There are two people who I credit this to.
My mother loved to read. When she reads a book, she becomes completely engrossed. As a child, I remember hearing her laugh and seeing her cry with a book in her hands.
My oldest brother, HL, always asked me what I was reading. One year, he got me a book, The Essential Steinbeck, for Chanukah. It included four of Steinbeck’s novels. I read them all and have not stopped reading since.
The other day my nephew, AL, asked me to participate in a school project. He is going to interview me about a book I’ve read that made an impact upon me. AL will then read the book, write a paper on it, and then recommend a book to me.
With the interview coming up Sunday, I have to decide what book I’ll focus on. It’s difficult to think of just one book that had an impact.
Below are a few books I’m considering talking to AL about.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac. In this classic beat novel, Kerouac captures the thrill of traveling and movement. A bunch of crazy characters are rumbling along the highways back and forth across America. They have adventures and are forever searching.
Till this point (read it in my early 20’s), I had lived a straight arrow sort of life. I pretty much did what was expected with only periodic venturing off the trail. Yet after reading On the Road, I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I wanted adventure. I traveled extensively through my 20’s and read a lot of the Beats.
Note: The impact of this novel was a question of timing. I read On the Road later on and found the adventure to be equally sad and romantic.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I distinctly remember the first time I opened this novel. I was on an Egged bus in Israel. I was just beginning a trip from the North of the country. As the bus carefully wound its way down a winding hill, I opened the novel. I didn’t stop reading till the bus reached its destination.
I didn’t know writing could be so beautiful. The novel was poetic, deep, and entertaining. I reread passages trying to understand them further and just to read the words again.
I went on to read every Fitzgerald novel and many of his short stories. He was the subject of my thesis in graduate school.
- The Killer Angels by Michal Shaara: This historical fiction novel is about the battle of Gettysburg. It’s told from the perspective of various commanders from the two armies, including Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union.
I became fascinated by the men who fought in this war. Shaara brings you into their thought process, and they become real flesh and blood individuals. Beyond the human element, I loved looking at the maps of how the troops were placed on the terrain. I studied them as if I were going to be asked by the commanding general myself for my opinion.
After reading The Killer Angels, I went on to read thousands of pages about the Civil War.
- The Last Angry Man by Gerald Green: This novel is set in the late 1950’s Brooklyn. The protagonist, Sam Abelman, is a brilliant aging doctor and is angry with nearly everyone and thing. He lives in a run-down Brooklyn neighborhood. A new television show which features regular people is being created, and the first subject is Dr. Abelman.
I loved the protagonist in The Last Angry Man. While Dr. Abelman certainly had his flaws, he was heroic in many ways. He would do anything for his patients. He was principled. He was determined. His passion to help others no matter how he felt was inspiring.
AL said he asked me because he figure since I was an English teacher, I might have an interesting perspective. So, on that note, here are three novels I loved teaching.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This novel, done in epistolary form, grabbed the students completely. Every student seemed to identify with at least part of the novel.
As Charlie’s freshman year of high school unfurls, readers learn about his thoughts, actions, struggles, and joys. By the end, readers truly feel as if they know Charlie. He is unique and identifiable at the same time.
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: I enjoyed this book more after I taught it. Upon completing the book, the students and I would take a trip to Central Park. It was a highlight of the school year.
Great discussions ensued about the symbolism of the baseball glove, the term catcher in the rye, and the Museum of Natural History. Plus, I’ll never forget one girl running out of the room crying when we discussed Charlie and his brother.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The class read the play version. The reaction to this book was always the same. Students would be a bit bored at the beginning. However, once they saw the heroics of Atticus, they started to enjoy the book. Finally, when Tom dies, they were shocked. Novels don’t always end happy. The innocent are not always allowed to go free.
Like the students, I fell in love with Atticus each time.
I could easily list ten more on both lists.
I do love reading. Thanks mom. Thanks HL.
P.S. What novels would make your list?