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Thursday, June 23, 2011

I heart 25, Part 2: Books

So, I finally got around to continuing my "Favorite 25" idea, and today I decided to do it mostly because I'm avoiding cleaning (and yes, I realize I'm probably going to be up super late and get like no sleep for work, but hey--priorities) and because I have to unwind from this entire month of work--so blog, help friend with essay, clean,...bed. Between 3 different, insane budget cuts, our store hours changing and eliminating about 10 work hours a week, increased tasks to do with less people, and being personally responsible for essentially 3 separate's been interesting. I love my job, always have, but I have to admit all of these changes are adding a lot of stress to my life. Of course, being car-less (ie having to be dropped off at work 2 HOURS before I clock in and a full hour before anybody--employees--even arrives) is a real pain--perhaps even more so for me since driving was sometimes the only way I could blow off steam AND because I feel like I'm an independent person who is being forced into strict dependency. It's tough. Also, because I'm saving up (hard to do when bills drain about 3/4 of your paycheck before noon on pay day) to fix my car, I spent most of my "off" days cleaning my landlord's house so I pay less rent and can--in theory--get my car back soon. Ugh--so yes, lots going on. So, before I go back to the real world of cleaning, planning, and's 25 of my favorite books (note, not my favorite 25--that would be impossible).

25 of the Best. Books. Ever. In my humble opinion, of course.

1) Harry Potter (all 7)--Everything about these makes them rank--forever--in my top 25 books. The plot, the writing style, the characters, the message, the wonderful twists and turns, the terribly upsetting moments--all of it makes for a very realistic story that just happens to take place in a magical world. Incredible.

2) The Giver--I read this for the first time when I was about 10 or 11, and I try to read it every year since that first time. It's written in such a way that a child can easily understand it, but it never feels like a child's story. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy. I promise you won't regret it.

3) The Hunger Games--the first series (adult or not) to capture my attention and keep a strong hold all the way through. Great writing and a great story. Can't wait to see the movie!

4) Wasted--I became an instant fan of this book before I even made it halfway through. It moved me for multiple reasons; the writing is unique and captivating, my degree in pscyh peaked my initial interest; and she seemed to effortlessly (though I know better) express what I've been trying to explain for years about the world when eating disorders and self-mutilation serve as both the things that are killing you AND the only way you can conceivably live at all.

5) Genie--About the modern day feral child from the 70s. Both intensely fascinating and unbelievably heart wrenching.

6) The Help--I also can't wait for this movie, both because I love the story and because I'm a big fan of Emma Stone (portraying Skeeter). Mississippi, silent rebellion, the perfect mix of hilarity and poignancy--wonderful.

7)The BFG--One of my favorite books of all time, and sadly, one that I haven't read in quite some time--though I've been meaning to for a while. I remember loving the whimsical nature of the story and finding it hard to not fall in love with the BFG. Roald Dahl was a genius.

8) The Babysitter's Club--As the first series I truly got completely, undeniably obsessed with, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Plus, now there's a prequel. Oh yeah.

9) A Tale of Two Cities--I can't really explain why anymore as it's been so long since I read it, but for some reason it is always one of the first books I mention when asked about favorites. Perhaps I should read it again--I know I wouldn't mind it one bit!

10) Rebecca--Mystery, intrigue, and the absence of the main character's first name--I just loved it. I'm typically not a mystery fan (I realize it's not classified as such, but it is a mystery in many ways), but Rebecca stuck with me in a forcibly haunting way.

11) Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons--I know, it sounds ridiculous--but that's kind of the point. I picked it up randomly for some fun reading, and was struck by the intricate story of a group of women whose book club is a lifesaver in so many ways. I loved all the characters and how the story progressed, but I think what makes it a favorite is that these radically different women have a friendship to be envied. In many ways, I see my GPS friends as younger versions of these women--and I felt this way years before we began our own book club--and more than anything, it makes me feel like my friends and I will always be just as we are now--busy, quirky, remarkably unlike...and forever loved by people who love each other no matter what.

12) The Pact (by Jodi Picoult, who also wrote My Sister's Keeper)--There is no way around the sadness and despair of this story, but somehow it is written in a way that embraces what can be learned from inconceivable loss instead of making it into a melodrama. It's pretty awesome.

13) Stephanie Plum series (Evanovich; 18 books so far)--THESE are my guilty pleasure, the books I read for the sake of laughter, and funnier with each book. Love them!

14) To Kill A Mockingbird--What's funny is that I HATED this book at first--and not just during my first reading of it, but through about 3 of them. It wasn't until I was almost through college that I began to love it, and I don't know what changed really. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that the play adaptation of the story was the last play I saw at Ole Miss, but it's more than that. It is so innocent in it's ripping apart of...innocence.

15) The Glass Castle--I'm not sure I could even begin to give this book justice for its awesome power. Somehow, Jeanette Walls explains the way in which a child can be so ashamed of their parents to the point of hatred, while simultaneously making you fall in love with them. It's a story that comes full circle without ever having to really move. Seriously, I'm failing on describing how incredible it is. READ IT.

16) Flowers in the Attic (and the other 4 books in the Dollanganger series)--I think I most liked these because they completely messed with my head. On the one hand, everybody who condemns these kids make valid points about their conception....and then love affair. Remarkably, however, I found myself rooting for Cathy and Chris (yes, brother and sister) to stay together as their only means of happiness, incest or not. To my relief, I found that everybody who has read them feels the same way; you know incest is wrong and are grossed out by it, but there you are--pulling for it in a twisted way. My brain spent a long time fighting with itself over this--and that's when I realized these books were pretty awesome. Weird and totally effed up, but amazing. Yeah--my mind still fights with itself over these. (Equally amazing by V.C. Andrews--My Sweet Audrina. Just saying.)

17) A Visit from the Goon Squad--A remarkably confusing, yet simple, story. It was a book club book, and I hope to find the time very soon to read it again. It's that good.

18) Indian in the Cupboard--I can still hear Mrs. Mabry reading this one aloud-- with accents and distinct personalities. While I think the story is great on its own, I think this one falls into my favorites category mostly because, while I had always loved to read (and still do), hearing this one come to life was the first time I truly understood that books are absolutely magical and meaningful in a myriad of ways. To put it simply, I found the way to step into stories as I read them instead of observing from the outside. It changed my life as a reader, and made me yearn to be a writer. To this day, I think it has much to do with why I find it so much easier to express myself in writing rather than speech--and why I'm still proud of my writing, even when I hated everything else about myself.

19) A Walk to Remember--Okay, it must be said: I really don't like Nicholas Sparks. I think he's cheesy and sappy and predictable and generally showered with undeserved praise. AWTR is different somehow. Yes, it is cheesy and dramatic at times, but the STORY that shines through all of that is remarkable. Beautiful and sad, touching and tragic, relatable and unimaginable--so much in a relatively short book. I'll give you this one, Sparks, but lay off the whining. Also, come out of the closet already--I mean, seriously.

20) A Time to Kill (and the film adaptation)--It's just plain GOOD. It's one of those stories that has something for everybody--romance, rebellion, racism, the legal system's skewed reality--and they talk about Ole Miss. What's not to love?

21) Chelsea Handler's books: Yes, all of them--I love her comedy and tv show, but it just gets better on paper. Part of me loves it because so many others hate it, but mostly I just love that she says out loud what EVERYBODY is thinking. Celebrities are ridiculous; they're practically satires of themselves. She's not afraid of the repercussions of what she says, because the power of celebrity crumbles when the flaws (ie the human part) are brought to the surface instead of hidden behind entourages who serve as the best paid motivational speakers--and often liars--in the world. Kathy Griffin is a fave of mine for similar reasons; as a girl who can't seem to NOT speak my mind, I find inspiration in those women who made a living out of it. Also, they're friggin' hilarious.

22) A Prairie Tale--One of the few celebrity autobiographies I really, truly liked. I picked it up as if to give that "genre" one last shot--after reading Here's the Story about Maureen Mccormick (Marcia Brady) and literally laughing out loud at both her crazy exaggerations (trust me, she'd be dead before she got to a third of her "story") and what I can only explain as her expectation that her target audience was full of ultra gullible and idiotic "humans" (granted, she was probably pretty dead on about that for most of the ones who read her book--and liked it). Melissa Gilbert, however, showed the very real problems with celebrity culture's biggest downfall of never, ever saying no to a celebrity request and how she still managed to stay pretty real and down to earth. She dabbled in drugs and became an alcoholic, with heartwrenching stories of what that does to a child and later, the adult that emerges...but she never lost her sense of humor or her childlike awe of the world and those who blessed her life. Good stuff.

23) The Velveteen Rabbit--If this doesn't make you cry (even just a little), then you have no soul. Or a deprived one at least. It's a classic whose status as such is one I wholeheartedly agree with, and I think the majority of the world could benefit from a story time circle with this as the book of choice. With so many things in life telling us ad nausem that looks are most important and you are only worth as much as your ability to starve yourself to death, this book is a simple reminder that is LOVE that makes you beautiful--and even emotional, physical, and repressed scars can not make you ugly once you are really and truly loved.

24) I Love You Forever--No lie, I can't even open the first page of this book without at least tearing up (and let's be honest, usually bawling like an idiot). I love it, but that sometimes still confuses me since I have spent years trying to--and pretty much succeeding--rid myself of the ability and NEED to cry. But this child's book? In so few words, it sums up what loving and being loved means. Seriously though? I wish it didn't bring on buckets of tears EVERY TIME. Or maybe I like it most BECAUSE of that. Who knows? I'm just positive it's a great book.

25) Gone With The Wind---An interesting choice, since it is one of the books that I've never read all the way through. It is, however, one that I'm trying once more to finish. It's not the story that keeps me from finishing--because it's an incredible one--but rather, life gets in the way every single time. My love for the movie and the incredibly dead-on character of Scarlett O'Hara keeps me attempting--over and over again to conquer. And I will, as God as my witness! After all, tomorrow is another day. Yeah, I went there.

So there you have it. 25 of my favorites, but nowhere close to all that comprises that list. I'll always find myself adding to this list, just as I'll always be learning something new. Reading IS magical, just as it was during that first revelation in the 4th grade. Life is crazy and time goes by too fast, but those favorite books of mine? They only change as they should--to teach me with every new reading that we are all children forever, as long as there are stories that take us somewhere new.