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.