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May 12, 2005



Okay not quite a recommendation, but other than that it totally fits.

A few years back I went on a kick of reading famous children’s books as an adult that I never read as a child. At the time I was plowing through the Little House on a Prairie books. As I read a vivid description of the characters being snow bound in their house due to a blizzard, there was a record blizzard blowing outside.

The description of the storm in the book matched what I heard and saw outside. It was an amazing feeling, because not only did the internal fictional world perfectly mirror the real world outside my window, but I was actively feeling it as I was reading about it.

David Moles

Reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum in lieu of food, on the train from Moscow to Berlin, when I was 17.

Hannah Bowen

Less recent: the at-the-time-new Harry Potter in the Boston airport summer of 2000, coming home from an Outward Bound course. My puddle-jumper out of Maine was delayed and so I missed my flight to Chicago. I had to figure out a new connection on my own and find a new book, because I'd just finished Neuromancer. So I picked up the Harry Potter, curled up in a corner, and read while thinking, "Ha! I can take care of myself."

More recent: Alice Hoffman's Green Angel out on the grass at school, one year ago almost exactly. The book was a gift that I'd been carrying around for weeks, saving it for when I'd needed it most. Rough day, but wonderful weather, and wonderful book.

Matt Cheney

While in Mexico for eight weeks four or five years ago, I read books I knew I would never get to unless they were the only things I had access to in English, so I took Moby Dick and War and Peace and read both with far more pleasure than I would have gotten otherwise, because just the fact that they were in English was a comfort. And now I can honestly say I've read both Moby Dick and War and Peace.


I just finished Margaret George's "Mary Called Magdalene," and read the part about them getting ready for Passover just as I was getting ready for Passover. That seemed kind of fun to me, in a dorky kind of way.


My last semester of college. I was finishing up my English degree, finally getting around to writing my senior thesis paper, supposedly auditing a Dickens class for fun (I did, to my credit, read one of the books over spring break), taking a math class to finish up a math minor (long story), writing stories for my last creative writing class--and generally being completely ignorant of how totally neurotic I should have felt about the coming uncertainties of life in the real world. So, about the usual business of being a student. Many "Hmm, I'm a deep thinker" facial expressions ensued.

I was taking a British Women's Literature class, because I liked the teacher and I liked literature and I liked women, and if I'd known any British people at the time, I'm sure I would have liked them, too. We did some Jane Austen. We did some Virginia Woolf. I kept making deep-thought facial expressions in a room full of undergrads who liked to hear themselves talk. A lot. They verbally expressed where I facially expressed. Still, I felt a little bit alone.

Then we got to The Trick is to Keep Breathing, by Janice Galloway. "Neat," I thought, scrunching up my eyebrows, "this book sometimes puts words in the margins."

Then I started reading it.

Math became illogical. My thesis (about Aurora Leigh, incidentally) became a forgotten pile of binders and a near-empty Word file. Dickens was too heavy to lift and my own fiction was too heavy to write. My brain was exploding and taking with it any ability I had to work the muscles in my face, short of those required to keep my eyes moving. I became very, very depressed, and knew it was a state akin to the divine.

I finished the book well before I needed to. That isn't the sort of thing that ever happens. But it did.

Then I had to go to the class. And listen. As people dissected things. Imposing observations on the impossibly beautiful. As people pushed wind out of their lungs and over their vocal cords with one express purpose: to pick apart, molecule by molecule, the tidal wave that slammed me straight up out of myself and into the shore of something simultaneously huge and intimately personal. A wave I'd felt more than seen.

When the class ended, I walked out of the building, into the next building, and filled out the drop-class form. There were three more periods worth of discussion remaining. The thought made me ill. Everything was about to change--everything had just changed--and the timing couldn't have been more perfect.


Reading Coehlo's _The Alchemist_ on a flight returning home from a job interview. I had completed a job interview out of town, and I was returning to Indiana, home at the time. As I often do, when stuck in an airport waiting or between connections, I go look at its bookstore. This time around I found a small copy of Coehlo's _The Alchemist_. This was an author my mother had recommended, but I never gave it much thought with all the other things I read to pick it up. However, seeing it there, I just felt a need, an urge to pick it up. It looked like a small volume, so it seemed like a good idea to pick something I would be done with by the time the flight was done. I had a two-three hour flight or so ahead of me. I started it as I waited at the gate, and I was totally engrossed in the tale of the young shepherd in search of his dream. I barely heard when they called the flight. I sat down in the plane, and I actually forgot about the crappy service and even narrower seat as I continued to read to see if he would achieve the dream or not. But it was not so much that the book was engaging, which it was. It was the fact that it came to me when it did. I went to library school after leaving a doctoral program in humanities because I fell in love with libraries while working in one. It was as if, for a brief moment, I found myself in that book, chasing my dream as well in spite of the risks. It was in that flight, at that moment, after a fair number of interviews all over much of the U.S., as I needed to know this was the right decision, that this book came along. The book has now become one of my favorites that I will likely re-read. It is a nice fable, well written, and the ending, well, I won't spoil it, but let us say there is life in seeking out your dreams.


While my grandmother was dying in a hospice, she spent as much time asleep as awake. No guarantee when her wakeful hours (or minutes) would be, so we all spent a lot of time at the home in Poulsbo, WA. My dad and I took turns reading TC Boyle's Water Music, a darkly comic intertwined narrative of real-life explorer Mungo Park, and the fictional unlucky bastard, Ned Rise. The book was a good reminder of the absurdity of life as well as the perfect diversion from more somber thoughts.

Gayle Brandeis

This is probably a bit long for a comments posting, but I wrote an essay a while back about a revelatory reading experience, and thought I'd go ahead and share it here:

My first week of college, a strange guy burst into my dorm room.

"Don't mind me," he said. "I graduated last year."

He looked a bit like a gnome, but not in an unpleasant way—more in a bushy-haired, big-impish-faced kind of way. I stared at him, stunned.

"My girlfriend used to live in this room." He sat down next to me on my Indian print bedspread. His thigh bumped into mine. "I just wanted to soak up some of that good sexual energy again."

I jumped off the bed. If he wanted sexual energy from me, he wasn't going to get it. I wanted to tell him to leave, but I couldn't seem to find my voice.

"Don't worry," he said as I sidled toward the door. "I'm not going to try anything."

I sat down on my roommate's bed, safely across the room from him.

"So," he said, "what are you into?" He had one of the biggest mouths I had ever seen.

"Poetry, mostly," I said. My mouth felt dry.

"No way!" He jumped up and sat down next to me on this other bed. I scooched a few feet away. He didn't seem to mind. "I'm a poet, too!"

He rummaged through his khaki messenger bag and pulled out a dusky pink book. When I saw a naked woman on the cover, I prepared myself to bolt again. I was worried he was going to revisit the whole sexual energy thing, and even though I wanted to open myself up to all aspects of the college experience, it was only my first week, and I wasn't ready to go there quite yet. But all he did was press the book into my hand. "You HAVE to read this," he said. He kissed the top of my head before he sprung to his feet and whooshed out of the room as quickly as he had entered it.

I sat on my roommate's bed, not sure what had just happened. The pink book sat on my lap; silver letters on the cover spelled out THE DEAD AND THE LIVING, POEMS BY SHARON OLDS. I opened the book at random, and found "The Connoisseuse of Slugs", a poem about the first time the poet had seen a penis. I was shocked. People could write poems about that? I flipped through the pages. There were poems about making love for three days, poems about the scent of the poet's father's chest, poems about her daughter's impending adolescence, poems about miscarriage and death and other mysteries of the body.

I felt my own body change as I read these poems, felt my breath catch, my heart pound in my ears. I felt flushed, excited. I had never read anything like it before, even though I had been writing poetry since I was four years old, even though I had been reading poetry all my life. I mostly wrote pretty poems, idealistic poems, poems about Truth and Society and Spring. I had never written about what was happening inside my own skin. I hadn't known that I could, that I was "allowed" to tell the truth, the nitty gritty truth, about living inside a female body. Within a matter of seconds, Sharon Olds had given me that permission. I was excited by the possibilities.

Maybe that guy wasn't a gnome after all. Maybe he was some sort of poetry cherub, my own personal Clarence. I could still feel the heat of him on my roommate's bedspread as I lay down and read the rest of the book.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I was writing a reader's companion for whatever the latest Nancy Friday book was at the time, a 750-page book, when I received my weekly book to review for PW: Margaret George's Memoirs of Cleopatra, over 1000 pages of tiny print. Did I mention this was summer and I had a raging fever? It was summer and I had a raging fever. The reader's companion was the kind of job that pays extremely well; the PW, not. But I started reading the George and just couldn't stop. I read it in four days while working simultaneously on the Friday, going nearly word-blind from the print. Didn't matter. I loved that damn book and can still hear passages of it in my brain all these years later. And everyone I've ever given it to has balked at the size and then thanked me later. Oh, and I met both one-week deadlines - 1750 pages! in a week! with no skimming! - only to learn PW didn't expect even me to tackle that one in under three weeks.

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