I always have a book on hand: I’m either reading, about to read, or just finished. This has been my life for the past 50 years. And there are books I have reread, there are books I have never finished, and then there are books I have read once, will never read again, yet have impacted me greatly. I present those to you today.

  1. “Animal Farm” George Orwell. This book blew me away when I read it in 9th grade. “All animals are equal, some are just more equal than others” stands out in my mind as the single greatest quote in literature.
  2. “The Sun Also Rises” Ernest Hemingway. The gorgeous prose, the exquisite portrayal of characters. I considered naming my daughter Brett Ashley….then I chose a plucky Disney heroine name.  Lady Brett was a great character but not sure if it was the right mentor name.
  3. “The Great Gatsby” F. Scott Fitzgerald Another brilliant character reveal. “Her voice is full of money.” How I wish I could write words and ideas like that.
  4. “The Scarlet Letter” Nathanial Hawthorne. Is there a better treatise on hypocrisy other than this book?
  5. “The Bonfire of the Vanities” Tom Wolfe Best book depicting the 80s ever. But I mean the book- not the movie. For the love of God do not ever watch this movie. The worst casting of a movie ever.
  6. “Invisible Man” Ralph Ellison. Nameless, but clearly not forgotten. This book haunted me. Powerful.
  7. “Heart of Darkness” Joseph Conrad “Your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others”. Tell me you haven’t thought that at least once in your life?
  8. “Madame Bovary” Gustave Flaubert No book so clearly defined the ennui which comes from seemingly having it all, yet having nothing.
  9. “Gulliver’s Travels” Jonathan Swift. This book introduced me to the glory of satire in books. Wonderful”.
  10. “mrs. Dalloway” Virginia Woolf  “What does the brain matter compared with the heart.” I wish I had written that line…
  11. “A Home at the End of the World” Michael Cunningham. Friendship, love, and the backdrop of what would become the AIDS crisis. After reading this I knew Cunningham would win a Pulitzer- it, and he, are that good.
  12. “The Shining” Stephen King So terrifying I could not read this book at night. Freaked me out completely. No novel has ever scared me as much as this. Never read King again.
  13. “Life after Life” and “A God in Ruins” Kate Atkinson. I still do not completely get these books. I get the broad strokes, I even get the smaller strokes, but no two books have ever left me completely with my mouth open. These books made me think way more than most.

Now your turn: which books just wowed you when you read them, but never needed to read again? Which books answered your questions, or got you thinking, or whatever?

 

56 thoughts on “One and Done

  1. Heart of Darkness was the subject of my senior thesis. I used to know it inside and out, but will never read it again. You learn too much about something, you leave it alone forever. Ain’t education great!

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  2. In reading over your list, I realize I need to read more. 🙂 Just give me till my kids are a little more able, I suppose.

    One of the most impactful for me was Anthem, by Ayn Rand. That was my blow-me-away book.

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  3. Apparently, as I reflect on your question, I have either never read anything that has knocked me over or I just can’t remember how knocked out I might have been at the time! I’m sure there must have been at least one book that made me pause, but I fear it will remain a mystery…
    While not a “wow” book, I did recently read Educated by Tara Westover. That brought about some interesting conversations and contemplation. It actually sparked a co-worker to reveal that she could easily have been the author of that book. Her life mirrored Westover almost exactly.

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    1. I read that recently for book club. I have so many thoughts on that book, and it created quite a stir in my book club. I actually liked it better than I thought I would, but went in with very low expectations. I can’t help but question books like this though. That’s the pessimist in me though.

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      1. I get that pessimism. I was stunned by much of what she wrote, and found myself feeling baffled and questioning.
        Hearing my coworker describe her life though, and how much of her family continues to live that life…and her ability to leave it behind…pretty interesting.

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  4. I read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin a couple of years ago and it was just too moving and powerful for me to write my thoughts about it on my blog. I just gave it 5 stars on book sites and left it at that. It was about a white man who chemically altered his skin to see what it would be like to live as a black man in the Deep South. His experience was astounding and left me speechless.

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  5. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Night by Elie Wiesel, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens… Those are the first few I can think of, but for the most part I’m actually open to rereading books. I think I’ve read The Great Gatsby three times, though I still don’t understand the appeal.

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    1. You share many of same faves as my daughter, Anna the only one of those not on her hit list cause she hasn’t read it yet. Invisible man was just….incredible

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  6. This was so beautifully written. Your ability to pull the essence of each book was excellent! Not everyone has the talent to extract, internalize, and keep parts of each piece of literature and allow it to mingle with your very soul. I found your blog quite moving. My comments about my own choice of books will come later as I don’t have time to write my thoughts at the moment. But, I’ll be back… I will have to think on this a while….

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  7. When I was growing up, I used to reread Somerset Maugham’s books. My parents had a wonderful book shelf full of the classics. As I get older, I usually have my kindle nearby and I like to try new writers. I wish I had known when I went to the UAE that I could borrow library books and then return them electronically. I am not sure this existed in 2010 but I love this feature. I like anything by Truman Capote and Lisa Unger who lives nearby in Clearwater.

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  8. After several minutes to contemplate books that affected my life, after reading your excellent blog, I suddenly found myself bombarded with a plethora of novels swimming around my brain. What I discovered was, that they could actually be categorized into groups and years. Each and every piece of literature truly affected my life, help mold me into who I became, as a teacher, and a writer, and stayed with me for a lifetime. Some I reread and referred to many times over the years. Others, once was enough, yet their powerful imagery left an impact on my very soul.

    The first category is, of course, my favorite childhood novels. Books filled with strong female protagonists. Girls and women who shaped me into the person I grew up to be. That would include, and listed in order of when I read them in childhood, “Little Women”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Gone With The Wind”. All wonderful books with heroines who were magnificent and reminded me of myself and who I wanted to become.. To this day Elizabeth Bennett is my favorite literary character. Next would be The Diary of Anne Frank. I read that book when I was the same age as Anne and wept afterwards. Being a little Jewish girl of 12 I couldn’t imagine how Anne remained so positive and hopeful under such dire circumstances and it was the first time I became aware of real prejudice and hatred. I couldn’t comprehend adults who could despise a child just because of her faith. I still don’t understand that concept.
    My first year in college I played the Anne in a stage performance of the book. The play ended with Anne (moi) center stage with the spotlight on her as she innocently stated that she felt people were basically good. In the distance you could hear the sound of sirens and I (as Anne), was dragged off stage by the Gestapo as the lights went down. My screams and their boots, as well as prejudice slurs could be heard off stage as the audience gasped. In my mind, on some restless nights, I still replay that last scene in my head. For a moment in time it was as if I channeled Anne as I spoke her actual words. At the end of each performance I felt as if I briefly experienced the terror she must have felt. That book changed my life forever, and was one I recommended to my students when I taught 5th grade.

    During my middle school years there was the brilliant “Wuthering Heights”, which I read in one evening during Hurricane Donna. As the wind howled outside I clearly saw Katherine Earnshaw knocking on my windowsill and Heathcliff roaming the Moors. It was eerie, terrifying, and romantic in a bizarre sort of way. Heathcliff’s image has stayed in my mind all these years. Brooding, handsome, and always in pain. And there was Romeo and Juliet. “Did my heart love til now?” My favorite play to this very day. And “Gone With The Wind”. Scarlet O’Hara was a character I will never forget. My mother used to call me Scarlett when she was angry with me and after reading the novel I was at first annoyed that I had been likened to such a vain self-centered creature. However, as I read further, I began to admire her for her courage and ability to survive a war. To take charge and save her family and her land. She was the ultimate heroine! Feisty, beautiful, strong, and while often times misdirected and indeed vain, she was captivating, smart, and fearless.
    In high school I was enthralled with the Devil and Daniel Webster, and The Scarlet Letter. I so wanted Hester Prynne to speak out and reveal the father of her child. And I hated the injustice of those who condemned her. Years later, as a divorced mother in the mid 1970’s I felt as if I too walked around with a scarlet letter D upon my chest. People whispered behind my back and I was turned down for two teaching jobs simply because my marital status was listed as divorced. I realized then the similarities in hypocrisy and how little society had learned in several hundred years. That book was brilliant.

    My college years led me to “Dante’s Inferno”, Camus’ “The Plague” where imagery flowed liked water and I was surrounded by words that could make me cringe and fascinate me in the same instance. I never reread either book but used them both as references for papers I wrote in the future. The vividness of Dante and Camus literally made me taste the horror and allowed me to become a good writing teacher. They showed me how sensory imagery could be used as a tool to help students develop excellence in developing an expressive vocabulary. Both were books that shaped my career.

    Somewhere in between all these great classics I read Conan Doyle and became addicted to everything Sherlock Holmes. It began with “A Study in Scarlet” and I have since read every Holmes adventure ever written. I collect Holmes paraphernalia and am an avid trivia fan. I was also hooked on Agatha Christie”s mysteries and was and still am devoted to Poirot, Miss Marple and all of Agatha’s other stories. I could reread those and watch British productions a million times and never tire of her detectives. Doyle and Christie brought them to life for me.

    There are so many more novels, plays, stories that deeply affected my life. But these are a few of my favorites. I often quoted an example as I taught for almost 4 decades, using references to motivate and help my students understand the brilliance of excellent writing.
    A good book can change the world, one person at a time. Thanks for making me think this morning!!!

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    1. Isn’t it amazing how certain books just become a part of us? Your list is amazing and I sat here nodding in agreement. Anne Frank….incredible!! But books have the power to make us feel like we’re not alone, that someone has had the same thoughts, has done the same things as we have. Thank you for amazing thoughts!

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      1. Oh, I can’t believe I left out ‘Plato’s Republic”. I read it as a junior in high school. That and Milton’s “Paradise Lost” were two that have followed me spiritually and intellectually and have shaped my views on mankind and the afterlife. Plato’s recounting Socrates’ view of souls becoming enlightened and being reborn to evolve to a higher plane, deeply affected me. After just having read Anne Frank right before Plato, that book made me think she didn’t die in vain and would get another chance at life. I’ve kept that possibility with me since I discovered Plato! How wonderful it is that we can read the thoughts of ancient philosophers and their ideas can touch our hearts centuries later! Amazing!

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  9. I am like you, always a book in my hand! So many books, that I need to think a little about what ones I want to list, I will be back! 🙂 I will say though that I never read a Stephen King book and never plan on it. 🙂 I am not saying that he isn’t a brilliant writer, but heck I get scared of my own shadow. LOL!

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  10. Watership Down. Love that one…struggling to survive in the hierarchy that is society and finding your own peace and own home.
    Also, IT by Stephen King Scared the bajeepers out of me…I would see that clown everywhere after I read it!

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  11. The first book that moved me was The Catcher in the Rye. I lived in a sheltered environment and to find out that there are people who lived a different life was eye opening. The fact that my freshman english teacher had to smuggle it to me with a paper bag cover because it was on the banned book list added to the mystic. I will always be grateful to that teacher for encouraging me to find what was beyond the familiar. The world can be an amazing place.

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  12. I’m going to have to think about this. Pet Sematary scared the crap out of me, as did Cujo. Never reading those again.
    A Tale of Two Cities, Dr. Zhivago, Pillars of the Earth, Pride and Prejudice, Reign of Gold, A Hundred Years of Solitude.

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  13. I can remember reading Stephen King and closing my eyes to shut out the images, having forgotten I was reading a book and not watching a movie! That man can generate some imagery. “Cujo” is great, but too sad to read again. I felt so bad for the dog, loved seeing things from his perspective. And “Thinner”, a short story or novella that he wrote, really stuck with me. For Micheal Cunningham I loved “The Hours” but haven’t read anything else of his. I’ll add “A Home at the End of the World” to my list.

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    1. That’s exactly it about Stephen King…the word pictures!! You truly feel like you’re trapped, or stalked or hunted!! Creeps me out. Love Michael Cunningham!

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  14. At last I have my list for you. 🙂

    I have to admit that “The Scarlet Letter” is one book that I just couldn’t make it through and I really tried, for I hate to stop reading books! Apparently I missed something!

    “The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway is a book that I am glad I read, I did see the meaning in his story, but it didn’t hit me right away and with some of it I was shaking my head.

    “Wuthering Heights” is another one that I couldn’t read again, but am very glad that I read it.

    “Pride and Prejudice” I greatly enjoyed!

    “The Lord of the Rings” series! Awesome books and if there weren’t so many other books that I want to read, I could see myself re-reading these books.

    “The Shack” by William Paul Young is a book that I have re-read and loved it all over again. I know it can be a controversial book and people have taken different meanings from it, but for me, I love the deep meanings woven into it.

    “Anne of Green Gables” series. yes, this takes me back to my younger years, but its a classic and I still love Anne with an E!

    “The Prophet” by Kibral Gihran Loved it and will re-read for it is compiled of deep poetic essays and I think there are meanings that I could have missed the first time that I will get if I read the second time.

    Any book by Jodi Picoult! Love her books! Some more than others, but none yet that I haven’t liked.

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” – a definite classic!

    Books by Richard Paul Evans – Once again, haven’t read a book yet by him that I don’t like. Fiction with deep meanings interwoven through the stories.

    And the list just keeps going, but don’t want to write a book here. LOL! 🙂

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    1. Awesome list! My friend was telling me yesterday what an impact Anne of the Green Gables has in her! Great great book! My daughter is a huge to kill a mockingbird fan….she thinks every character is so memorable that you can’t help but feel haunted by it!! Thank you!!💗💗💗💗💗

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  15. Most Hemingway books are like that for me, maybe it’s his pared down style of writing. still enjoyable. Gatsby, huh. My all time favorite. There are lines and passages in there that are timeless, as is the story. I’ve read it several ties and never tire of his words. Sorry, that’s not what this post was about..:)

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