Those old, familiar friends…
On average, I’d guess that I tend to read anywhere from ten to twenty books a year. Not a bad number, by any means. But the other day I got to thinking about all the books I’ve read. I mean, the total must be in the thousands, but out of that number, only about a hundred or so really stick in my mind. You know the ones I’m talking about: the stories that resonated in your memory for days afterward, that changed the way you thought or felt about something, the ones that you had to go back to and read again, and again.
I still have a few favorites that I go back to when the mood strikes me, books that still resonate with me after repeated readings. One of the first books I ever read on my own was Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. As a kid, the poems seemed borderline adult, so there was a sense of doing something wrong while reading them. I mean, poems about eating boogers and eating babies and hugging (gross!) were not what a six or seven-year old should be reading, right?
Shel was able to make me laugh, make me think, make me dream…and I still read that book every so often. It reminds me of the wonder of being a child and the power of imagination.
A few other early reads that I can’t shake are The Hobbit and Siddhartha. Obviously, The Hobbit was the first fantasy book I ever read, and it set the tone for the majority of my later readings (including the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Middle-Earth is embedded in my imagination, the Shire, Mirkwood, Smaug…it’s still as clear as day, and I bet I could draw a map of Bilbo’s journey from memory.
Siddhartha, on the other hand, was the first grown-up novel I read. Believe it or not, but I read this book when I was ten years old. I won’t claim to have understood all the themes, but the story of the Buddha’s awakening was fascinating to me, and was the catalyst for my questioning of everything spiritual. I read the book several more times through high school, but it was in my mid-twenties that the story finally hit home for me. I think I somehow knew there was more to the story and that I just wasn’t getting it, so I kept coming back to those (now) yellowed pages. Buddhist philosophy changed how I see the world, how I embrace life, how I deal with tragedy. It was a game changer that I continue to read on a fairly regular basis.
There are other books and stories that have touched or inspired me, of course, but far too many to name them all here. However, a few that bear mentioning are: Night Shift (King), The Wind from the Sun (Clarke), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig), The Nose (Gogol), Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Poe), At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels (Lovecraft), Catch-22 (Heller), Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut), 1984 (Orwell), Leaves of Grass (Whitman), and Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury).
Again, this is only a few…and it sometimes amazes me that I’m able to read anything new when I still go back to these old friends. Yes, even though I know how the story (or stories) end, it’s the magic of the prose that brings me back time and time again.