Wednesday, 8 October 2014

6 Books I Love

When I was a kid, I loved the Scholastic book fairs that came to our school once a year.  I'd take home the flyer days before and read it through cover to cover, circling every book that was a contender for purchase.  Gradually, I'd narrow it down to the ones I had to have and bargain and plead with my mom for just one more than she was inclined to let me buy.  At the book fair, I'd wander from table to table reading the backs of books that caught my eye.  My book allowance spent, I'd binge my last few cents on a bookmark.

I still get that same giddy feeling every time I enter a bookstore; I often lose myself for hours.

I recently came across Girl Canon, a tumblr site that invites women to share their own "canon"--books that influenced and changed them, haunted and educated them.  Narrowing down my list has not been unlike my approach to refining my Scholastic book fair shopping list: a little obsessive, full of urgency and gravitas. So why 6?  It could as easily be 100 but you've got to stop somewhere.  And why not 5? Because now, as then, I needed one more.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I read Little Women at least a dozen times throughout my childhood and adolescence, at least in part because I recognized myself in Jo: compulsive scribblers, both of us.  To this day I consider Amy's burning of Jo's early manuscripts an unforgivable offence.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
My first exposure to magical realism.  It blew my mind.  To this day I have yet to read a novel that encapsulates more fully and eloquently the layers of human experience, from the tangible to the surreal to the impossible. If I had to choose one absolute favourite book of all time, this would be it.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje 
So many things to love about this book and its gorgeous, poetic language.  But what stays with me is the very end, the way Ondaatje manages to somehow create a flicker in time and space, to connect his characters separated by years and continents and a lifetime of choices, in a single gesture.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Salinger's stream of consciousness style felt like a revelation to me when I first read this book in high school. It felt urgent, more like a conversation than a novel.  I think it was the first time I realized that form was a construct that could be manipulated to evoke different responses from a reader.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Does anyone know his characters as intimately as Salinger?  He can (and does) devote an entire page to the contents of Mrs. Glass's housecoat pocket and makes it feel both vital and enthralling.

Stories by Katherine Mansfield
The two things I love about Mansfield's stories: the brilliant use of exclamation points (at times ecstatic, at times almost desperate) and the unraveling sentences that mirror the unraveling of her characters.  Not many writers could make ending a story with an ellipsis feel inevitable.

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