I was tagged by a few Facebook friends to list my top ten books. You know, the ones that have left a lasting impact on my life or whispered some form of idealism or feeling into my soul. And since I’m very busy with the final touches on my Bake Knit Sew book, this seemed like a good post to let you know I’m still here, just buried under a pile of yarn/fabric, RAW images, and my InDesign file.
1. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I read this book for school, but it stuck with me because it was the first time a school assignment evoked a deep emotion (other than annoyance or frustration). I still remember I was sitting at my parents’ dining table doing my homework and reading the saddest part of the book. I hadn’t expected it to be sad. If my classmates knew, I was out sick so often I might not have known from them yet. So, suddenly, it happened and I welled up with tears and they poured down my cheeks in fat droplets. I wasn’t mad at the book that it happened, to me it unfolded as it was. But it stuck with me and made me realise that I wasn’t the only kid who loved and lost or faced death, thereby gaining a kind of stoic shell to face whatever comes next.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This book was part of my high school English curriculum. Mrs. Marinucci assigned the reading. I’ll admit I didn’t understand it the first time I read it. I had never been in love or really met someone who made me wish I was in love. Love itself was an abstract concept. Boys were an abstract concept as well. But my gap year before university, I found the old paperback school copy and read it. I was an avid reader and if there was printed word to be had, I devoured it. Unless I was traveling. My parents taught me that the only book needed while traveling (other than a map) is a journal. To read while someplace new is wasting an opportunity to soak up the experience. Oh boy were they right. Anyway, this nearly pristine only read once copy of Pride and Prejudice sat on the bookcase (next to the Cliff’s Notes version) and I thought I’d give it another chance. I devoured it. I read it every year after that, each time finding something new or a nuance that my age or heart allowed to be unveiled.
3. The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Series) by Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde was a discovery. I believe it was a good family friend who happens to be a Capuchin Friar and fellow avid reader who recommended Fforde’s books to me. I was working at a gem of a bookstore at the time, but also was a member at a public library with an astounding audio book collection. I put the audio books on my computer then forgot about them until I got a job and was commuting to/from work. I listened on my drive and became enthralled. The second book was interesting, but THIS book had me hooked. I was torn between listening at lunch to hear the next thing that happened and not listening so I could prolong and savour every word. His imagining of this entire world is just delicious to a book geek. I want to live there!!! His writing extends beyond this series to the Nursery Crime series and also his entertaining blog. My favourite post is titled Gorillas and Havishams.
4. Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking
I love cookbooks. As a child, I would disappear into the kitchen then to the family computer and by the end of the weekend produce a book of recipes. I would bind the book with yarn how my Grandma taught me. This happened a few times, each book an improvement of the last and the current one was always tacked onto the kitchen bulletin board and referenced often. Especially my recipe for Cinnamon French Toast. But then I started reading cooking magazines and their cookbooks and all the pristine photos that they come with. I’ll admit, I love that style. Clean, tidy, balanced, elegant. But then I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential about nine years ago. He intimidates me, but his writing style is so approachable. I love having the expectations addressed head on and knowing what’s what. He does just that. So, I pursued more with Les Halles Cookbook and that book reminded me of the messy, nourishing, saucy food I grew up with. My Mom had been a part-time cook in a monastery (the Capuchin one actually) since my birth so I grew up literally learning to walk in their chapel and learning to cook at her knee. The only day care I knew was hanging out with the Friars. It was rather idyllic. And the food was not pristine. I’m still working on shrugging off the ideals of cooking magazines from the 1980s and 1990s, but this book is helping me realise there’s real messy food out there just waiting to be smeared on my apron.
I love Nancy Drew. She is brilliant and independent and loves her family and is loyal to her friends. What more do I need to say? Except I will explain why The Clue in the Diary is the one I list out of the original 64 in the series. It is the book in which Nancy meets Ned Nickerson. Ned, her boyfriend and sometimes sidekick, doesn’t appear in the first six books. This was my first literary taste of feminism. Here Nancy was doing just fine for six whole books then her love interest chimes in. He wasn’t an incarnation from the beginning meant to fulfill her shortcomings or balance her out in any way. He was an afterthought, a pleasant surprise, a plot arc. A handsome and supportive plot arc. Sure, he’s lovely and they’re good together, but he isn’t with her constantly, she gets on just fine without him, and he has his own life too. I swore if I ever had a daughter I would buy the Complete Series Set (Books 1-64) and read to her every night.
6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
I owe my love of gardening, handiwork, and DIY to Mandy. She helped me see any unloved space as a palace to be cultivated. She was also that garden. Forgotten, overgrown with neglect, and seeking love. We all feel that way sometimes and seeing her embrace her own capabilities and imagination to love the garden and make it special is just what we all strive to do in our everyday lives in various ways, from planting a garden to lining up books on the bookshelf. A child’s book taught me that nesting is about making your surroundings comfortable and nurturing to your spirit. Which explains why my place would raise a few eyebrows with Architectural Digest, but every crafty person I know wants to rummage through my cabinets.
7. The Secret of the Mansion (Trixie Belden #1) by Julie Campbell
This may seem like more of the same to the Nancy Drew series, but this is quite different. Trixie and Honey were perfect best friends. The kind you call in the middle of the night when a light is turned on in the vacant house at the end of the street and she goes there to check it out with you. This is what friendship is about. Trusting each other and taking turns leading and following. That having been said, kids shouldn’t be out investigating vacant houses late at night. Ah, bygone times, people, bygone times.
8. How to Ask Survey Questions by Arlene G. Fink
I Can Read You Like a Book: How to Spot the Messages and Emotions People Are Really Sending With Their Body Language by Hartley and Karinch
These two books are paired as one because they both have the same reason for being here: They taught me that people are resources. Not in the mundane worker bee way, but in the nuance of interaction and information way. But it is all in how you approach each person and ask for information that matters. I attended a lecture give by the authors of I Can Read You Like A Book held at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC and loved it. At the time I was working in MBA recruiting/admissions so being able to read people in an interview was powerful. I didn’t need to be aggressive in an interview, but I did want to make sure I caught details. It helped me understand the full situation a couple times and overall was handy to make applicants feel comfortable because I could pick up on nervous cues and say positive things to put them at ease. A relaxed interviewee is an open one. The survey question book is one of a handful of books I brought with me when I moved to Ireland. I only brought four suitcases (no shipping or movers, just those four) so books were precious choices. It was purchased in 1997 for my senior thesis at university and a helpful resource ever since. To this day, I dislike being asked aggressive or leading questions because this book helped me see the light. Hearing someone ask me “Don’t you agree that…?” is like nails on a chalkboard.
9. A Traveller’s History Of France
Anyone can tell you I love bringing up random historical facts so this book was my gold mine of details. The rich yet concise history of a place I visited nearly every summer growing up was astounding and made me accept that not only is America a young country, but that traveling is the best way to see what the world is really like.
10. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
As a child, I was sick quite a bit and I liked to write and draw so sometimes I would illustrate and write my own books. Beatrix Potter was my idol. Her approachable plots and water-colour illustrations to this day set a standard for children’s books. Though, to be fair, The World of Peter Rabbit (The Original Peter Rabbit books 1-23) by Beatrix Potter should be on this list.
What are your top ten?