Friday, August 25, 2017

Books About Books

Product DetailsNothing gives more pleasure to deep readers than books about books and their effect on readers. Two lovely such memoirs about literature kept me sane over the past couple of weeks. Ann Hood's "Morningstar, Growing Up with Books," is the more down to earth of the two, informed by her blue collar, Italian-American roots growing up in the Rhode Island mill town of West Warwick. All she ever wanted to do was to get away.

Ann was the family nerd, the little girl with glasses who asked too many questions, learned to read without being taught, and whose life changed when the first public library opened in town when she was ten. Breezing past the children's section, not even deigning to glance in its direction, she filled her arms with Peyton Place, The Blackboard Jungle, Valley of the Dolls, and In Cold Blood. As a librarian, I can't help but be overjoyed at the kind of customer she was. As a woman, I can't help but love the warm, honest, seeker that she's become.

Each of the ten chapters in this little gem represents a life lesson that she learned from a book. "How to Dream," (Marjorie Morningstar), "How to Ask Why," (Johnny Got His Gun), or my favorite, "How to Fall in Love with Language," (Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows), take Hood back to the place and time where she read a particular book. Her memories and observations are deeply personal yet somehow universal.

The same can be said of the more erudite but no less enchanting "Books for Living" by Will Schwalbe, the author whose lovely debut "The End of Your Life Bookclub" spoke to the loving relationship he had with his mother and the poignant time they spent together discussing their favorite books while she was dying from pancreatic cancer. I love how he describes their reading as "whimsical, casual, and promiscuous."

Product DetailsEducated in swank private schools, well-traveled, Manhattan denizen, Schwalbe still writes with the same passion and open heart as Ms. Hood. Using a similar format, Schwalbe begins each chapter with the title of a book and the life lesson he gleaned from it. Classics like "The Little Prince" (Finding Friends), "Giovanni's Room" (Connecting), "Death Be Not Proud" (Praying), or "David Copperfield" (Remembering) share equal space with the children's book "Wonder" (Choosing Kindness), and the popular thriller "The Girl on the Train" (Trusting).

He rhapsodizes over Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," (how is it I haven't read this one yet?) and introduces Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living" which sounds like an absolute "must own" book that touts the joys of slowing down and enjoying life's simple pleasures. All the while he reminisces, as Hood does, about where he was and what he was doing when these books came into his orbit.

Both Ann Hood and Will Schwalbe are a joy to spend time with. While you're reading it would be wise to keep a notebook handy because you're going to have your reading cut out for you when you finish. I've just placed about ten holds with our local library! Lesson learned? Calm down and read on!


Paul Woodside said...

I'll add these both to my list! I'm convinced that if I live to 100, I'll still never get to the end of the list!!

Sallyb said...

You're so right! There are so many new books coming out each day and we haven't even read all the old ones yet. How does your list look for this year? Your trip must have set you back some.

Paul Woodside said...

Yes, it did. And we have another trip at the end of September...another wedding in Poughkeepsie on 10/7...our nephew, brother of the bride of the wedding in July! We're going to visit Montreal, Quebec City, Maine, Vermont, and wind our way to the wedding. Should see some fall color. Maybe I should try to find Three Pines?? I'm at 110 books for the year!