Tuesday, May 02, 2006



I'm always so excited when I visit one of my favorite blogs and find that I've been passed a meme baton--not because I'm very good at doing them, because I'm not. No, I just love the feeling of being included, being part of a community. It brings back the joy I felt when I was chosen for someone's softball or basketball team. (Unfortunately, given my lack of athletic ability, the person who chose me often lived to regret it.)

Anyway, despite my good intentions, I often never get around to finishing the memes. Something I feel like I absolutely must write right now forces its way to the head of the line, or I break it into pieces and only finish half my assignment. In other words, I tend to cheat--just like I did in those childhood softball games whenever I got a chance.

This particular meme, however, looked like a lot of fun. It involved going through an interesting list of books, crossing out the ones you've never read, bolding the ones you have, etc. I really wanted to do it. But just as I had trouble hitting a softball straight, I also occasionally run into technical difficulties. Computer cross outs are simply something I don't know how to do. So once again, I did it my own way.

Thank (and apologies) to P.A. Moed and Debra Broughton who brought me into the game. Hope you don't mind that (once again) I broke a few rules.

The 3 most influential books in my life:

(I know, I know; it's an absolutely impossible question, but here's a stab at it)
1. Crossing the River by Czeslaw Milosz
2. Little Women: I wanted to be kind like Beth, treacherously beautiful like Amy, wise and loving like Marmee, but of course, most of all, I wanted to be a writer like Jo. This book encapsulated all my girlish aspirations.
3. Les Miserables: I read it out loud to my two oldest sons when they were about eight and ten.
I can still remember the three of us weeping on my bed at the death of Jean Valjean.

3 books I've read more than once:

1.The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. A small, spiritual classic with a message I need to hear again and again.
2. Crime and Punishment: I can still remember reading it on the subway in Boston when I was eighteen. I was so engrossed in Raskolnikov's world, I missed my stop and traveled to the end of the line.
3. Pride and Prejudice: No one is murdered, no international conspiracy or deadly virus is involved, but this is the novel that comes to mind when I hear the word "thrilling".

3 great books that I personally hated:

1. Moby Dick: Endless details about whaling, and not a woman in sight. I must have taken at least 3 courses in college that required this particular epic.
2. Didn't much like The Scarlet Letter either, though Hester Prynne, cast away from respectable society and living with that horrible A across her chest, remains a vivid character in my mind.
3. Beowolf! I'm sure it's a wonderful story, and maybe if it wasn't force fed on me when I was eighteen, I might have been more appreciative. Maybe someday I'll try it again. On second thought, who am I kidding?

3 "Pure Pleasures":

1. Gone with the Wind: It may not be pc, but Margaret Mitchell's Civil War novel has some of the most memorable characters in commercial fiction, a terrific plot, and a philosophy I've employed a few times myself. (I'll think about that tomorrow...)
2. Green Eggs and Ham: I used to beg my kids to let me read it just one more time. I can still hear their little voices: "Please, Mom; can't we read something different tonight?"
3. The Valley of the Dolls: At fifteen, I learned everything I ever needed to know about plastic surgery, traitorous Hollywood men, and pharmaceutical pick-me-ups and let-me-downs from the glamourous Jacqueline Suzanne. Wasn't there also a man with a sculpted jaw and a name something like Lion involved in the story?

3 great books I should have read, but haven't--not yet:

1. Don Quixote: I'm a little afraid of this one. Something tells me I might relate to the character whose name has become synonymous with cockeyed optimism a little too much.
2. War and Peace: In the volume I have, there is so much dense writing packed onto a page, that I better read it soon before I'm too blind to see it. But truthfully, that may have been what's deterred me thus far.
3. To the Lighthouse: I loved A Room of Her Own, and the diaries, but have always been intimidated by Virginia Woolf's fiction. Sometime, in this lifetime, though I'm not quite sure when, I mean to overcome that particular fear.

3 books I recently ordered:

1. The Accidental by Ali Smith
2. Pere Goriot by Balzac (Inspired by Irina)
3. Woody Guthrie: A Life by Joe Klein (Regular readers know about my obsession...)

Now I get to choose my own team. So click on the links and play the game properly, try it my way, or invent your own version:
Robin Grantham?


Ralph White said...

I almost insist that you take Gone With The Wind off your list of guilty pleasures and put it somewhere more honorable. I read it, and I made my mother and one of my closest frieds read it, we all love it, and we're all the descendants of slaves!

Patry Francis said...

senorblanco: I always admire a person with strong opinions. Maybe I have been unfair to Margaret Mitchell. It's certainly true that Mammy is as lovingly drawn as anyone in the novel--and wiser and more dignified than most.

Oberon said...

......now something for you....visit me.....enjoy yourself....then read the link....the way of peace....share it....save the world....make me proud.

Laini Taylor said...

Great list, and I had to laugh -- I wanted to do this meme too but I didn't because I had no idea how to do cross-outs and bold and ital -- I've since learned at least some of them using a different browser, but anyway -- I recall loving Pere Goriot iin college, and not so much Don Quixote. Read it over 2 days in a haze of fever right before finals, sleeping and reading. And Les Mis & Pride & Prejudice are two favorites!

Rebekah said...

Wow, this meme shakes me right out of my lazy reading of mostly contemporaries and makes me want to dive back into classics - some of which I have to admit I have not ever, ever read. Never. Like Les Miserables. Can you believe it? Give me a few months to mend my ways, and I will be able to do this meme. Yikes.

(Thank you so much for your kinds words on my blog.)

Robin said...

Thanks, Patry. I enjoyed reading through your choices.

I love that you included Green Eggs and Ham. It's a favorite of mine, too. We are known to break out in Green Eggs and Ham recitals around here from time to time. Always good for a laugh.

I'll get to work on mine.

Patry Francis said...

Spurred by senorblanco and a quote from Dave Eggers quote, which arrived in my inbox this morning, I changed the category from "guilty pleasures" to pure pleasures. If you love a book, you love a book, no guilt about it!

"Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could
take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me
and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book
until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have
made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a
f***load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and
forgiving and accepting, but, Christ, that is what matters. What matters is
saying yes."
-Dave Eggers, *The Harvard Advocate*

Sarah: Thanks and welcome.

Laini: Isn't it amazing how a book can trigger memories--like that 2 day "haze of fever"?

Rebekah: It's a good thing I read most of the classics when I was younger, because I, too, have gotten lazy as a reader. I'm reading Pere Goriot now, and loving it, but all that description--oy vey! These days an agent or editor would be screaming, "cut, cut, cut!"

Fred Garber said...

Patry...great list of books. I have often thought about the possibility that I might have to live out of a suitcase or backpack someday. Within that possibility there is the question of what 3 books would I carry with me. The list keeps changing for me. Right now the three books are:

1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu...I have read this about about once a year since I was twenty years old. The meaning keeps changing for me.

2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman....I am always and forever being inspired by these words.

3. The New York Cookbook by Molly O'Brien....You have to eat and this is my favorite.

I think that I should be allowed one more book to carry in my pocket. One that I could give or trade later. Since I am reading Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster, that would be my choice. In this book the Aztecs beat back the Spaniards and are colonizing Europe....very enjoyable.

Thanks for making me think about my little list again!

floots said...

just for you mind - Influential:
Kerouac's On the Road
Hesse's Steppenwolf
Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany
but, as you say, it's an impossible task

Poetry? Apollinaire, Sandburg, Cummings, William Carlos Williams - gotta stop list too long :)

Matthew said...

patry, i've been scarce of late, but i came across this post and realized it would make for a wonderful break here and there during a workday that badly needed it. my own responses are now officially up.

i hope you are well!

Patry Francis said...

floots: Steppenwolf! Why didn't I think of that? Actually, everything that Hesse wrote influenced me greatly--perhaps Siddhartha most of all. I seem to have fixated on 19th century classics when I made my list, but there was also Kerouac, and The Catcher in the Rye, and the Invisible Man, and last year's We Need to Talk about Kevin, and...Yup, it's impossible. My life overflows with great books.

Matt: Enjoyed your list. And great to see you here again.

Matthew said...

patry, regarding the look and feel of my blog, i only wish i were motivated enough to post such fabulous pictures on as consistant a basis as you do. do not bemoan the simplicity of your blog's layout - it has far too much substance to need to make up for it with style.

blog on.

Patry Francis said...

Fred! How did I miss your comment--and your great choices. I also like your criteria for choosing: the books you'd select if you had to carry them on your back for life.

Oh yes, Lao-tzu for his poetry and his wisdom, and Whitman for his exuberance. Don't know Molly O'Brien, but if you recommend her, then I must find her New York cook book immediately.

Anonymous said...


I love the way you've mutated this meme.

I remember reading Valley of the Dolls in my teenage years - not a brilliant book but a right of passage.

Lovely bookshelf, too. I spotted lots of interesting titles.

Patry Francis said...

Debra: I saw some great books on your shelf, too. Too bad you weren't closer; we could share.

Dale said...

Oh alas, alas! I wish people wouldn't make students read Beowulf with the idea that it has ANYTHING to do with English Literature. That points you in the wrong direction from the start.

I can say authoritatively that Beowulf is a horribly hard poem to translate, and there are lots of dreadful translations about, one of which I bet you were given, probably by a teacher who in his or her secret heart liked it no better than you did.

It should never be taught as English literature. It's not English literature, and it never had a shred of an effect on English literature (until it was rediscovered in the 19th Century). If you're going to study it in relation to English literature, it should be in the same course that you read Victor Hugo and Goethe -- a foreign 19th Century influence.

The reason I say this is that while, say, Chaucer's language and civilization are recognizeably our own. The Beowulf-Poet's are not. It needs a lot of explication before you have the faintest idea of the cultural background. And you should never read it without someone handy who can read it in Old English. The music of it is unbearably beautiful. If I recited it for you the sounds alone would haunt you for days.

Okay, I'll stop now :-)

Dale said...

Okay, I lied about stopping. I went on to more fulmination on my blog :-)

Patry Francis said...

"If I recited it for you the sounds alone would haunt you for days."

I would like to hear that...

Dale: your comment made me realize what a disservice freshman English classes do to the literature they're supposed to be teaching. It took me years to return to The Odyssey or Dante and reconsider them.

MB said...

Oh, and I'm with Dale. I already commented on his blog on this so I won't repeat myself except to say that in the original, Beowulf really is beautiful poetry.

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steve on the slow train said...

I like your version of the meme better than the original--at least partly because, like you, I don't know how to do a crossout. I read "Green Eggs and Ham" to my children so many times that I tried to change the ending to something like "Say, I still don't like green eggs and ham. They taste like garbage, Sam I am." The kids wouldn't let me get away with it.

Anonymous said...

I am terribly late in reading this post and quite relieved at the same time that I know, and have read, at least some of the books on your list! I consider you an authority in this area and I feel honoured to be included in this tag which I have now completed on my blog.

By the way, and I am not sure that I'd feel the same way about it these days, but I LOVED "War and Peace", it was a another book considered a cool read when I was a teenager and I found it ultimately more interesting than the other cool read, The Bible.

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Anonymous said...

Great list, we have many of the same tastes.

Crockhead said...

Okay, I did it. What fun.

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