Friday, September 5, 2014

The Ten Books (Responding to Facebook Tags and Challenges) - These Are My Influences For Today, Anyway

The trend across the universe is tag people to list ten books that have been influential to them as readers and writers. This is my response on this date in history, but I know that my ten will likely shift, depending on my mood. Even so, here it goes:

As a kid, I loved visiting my grandmother so I could read Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox. The story is of an eccentric loner who lives in a tree with a dog, some bears and her cats. She hates people and they make fun of her. She's the village eccentric until a hurricane comes to town and suddenly she's casted into a savior role. I didn't realize the impact this book would have on me until I, too, learned of my aversion of people and my preference for doing things my own way. Now, I love reading this book, as it is a reminder of my core.

When I was in high school, I was first introduced to Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I read it with complete awe and continued to revisit its text as an undergraduate and again as a teacher. I love the lifelong journey of the Siddhartha allegory and the idea of finding the right path. It may sound corny, but it centers me.

The summer before I left for college I discovered Alice Walker's The Color Purple.  I read it over a couple of nights and was mesmerized by Celie's life story and the power of Walker's writing. I see the book as central to who I am as a person and I am very thankful it was written. I taught the text in Kentucky and found it offered me a lot of depth to talk with students about history, life, Africa, and what we want in the one chance to be better on earth.

Another text that has helped center my ideologies of the world is Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country. I read it right before Oprah made it her book club read and the price skyrocketed at the bookstores. I often taught the book, but it didn't have the same heart with students as I felt with it in my own reading. I often think of the character, Arthur Jarvis, and the work he did as a mentor: it parallels the work try to do in my classroom. It's not a book for everyone, but I love it.

I couldn't post a history of influential texts without referring to Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I read this book in 1999 and quickly passed it on to a student. He passed it on to another. It was passed to every student in his grade until they all read it. I then bought a class set and every copy was stolen. I bought another class set and they were stolen. Parents challenged the book and shied from teaching it (but I now see it is often on the curriculum in high schools - students will read it despite the paranoia of their parents).

Another controversial book that I love is Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It might be one of the most thought-provoking books of all time, only because it appears to be an adolescent text, but in context of the U.S. and its history, especially in relation to colonialism and the necessity of a Western education, I find the story to be at the heart of a lot of great conversations educators need to have with youth - especially those who doubt what doing well in school has to do with their worlds.

In the classroom, I've also had a lot of success and a passion for rereading W;t by Margaret Edson. It is a script, and one of the deepest pieces of staged literature I've ever read. Each time I pick it up I think about my world as an academic and all the controversies it creates - especially in relation to a non-caring, heartless, and cerebral world. Everyone who is in higher education should have to read this play and think about it.

I read Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland right out of college and have been on a rampage of his writing every since. I think Life After God is my favorite, but Shampoo Planet was the first novel, post college, that hooked me into an obsession of wanting more from a writer. I've read all of his work and although some appeal to me more than others, I'm always a fan of the way his mind works.

My grandmother also taught me to love non-fiction, and because of the work I do, I'm a huge fan of Warren St. John's Outcasts United. I've read the book twenty times and continue to revisit it to understand the inspiration of Luma Mufleh and the story of her soccer players in Clarkston, Georgia. It's one of the more educational texts I've ever read, probably because it has helped me to make sense of the world I've found myself living.

Last, and not least, I continue to be a tremendous fan of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. The second chapter, Fa Mu Lan, helped me to think about global realities more than I previous had, and about the ways women are conditioned into particular societal positions by virtue of their sex and heritage. Like The Color Purple, it is beautifully written. I love the questions it allows me to ask of young minds.

Interestingly, there's a parallel, sans Coupland, for the books that have been influential in my life and those I teach in the classroom. I read so many (love even more), but continue to come back to these as a core to the man and thinker I am. We are what we read, no?

So, what's your ten.

Fudge. Stitches by Daved Small. That needs to be here, too.

1 comment:


    (I should have put this book on my Facebook list)

    Okay, caps lock off now. I also love that you included Stitches. That's one of my favorite books from our class.