The books of our lives

by Wayne Wood

What books influenced your life? What have been your most meaningful experiences as a reader?

Since this is the Summer Reading Issue of House Organ, I thought it would be fun for some of us to compare notes. I’ll go first.

My parents still sometimes talk about what a pain I was to read to as a preschooler. I had a stack of storybooks, and I insisted that every one of them be read to me, every night.

Quite naturally, sometimes they would try to speed this along by hiding one or two of the books. I would immediately notice that some books were missing, would find them—funny how they would keep slipping into the couch cushions—and settle in to have the formerly missing books read to me.

As I say, I was a pain, but even early on, I was a kid who loved books and stories.

My fourth-grade teacher had an after-lunch storytime, in which she would read to us for a few minutes before getting to the afternoon’s lessons. I don’t remember most of the books and stories she read, but I sure remember this: she read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” out loud to us.

And I was captivated. Completely. Mark Twain named the books correctly—they are adventures. Boys, about my age then, with a secret island hideout, getting lost in a cave while chased by a murderer, and, of course, Huck and Jim and the freedom of that raft.

Most—who am I kidding?—all of the subtlety, social commentary, and satire Twain wrote into the stories was over my head, but the exuberance of life that he packed into those books was obvious to me, even then.

I read a lot of junk growing up, of course. People who value great literature and wish to shape the minds of children have no use for the formula plots and cardboard adventure of assembly-line books that I loved, such as the Hardy Boys and Brains Benton series.

My basic feeling is that those people should devote themselves to shouting at children to get off their lawn, and leave kids who want to read peppy pulp fiction alone.

Writer Keith Robertson cast a spell on me, too. His books aimed at 12- to 15-year-olds about the character Henry Reed, a laconic kid who got tangled up in all kinds of adventures (that word again) while spending summers with his aunt and uncle in rural New Jersey struck a chord in me—I read them over and over. As an adult, I bought used copies, read and enjoyed them all again, and then bought and enjoyed long-out-of-print used copies of all the adult pulp mysteries that Keith Robertson wrote under the name Carlton Keith.

This may seem a little too black-turtleneck-and-Turkish-coffee, but as a senior in high school I read Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” and Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” and, again, felt like I was having something of the world revealed in the words on the pages. Both were stories of people trapped in a world they didn’t understand and who were fighting hostile bureaucracies, and in my 17-year-old way, I could relate. Still can, especially when I’m trying to get an AT&T billing error corrected.

William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty wrote stories of my home region which people all over the world respond to. After I’d traveled a little in some underdeveloped parts of the world, the voice of Graham Greene illuminated some of what I’d seen and heard in his fiction, and to me he’s one of the giants.

And I still love the popular and the pulpy: Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Bill Bryson. Baseball writer Bill James writes about life while pretending to be writing about baseball, and he summed up an experience that I have had over and over in my life and never seen properly put into words. In dismissing some viewpoint or another (I don’t even remember this issue under discussion), he said something like, “This is not an argument between people who have studied the issue and come to different conclusions. This is an argument between people on one side who have studied the issue, and people on the other side who have not.”

What books and writers have opened your eyes, made you laugh or cry or stay up all night to see how it comes out?

  • Linda Todd

    One of my favorite books is The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. It is about the complicated web of life and relationships, featuring a Magician and his assistant, who is also his wife.u00a0 The story is not linear but told in flashbacks and dream sequences. I found the story engaging and the style hypnotic. The impact on me was the trauma of secrets and the characters experience of unconvential love.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot to mention twou00a0 inspirations for service in the world: Paul Farmer’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” and Nelson Mandela’s memoir, “Long Walk to Freedom.” Both stories of extraordinary people working to make the world better, despite great odds.u00a0 (I knew I’d forget something important).

  • Nancy Humphrey

    nnWhen I think about what books have influenced my life, I havento go back to my childhood u2013 when they first became a predominant interest innmy life. Many of my favorite books are childrenu2019s books. I think if a love ofnbooks develops early on, it will continue, and Iu2019m lucky that my Mom and othersnin my life inspired me to read.nnnnMy all-time favorite book, u201cCharlotteu2019s Web,u201d was given tonme by my neighbor, Sarah Hutchison. She and her husband Joe had no childrennof their own, and Sarah was an avid reader. When she gave me my own copy of EBnWhiteu2019s u201cCharlotteu2019s Web,u201d in the 1960s, I was hooked. nnnI even have a favorite passage from that award-winningnchildrenu2019s book, published in 1952. Itu2019s a description of the barn where Wilburnand the farm animals lived and where Charlotte, the spider, would soon reside. u201cItnsmelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath ofnpatient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell, as though nothing badncould happen ever again in the world.u201d Something about that description makesnme feel happy and safe. I smile every time I read it.nnnnI still read all the time u2013 there is never a night when anbook, or my Kindle, isnu2019t beside me on my nightstand. Itu2019s the way I fallnasleep u2013 has been for as long as I can remember. I keep anlist of books on my Blackberry, so I never have a shortage of titles. nnnnAnother favorite childrenu2019s book was u201cThe Boxcar Children,u201dnby Gertrude Chandler Warner, first published in 1942. Itu2019s about fournsiblings u2013 Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny u2013 who run away and live in a trainu2019snboxcar after their parents die. They think their grandfather is mean, but ofncourse, he turns out not to be. My first-grade teacher, Frances Durham, read itnto us every day right after milk break (I always had chocolate, by the way).nShe read a couple of chapters at a time, and I could not WAIT for Mrs. Durhamu2019snstory time. She died several years ago. I wonder if I ever told her how muchnthat meant to me. I hope so.nnnnThe first book I recall is a small Golden Book-sized booknthat my Mom and sister read to me, over and over again u2013 Dr. Goat by Georgianan(yes, she went by her first name only, kind of like Madonna). This 1950 booknwas about a goat who was a doctor (like my father), made house calls to thencommunityu2019s animals (a mouse with mumps; a frog with the jumps), and then gotnsick himself. You can see it here: love to know what books have influenced the lives of othersnat Vanderbilt.nnnu00a0nnnu00a0nu00a0nn

  • Kathy Whitney

    Where would we be without great stories in which to lose ourselves? I think the sense of going on a journey with the characters in books is the best thing about the reading experience. There are some books in which I got so lost that I was actually sad to have reached their conclusion. Among these books are: Of Mice and Men; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Red Tent; The Tender Bar; One Day; the Glass Castle; and all of the Nancy Drew books that I read as a kid. I suspect Nancy Drew jump started the love of reading in a lot of young girls, much like the Harry Potter books have done for my own children. I know if they are ever asked the question, “What books have influenced your life?” that they will all respond, “Harry Potter!”

  • The childhood book that most influenced my life was “The Velveteen Rabbit.” It taught me the importance of love. I also wholeheartedly believed that all of my stuffed animals had feelings and would be highly upset if they didn’t each get a special place in my bed. Between the “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Goodnight Moon,” most of my childhood was devoted to making sure my inanimate possessions were living the good life. nnThe book I am most passionate about is “Redeeming Love.” Nothing has ever painted a more clear picture of God’s unconditional, compassionate love for me. It still amazes me how Francine Rivers did such an amazing job of painting a picture of our relationship with our Savior through the story of a prostitute. I guess she really did just expound upon God’s story in Hosea though so I shouldn’t be so surprised.

  • Cindy Wedel

    As I read the comments posted thus far, it occurs to me there is a common theme.u00a0 Childhood reading.u00a0 Here is a favorite poem that says it all for me (if you reverse the gender) The Reading Mother, by Strickland Gillilan.u00a0 Here is a link:u00a0u00a0

  • Will

    I was a gifted reader in kindergarten and first grade.u00a0 Way back then I read Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit and other books most would classify as for adults.u00a0 I couldn’t resist books, and it showed in my first grade class, unfortunately, in a bad way.u00a0 I’ve always been a good kid, and as the teacher repeatedly called me out in front of everyone, I decided to give it up.u00a0 My teacher wasn’t mean or spiteful about it but she’d ask me to put it away or call on me when she was pretty sure I hadn’t paid enough attention to answer correctly.u00a0 I was embarrassed and to avoid those feelings, I gave up reading.u00a0 It was the only solution I could see to the problem.u00a0 My older and younger siblings have all been prolific readers, but I read little more than my required reading from school and my scriptures.nnNow that I’m grown and have 3 young kids of my own, I am rediscovering the joy of good books.u00a0 We always read the children books with our kids before bed, and when their room is clean at bedtime my wife or myself will read a chapter or two of a long book to them.u00a0 With them I’ve now experienced the entire series starting with Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder am now halfway through Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest chronicles.u00a0 Though the reading brings me great pleasure, especially since it’s a shared experience with my family, it also brings a painful awareness of what I missed as a child and teenager.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry to break the childhood book theme.u00a0 Two books come to mind which I find moving and influential;u00a0 nnu201cFahrenheitnu00a0451u201d by Ray Bradbury (1953) and u201cTo KillnA Mockingbirdu201d by Harper Lee (1960).u00a0 I find it hard to believe that “To Kill A Mockingbird” is being banned from the required reading list in some schools as it taught me at an early age to be tolerant in the age of MLK and related struggles in the 60’s.u00a0 I’ve recently read a new book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett (2009), which I think should be required reading as well.

  • Joel

    My primary childhood entertainment was books. At least, when I wasn’t out doing some boyish duty such as chasing lizards, digging holes or building forts. And, being then a boy I read books about other boys. My favorites were classics even when I was young, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. I loved reading about pirates and adventures in places exotic and places familiar. I enjoy movies but it is a fact that the experience of a story like Treasure Island is different when watching it on a screen from the experience of the story in my mind while reading the words of a master storyteller on a cold winter afternoon. Among the virtues of the book is the time it allows to think on the themes and the characters. Long John Silver has stayed with me to this day. Comparing him to Dr. Livesey and Capt. Smollett he does not come off well but somehow remains the most compelling character in the story. I could see them all through Jim’s eyes and wonder what it all meant to a boy looking to join the world as a man with a man’s duties and choices to make. I still have the copy I read as a 12 year old so this winter it may just come back out of the box.n

  • Shannon Smith

    Several books have really inspired me; some as childhood reads (or being read to me) and some as an adult.u00a0 It was not uncommon for our nightly ritual to be a story before bedtime either.u00a0 My little brother and I would climb into my Mom’s lap, one on each side, settling between her hips and the cushy arms of the well-loved rocking chair to listen to what Winne the Pooh was doing or Paddington Bear and his adventures.nnAs an adult, reading the Notebook re-inspired how theu00a0simple things can be shared with someone you love.u00a0 Reading Firehouse by David >>> re-enforced the pure goodness in heros.u00a0 Reading Amazing Gracie re-kindled the blessings a sweet, innocent love of a pet can provide in your likely overly busy life.nnReading the previous posts, I totally agree – To Kill A Mockingbird is still so revelent!u00a0 I purchased an anniversary printing as a gift for my husband.nnI also agree, the Harry Potter series to today’s readers equates tou00a0the Little House on the Praire andu00a0Nancy Drew series to yester-year!u00a0 I could not have made it through 6th grade Girl Scout camp without my pack of Judy Blume andu00a0Beverly Cleary books!

  • Deborah Hulsey

    I love The Help.u00a0 I also really love Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.u00a0 I teach 4th grade and read books to my class.u00a0 I like Where the Red Fern Grows, although it is sad.u00a0 I also love The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck.u00a0 In college I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin which was pretty interesting.u00a0 In high school, I read Mein Kampf which was hard to read, but I’m glad I read it.