Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Thanksgiving Day Reading List

with 2 comments

So, it’s Thanksgiving here in the States, and because it is Thanksgiving, I am having one of those scattershot days.  I got the chestnuts roasted and chopped last night, so I don’t have to do that, but in a few minutes I’m going to have to go chop other things, stuff a turkey worry about stuff to go with the turkey, and consider pumpkin pie.

My mother made the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had, but her recipe has been lost for years not, and I do not bake. 

Cook, yes.  I love to cook.  But baking reminds me of chemistry, and I didn’t like that the first time around.

Back in 1968.

I was reminded, yesterday, of how long it’s been since I took a formal course in mathematics of any kind–that was 1971.

But here’s the thing.  There is one of those round robin things going on on FB at the moment, and out own Mike Fisher has invited me in.

The exercise goes like this: without thinking about it, list the ten books that have really stayed with you over the years.

There’s a lot of other stuff involved in it, tagging people and things that don’t really matter here, but I’m going to reproduce the list I came up with this morning on the spur of the moment, and then I’m going to comment a bit on the entire exercise.

The list goes as follows:

1) Carolyn Keene.  The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.

2) W. Somerset Maugham.  The Razor’s Edge.

3) Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca.

4) Ernest Hemingway. A Moveable Feast.

5) Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged.

6) Alice Hoffman.  Seventh Heaven.

7) Betty Friedan. The Feminist Mystique.

8) Jose Saramago.  The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.

9) Henry James.  The Portrait of a Lady.

10) Shari Benstock.  Women of the Left Bank.

Now, a couple of things about this list that might be significant.

The first is that, with two exceptions, everything on it is fiction.

And both the exceptions are feminist tracts.

I read very little fiction these days, and haven’t now for a very long time. You can see that from the reading lists posted every month here.

What these things seem to be, largely, are books that gave me the sense of a different world out there somewhere that I could escape to when I finally got the time.

We have that fight here all the time, so let me try to be more explicit.  What I was looking for then was mostly a “sense ofl life,” as some people call it–a way people were, in themselves and with each other, that was very different from the way the people were around me. 

This sense that there was another world and another way of living was very important to me.  It’s probably the only way I got through childhood and adolescence without killing myself or someone else.

At the end of the long tunnel that was my growing up, many of these books promised me another life in another place, another life in a place where the things people thought were good and important were the things I thought were good or important.

I was not particularly political at the time.  It wasn’t politics that was at issue.

Both Betty Friedan and Ayn Rand are on this list for the same reason: I read both of them for the first time in the same year, and both of them told me that I was right to hold out against conforming to what everybody else wanted me to conform to, that intelligence and ambition and competitiveness and intellectualism were good things (even in a woman!)  that I was right to pursue.

And I still respond to that message, even now, when I sometimes feel I am drowing in a double-barrelled explosion of willful stupidity.

And no, you don’t get to tell me that that’s all the fault of religious people or the right wingers or whatever.  I can give you examples on every single side.

But the third thing is maybe more important in terms of making the list–as soon as I’d written down these ten things, I realized that there was an 11th, Alix Kates Shulman’s Burning Questions which should have been on it, too.

And maybe, when I get over to FB, I’ll add it.  Because it came into my head almost as soon as the Benstock did, and there wasn’t much in the way of being able to choose between them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Written by janeh

November 28th, 2013 at 10:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'The Thanksgiving Day Reading List'

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  1. Thank Heaven! I was about to work.
    But I can’t get the list under 12, and it takes some explaining:
    Burroughs, THUVIA, MAID OF MARS
    Burroughs, CHESSMEN OF MARS
    Krepps, EL CID
    Parkinson, PARKINSON’S LAW
    Anthology, HOLY BIBLE

    All with me since at least high school (1970) except for the Bujold, which must be about 25 years old. Again, putting the Bible to one side, all fiction except two, but only Rand makes both lists.

    And the long-winded explanation: the books chosen for Leigh Brackett, Robert Heinlein and Robert Howard are placeholders for writers who taught me in scores of short stories and a few novels. Brackett warned me about trusting readily and meddling where I didn’t understand, but choosing TERRANS for “Road to Sinharat” meant leaving out “Lorelei of the Red Mist” and SWORD OF RHIANNON. Heinlein taught me that facts trump opinions and the future belonged to science, but PAST THROUGH TOMORROW doesn’t include STARSHIP TROOPER and THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. Howard told me that individuals make history and that “civilization is a mere whim of circumstance” but the collection chosen doesn’t include “Red Nails” or “The Gray God Passes.”

    Sometimes an author does one big thing, like a Japanese calligrapher who stares at a canvas for days then applies the ink in seconds. Sometimes an author is like one of those equations which yield one dot on a graph for each variable–but if you feed in enough variables, the dots become a leaf. No one dot makes it, but the leaf is there for all of that. So the short story writer.

    And I have no idea why Burroughs is there twice. He just is.


    28 Nov 13 at 2:26 pm

  2. I think I’ve been more influenced by series rather than single books.

    Mary Renault’s novels about ancient Greece got me interested in history and philosophy.

    Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels got me interested in military history.

    Heinlein’s Starship Trooper and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress made me think about politics and government.

    And of course there is always Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings which set a standard for the art of story telling!


    28 Nov 13 at 4:55 pm

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