Thursday, March 25

That Musty Smell of Binding

I'm a member of an online bookgroup and we just fnished reading Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom. It got me thinking about what books have really changed my life. Books like this are so inspirational that they must be read and reread to pick up on all of the gems of wisdom. I wrote the following for my rhetorical studies class and I wanted to share the joy I get from books. These three are short stories and novels, but I am also a huge fan of cookbooks, self help books, coffee table picture books, and of course books on sewing and crafting.

What are some of your favorites? How have they influenced you?
I'd love to have suggestions for our book club.

Books are a huge part of my life and I cannot express how much I love the smell of a second hand bookstore. Of all of the books that have had a significant impact on my life, the following three I purchased used and I dearly hope that the previous readers gained half as much as I have from the pages.
Edgar Allan Poe sucked me into The Fall of the House of Usher like a sailboat in a whirlpool. There I was, doing assigned reading for my dreaded American Literature class and all of a sudden I was transported to a dingy, dark, castle with misunderstood characters and shockingly gruesome ending. I never had been exposed to writing like this previously and I ached for more. What is it about the tragic that draws us in as readers? I feel perhaps that the stories of Poe are so obviously grotesque that they bring realization to the flaws in humanity. The tale of Hop-Frog is especially frustrating because of the cruel manner that the crippled jester is treated. However, does his act of vengeance as he burns the king and his ministers justify the indecency of his captivity? Poe has a magnificent way with words and I believe his stories are so intriguing because of their ability to horrify and induce sincere thought.
A recent addition to my “to die for” books is Atonement by Ian McEwan. This novel is unlike anything else I have ever read. The three sections and epilogue focus on different eras in the lives of the main characters. The first section, which is mainly about Briony and her over reactive imagination and stubborn childishness, is beautiful and complex as it sets up the drama for the rest of the novel. As a reader I was constantly making and changing judgments about the characters, hating Briony more and more as the story progressed. As the plot developed however, it seemed hard to understand why so much attention was given to Robbie’s plight on the fields of France. Was the horror of the war supposed to represent the feelings of guilt that Briony had endured because of her mistake? I felt myself sucked into the world McEwan created around his characters. They were and still are very real to me. I have actual feelings of anger towards the actions of Briony and the fate of Cecelia and Robbie. The ending is so immensely moving that I do not wish to spoil it for anyone who has not read this pivotal novel. What I can divulge is that the epilogue creates a style of writing I was unfamiliar with and prompted me to read the book again with a new viewpoint. Now any book that immediately has to be reread is a good book to me.
A final influential book in my life is The Awakening by Kate Chopin. When I selected this book to read and write a critical analysis on, I had no idea how much the subject matter would affect me. I’ve always been a women’s woman. I believe that men and women may be inherently different in nature, but extremely equal. I believe that many women are subdued by men in human society because that is the way of tradition. I had no idea how intensely I felt about these beliefs until I read The Awakening. Edna Pontellier is such an interesting and diverse person. The inner workings of her thoughts throughout the book may bring a reader to the conclusion that she was mentally unstable. I do not believe that this is the case. I think that Chopin has verbalized the repressed emotions that many women, especially in this time frame, were unaware of. When you ignore a problem long enough it does not just go away, it becomes even more a part of who you are because it stays. Edna wants to realize her potential. She does not want to be stuck at home with little boys that she has no maternal instinct towards. This life was thrust upon her and she wants to take it back and try over again. I’ve felt that way sometimes in my life as well and sympathize with her frenzied outbreak from social norms. I am not suggesting that her affair or romantic fantasies of a man other than her husband are “okay”, but rather that other dimensions of life must be explored rather than what we have always known.

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