The Books That Mattered

by on April 24th, 2013
The Books That Mattered Cover Image

One could argue, in a very wide sense, that all books matter. Or rather, the idea of books and what they are, what they mean, makes them all matter. You know? In a real sense, though, not all of them matter as much as others, both objectively and subjectively. I won’t go into details about that, though (no need to thank me, fans of  Nicholas Sparks).

Frye Gaillard has written a lovely book titled The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir. He speaks of books that have had a profound effect on him and his life, for reasons too numerous and important to go into here; his explanations are wonderful little stories in themselves, and convey the meanings and relations of these books to him in a way I cannot. Sometimes the book itself, and the story it contains, is the essence; other times, it’s a moment or part of his life that has some connection to a book that makes it indelible in his memory. Each chapter tells you something about Mr. Gaillard, something about the books he’s read, and something about the importance of books in general, and in the lives of the people who read them.

One wonderful thing about a book like this is it prompts me to recall the books in my own reading history that have mattered most; I imagine that many of us would do the same. I could never be as eloquent in my explanation of why those books matter, but here are a few titles that come immediately to my mind:

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, because it was the first book I can recall reading that had a main character who dies, and I distinctly remember crying when I got to that part…I was shocked and saddened, and surprised (disappointed? hurt?)  to read a book that seemed very, very real.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, because it was so cool, so unlike my own life, and it was even better than the movie that I loved so much. I wrote several book reports on this book, re-reading it every year, and I’d be a little mortified to go back and read them. Also–this book encouraged me to read Robert Frost, and I’d like to think that Ms. Hinton is responsible for others doing the same thing.

Atonement by Ian McEwan…I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my husband and I have had more than one major argument over this book, and it is simply–in my opinion–one of the best reminders of the power of the written word.

So, dear reader(s), please chime in with some of the books that have mattered most to you…

14 Responses to “The Books That Mattered”

  1. Adam says:

    The World of Pooh, by A.A. Milne. This was the book my parents read to me as a little kid (I still own that tattered copy), but it was re-reading it as an adult that hooked me. I (re)discovered it as an allegory for the human flaws that get in the way: my anxiety makes me Piglet, my vanity pulls me toward Rabbit; I pendulum between manic Tigger and depressive Eeyore, all while striving for the zen-simplicity of Pooh.

  2. Candice says:

    And sometimes, a man and his tabby cat are a bit like a boy and his bear, wouldn’t you say?

  3. Kara says:

    There are so many books that mattered to me! When I think about memorable books, I am often not only reacting to the book but also the place and time it takes me back to. My forever-friend recommended “Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth” by E.L. Konigsburg when we were in the first or second grade, and that led me to “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by the same author … and that led me to an adventure in New York City and a memorable visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These books, and Betsy Byars’ “Summer of the Swans” and Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” take me back to my favorite tree at my childhood home. Whether reading in it or under it, there were many happy hours spent there. Often there was a tabby cat in or under the tree as well … and a stuffed Eeyore used as a pillow 🙂

  4. Candice says:

    A Wrinkle In Time…it made me feel so smart! I read it on the front step over spring break one year. I love the connections we make between reading certain books and time/place, it’s very strong.

  5. Lisa says:

    I would agree that The Bridge to Terabithia is a book that I will never forget how it made me feel. I read it when I was in middle school and loved it , read it again in college and yet again as an adult. I still love it.

    I have to admit that as a mom of two teens, I love books like Hunger Games. The three of us read them and discuss them. It’s like having a book club with my kids!

  6. Courtenay says:

    Charlotte’s Web. Grandpa Arthur Bouvier read it to me when I was wee, and then Dad read it to me again when I was less wee, and then I read it on my own. EB White’s perfect words & Charlotte’s wisdom & altruism have inspired me as a writer and a person. Perhaps it’s odd to admit that a spider is my role model, but there it is.
    Oh, and Candice: the perfect pizza is in New Haven. I’ll take you there if you’d like….

  7. chris says:

    The River Why–David James Duncan. Seemed like the Catcher in the Rye of my generation.

  8. Carrie says:

    A friend of mine swears that we are changed by the places we travel to, the people we meet, and the books we read. One book has had the most profound influence on me, I think: Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorthea Warren Fox. It’s a picture book I read over and over as a kid, about an independent, eccentric old woman that lived in a tree house, and “She did what she liked and she liked what she did, but when company came, Miss Twiggley hid.” I identified with her then, and I think I kind of turned out more than a little like her in the end. In spite of her shyness, she ends up opening her home the whole town because ” When emergencies come, you don’t think about you. You help all you can. And you never ask why. The the first think you know, you forget to be shy.” I live in a second story apartment, not a tree, but people are always coming by when a crisis or transition is happening, and I am happy to have them.

  9. Carrie says:

    Sorry about the typos. I’m running late for work. 🙂

  10. Candice says:

    Carrie! I love picking books to read when traveling, and I have a great fondness for The Perfect Storm because of reading it on that trip with you–all of us on that trip read it, I think! I’m sending you a book for your birthday–it’s no Nights In Rodanthe, but I think you’ll like it. And, it would be okay with me if you DID live in a tree.

  11. Nick says:

    The Phantom Tollbooth still haunts me. I can’t wait to read it to my son. A great book for children who might feel lonely or isolated, especially if they’ve just moved to a new place.

  12. Leah says:

    What a great topic, Candice! When I reflect upon the books that really stood out for me during childhood–and that shaped my love for reading and my passion for stories–I must mention: “Harriet the Spy,” “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” “The Hobbit,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and the “Betsy, Tacy” books (which were my mother’s childhood favorites, too). Luckily, I get to kindle those same fires in my kids now. I have read, with my eight-year-old daughter, almost all of those books again, and I have loved every moment of it!

  13. Evan says:

    Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”, was a mind blowing, perspective changing book, for me personally. Although, I wouldn’t classify it with other favorites of mine, like “A heart breaking work of staggering genius”, or last but not least “Game of Thrones”!

  14. Bond says:

    For me it was a book called “The Girl Who Owned a City” by OT Nelson. It was the perfect book for the age when I was questioning whether adults really did know everything. This book did “kids surviving in a post-apocalyptic earth” way before the current trend. A very empowering read (with a clever girl as the main character, too!)

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