This isn’t *quite* number nine. Number nine properly is "your all-time favourite books/music/movies/etc., stuff that wasn’t flavour of the month or year but is a lifetime fave." I thought about that for a while, and I realized that rather than coming up with a list of favorite books, I was coming up with a list of important books. Books that maybe I don’t even really care for much any more, but when I look back I think "that was a milestone; that was a turning point; things were different after I closed the covers than they were when I opened them."
Hope you don’t mind my diverging a bit Mel – I figure you’ll be entertained either way.
When I think back, waaaay back, I remember books. There were always books in our house growing up. All through my years in my parents’ home I remember the evenings: the entire family gathered around the television, tuned in to whatever, all of us with our noses in a book. Sometimes we were reading and watching, sometimes we were just reading. My mother swears that my tombstone should read "just let me finish my chapter…" Somehow my brother didn’t inherit the reading bug that the rest of us had, but that may come from the family differences in the eleven years prior to my birth. Regardless – there were always books. My first books were the usual kid’s books. I had a Fischer Price read-along record player, and I’m convinced that I learned to read from it. Mom and Dad read to me, but not as much as I wanted. I was insatiable. One of my earliest remaining childhood memories was when the town library moved out of the old converted Victorian house into the new purpose built library building. In order to reduce the burden of moving the stacks, they allowed patrons to check out as many books as they wanted to at one time during the move. Normally there was a limit. That was a vision of heaven to three year old me. Shortly after that, my mother started reading "Little House in the Big Woods" to me. That book will always be THE landmark book in my life. It was a story that went on and on and on. We couldn’t finish it in one night. I wanted more. More, more, MORE I tell you! But mom only had so much time to sit and read to me. One of the earliest thought processes I remember was reasoning out that if mom wasn’t reading me enough of the story, than obviously I just needed to read it myself. I don’t know how well I did, but I do know that I knocked it out and was working on the next one when I started kindergarten. That was a shock to me – they were teaching kids the alphabet. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve been a trial to the school’s reading teachers my whole life…
After that came the usual glut of Nancy Drew, Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry – all the usual titles, I just tended to hit them a bit early. In that phase we moved to Connecticut, and the town library had a children’s summer reading program. There was always some kind of a carrot – a poster or some such, and I remember the librarians’ reaction when they realized that I wasn’t tearing through books for the prize – I was like that all of the time. In my town, children weren’t really allowed on the adult side of the library without their parent attached, or at least that’s how I remember it. I can understand that, especially given the way an awful lot of children behave in public now. But for me, it was a frustration. I was ten years old, I’d read everything in the children’s section worth reading, and there was an ocean of books just the other side of the card catalog. A mother’s love – mom checked out the books that I wanted from that side for me, because on a child’s card I wasn’t allowed. So she checked them out and handed them to me.
Twelve years old and seventh grade marked two more turning point books. The first was “Shōgun” by James Clavell. The miniseries had been on television, and my mother got the book from the library. Having watched the miniseries, when she was done with the book I grabbed it (because there was still a week left before it needed to be returned.) In hindsight, I’m a touch appalled. I vaguely remember skimming past the sex scenes because I wanted to get back to the plot. The reason I categorize it as a significant book was because of the effect it had on my teachers. I always toted around whatever I was currently reading, so that I could grab those five or ten minute interludes whenever they were available. Mr. McLaughlin (my social studies teacher) looked at it, looked at me, and asked "are you reading that?" I replied that I was. He asked if I understood it, and I replied rather indignantly that of course I was, or I wouldn’t be reading it. At that point my teachers began recommending books to me, and the woman who would be my eighth grade home room teacher gave me the high school reading list as suggested summer reading. These days she could probably get in trouble for suggesting that a twelve year old read "Papillion."
The other important seventh grade book was "God Emperor of Dune." Please don’t think this book is on my all time favorites list. It’s not. It’s notable because as the first new Dune book in many years, my father snapped it up at the library. Well, anything my father was that interested in reading obviously interested me. So again, when he was finished I grabbed it.
This was my first introduction to the idea that there are some series that you can’t really start in the middle.
It was also my first introduction to grown up science fiction. Once my father realized that I had a taste for it, he pointed me towards Heinlein. "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," "The Star Beast," "Glory Road," I tore through all the juveniles our library had. When I ran out of Heinlein, I just kept going into the rest of the section. From sci-fi, I wandered into fantasy. I think "The Crystal Cave" may have been the first, or possibly "Deryni Rising." I don’t remember. But that, as they say, was that. I was hooked, and there was no going back.
It’s an odd assortment of memorable books. I remember growing up that I never had the newest toy, or the latest fashion. But there was always room in the budget for books. I hope to do as well with Charlotte.
I don’t know that I’m willing to designate a "favorite" book or books. There have been books that I read and have on the shelves that are an utter waste of time. There are books that read once or maybe twice that were breath-taking, but I wouldn’t call them a favorite. There are books that I must have read because I own them and I remember the fact of having read them, but made no permanent impression on me. I recall their plot not at all. And there are books that I go back to again and again because they’re old friends, or just a damn good read. There are some authors who have books in all of those categories. If pushed though, I think the empirical evidence suggests that the Belgariad and Mallorean series by David and Leigh Eddings may be some of my favorites of all time. There are other authors and books that I love as well, but when I’m bored, or I’m blue, or I just want to lose myself in the story, I keep going back to those and read the whole twelve book cycle from front to back. The plot isn’t terribly difficult – you see it coming a mile away. But the characters are old friends, and the story is good, and even with the dozens of times I’ve read them I come to the end wanting more. What more can you ask for on a rainy day than that?
I think when I finish reading "The Art of Woodworking: Kitchen Cabinets" I may go dig out "Pawn of Prophecy." I haven’t visited with Garion for a while.