Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Radio Smart Talk: Favorite books?

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Oct 4, 2012 3:14 PM

Radio Smart Talk for Friday, October 5:

"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."

Paul Sweeney


We all have favorite books.  Books we've read that stay with us for the rest of our lives -- the ones we enjoyed so much that the books actually had an impact on how we think or look at something.

On Friday's Radio Smart Talk, we'll discuss those books and why they've become such a large part of our lives.

Joining us will be Catherine Lawrence -- a writer and historian, who also is one of the owners of the MidTown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and blogger Jon Walker, who writes book reviews at

Both guests have listed their favorites, will provide a brief synopsis, and explain why the books on their lists are so important to them.

We would like to hear from you as well.  What are you favorite books and why?  Tell us in the comment section below.

Listen to the program:

See Catherine Lawrence's list:

#1 Novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is hard for a tried-and-true Jane-Austen lover like me to admit, but Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre wins out. It's romantic, radical in its early feminism, challenging in its social critiques, and has given me some of my most essential "mental furniture." "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day..." (the opening line) - so I say to myself on any stormy fall afternoon. Our heroine on gender inequality: "Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex." Offering a profound challenge to class disparities and religious conventions: "Do you think I am an automaton? -- a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -- I have as much soul as you -- and full as much heart!"

#1 History
Citizens: A Cultural History of the French Revolution by Simon Schama.
An art and cultural historian reinterprets the political dramas behind the French Revolution, from the inspiring calls for liberty to the tragedies of the guillotine, through the paintings, stories, popular celebrations, civic activism, and political terror that gave birth to Modern Europe.

#1 Nature Writing
John Elder, Reading the Mountains of Home
A year-long series of hikes through the Vermont woods with (U.S. Poet Laureate) Robert Frost in hand and Henry David Thoreau invoked in spirit. A memorable collection of essays, part nature-writing & part literary-reflection, that will make you want to get out and walk, specifically to hike our own region's Appalachian, river, and woodland trails, with your favorite book of poetry in hand!
Here's a recent video interview & news story about the author from Burlington Free Press:

#1 Short Story Collection
Library of America edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tales and Sketches. One of the first books I bought after graduating from college, during a year I spent living in Salem, Massachusetts, and working at a historical society a few blocks away from the actual House of Seven Gables.
...making you rethink the power of old newspapers and old houses to tell us stories about the past. A nostalgic cast to history. As short stories / character sketches / musings and reflections, it's much more accessible even than standard fare like The Scarlett Letter. And great to have on hand when travelling around New England.

#1 book of Poetry
Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King (subject of my senior thesis)
Well, I can't avoid invoking British Literature again. Moving epic poetry, a dramatic story, and arguably the essential text on chivalry in the Victorian age, by the British Poet Laureate.

#1 Play
Pace to Shakespeare, but I must choose George Bernard Shaw - transformative playwright, social activist, cultural critic - and, anti-romantic though it is, Pygmalion has to be the perennial favorite, because who can't admire Eliza Doolittle's transformation from flower girl to independent businesswoman.

#1 Biography
Transforming my understanding of education in the midst of poverty & the possibilities for and impediments to multifaceted social change, as exemplified by the Harlem Children's Zone.
The biography of Geoffrey Canada: Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest To Change Harlem and America

#1 book of Essays
Transforming how I think about travel, and place, and becoming a part of places and cultures when you visit them.
Alice Steinbach's Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman
My most beach-worn (sand flecked, water-spotted, sun-bleached) book is an autographed paperback edition of this book - a superior nonfiction travel memoir by a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the Baltimore SUN whose world-travels take the form of month-long travel-experiences - a great way to read about the wider world, and re-think how you travel. She doesn't simply visit Paris but signs up for a cooking-class at the Ritz Carlton hotel with real chefs-in-training. She doesn't simply wander through Italian streets but takes an art-history course at a Florence institute. She's not at all an ordinary tourist in Japan; instead she finds a mentor who instructs her in how to be a geisha, most memorably learning how to pour tea in an elaborate ceremony. She doesn't just trek in the Scottish highlands but learns how to command sheep-dogs, a seriously competitive sport in the UK. And of course she learns much about herself in the process.

#1 religious book
Transforming how you think about Biblical texts:
African-American minister Peter J Gomes, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living / also the author of earlier NYTimes bestseller The Good Book. Rev. Gomes recently passed away but his ability to see new-news of great contemporary relevance in the Old and New Testaments remains an eloquent and powerful call to put faith in action.

# 1 book of political science
Transforming how we think of globalization:
Before there was HALF THE SKY there was Power Politics (2002) by Arundhati Roy, a Booker-Prize winning novelist (for The God of Small Things). This is a slim, eloquent volume of powerful essays by a "writer-activist" whom the NYTimes has called "India's most impassioned critic of globalization." It covers topics as diverse the privatization of energy companies, and the construction of monumental dams, and the international war on terror post Sept. 11th.

See Jon Walker's list:

1. Absalom, Absalom!, by William Faulkner
Okay, I said no particular order, but if I had to pick a single all time favorite, this would be it. Faulkner's my favorite author, and this is my favorite Faulkner. A big part of the reason why I love this book so much is due to the time and place I first read it: hitchhiking across America with my good buddy Reno. (See my July 14 post)

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
This novel is the journey of self discovery for all America. My dad gave me an abridged version of the book when I was small because it was one of his all time favorite novels. I read the real deal in college and can remember laughing out loud in the library stacks. During the final exam I wrote the essay about the relationship between Huck and Jim the runaway slave entirely in Jim's dialect. Thankfully, the professor was an open minded Don. Gave me one of my rare A's!!

3. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White.
This is the first "real book" I can remember reading cover to cover as a young boy and it established my lifelong literary habit. Fern, Wilbur, Charlotte and Templeton are characters still so vividly recalled. The story taught me about friendship and loyalty and prepared my young mind for the hard truths about mortality. It made me laugh, and boy did it ever make me cry!

4. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Like so many others, I was forced to read this book in high school and am so glad for it. It put me in touch with my "inner beast" which was as alarming as it was eye-opening. Golding provides a lesson important to all young people in their formative years: in order to slay your inner demons you must first come to know them. (See my April 28 post)

5. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I read this book for fun while in college. It really got my wheels turning about the big moral questions, existentialism, Christianity, pride and redemption. It also established a life-long pattern (for better and more often than not for worse) of getting some of my best work done while avoiding the pile of work that MUST be done. You could say in a not so indirect way that Crime and Punishment is the whole reason for this nutty book blog of mine!

6. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
I've read this book so recently it is placed among the Top Ten very cautiously. It's a beautifully written, entirely life affirming story all told through the mind of a man drifting in and out of consciousness on his death bed. (See my January 6 post) We'll have to see if it continues to impress a couple of years from now. It could very well be the book that becomes one of the key guides for this latest stage of my life with my career winding down and with two grandchildren - sort of like what Charlotte's Web was to my childhood, Lord of the Flies and Huck Finn were to my adolescence, Crime and Punishment and Absalom! Absalom! were to my young adulthood and Iron John was to my mid life crisis!

7. Iron John, by Robert Bly A lot of people - and perhaps with some justification - made fun of this book when it hit the scene in the early 1990's. Men were videotaped taking to the woods beating drums with other guys trying to get in touch with their masculinity. Really kooky. I SWEAR I never did any of that, but the book touched me deeply nonetheless - maybe not so much Bly's narrative (which often struck me as incomprehensible) but the original Iron John myth at the book's core. The net effect of absorbing this strange ancient story about the wild man at the bottom of the lake and the golden key to his ultimate freedom hidden beneath the boy's mother's pillow, was to confirm for me that my otherwise-proceeding-okay corporate career just wasn't the life I wanted. So I up and quit. Not the most logical move, but looking back I'd say it was the right one. 8. One Dimensional Man, by Herbert Marcuse Marcuse hated our mass consumer culture here in the USA just as much as he hated the monolithic planned economies in communist countries. He saw both as "one dimensional." He considered our insatiable appetite for consumer goods here in the west as the hook by which we can be pacified and manipulated by politicians and the corporate elite and ultimately trapped in a homogenous "is" dimension of meaningless synthetic needs. This is a dense little tome and I never would have read it had it not been assigned at college, but it spoke straight to my hippie soul. I vowed to lead a life in the "ought" dimension and was doing fine until the winds of fate and the exigency of raising a family brought me to a career in consumer marketing of all things. Go figure. It took Iron John to bump me out - at least partially - and I'm not where I OUGHT to be yet! Oh well, I'll keep on truckin'!

9. The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong
We Americans are pretty nuts about religion whether we're in camp with the born again fundamentalists or taking our cues from sourpuss atheists. Armstrong has a way of cutting the hard heads from each tribe down to size and for putting the whole Big Question into clear perspective. This book, among the others she has written, gave me a place to locate, and provided me with the words to articulate my views. She advocates for a post modern way of thinking that embraces both the ancient myths (Biblical and others) and what they can teach us with all that there is to learn from cutting edge science. I will be forever grateful to this remarkable ex-nun for bridging the conflict between my atheist tendencies and the deeply spiritual musings that add so much richness to my little life here on planet Earth.

10. The Man in the Ice, by Konrad Spindler
This book about the 4,000 year old perfectly preserved corpse found a few years ago in the detritus of a retreating glacier in the Italian Alps was a complete and utter eye opener. Just when I was feeling good and smug about how brilliant we all are these days with our computers, our smartypants Big Bang and Cosmic String theories and the de-coded human genome, along comes Otzi and his ingenious Stone Age implements. This guy knew more about skinning mountain goats and lighting a fire on a misty day than I or any brainiac reading this post will ever know! This book, more than anything else I've ever read helped me to understand the workings of human intelligence, both in terms of its limitations in any given time and place and its eternal and unlimited potential.

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  • Luna img 2012-10-05 06:15

    Since I was a teen, my favorite author has been Tom Robbins - "Skinny Legs and All" and all his others. I adore his playful language and unique philosophy.

    Growing up, dystopian novels such as "The Handmaid's Tale," "Brave New World" and "1984" had a huge effect on my way of seeing the world.

  • psu4peace img 2012-10-05 07:12

    The "Dune" series by Frank Herbert made a profound influence on my love of science fiction and fantasy stories. At heir best, they provide deeply philosophical and allegorical meaning to life -- past, present, and future.
    Currently, the "Game of Thrones" series is my favorite.

  • Linda Lengle img 2012-10-05 07:54

    My favorite book is Far From the Madding Crowd. I have a 70 minute commute to work and it's in my car's DVD player right now. I also love long books, like Harry Potter's 1-7, and Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin books 1 - 21. I also love all Jane Austin, A Tale of Two City's, Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, and Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. And Game of Thrones is in my Kindle now.

  • Dawn L. King img 2012-10-05 08:06

    First, I would like to say that I LOVE the Midtown Scholar. It's one of my favorite places to hang out!

    Now books. I love to cook and all things food. Julia Child is an inspiration, so I love Baking With Julia and Mastering The Art of French Cooking. They both taught me how to cook and appreciate food.

    I'm currently reading Real Food by Nina Planck--which discusses the ravages of industrialized food (i.e. processed, artificial) and the importance in returning to local and traditional food (i.e. pure, unadulterated, unprocessed). It's worth a read, and it will give you another prospective on the food we're eating and how the "health experts" over the last 50 or so years have gotten things wrong.

    • Lindsey img 2012-10-05 09:34

      Real Food is a great book.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:29

    Email From Sarah, Chambersburg, PA

    Good morning!

    I was just having this conversation with my sister this week.
    There are a handful that I know have actually changed me as I read them:

    1. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
    2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (gorgeous text)
    3. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (for its inherent human truths)
    4. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (for its influence on my feminist consciousness as an adult woman)

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:29

    Email From Marcia

    Good Morning,

    May favorite book ever is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. I have read it at least once a year for decades.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:32

    Email From - Mariah

    The book I always go back to is "Hope Was Here" by Joan Bauer. I first heard it when my mom read it to me as part of our home school curriculum, and have read it about once a year ever since. The plot follows the life of a young waitress and seems fairly simple, but as a 17 year old girl myself I find it very easy to identify with, and I glean something new form its pages with each reading.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:33

    Email From Jim

    I'm crazy for historical fiction. My favorite is the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. The first book in the twenty book series is "Master and Commander". It's about a British Naval sea captain during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s and his friend, a physician who is secretly also an intelligence agent. They made a couple of a books into a movie released in 2003. Some have called the Aubrey-Maturin series the best historical fiction ever written and I have to agree. I've read them all through twice. I'm waiting for my memory of them to fade so I can start reading them again.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:33

    Email From Kathy
    For the sheer beauty of language, I've not found a book more riveting than Beryl Markham's memoir, West with the Night. For a novel with psychic power, I vote for Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

    In more contemporary nonfiction, Tracy Kidder's book Strength in What Remains is one of those books that will remain with you for a long time.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:35

    Email From Lee, York

    The book that jumps to my mind is one of the first books I ever read. "The Boxcar Children" is a story about children whose parents die and they find an abandoned box car in the woods to live in and manage to feed themselves, earn money, and generally be on their own. I was enthralled with the fact that they could be self sufficient. I think that a major complaint about the book was that it showed children were not totally dependent upon parents. I can't tell you the number of times I read it and I still have the book.

    More recently, it was "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond which describes how and why the world's civilizations developed as they did.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:38

    Facebook Message from Denise
    Wow! The list is so long! My absolute favorite book ever is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I am 35 and read it every year. My cousin gave me a copy for my 9th birthday and I've loved it ever since. This summer I read it with my 6 year old daughter. Now it's her favorite book too!

  • Cparsons img 2012-10-05 08:40

    Some of my favorites are The Grapes of Wrath, Books by Willa Cather, Anne Tyler, and A Prayer for Owen J Meany and the Bible.

  • jackchambers1 img 2012-10-05 08:41

    I love Washington Irving, but here are a few books that come to mind as I look quickly through my books: David McCullough-John Adams, The Path Betweenthe Seas,Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls-The Old Man & The Sea, Heller's Catch-22, James Clavell Shogun, Shelby Foote The Civil War,Wallter Isaacson-Einstein & Steve Jobs, Haruki Murakami-The Wind up Bird Chronicles, Dickinson' avid Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Robert Pirsig-Zen and the Art opf Motorcycle Maintenance, and the Heiku poets, Issa & Basho, poets Mary Oliver, and Anne Sexton. These are a few that come to mind.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:42

    Email from Marcia

    Good Morning Again,

    I should have mentioned John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and "Smiley's People". The middle book of the trilogy "The Honourable schoolboy" I find to be too depressing. I do re-read these two often.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2012-10-05 08:43

    Email From Carol

    Some of my favorites are books by Willa Cather and Anne Tyler for their simplicity.

  • Tabitha img 2012-10-05 08:56

    The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    We Charge Genocide a petition presented to the United Nations in 1951
    The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
    The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster by Richard Brautigan

  • Lindsey img 2012-10-05 08:59

    Goat Song by Brad Kessler - as the owner of a small herd of dairy goats, I've found them to be amazing creatures. This book puts into words the connection I have with them.

    The Great Gatsby (actually, pretty much all of Fitzgerald's work) - it seems as if each time I read it I find something new but still come away with more questions that need answered.

    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli - I can't quite put my finger on why, but I do love that one!

  • Noel Vera img 2012-10-05 09:07

    Hallo, Scott, Noel again--just to clarify, the book I mentioned was The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. Dick's books have been adapted into movies--Blade Runner, Total Recall--this one is probably one of his best, about the Nazis and Japan winning the war. They split the United States--Germany takes the East Coast and turns it into a police state where Jews and blacks are persecuted. The Japanese takeover the West Coast, and it's a subtler form of oppression--the Japanese are the upper class, but they develop a more environmentally sound society complete with electric cars and cleaner air (you actually feel tempted to live here).

    Craziest thing, one of the characters writes a novel, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy," where Germany loses the war.

  • Robert D Colgan img 2012-10-05 09:24

    "Autobiography Of A Yogi" of those books that reduces materialism to the veneer it is. An amazing book for one of any faith.

    Eric Blair's "1984"----my favorite book. It isn't the greatest book ever written, but it speaks to me about the savagery inflicted by the human political animal on his own kind more than any other book I've read.

    And one of the most powerful books I can recommend is another autobiography, though co-written--- "The Alexander Dolgun Story"...the true life account of an American ensnared in the heartless Soviet gulags for enemies of the State. A real life "1984." (Might not be chick-lit material, unless fearlessness is part of her character)

  • hhb img 2012-10-05 19:11

    THE WHISKEY REBELS by David Liss. As historical fiction goes, I wouldn't say this book is top tier in either scholarship or writing but it strikes an engaging enough balance between the two. And it is a Pennsylvania-centric book with much of the action taking place in Philly and the Alleghenies around Pittsburgh. The story basically sets up a noir-ish detective mystery set during the time of the presidency of George Washington amid the Federalist banking crisis and the Whiskey Rebellion.

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