[From the 2009 stabenow.com vaults.]
A while back I was asked to answer the Book Brahmins Questionnaire on Shelf Awareness. Never hard to get me talking about books I love, so I did, and here are their questions and my answers:
On your nightstand now:
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I was raised in Alaska in a coastal village you could only get to by boat or plane, and we didn’t have television, so I lose a lot when playing the Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit. This book is going to change all that. For example, I now know who Sky and his niece Penny are from Jimmy Buffet’s “Pencil Thin Mustache.” It’s like Bryson is holding up a fun house mirror in front of the entire Me Generation. Very funny and at times just a little edgy, too.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Lion’s Paw by Robb White. In WWII Florida, Ben, Penny and Nick run away on a sloop called the Hard-A-Lee, and they’re not coming back until they find a rare shell called a lion’s paw and Ben’s father comes back from the South Pacific. After living five years off and on a fish tender, I was always looking for stories about kids on boats, but this would have been worth reading if I’d been raised in the 13th Arrondissment in Paris, France.
Your top five authors:
Nevil Shute, one of the best story-tellers ever. He is best remembered for On the Beach and A Town Like Alice, but you have not experienced storytelling the way its meant to be until you’ve read Trustee from the Toolroom or Round the Bend.
Betty MacDonald. Known for the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, she also wrote The Egg and I, an hilarious account of a city girl marrying a chicken farmer in the Pacific Northwest in the years between world wars. She wrote three other books about her life, as well as a wonderful little juvenile gem called Nancy and Plum.
Georgette Heyer. Mistakenly labeled a romance author, her books are individual time travel machines straight back to Regency England, and no one has ever written better dialogue.
Robert Heinlein. He invented nuts-and-bolts science fiction and his work has yet to be bettered. His young adult novels are his best work; they’re dated, of course, by science as well as society, but they are still the best in the sf genre.
I’m having trouble with the fifth, mostly because I’m worried you won’t believe me when I say Barbara Tuchman. Probably you’d rather hear me say Jane Austen. Well, I love Jane, too, but. A Distant Mirror was my first Tuchman, in which she writes about the 14th century in Europe using a minor French nobleman’s life as her lens. It was a revelation. I didn’t know learning about history could be this interesting, this riveting, this enjoyable! Why, these are people just like us, although with their tech 700 years out of date, and they’re facing a lot of the same kinds of problems we do. Who knew? Her prose is witty, acerbic, at times even downright exasperated (‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’), and always a delight to read.
Book you’ve faked reading:
This is going to sound oh so precious and I apologize, but I’ve never faked it. I generally do say right out loud in front of God and everybody if I can’t get into a book. I even say so on my Goodreads page.
Book you are an evangelist for:
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. A post-apocolyptic society reinvents itself so as to study war no more. I’m being as obscure as I possibly can because I don’t want to ruin the “Gotcha!” moment for you. I have made book clubs I don’t even belong to read this book, and my science fiction-hating friend Janice now teaches it in her college-level English lit classes. The reactions this story provokes in group settings will surprise you.
Book you’ve bought for the cover:
In my life I have never bought a book for its cover.
Book that changed your life:
The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. She posits the existence of folly, defined as the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest. Freely translated, she explains how and why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She takes the Trojans bringing the horse inside the walls of Troy as her template, and goes on to talk about the Renaissance popes causing the Reformation, England losing the American colonies, and the U.S. losing in Vietnam. When I looked up from the end of this book, I never saw the world, read the news, or listened to the radio in the same way again. To this day I can successfully apply her definition of “folly” to current events.
Favorite line from a book:
“What did I want? I wanted a Roc’s egg…I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Glenn Winklebleck, my freshman English teacher, gave me these books in high school. I was up until 2am and 3am every night, under the proverbial blankets with the proverbial flashlight, until I’d finished them. I reread it every couple of years just so I can read parts of it out loud. God, what fabulous stuff! The work of epic fantasy to which all other fantasy novelists can only dream to aspire.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.