I grew up reading about ten books a week. My mom would head over to the library and just take out book upon book for me. It was a nice way to escape the world. It was a nice way to escape the craziness of the South Bronx, where there was an illegal nightclub beneath my apartment that would keep me up all hours of the night with both loud music and drunken loud fights. From childhood through my twenties I read and read. Then my thirties came and other reading material came up and took over my free time. Who am I kidding, there was no free time. Between moving up the proverbial “corporate ladder”, making a name for myself, and then raising a baby, I am lucky that I get to read In Touch magazine. Even with my Kindle App on my Ipad, I still barely crack open a book, sort of speak.
While riding down to DC on Amtrak today, I got to thinking about reading. I looked around all my fellow Amtrak companions and noticed that no one is reading a book. Everyone is typing away on the notepad, texting, or checking out Facebook. I got a bit nostalgic and started reminiscing about the books of yore; the books that I read and had some impact on me. I would not say these are greatest hits list, but just a personal list of books that touched either my soul, brain or heart.
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The book is about the lives of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – as they go from childhood to womanhood. I read that book while I was young and it helped form the basis of my sense of being a woman in a man’s world. Many who read that book identified with the character of Jo-who was the strong-willed one. I, was no different. I too identified with Jo; although I also came to identify with Amy as she is the character that ends up leaving home for a European adventure, of sorts. The book appealed to my heart preparing me for the time I would have to be on my own at boarding school while leaving behind a dark world.
2. Catch in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger. The character of Holden Caulfield was the king of snarkiness. The book left an imprint on my brain and alerted me to the fact that there are authentically phony people out there. The lesson never went away and became more and relevant and appropriate as I got older and further embedded in the workplace.
3. Best Intentions by Robert Sam Anson. It is a book about a young African American boy named Edmund Perry from the hard streets of New York City in the ‘80s who attended boarding school at Phillips Academy Exeter-my school’s nemesis (I went to Phillips Academy Andover)- and gets a full ride to Stanford University. During that summer between high school and the start of College he was killed by a cop claiming to have been mugged by Edmund. His alleged co-muggers were acquitted. The book haunts me to this day. Similar to Edmund, I got to escape the poor streets of NY by going to boarding school. I also ended up getting a scholarship to Vassar. But what if…….
4. Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez (an autobiography). This book touched my soul to the very core for it was my life in one key way. I was not an immigrant the way Mr. Rodriguez’ family was, but there was one key pivotal moment in my life where I came to realize I had surpassed the educational attainments of my parents and there was no looking back. In general, Mr. Rodriguez’s journey is that in which as he furthered his education, including getting a PhD from Stanford, he became more and more distant from his family. The irony of how education can impact the emotional ties with one’s family is front and center. It was a feeling that has been part of my life for decades but I have finally come to terms with what education means and how it intersects with culture and family.
5. One L by Scott Turow –another biographical account exploring the first year in law school. There was a time when I wanted to be a lawyer. I aced the LSATs big time. I got into both Law and Film school. I didn’t know what I was going to do with those two degrees in combination but I liked the idea of being a lawyer with film cred. I then read One L and decided to go ahead and become a psychologist.
6. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Most people, when they hear Milan Kundera’s name, they think of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But I far prefer the Book of Laughter and Forgetting for its fanciful sense of humor. I have been told by many that I possess a sharp wit and that I am always laughing which makes other people happy as well. Read this book if you can only read one of Kundera’s books.
7. Rabbit, Run by John Updike. The book chronicles a narrow set of five months in the life of a 26-year-old named Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom. He was a former high school basketball player attempts to escape the constraints of his life; including that of being a former high school player. Sometimes, I feel like I am outrunning the field-however, that may be defined. The book speaks to me. Have you heard the song by Cake called “The Distance”? I can’t help but associate Rabbit, Run with “The Distance.” Break open a budweiser, queue up the Cake album and read away.
8. Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. The character of Ignatius believes that he does not belong in the world and that his numerous mistakes are the work of some higher power. The book is perhaps more famous for its intense depiction of New Orleans and the it’s dialects. I read this book right before I headed down to New Orleans for the first time. I have since been there 6 more times. It is my favorite city in the US (besides NYC). But what I also like about this novel is that it takes off from a Jonathan Swift quote that notes “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Word.
9. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. This book awakened me to the realities of the restaurant industry. I now know to check out restrooms before I eat at a restaurant and to never order the Egg’s Benedict. Sharp wit, informational and written by a former Vassar attendee (I don’t believe that he graduated. Bummer!).
10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. What needs to be said about this? What can be said that hasn’t already? This book series piqued my interest in the fantasy genre. I didn’t really read those types of books as a kid or young adult. So, it was nice to finally experience a kid’s undertaking. I look forward to sharing with my son as he grows older.
11. Out by Natsuo Kirino. A dark humored, dark everything book set in modern times Japan where you get to see the seedy underground world of Brazilian immigrants. The book is about alienation at its core and it is eye-opening. It starts off with a murder mystery of sorts but it is so much more than that. It will make you wonder what does it mean to be a citizen, and a country voyeur.
12. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The one book by a fellow social psychologist that I can stomach. The book, in my opinion, is so right on target and so much better than Freakonomics. The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. You get to learn how penny loafers, although hideous, took off in our culture. Are you part of the tipping point? Where in the continuum of adoptive behaviors do you fall?
13. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. The tag line is Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. This non-fiction account of an extended family in the Bronx mirrors much of the reality I faced while growing up in the South Bronx. It is literally a huge page-turner and maybe too long for the 140 character crowd. But it is engaging and gives one a keen sense of the despair that can take root in the soul, brain and heart.
What books have touched you?