a child I read Jemima, Daughter of Daniel. Boone, by Margaret Sutton eight times in 4th an 5 th grade. My mother teased me forever about that.. when I got into genealogy a few years ago I was excited to find a distant link to the Boone family through my NC ancestor in the 1700s. I tracked down an old copy of the book for my granddaughter, paid way too much s, but to my dismay she had no interest in it. Silly thing to remember at age 75. I think I liked that Jemima was strong and brave in the face of adversity, and my parents were getting a divorce at that time, unusual in the 50s. Sorry for errors…I’m in a cast..right arm..for the first time in my life. Dislocated shoulder. Otherwise happy and in pretty good health.

  4. goodyweaver says:

    When I was a teenager I read Thoreau’s Walden, Emerson’s Essays, and Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. They have continuously shaped me in life. I recently read the most wonderful biography on Thoreau, have started re-reading Emerson, and have almost every book Merton ever wrote. Sigh…I even like thinking about them. Okay, perhaps I am a wee eccentric but couldn’t let a book discussion go without mentioning them. Shall we go on to poets next? lol!

  5. Bonnie says:

    While a sophomore in high school I read Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth” and wrote a book report on it. Perhaps the strength of her female characters and the cultural mistreatment by men helped me become a feminist and, more importantly choose my husband carefully. My English teacher sent me a post card that summer, saying that since I had enjoyed “The Good Esrth” so much I should read all of Buck’s books. Well, I began by reading all available in our public library. But I doubt even my teacher knew how many books Buck wrote. I still come across them at sales and add new ones to my shelves. I am at about 30 now. Thank you Good English Teacher Miss Hash, who also told me to keep a journal about the books I read. I still do that and have four journals spanning nearly 40 years. I am not the only one. I just finished “My Life with BOB (Book on Books)” by Pamela Paul who can trace the path of her life by what she was reading at the time. Her selections are much more academic than mine, but we all sometimes read just what we need at the moment.

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