Books and Places, Part I

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I was thinking about writing down some of the memories that I associate with certain books, but I hadn’t gotten very far with it when I read about the Books and Places Tag at The Paperback Princess. That gave me a push to collect some of my favorite stories about the books I’ve read.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Servantes. My aunt was a great reader, and she taught at a German school in Spain when I was a kid. When she traveled during the summer, we would go to her place for vacation. Sometimes, there was not much for my sister and me to do during the day except use the exercise bike and read. Don Quixote was one of the biggest books I could find on the shelves, so I read it. When I had to write the obligatory “What I Did This Summer” essay in school afterwards, my teacher didn’t believe that I had actually read a Spanish classic during my vacation. His comments led my mom to have a meeting with this teacher that people talked about for several years afterwards.

The Physician by Noah Gordon. My mom has always loved sprawling historical fiction, and this was the first book she put into my hands with the plea to read it as soon as possible. Of course I listened to her, obedient teenager that I was, and read the book during a trip to see my aunt. Throughout the visit, I sat on the couch with both a cat and the book in my lap. The book has over 700 pages, and the one sex scene in it probably takes up 2 of those pages. I will absolutely never, ever forget how I felt sitting on that couch wondering how I could ever face my mom again with her knowing I had read those 2 pages. Incidentally, on that same day we found out that I am allergic to cats, so my mom’s focus was on my incessant sneezing and watering eyes. I am sure she never thought about me reading that particular part of the book.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. This is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and I re-read it regularly. I love how my interpretation of the story changes depending on which overall mood I am in when I open the book. Thinking back, the most memorable re-read was when my high-school class took a trip to Prague. The bus ride took all night, and I was so engrossed in the book that I read the entire time, missing all the “teenage fun” my classmates had. When I finished the book, I looked up to see the Prague castle out of the bus window. The absolute perfect timing of that moment has made me love Persuasion even more.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This was the first book I read as a new Comparative Literature student in Berlin. I sat on the lawn in front of the university building, reading and absolutely loving the book. I didn’t love my comparative literature classes though; during the welcome week, there was so much name dropping going on that I felt intimidated and inadequate. Reading Huck Finn helped me to promptly switch my major to North American Studies. I was so much happier once I did that. Mark Twain has always held a special spot in my heart since then.

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom. There are plenty of jokes around in Germany about how flat the Netherlands are, and my dad loved all of them. I bought this book at a used book store in Berlin as a present for him. But first, I read it on the subway on my way to and from class, and once I was so engrossed that I missed my stop. I didn’t mind… waiting for the subway going the other way gave me extra time to read. I loved the book, and everything else by Cees Noteboom that I have read since.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I read this on a trip through Europe with three friends from America. This book was the perfect distraction from spending long hours in the car with three guys, especially because they wouldn’t let me drive the rental car. In Cologne, I saw flyers advertising a travel-work program for different places in Africa. Considering the book I was reading, this seemed like a sign that I should look into that program. When I told one of the guys that I was thinking about going to Africa for a few months, he gently declared that he envisioned my future slightly differently. (That guy is now my husband. And no, I have not yet made it to Africa.)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Shortly after I got my first “real” job, on a whim, I told one of my new coworkers that I was reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and how Fforde’s footnoter phone made me want to read War and Peace. My coworker promptly went out to buy me a particular edition of it, because, according to her, that edition is the one to read. It took me a few months, but I read it and loved it and had wonderful conversations about it with my new friend. She, in turn, became a big Jasper Fforde fan.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. My husband and I are both history lovers, but we are very different learners. He watches documentaries on TV, and I read books. I loved all the historical information about the World’s Fair in Chicago that is discussed in this book, and I pestered my husband endlessly while reading it. (“Did you know…?”) I know he couldn’t wait for me to finish it and stop talking about it. Incidentally, right when I was done reading, there was a great documentary about the World’s Fair on TV, and I made him watch it. Needless to say, I pestered him all over again. (“Remember, I told you about this….”)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Pretty much the only books my husband will read are those by Hemingway. I don’t get on with Hemingway, but when my husband and I first started dating, I (foolishly) promised him that I would read all of Hemingway’s books. After reading The Paris Wife, I had a great conversation with my husband about Hemingway’s life, his poor attitude towards women (to put it mildly), and whether you can dislike an artist but like his work. Because of The Paris Wife and our subsequent discussion, I read both A Moveable Feast and The Old Man and the Sea within six months of each other, bringing me two books closer to fulfilling that promise I made so many years ago.

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. Life gets extraordinarily more hectic once you have kids, and after my first child was born, I seriously doubted that I would ever have time for a serious book again. Then my sister sent me The Book Thief, and I read it in one night, sitting in bed and crying so much at the end. My sister got a kick out of the fact that as soon as my child started sleeping through the night, I stayed up all night to read.

So here you have ten of my happy book-related memories. Check back next week to read about some of the books that did not work out so well. Do you have any particular memorable stories about a book you’ve read? Let me know in the comments, or consider yourself tagged and write about it on your blog.

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21 comments

  1. […] Last week, I wrote about some of the happy memories I have about books that I love. Today, I am following up with some memories of books that I did not like. You’ll notice that only one book is shown in the picture. The sentimental value of that one is too great, but all the other books have long since been banned from my shelves. […]

  2. I love this post so much – what a wonderful idea! It’s so nice getting to know you a little better.

    I would love to know what your mum said at the parent teacher interview – although it is giving me a lot of pleasure imagining what it might have been right now, that maybe not knowing is more fun 🙂

    Which translation of War and Peace did you read?
    I have now found a website that allows you to compare translations. It has been very useful and most recently helped me decide which Germinal translation to read – it’s here if you’d like to check it out too – http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/2015/04/zoladdiction.html

    I’ve also struggled with Hemingway, but like you enjoyed The Paris Wife.

    I already knew that I liked you, but finding out that Persuasion is also your favourite Austen just confirms it!

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m happy to read that Persuasion is your favorite Austen as well! I read the 1942 Inner Sanctum edition of War and Peace, published by Simon and Schuster. It came with a reader’s guide, timeline, character studies, and all kinds of other helpful stuff. I will definitely check out that website that compares translations as I’m considering reading Doctor Zhivago later this year. (And all I can say about my mom is that she has lots of spunk. And all teachers at my middle and high school took care never to get her mad… 🙂 )

  3. I feel the same way you do about Hemingway (but, I’ve only read one of his and it was in high school), but loved The Paris Wife. So…did you like A Moveable Feast and/or The Old Man and the Sea?

    • I liked some stories in A Moveable Feast, but in others, he just came across as mean. I don’t know why he felt the need to write essays that belittled people. But I was surprised by how much I liked The Old Man and the Sea.

  4. I love your stories! I giggled when I read about the sex scene in The Physician that you were so worried about. I used to feel the same way when I knew that my Mom knew what I was reading. My daughter recently read Water For Elephants, and I was trying to remember exactly what was in it, but I couldn’t really. So, I guess I can’t worry about what I can’t remember. I do wonder if my daughter was thinking about it, though.
    I also loved Huck Finn. It’s one of the books in this world that I’ve read more than once. How did you like Don Quixote?
    After reading Eva’s post on this, I thought about writing one, but couldn’t come up with enough interesting stories. I think I just do most of my reading at home – no where interesting. The best stories I had were mostly from childhood. Oh well, I’ll just enjoy everyone else’s stories! 🙂

    • I remember your post about the letters about the Anne books that you exchanged with your girlfriends. If those are any indication, then your childhood memories are almost better than any adult stories about books. It’s been over 20 years since I read Don Quixote, so my memory might be a bit warped, but I remember loving the book. I think it helped that I had no idea I was reading a big classic book. (Oh, and I don’t remember anything particularly revealing in Water for Elephants.)

  5. I adored these stories especially because it shows your connection to family and friends through books. I also loved the story about your mom giving your teacher a good dressing down for not believing you. What a great memory!

    • Oh, I had never even looked at my stories that way. But you are right, I am fortunate that some of my most precious bookish memories involve my family. My mom had quite a reputation at my school… 🙂

  6. You have some wonderful book memories. My main book memory is my father reading The Hobbit to me each night when I was about 5 years old. Then when I was about 7 years old I decided to read it for myself. I got on with the language rather well. The problem was the fact that I found out the orc king got his head chopped off and that giant spiders try to eat poor Bilbo. Turns out my father very artfully read round those bits, because as he explained he did want me to actually sleep!

  7. Wonderful post, TJ. I really enjoyed hearing about your reading memories. Love your Don Quixote story, I can just imagine the scene playing out in my mind.

    One of my earliest reading memories is associated with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, a novel I read as a young girl. My mother gave it to me one Friday morning and I’d finished it by the end of the day. I think I spent the whole of the rest of the weekend pestering my parents for the next book in the series, Prince Caspian. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.

    Your post also reminds me that I have a Cees Nooteboom on the shelf. I’ve yet to read him but keep seeing his books reviewed so enthusiastically. I must try to get to it soon.

    • Your CS Lewis story is precious! It is so wonderful to remember how enthusiastic we were about some books when we were kids. Writing about Cees Nooteboom has reminded me that I should re-read one of his books. They are small, but great.

  8. This is awesome! I had to laugh that your teacher didn’t believe you’d read a classic over the summer. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that parent-teacher chat! And that Persuasion story! So perfect.

    We’ve read a lot of the same books! I didn’t like The Paris Wife though – I think because Hemingway treated his wife so poorly and she kind of just took it. Reading that book basically guaranteed that I would never read any of his work.

    I’m curious about In the Dutch Mountains now…

    • My mom had quite a reputation at my school! While it embarrassed me a little at the time, I now really appreciate that she stood up for me like that. I liked that we had both such a wonderful story to go with The Poisonwood Bible. I can see how The Paris Wife might turn you off Hemingway. I really struggle with his books, although I have to say that The Old Man and the Sea wasn’t bad.

      • I still can’t imagine ever reading his work. You brought up a valid point about the ability to like the work of an artist you don’t like. I’ve thought about this often, mostly in regards to Woody Allen…

  9. What a truly wonderful post, TJ. I loved reading about all these wonderful books you mentioned, some of which I read – The Poisonwood Bible, such a great, amazing story, some of which I want to read – The Devil in the White City, and some of which I have given up on – Don Quixote.
    I also cried reading The Book Thief, it’s one of my favorite books.

    Bookish memories, I have a few but this one stands out: I was in a taxi coming home the day I bought a Stephen King book and a motorcycle smashed right into the side I was on. I was shocked and the first thought that crossed my mind was that I had paid for King’s book with a fright. Very fitting if you ask me.

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