Postcards from the Margins: Books that Live with Me

My sister invited me to list (List? Seriously, just list?) ten books that have “stuck” with me in my reading life. While I appreciate the simplicity of a list I opted for the annotated (and illustrated) collection below, including how long these beauties have lived with me.

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner (50+ years)
This book kidnapped me into a life-long love of fiction. I was thrilled by the notion of four young siblings living on their own. Details like how they kept milk cold in nearby stream have stayed with me through half a century. I read one sequel; it was so bad compared to the original I never read another.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (45+ years)
I suppose I should remember its more spiritual aspects and I do, to some degree, but what stays with me about this book, which I read when I was 12 or 13, is how I wanted a boyfriend like Calvin. I wasn’t destined to have a boyfriend  for six more years, but the standard was set (and I married him).

Unknown-4To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (~40 years)
I owe this book an ushering into adulthood. Racism, rape, injustice, mental illness, cruelty–of course, I knew of them but now I saw them up close. Plus, (OK, there’s a theme here) I had a huge Atticus crush. Who doesn’t love that scene where he shoots the rabid dog?

Unknown-5The Plague, by Albert Camus (~40 years)
Enter my atheistic/existential phase (and also my first career in health care.) Sartre’s nihilism never did it for me; I needed what I saw as Camus’s “we make our own meaning in life” approach. I’ve kept it, too, imagining theism back into the picture only recently.


Winds of War, (plus everything else) by Herman Wouk (30+ years)
Every piece of history I’ve learned, I’ve learned better in story. Winds of War taught me about WWII via the “multi-generational family saga” that is often attempted but rarely executed as well as here and in War and Remembrance.


Dune, by Frank Herbert (30+ years)
I’m not much of a sci-fi/fantasy fan, but my husband (and the Hugo and Nebula Awards) direct me to the best. Dune is great fiction, period. It creates a fully and uniquely imagined world that is consistent and logical. When I read it I started to see the possibilities of fiction.

Unknown-8And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hoover Santmeyer (30+ years)
This choice was my ignominious secret…until last month, when I read Steven King lauding it in On Writing! Lesson learned: never be ashamed of a book you love. The image of children and dogs free to safely roam anywhere in a world without cars has stayed with me throughout the years.

Unknown-9The Love Hunter, and many other titles, by Jon Hassler (20+ years)
Jon Hassler was my first exposure to the abundance of fine fiction writers and writing based in beautiful, writer-friendly Minnesota. That his stories often included main characters who were priests and nuns, that they went so boldly to places in the heart–maybe all of this gave me permission to do the same.

Unknown-10Beloved, by Toni Morrison (20+ years)
I’ve tried to find the book covers I remember for each of these 10 “stuck with me” books, but this is the exception. I chose it because this Beloved image/notion will always haunt me: Is it possible for a mother to love her children too much? The other piece that stays: in fiction, ghosts can speak along with everyone else.


Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and every other title by Anne Tyler (20+ yrs)
There’s a scene in one of Anne Tyler’s books where a woman looks out a hospital window onto the entrance to the ER, and thinks of all the effort and earnestness that goes into our trying to save each others’ lives. It’s beautiful, and scenes like this and about 100 other/title have had me in Anne Tyler’s thrall from word one.

Good ending. Thanks for reading.


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