I’m delighted to have Melanie from Grab the Lapels on the blog today talking about the books that have shaped her reading and her blogging. Grab the Lapels is a fantastic site, focusing on works by women writers and featuring a great Meet The Writer series and some really in depth, knowledgeable reviews. It’s also always great to have a fellow Sweet Valley High fan on the blog! So, it’s over to Melanie…
There are three books I’ve read that I can really remember changing me in a deep way.
Early on, it was Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: Ghost in the Bell Tower (Super Chiller), a book by Francine Pascal—or one of her ghostwriters. There are hundreds of books about the twins. Before there was Team Jacob and Team Edward, there was Team Elizabeth and Team Jessica.
Were you more like studious Elizabeth, who had superb grades, one close friend, one “steady,” liked to read, and worked for the school newspaper? Or were you more like Jessica, who was rebellious, loved popularity and cheerleading, was daring and compelling, and had a new boyfriend every week? It was easy to change your team because the author never painted a clear “good twin.” In Ghost in the Bell Tower, a book for middle-school aged girls, the twins discovered a young man living in, yes, the bell tower, and investigated. Jessica was hysterical; Elizabeth was logical. My love of ghost stories deepened due to this book, and it made me think more about character traits in fiction.
In grad school, I read Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen. It was a mix of memoir, fiction, art history, and social science. Basically, the author’s wife in real life (and as a character in the book) does not want to have children, but her family on the other side of the United States practically demand it. So she downloads pictures off the internet and slowly imagines a baby girl to life. How long can they keep it up? Why are the Olsens doing this? How do photography and death affect our feelings about family and representations of family?
Girl Imagined by Chance is considered experimental fiction because it does not follow a straight-up traditional narrative style, and it was the first book that showed me novels can do a lot of things at once in different ways, which affected my own writing (especially in my MFA program) for years to come.
Finally, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley changed the way I felt about civil rights, the media, religion, ideas, and who tells us what the “truth” is.
In schools in the U.S., we learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., his “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Civil Rights Movement is tidy according to public education. What we miss is the sheer violence, constant strategy planning, and utter fear felt by white and black communities alike. We’re also not told that MLK frequently cheated on his wife, sent children to get beat up (so it would get media attention), and the college students who worked for him while he stood back for much of it. Malcolm X boldly claims that black people should have their own state and separate from white communities because trying to integrate is demeaning, short-sighted, and a failure for several good reasons. His autobiography carefully lays out his history and motivations for his stance on black communities and white devils, and when he’s presented with new evidence throughout his life, he changes his mind—something I rarely see in politics these days, as changing one’s mind is seen as a weakness. Since my first reading, I’ve taught Malcolm X’s book for six semesters at different colleges. It’s a book that taught me to challenge what I think I know and read more to get a better perspective on history.
Many thanks to Melanie for taking part and for a fascinating choice of books. I read a lot of Sweet Valley High as a young teenager and was always an Elizabeth, although I secretly wished I was a Jessica…
I’m completely intrigued by Girl Imagined by Chance and it’s definitely one I’d look out for in the library.
Check back in next week when Elena from Books and Reviews shares her defining reads.