Friday, September 17, 2010

Pete's Picks

I recently added a new side panel to the blog. Over there on your right you’ll see a section entitled “Pete’s Picks”. What I wanted to do was to let readers know about different books that I’ve read over the years that have had a major impact on what I read, how I read and how I think about books and other written works that have stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

As the title states these are “Pete’s Picks” and some or all of them may not be your cup of tea. Why this happens to some folks with a specific book and not to others I have no idea. I was once talking to a musician about a particular artist, long dead, who is now seen as the epitome of a specific genre. I said that I had purchased copies of his music and listened diligently to it but and before I could finish the sentence he added “To you it sounded like a dog with it’s hind leg caught in a barbed wire fence, right?” I said “Yeah”. He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, sometimes it does.” So, these titles might not do it for you. All I can say is that at one time or another they did for me. I’m also pretty sure that my age when I came across the book and whatever else was going on in my life probably had an impact on my ability to get something out of whatever I was reading at the time too.

In order to put together this list I decided that I needed a criterion to sift through all that I’ve read. So, I decided to think about all of the books that, for one reason or another, just knocked my socks off. I also decided that I was going to restrict myself to those works that I’ve read at least twice. Now, for many of the books listed I’ve actually read the book way more then twice. There was a run of about ten years when I read Call of the Wild every autumn. Like many other people I’ve read other works by Jack London. And I enjoyed some of them. But none of the others did for me what Call of the Wild did. Some of these works also lead me to other books by the same author. The Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset is the final book in a four part series. I didn’t know it at the time but I read the last book first. The series actually starts with The Axe, flowed by The Snake Pit and In the Wilderness and finishes with The Son Avenger. For me the order that I originally read them in didn’t and doesn’t matter. I can still to this day feel myself getting excited about both The Axe and The Son Avenger.

Now, my criteria also stated that the book had to change the way I thought. What I mean by that is that the work had to change the way I viewed books, reading and writing. The work had to bring something new to the way I viewed the experience of reading. I had to readjust the reading experience to make room for the work I had just finished. For whatever reason the new work had succeeded in making me see the written word in a new way, the work didn’t fit neatly into any of my old parameters. The book had to challenge what I thought I knew about reading and writing. The book had to make me go beyond what I already knew. Two books that did these things for me are One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Beloved by Toni Morrison. I also had to enjoy the experience. I wasn’t about to inflict something that I had to grind through onto someone else.

Do I still read what I consider “fluff”? Of course I do. And I still enjoy it. Who wouldn’t? But every now and then as a reader you come across something that causes you to think, and to think long and hard. And you don’t begrudge the effort to make sense of what you are reading one little bit. The work, the characters or the setting just stays with you. It all works for you. These books have all stayed with me. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be expanding the list. Yesterday, a book came across the circ desk and I immediately remembered the work and I also remember the experience of reading it long, long ago. I then realized that this particular book had stayed with me even though I hadn’t stayed with it. I checked it out on my card. Know what? It’s still pretty good.

See you at the Library,

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