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Sunday, May 10, 2009


15 in 15: Books that Stick

In my case: written in English, translations excluded

A certain interesting books editor challenged me to name 15 books that "stick" with me. I chose from books in English because otherwise too many are left out. However, too many are still left out. I also misunderstood his offer of one bonus book. Thought the "1" was a "12." I was always weak in math.

Some of these are books that lured me to reread when I was a child, and I am unsure whether they would be vital to me now. (Alice, always.) Some meant much to me in my 20's. A few I would choose not to read again. But all, I believe, have been visited more than once, and some I still reread in whole or part. I have chosen them without regard for era or sex of the author or whether they are "literary" or not. In one or two cases,

Update: The sheer criminality of forgetting the Brontë sisters in my fifteen minutes! Jane Eyre. Villette. Wuthering Heights. And Russell Hoban, too! And much more. Ah well. One gets only fifteen minutes, after all. Apologies to Deb for cheating on Shakespeare (and leaving out the sonnets.) Don't forget to tag 15 of your own.

Update no. 2: One isn't even safe after a book is admired, edited, and distributed! Righteous book-burning: And there are even more books I forgot in the comments...

Herbert, The Temple
H. G. Wells, Long Ago and Far Away, Green Mansions (a childhod passion)
Marvell, Collected Poems
Woolf, Orlando, Mrs. Dalloway
Burgess, Nothing Like the Sun
Yeats, Collected Poems
Shakespeare, Plays
Fielding, Tom Jones
Carroll, the Alice books (read hundreds of times in childhood)
Powys, Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance (strange, incomparable Powys)
Melville, Moby Dick
Durrell, Alexandria Quartet
White, Voss
Hawthorne, Collected Stories and The Scarlet Letter
Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon (thank you, Professor Russom!)
Austen, Pride and PrejudiceDickinson, Collected Poems
MacDonald, Stories and Phantastes (yes, a childhood love)
Toomer, Cane
Peake, Gormenghast Trilogy
Frost, Collected Poems
Dickens, Bleak House and others (a childhood love, an adult love)
Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Davies, The Deptford Trilogy
Kipling, Kim
Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom and others (a great passion in my teens)
The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer

It does seem strange that Isaac Bashevis Singer isn't rubbing elbows with the Americans, but he didn't write much in English, alas. And there are so many great writers missing. I don't think I approve of lists! I could've added Narayan, I suppose; he writes in English.

All right, I shall restrict myself to tagging 15 people. The instructions (hope you can follow them better than I did) are to make your own list of 15 books that "stick" with you, taking no more than 15 minutes and 1 bonus book (that's o-n-e, I note.) Post the list here and on your blog, facebook page, or other time-frittering vehicle. If you're not tagged, come back and read the lists... Or consider yourself tagged and join in.


  1. This is very hard. Practically every time I read something I like a lot, I think it's my favorite, then forget about it when the next thing rolls around.
    But seriously... here's what I love, that I can remember:
    Tolstoi, Anna Karenina
    Flaubert, Madame Bovary
    Bronte, Wuthering Heights
    Dickens, Bleak House
    poems by Wallace Stevens, Bishop, Frost, Dylan Thomas
    Alice in Wonderland
    Through the Looking Glass
    Pale Fire, Nabokov
    Speak Memory, Nabokov
    I don't know. I can't think of anything else right now! I mean there's lots of stuff I love, but more than everything else? Who knows?

  2. Add some Faukner. Not sure which, maybe Sound and Fury, and Dickinson's collected poems, and Moby Dick probably and Hamlet, probably. I think that's it.

  3. Yikes!...OK, here goes...

    15 +1 that have "stuck" with me over the years...

    Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Provensen...the first book I gave my 2 year old nephew. He adored it...and so did all of the other nieces and nephews. And they insisted on sitting on my lap to read it together.

    The Secret Garden, Burnett

    Man O' War, of the few books that I read more than once when I was in elementary school when I found it hard to sit indoors and read. Then, many years later, I became smitten with "children's books." I do seem to do things backward.

    An Episode of Sparrows, Rumer Godden

    Green Thoughts, Perenyi...this is one of the best...if not "the"

    Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time trilogy

    Dandelion Wine, Bradbury

    The Tummy Trilogy, Calvin Trillin...I love to laugh while reading about people and food, then cook and eat

    Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin...lovely words, wonderful heart, great food

    Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney

    The Moon by Whale Light, Diane Ackerman

    Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein...another book given to my nephew that stuck with both of us, that we read together sitting in bed...then gave each other all of his other books over the years.

    A Time of Wonder, Robert McCloskey

    Oh, yes! another one I read when young, and loved: Huckleberry Finn, Twain

    A Christmas Carol, Dickens

    This may be cheating a bit, to add this last one, because I just read it. But I know that it will stick with me for the rest of my days and that I'll read it again and again. It was recommended to me by my nephew...just before he left. It is magical, and original (even if a bit flawed), and a fitting final book from him:
    The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

    Phew...I did it! Thanks Marly...I wasn't sure at first, but yes, this was fun. And, of course I would add more...for sure Frost and Emily also...but one has to stop somewhere, I suppose.

  4. Oops...some text dropped off of my description of Green should read "this is one of the best garden books written...if not "the" best"

    I bet I'm the only one with so few "great" books on my list...oh's true.

  5. Well, looking at your list I understand why your work resonates with me so deeply, Marly.
    Let's see, 15 in 15? Without regard to literary merit or anything like that, just ones that impressed my heart one way or another...
    1.Bronte, Wuthering Heights
    2.And the sister Bronte, Jane Eyre
    3.Alcott's Little Women
    4.Thoreau's Walden and indeed his collected journals
    5.The complete Emily Dickinson with her proper odd punctuation restored
    6.A collection of Amy Lowell's poems, I don't recall which, garnered from a dusty library shelf
    7. Palgrave's Golden Treasury
    8.Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot (Voss is also wonderful, I agree)
    9. To the Lighthouse, V. Woolf (and also Mrs. Dalloway).
    10. The Golden Bowl, Henry James (and all of his work)
    11. (nooo! my list is running out of space!!!)...I think I will squish two in, quickly: Ingledove and the Curse of the Raven Mocker; these are amazing and riveting...and, words fail.
    12. Jane Austen. Don't make me choose, all of them
    13. You Can't Go Home Again. T. Wolfe (I probably never want to read it again, but it impressed my 16 year old mind a great deal)
    14.Iris Murdoch's works. All.
    15. drat, how can I stop at 15???? There are probably 150...
    um, 15. W.S. Merwin's poetry. Again, all of it.

    And if I get an extra? The Poky Little Puppy. Because it was one of the first books I read, and I loved the pudding and the strawberries and the illustrations, though I felt grave sorrow for the late and adventurous pup.

  6. Fifteen, quickly, without too much analysis about what this list says about me:
    -Beloved by Toni Morrison
    -The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
    -Macbeth (I thought you were cheating, Marly, to claim all of Shakespeare's works in one fell swoop! I will be brave and single out just one that has most stayed with me...maybe just because it is the one I have taught most often and with greatest effect.)
    -For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
    -Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (I read this once when I had a raging fever and felt as if I were Catherine and Heathcliff melded into one...which is kind of the point of the book, isn't it? Try it next time you are so sick you can't get out of bed.)
    -A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
    -Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
    -Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (I am re-discovering this book this year, teaching it again after a very long hiatus. It still has power to touch the adolescent soul. Now I see it as a failure of parenting, a true sign of my aging soul.)
    -Antigone by Sophocles
    -The Odyssey by Homer
    -Sonnets by Shakespeare
    -The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (There is a world that I wish I could inhabit. To this day, there is something hobbit-holish about the way I furnish my home.)
    -The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Not great literature, but it really got to me. Sobbing in the middle of the night.)
    -poetry by John Donne
    -The Plague by Albert Camus
    BONUS: The Bible
    Now I go to reflect privately on what this all means.

  7. My memory is terrible, but I'll give it a whirl.

    The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
    Again Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison
    The Elric Saga, Michael Moorcock
    The Red and the Black, Stendhal
    Kleinzeit, Russell Hoban
    Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
    The Lion of Jachin-Boaz and Boaz-Jachin, Russell Hoban
    La Comedie Humaine (basically, all of his novels), Honoré de Balzac
    Triton, Samuel R. Delany
    A Secret History of Time to Come, Robie Macaulay
    The Dream Life of Balso Snell, Nathanael West
    Lost Souls, Nikolai Gogol
    My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, Mark Leyner
    The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio
    Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
    Knut Hamsun, Hunger

  8. OK, here we go. The clock is on. I think that on reading the other lists posted here, my own is going to seem wilfully eccentric. There could be many lists of fifteen: fifteen novels: fifteen books of poetry: fifteen gardening books. This 'fifteen in total' seems wilfully cruel to me, but I'll give it a shot nevertheless.

    1) The Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology. I had a copy of this as a child, and it opened the world of story-telling and cultural diversity to me. Plus the illustrations in the early editions have an iconic status in my memory banks.

    2) My mother purchased me a copy of Christiane Desroches Noblecourt's 'Ancient Egypt: The New Kingdom and Amarna Period'. It was 1960. I was a shy nine year old and the book was full of the most beautiful things that I had ever seen. I feel the same way about it today. The magic hasn't palled. It was one of the Acanthus History of Sculpture series. The Oldbourne Press. This volume published in 1960.

    3) Noblecourt, having ignited the flame in me for all things Egyptian and ancient through that book, later captured my heart forever with her seminal work 'Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of a Pharaoh', which dazzled me.

    4) The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. Because it's riveting.

    5) J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough. (Full of stories!)

    6) The Haunted Screen by Lotte H. Eisner. The book that instilled in me a passion for film. There has been nothing to equal it before or since. Possibly my Desert Island book! She wrote too little to satisfy my unquenchable and constant desire to lap up her words, but what little there is has been illuminating for my lifetime.

    7) 'Everything by Jane Austen' would take up too many of my fifteen. (My secret vice... I read the books aloud doing ALL of the voices!) Therefore I shall have to go with Mansfield Park.

    8) Anything by Angela Carter. But as I must be parsimonious, I shall cheat and go with the Complete Short Stories, for value.

    9) The Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James.

    10, 11, 12 and 13) The four 'Alexander' novels by Mary Renault. I thought of taking just one, but that would be too cruel. And of course, Renault has now been my undoing, because. Oh Woe, I'm already up to 13!

    14) The Lion in Winter by James Goldman. I don't know why I'm taking this instead of a Shakespeare play, beyond the fact that the dialogue crackles and fills me with dazzling memories of Hepburn and O' Toole in the film, which quadruples the pleasure of the words.

    15) Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons by Bill Watersone. Because B. W. is a genius, and he didn't 'sell out'. Because there are no hideously cute Calvin and Hobbes T.V. cartoons, and no merchandising. And best of all, because he created something wise and funny and beautifully wrought, and then had the wit to quit while he was ahead.

    And now I've had my lot, and yet there's no Dickens or Dickinson, (no poetry at all, which is AWFUL) no Kipling... a massive hole in any list of mine... and no Alice, either Through the Looking Glass or in Wonderland. I'd need an Alan Garner for peace of mind, and Thackeray and I absolutely couldn't live without Wuthering Heights or a good dictionary. But perhaps it's just as well not to replicate the lists of others, though there's something extremely telling in how the same names and titles keep turning up in other people's choices. Truthfully, this has not been helpful. It's just made me feel edgy, as though I'm about to be banished with a box of books that won't entirely pass muster because of notable absences. Oh crikey! I've had a sudden thought. Was this list ONLY to be novels? If so I shall have to start again.

  9. Whoops, I missed my bonus! OK, I'll take Humorous Tales by Kipling.

  10. Oh, Robbi, on books in English I forgot "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." Collected Stevens. Oh, and Twain.

    I didn't even think outside stories and poems, but there are some grand nature and garden books... Trust zephyr to waft one this way.

    Yes, I cheated on Shakespeare. For Deb:
    The Tempest.
    As You Like It.
    Twelfth Night.
    A Midsummer Night's Dream.
    Winter's Tale.
    Richard II.
    Oh, drat: which Henry?
    And must have King Lear raging in the heath.
    And the sonnets of course.

    I note that in youth I adored the tragedies but now have a thirst for the fantastic and the light sleight-of-hand of comedy.

    Jarvenpa, you have buttered up my mind! Thanks.

    Carl, how could I leave out Russell Hoban? The thought-twisting "Riddley Walker," for sure. And the children's books.

    M. R. James, Angela Carter, mythologies... I shall run mad! Yes, this is a poor, a thin, an insufficient list, as all things 15(or thereabouts) must be.

  11. P. S. Clive, I shall have to get the Eisner book for R!

  12. The Eisner, yes, perfect. The Haunted Screen covers the author's chosen field of early German film. But her insights carry through to illuminate all cinema studies, or so I found. She also wrote a particularly fine book on the film director Murneau.

  13. Well, here's what I can think of at the moment....but when the cobwebs are swept aside, and all the final exams are graded, perhaps others would surface...

    Much by C.S. Lewis, especially "The Abolition of Man."

    But also, "The Space Trilogy." Someone mentioned "Out of the Silent Planet." "Perelandra" is very beautiful, and "That Hideous Strength" is very terrible -- the fictional realization of the dystopia of "The Abolition of Man."

    I would recommend Sigrud Undset's "Kristin Lavransdatter" -- another trilogy. The first, "The Bridal Wreath," put me completely in her 14th century Nordic world and drove me to the other two. Philosophically, the redemption at the end of "The Cross," is what it's all about, of course, but still, the first book is my favorite.

    The favorite book of my preschool years was something called "The Pirate Twins" -- magical to me, but alas, like "Little Black Sambo" would be seen as racist today. Too bad.

    Later, reading on my own, my favorite was one that I have heard a very few others recall -- a dog story called "Beautiful Joe."

    In high school, To Kill a Mockingbird," "Catcher in the Rye," and "The Lord of the Flies."

    In college, "Anna Karenina," "Madame Bovary," "A Tale of Two Cities," and yes, "Beowulf"!

    I loved so many of the books I read to my children, but one that brought great joy to them and to me is a book of wonderful, whimsical poems called "Father Fox's Pennyrhymes," written and illustrated by two sisters. The words and illustrations are a real treat for both kids and adults.

    I used to love teaching "The Scarlet Letter" until times changed so dramatically that students began to refer to Hester as a "single mom." I had to give it up.

    In the last few years, I found "Diary of a Country Priest" by Georges Bernanos memorable -- sticking, as it were.

    That's it for now. Counting the books in the trilogies, there are more than 15, but some of my favorites were not written in English, so maybe it all evens out!

    Thanks, Marly.

  14. Anonymous, I know you, I know you--evidently--but who are you? Deb? That's my first guess. No, I already read her list, and it was good but different from this. Maybe Annie? I don't know. But then that's like so much of life, isn't it? Perhaps this is an English tutor from across the sea?

    Somehow this post made me think about what a fool I was to leave out Charles Causley and Kathleen Raine, even though neither is on it. Two poets who can thrill me...

    Oh, yes, I love a lot of these. I was definitely remiss to leave off Undset. At a certain very young age, long ago and far away, I was under her spell. I suppose that I ought to try her again--perilous thing, rereading after long years. I also read "The Master of Hestviken" books, but I don't recall a thing, perhaps because I only read them once. Of course, I stuck to books in English. But there's a better translation of Undset now, or so they say.

    And I dearly loved the Lewis trilogy in high school (or maybe it was junior high, but I think early high school).

    I am wholly incapable of loving "Madame Bovary." Flaubert freezes me with that apocalyptic black mouth. I admire his unrelenting and painstaking care, but I turn away, wishing for more sloppiness and joy (maybe a bouncing white whale at the nearest seaport).

    Bernanos: I must read that one. I've been saying I would read him. I still must.

    Now I am rereading all the lists and feeling that the world of books is a wonderful place, far better than I deserve.

  15. Oh, I am silly! That was Andrea.

  16. Hi, Marly - come up with my 15 + 1 list at last. I just thought of books that I think I'll always remember - some of these aren't that great, I'm sure - but they stuck with me!

    Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle;
    Morrison, Toni. Beloved;
    Swift, Graham. Waterland;
    Rushdie, Salman. Midnight's Children;
    Bradbury, Ray. A Sound of Thunder and other stories;
    Orwell George. 1984;
    J Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby;
    Roy, Arundhati, God of Small Things;
    Christopher, John. The White Mountains (from the Tripods trilogy);
    Coerr, Eleanor. Sadako Sasaki and the Paper Cranes;
    Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World;
    Atwood Margaret. Cat's Eye;
    Lee, Laurie. Cider with Rosie;
    Sutcliffe, Rosemary. Eagle of the Ninth;
    Carey, Peter. Oscar and Lucinda;
    Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.

    Thanks for tagging me!

  17. Or is that F Scott Fitzgerald? Ah well, you know the one I mean :-)

  18. Yes, F! But he ought to be grateful to remembered with even a wrong initial so long after he wrote the book and on the other side of the pond, too.

    Somehow I missed The Tripods, growing up. Shame since Samuel Youd aka Christopher and I now live among the dust bunnies on the bottom XYZ shelf. And there are some others on the list that I haven't read...

  19. What a wealth of lists! I am all set up for an unusually rich summer of reading.

  20. Oh BLOW! The Juniper Tree, the perfect collection of Grimm tales in two volumes translated by Lore Segal and ravishingly illustrated in densely wrought pen and ink by Maurice Sendak. How could I have missed that. (Sendak came to Wales when he was working on these, and so I always see my country in his drawings for them.) My own edition is in two small books, but it was later published in paperback under one cove. Nevertheless, that's put me one over my limit. I shall just have to start again!

  21. Hello, dear maniacal readers--

    This is probably the sum total of my writing for today, which is turning out to be a mad day. I've already accomplished much nonsense, including prodding a large boy to look for a summer job, delivering forgotten music and drumsticks, and taking the pitifully-mewing Russian blue (who felted up wonderfully while I was away) to be shaved. Now I am off in my green cloak to the sixth-grade Medieval Fair, where I will see my youngest in peasant brown with sheepy vest and blue cloak as he bangs on his not-very-medieval drum. And in the midst of this delightful mayhem, I shall snatch him away and thrust him into a handsome (hand-me-down) suit to go to the Otesaga Hotel for a civilized luncheon with the D. A. R. The DARians have invited him to lunch to give him money and award for being third in the state for his DAR essay on the flag. Blow me down! And I didn't even make him revise the thing the way I usually do in my compulsive mother way. In fact, he wrote it the night before (after climbing a mountain of homework--why do they have so much these days?) because his teacher had forgotten to give out the assignment. So it is all an encouragement to last-minute work...


    Yes, what enticing lists. All the things I haven't read are calling my name. Then I love rereading, too.


    I adore those books! My parents gave them to me--a request in the early 80's, I think--and I have them as two volumes in slipcover, delicious little books, just the right size. I remember sliding them out, opening the book and seeing those small bearded men, toting off the big goggle-eyed baby, enchanted by a lantern. Two snug small books like perfectly matched-but-varied twins--or two people on two sides of the puddle who are just the same height and who love the same books!

    And now I dash in my green cloak--may you all have days as wild and sprightly as mine is proving!

  22. There were lots of titles new ( to me) here so I was particularly interested...I shall look forward to making my return!

  23. Oooh, Jan, did I tag you? Consider yourself tagged, if not. And now, I am off, a streak of green arcing toward school.

  24. Oh crikey, another 'must have'. You must all rush to a local book store and purchase/order Jenny Uglow's ravishing biography of Thomas Bewick, 'Nature's Engraver'. It is such a fantastically good read, regardless of any interest in wood engraving, although an appreciation of natural history helps. I rarely recommend books... readers are so varied... but for this I make an exception and urge ANYONE to read it. I promise you'll love it.

  25. return of the green cloak5:36 PM, May 15, 2009

    And if you don't remember Bewick, check your "Jane Eyre." Jane, hidden in the window seat, is looking at Bewick's engravings.

  26. Here's another "oh crikey" one from my side of the ocean: Isak Dinesen, particularly "Seven Gothic Tales."

  27. I read The Phantom Tollbooth and The Secret Garden to bits when I was a kid. Forgot about them. And I loved The Alexandria Quartet too. Can't teach it; too long.
    I love The Scarlet Letter too.
    I know what you mean about Flaubert, Marly, but his prose is just so damn perfect. Cold, yes.
    And maybe the first book of Remembrance of Things Past.

  28. I love Wrinkle in Time too, and of course, King Lear.

  29. Robinka,

    Lucky me, I chose to limit myself to books in English, so I can evade Flaubert despite his Snow Queen perfection.

  30. Is it cheating to count a volume of Norton Anthology? because I have one from school that is steller on multiple levels and that I keep refrencing through my life

  31. In such cases, cheating is allowed... And the Norton is always handy as doorstop when you're done reading.

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. ok, now I think I have definitly settled...I guess if I were going to be stranded on a deserted island and got to choose some works of fiction to be with me I would choose books that when I read them I get something different each time. SOmetimes there are things that I skimmed and just pretended to read becuase you just need to at least be familiar with them, so I narrowed my list to works that I actually read and kept going back for more.

    for better or worse (I didnt realize how private a favorite book list is some of my choices are kind of juvenile but these are my sins and a girl must confess once in a while:

    -the norton anthology
    -Tess of the d'Urbervilles
    -the scarlet letter
    -lord of the flies
    -the pearl
    -witch (by christopher Pike becuase it was one of my first paper backs for scary fun)
    -great expectations
    -The Story of O
    -dead until dark
    -the jungle
    -Jane Eyre
    -pride and prejudice (although I failed a book reprt in college on this book and the criticm was such that its hard for me to even look at it without flinching but I did enjoy it very much)
    -The Diary of Anne Frank
    (I read it so long ago I dont even remeber really physically reading it but it stayed with me always

    I guess my plus one would be Streams in the Desert because they always make me feel something despite myself but it would HAVE to be the 1925 edition. IF that was not available I would choose as my plus one a book I haven’t read but want to The Elegance of the Hedgehog

  34. Hey there, Miss Susannah--

    All these lists are so curious and interesting and reflective of the list-makers that I believe that perhaps we should devote more attention to the making of lists! Of course, I am an inveterate list maker and never manage by child- and house-errands without one, but these are far more attractive.

  35. I don't do lists of books really, and often the ones that stick aren't even the ones I like all that much. Russell Hoban, Ridley Walker and Turtle Diary, which wasn't his best known, stick with me too, I always mean to come back to Powys, I struggled with them years ago, but oddly remember them well...

    Anyway, I really came to say my copy of Val/Orson arrived today, though I've had no time to look inside it at all, I must say the presentation is gorgeous!

  36. "Riddley Walker" sticks with me as well. And I've read his children's books aloud many times. I like Hoban; he doesn't read his contemporaries, or so he claims.

    Yes, Powys has a weird power...

    Lucy, I hope you like the contents as well--I, too, find the physical book to be satisfying! I've enjoyed the pre-publication design part of this book more than any other because it was quite open, a friend doing the art and an interesting writer/designer doing the design, and all of us writing back and forth.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.