Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Few Good Books

My name is Ashley and I am a compulsive reader. I read more than just about anyone else I know. I have always been a fast reader and I tend to read three to four books at a time. Right now, I am actively reading People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, the Bible, Be Full of Yourself! The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration, by Patricia Lynn Reilly, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006, edited by Dave Eggers. And there are a few other books on my night stand that I have started and will probably get back to soon. I am fortunate to have an excellent public library within walking distance of my office. Otherwise, my reading habit would be very expensive.

I also have a very hard time keeping what I am reading to myself. My friends, family, and co-workers occasionally get annoyed by how often I read sentences, paragraphs, and pages aloud, but they are usually pretty good sports about it. Later, they come to me for book recommendations. I take these requests very seriously and take a lot of factors into account, including the interests that I share with the other person, our relationship, what I know about the other person's reading habits, and conversations we have had about books and life. It is a little scary recommending books because I am never completely sure whether others will like the book or even read it, but it is very rewarding when they do.

The first time I remember making book recommendations was to my friend Inger in elementary school. She and I ran into each other at the Loussac Library and she complained that she could not find anything to read. I was appalled. When the city decided to build the Loussac, it was by far the biggest library I had ever seen. I thought it was the most amazing refuge, containing all the books I could ever want. The thought that Inger couldn't find a single book that she wanted to read was just outrageous. I immediately began walking through the children's section, pulling books off the shelves and handing them to her. Some I had read, some I had heard of, and some just seemed interesting. Inger looked a little shell shocked, but she took all of the books I handed to her and dutifully checked them out.

At the writers' conference, I kept a running list of books that people recommended. By the end of the weekend, the list included The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Orchid Thief, Walden, Refuge, The Elements of Style, Artful Sentences, The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction by Imitation, Middlemarch, The American Way of Dying, Surfacing, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, Rabbit Run, Happy all the Time, Broken For You, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, and The Thin Place. I have read some of these, but not all, and the ones I have not should keep me busy for quite a while.

When I started this blog, I really wasn't sure how to structure it or what I should include. I knew that my primary focus would be my spiritual journey, but the books I have loved have so influenced my life and writing that I didn't feel I could begin without them. So without any explanation, I included the list of "books I love" in column on the left. I also think this list gives readers a little insight into where I am coming from. For example, the fact that two of my favorite writers are David Sedaris and Barbara Kingsolver explains more about my sense of humor and politics than a dreary post on those topics could.

It has been interesting for me to see how the list has become incorporated into my posts. I did not plan to dedicate an entire post in response to Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz when I added it to the list, and I would have added Bird by Bird even if I didn't know I was going to see Anne Lamott at the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference.

I have come to think of this blog as a more organized and public version of the random thoughts going through my head. Similarly, the list of books I love is a more concrete version of the casual book recommendations I have made over the years. There are certain books I come back to over and over and that I want everyone to read and those are generally the ones I put on the list. These books have changed my life in one way or another and when I see others reading them for the first time, I feel a little jealous that they have that ahead of them.


  1. Among many others on your list which I have read and enjoyed, I was pleased to see 'Possession' and 'The Time Traveller's Wife' - as well as being amazingly well-written, these two really made me think about the impact of our actions upon each other, and how the past influences the present. Two fruitful areas for thought!

    Keep on recommending :)

  2. Hey Ashley, it's so cool that you recommend books to other people - you're such a librarian. =)
    I recommend books too, but not necessarily based on who the person is I'm talking too - just the fact that I like the book and you should too! =)
    I've read Middlemarch and it's pretty good, but I liked Silas Marner and Adam Bede much better.
    Oh - and have you read Life of Pi? You should totally add that to your list of books to read.

  3. Ashley, I loved your description of setting Inger straight at the library! That gave me a good chuckle. I grew up in a not-very-affluent school where I was ahead of the other readers. Unfortunately, I felt embarrassed about being allowed to roam the shelves of chapter books while my classmates were directed other parts of the library. However, in college I went through a phase of reading children's novels to partially make up for it.

    I have a feeling you have devoured a fair number more books than I have, so I may be coming to you for recommendations in the future! Currently, though, I have a long list of to-reads on my online library account.


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