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Radio Smart Talk for Friday, October 5:
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 www.jonosbookreviews.com.
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!"
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.
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.
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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