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There used to be a bookstore in downtown Portland called the Catbird Seat Bookstore. I have no idea if they still exist but in a different location or if they’re gone entirely, but I remember their slogan—Books for the Omnivorous Reader. I still love that. It describes me so well. Veronica tagged me for this literary meme, in which I get to talk about books I’ve loved and books I’ve hated. The thing I really like about this meme is that it doesn’t ask for favorites—I am physically incapable of choosing just one book out of many.  

1. One book that changed your life: Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies. It’s the 2nd part of his Salterton trilogy. All 3 are good, all 3 are snide and funny, but Leaven of Malice is my favorite of the 3 (see? I can occasionally do favorites). It helped me see my mother and certain of her friends in a different, more caustic light, and also helped me take my stand for independence. My mother was a travel agent when it came to guilt trips, and I found this book gave me a certain freedom, if that makes sense.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Oh that’s easy—if I like a book, I always re-read it. I can’t understand people who read a book once and then pass it on. That’s the one thing I don’t like about libraries—I want to OWN the books! I just re-read Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gropnik. It’s a wonderful book, especially if you’ve lived in France. It’s basically a series of essays (most of which were originally published in the New Yorker) describing his life in Paris with his wife and small boy. He’s an excellent writer, and the book will make you laugh out loud.

3. One book you would want on a desert island: I always assume I can have the Bible along for free, so I pick The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I figure this would give me a chance to memorize some of those great speeches (like “the quality of mercy is not strained” one, or the one where Henry V insults the French) and sonnets, and you can read and re-read those plays and continue to find new things—nuances and funny twists of thought.

4. One book that made you laugh: I still remember laughing till I cried the first time I read P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves (I think this is the right one.) when I was in high school. When Gussy gets drunk and makes that speech at the prize-giving…I can still giggle thinking about it. Now I’ve got to go get another copy of that book—I used to read my brother’s copies of Wodehouse, and I never really got my own.

5. One book that made you cry: Garden of Dreams, by Leslie Gould. (Disclaimer: she is a real-life friend.) This book is about friends, and one of them dies, and it is very sad, even though you sort of know from the beginning that she will die.  
6. One book that you wish had been written: I loved Veronica’s choice: The Private Diary of Elizabeth Tudor. There is so much speculation about her private life and thought processes; it would be fun to find out if all those rumours were true 🙂

7. One book that you wish had never been written: A Time to Kill, by John Grisham. I only read the first part, about the murder of that little girl, but it was so horrible that I couldn’t get it out of my head! AUGH! (Disclaimer: I read a stack of John Grisham books during my first 2 years overseas. I was desperate–there was nothing else to read. I realize that those of you who like popular fiction can now despise me as a snob, and those of you who hate it can now despise me as a sell-out! For those of you who have never sullied your hands with such a brainless book; they’re not bad. Grisham writes a good story. They’re not full of description, or characters so carefully drawn you feel you’d recognize them if you met them on the street, but they’re a fun way to pass an evening, especially when it’s 110 and sticky and you’re out of water again.)

8. The book that you are currently reading: Let’s make that books. I am currently reading, in between talking, Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, The Kite Runner, and Me Talk Pretty One Day. The first is this wild memoir of an English girl growing up in Africa and dealing with dysfunctional-but-loving family, sorrow, racism, etc; it’s funny and thought-provoking and a great read! Get it now! The Kite Runner is shocking, and I’m not even half-way through, but it’s well-written and good. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of essays. I’ve only read the first one, but it was pretty funny. I keep these books in the car, and read them while Donn drives me to whosever house we’re going to that evening, where we’ll hang out and talk and talk. On the way home, I read them in snatches, by the light of the ever-moving street lamps, and if we have to stop by a store I happily sit out in the car and read while Donn runs in. My mother always said I’d ruin my eyes if I read after dark. Guess I’d better keep reading while I can!

9. One book that you have been meaning to read: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.

10. Books you don’t enjoy: Romance in general, Christian romance in particular. I mean romance in the modern sense of the word; for example, I liked A. S. Byatt’s Possession a lot, even though it was subtitled “a romance” because Byatt meant romance in the more traditional sense of the word. But I hate romance as a genre. (aside from my non-literary mother, who saw the cover: “(sniff) Elizabeth, I wish you wouldn’t waste your time with that sort of book.” I found this hysterical, as I tend towards much more literary books than my mother does)

11. Book you remember as a real page-turner: White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I read it pool-side in Senegal on our vacation last year.

12. Non-fiction books you have enjoyed: I enjoy travel essays—maybe because I want to write them. I also like biographies. I like the series “Best American Essays of Whatever Year” (also Best Travel Essays) because they are collections of articles from all the magazines you can’t get in Mauritania—Atlantic, New Yorker, Smithsonian, etc. I have a couple of these and enjoy them.

13. Children’s books your family has loved: The Tale of Despereaux; Narnia Chronicles, Lord of the Rings, including the Hobbit. Many more.  
I tag WackyMommy and PortlanderinLA—two women I went to university with. You’re it!

August 2006

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