ten books.

I’ve seen this done on other social media, but no one there asked me to do it (which I find saddening), so I’m going to do it here where I can say whatever the frilly heck I want. The challenge is to list ten (and only ten) books which have changed you or stayed with you, depending on where one finds this challenge. Here are mine, in no particular order, and usually with something explaining it.

Paper Towns by John Green. Interestingly enough, while TFiOS is one of the best books I’ve ever read, it doesn’t stick with me like Paper Towns has. PT always has me wondering whether or not I am living a paper life and if I should maybe challenge what everyone thinks about me (including myself) and do something ridiculous. Usually this ridiculous thing never comes to pass, but because of this book I am reminded – often – to constantly enrich the relationships in my life. Where I can and am not terrified. Which brings us to what is the best contender for my favorite book ever…

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle. I promise to try to keep the L’Engle-ness in this list to as much of a minimum as possible, but it will be impossible to keep it out entirely. I read Certain Women for the first time about a month after Matt and I broke up (after I’d had sufficient time to process The Other Side of the Sun – see below) and every page hit me hard. And every time a friend is in some sort of crisis I find myself quoting it, about love being important because it just is, and how you cannot close yourself off just because you are hurt. The best part is this exchange between Emma and Chantal:

Emma: Maybe I’m not worth loving. Maybe it’ll never work. Not with anybody.

Chantal: Emma, you’re going to have to risk it.

Emma: Why?

Chantal: It’s a kind of suicide you can’t commit.

Which brings me to…

The Love Letters by Madeleine L’Engle. This book is another excellent contender for my favorite ever. Some of it appears as a play being acted in Certain Women. This is the book which yields the beautiful exchange:

“I know nothing about love.”

“I never thought for a moment that you did.”

This is not between lovers; this is between a schoolgirl and her teacher (who also happens to be a nun); this is nonetheless one of the most amazing things I have ever read, and it deals with a question I have asked before: can one love if one does not know what it means to love? I don’t think one can; I think one must know that one is trying to love a person, but one doesn’t have to know jack about it to try. This is a thing I struggle with, coming from a family, some anonymous member of which is often quoted as saying, “I can’t take a typing class, I don’t know anything about it!”

The Other Side of the Sun by Madeleine L’Engle. I promise this is the last one. I read this one right after Matt and I broke up, and this is the book which contains the line Love with open hands, which is possibly the closest thing to a motto I have. This is a beautiful book about the terrible things one must sometimes do if one really loves another person.

A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle. Oops, I lied. This really is the last one though, and it sticks with me for the line Love does not dominate or manipulate or control, and also for the ridiculous beauty of it, and what it taught me about tolerance and compromise.

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This book is just important. I read it when I need a good strong kick in the pants, a cheering up, or both. Yields the line When we have to do a thing, we can do it.

The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The best literary pity party with a happy ending ever. I adore this book so much. Perhaps I see it through the rose-colored middle-school-memories glasses, from back when I was a bookish twelve-year-old and didn’t care about anything else in the world.

Don’t Call Me Katie Rose by Lenora Mattingly Weber. This is the most obscure book on this list by far. I discovered it in the back shelf of my hometown library many years ago (probably middle school sometime) and still check it out nearly every summer. It’s not a high-flown literary work, and it’s no L’Engle, and its contemplations do not span any universes, but rather are small, useful observations that can soften the rough edges of the stupidity of everyday love – see the oft-quoted You are what you are, and not what you’d like to be and You dummkopf, don’t you know the heart has a lot of rooms?

-A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books. Suffice it to say I was reading these as a teenager. I never quite grew out of them. I find truth in them still. And the battered blue hardcover that my parents bought before I was born and which bears green marker from when I scribbled in it at some indeterminate young age (not a teenager, I swear) is, as my sixteen-year-old self called it, Chapstick for the soul.

Christy by Catherine Marshall. For this last one I thought a lot about my childhood staples – Little House on the Prairie books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Caddie Woodlawn, Anne of Green Gables and companions, Grimm’s Fairy Tales because with a mother like mine things were always Grimm – but Christy takes it. I discovered it, randomly, at the age of twelve. Now that I think about it it may have been a gift that I stumbled upon before I was supposed to receive it (always the snoop). Anyway, I read it. And this book makes me shiver and shudder and think about God, and God knows I still need to be reminded to think about God once in a while. Also, chillingly wonderful last line: The joy of the children was in his voice.

So there you have that.


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