The Books That Built the Blogger with Joslyn from Chronic Bibliophilia

This week on The Books that Built The Blogger, I am delighted to welcome Joslyn from Chronic Bibliophilia. Joslyn’s blog is quite new to me, but I love her book choices, her insightful reviews and her emphasis on women writers. I also love her choices for today’s post, read on and see!

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Joslyn

 

As I’ve gotten older, I have found that though I wear glasses all day long, I see clearer without them when I’m reading. This middle-aged near-sightedness is nothing unusual, but there is something about this heightened focus, this ability to see truer while reading, that is emblematic of my life. Reading has always been an essential part of who I am, a way of interpreting and sometimes escaping the world. Now, it is also when I see most clearly.

Since I first announced to all who would listen that I could read, I have been a devoted bookworm. The books I read as a child truly shaped who I am and how I see the world around me. One of my favorite childhood games was to play library, creating my own card catalog and begging family and friends to come borrow an adventure from my shelves. I think it was not just the allure of cataloging (I will always love a good list), but the desire to share and talk books that drove me to this Poindexteresque past time.

One of the first books of any heft which I read again and again (and again), by myself or aloud with anyone who made eye contact, was “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster.

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If you somehow missed this exquisite book, I STRONGLY encourage you to go find it right this instant. No shade to J.K. Rowling, but Norton Juster is the original genius of imagined worlds and magical thinking. In “The Phantom Tollbooth” Milo, a boy “who didn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always”, finds a mystery package in his room which, when unpacked and assembled, is a tollbooth “for use by those who have never traveled in lands beyond.” Milo’s tollbooth is the gateway to magical lands full of brilliant allusions and excoriating, tongue-in-cheek wit. There is Dictionopolis – host of the word market, “a happy kingdom, advantageously located in the foothills of confusion and caressed by gentle breezes from the sea of knowledge.” There is Reality, a dismal, empty place where “there were great crowds of people rushing along with their heads down, and they all appeared to know exactly where they were going as they darted down and around the nonexistent streets and in and out of the missing buildings.” Milo’s adventures are unsubtly about exploring new worlds, being open to new possibilities, and embracing mouth-watering vocabulary. It is an allegory for life and for the joys of reading, with something for every reader of any age.

Fast forward to an awkward pre-teen, earnestly attempting to share the beauty and meaning of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to a room full of snickering 7th graders more interested in fart jokes and The Babysitters Club than the wisdom of Atticus Finch and the intrepid nature of a girl called Scout. Near tears as someone shamelessly calls the book “Tequila Mockingbird”, I pressed on, hoping to reach at least one future reader whose life would be altered by the uncanny beauty and deceptive simplicity of Harper Lee’s masterpiece. “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains one of the touchstones of my literary life, a book I re-read at least once a decade.

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The next book that built this blogger was John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Set in a small granite town in New Hampshire, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” tells the story of John Wheelwright and his unlikely best friend Owen Meany, a doll-like imp with a tiny voice “Owen had to shout through his nose.” Irving uses all caps (no quotation marks) for all of Owen’s dialogue, a trick that is dramatic and immediately effective, forcing the reader to hear the unusual timbre and volume of Meany’s voice.

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What is most remarkable, perhaps, about “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is Irving’s virtuosity with foreshadowing. I have found no other author who has so clearly mapped out each story ahead of time, leaving brilliant easter eggs and bread crumbs as his story twists and turns. No detail is insignificant for Irving. If he mentions the color of a dress or a family’s inside joke, be sure that you will come across the momentous import of that detail in due time. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is extraordinary in its complexity and in its ability to keep a firm grip on its reader’s attention for every page.

In 2001, I found myself alone in a new city, truly on my own in the world for the first time. With little income and a world full of strangers, books were my steadfast companions. My solitude and its echoing silences opened up a need for an outlet, someplace to “talk” about the books I was reading.

Thus began my first book journal, in which I could track what I was reading and my impressions of those books – an early, private, and analog book blog. That journal was kicked off with “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins.

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There is something about Robbins’ manic, personified writing at times of great upheaval in my life that brings me solace. I still remember reading “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” on my honeymoon. Anyway, “Skinny Legs and All” is about love and lust, money and politics, and so much more. The blurb on the jacket actually summarizes it as well as can be done in one far-reaching sentence: “in which a bean can philosophizes, a dessert spoon mystifies, a young waitress takes on the New York art world, and a rowdy redneck welder discovers the lost god of Palestine – while the illusions that obscure humanity’s view of the true universe fall away, one by one, like Salome’s veils.” WHAT?!?! I realize that this choice, alongside “The Phantom Tollbooth”, makes my literary taste seem bent on the fantastical, which is oddly quite far from the truth. My taste runs towards literary fiction by and large, but I do love irony, satire, and tongue-in-cheek humor, and Tom Robbins has those in spades.

journalThat little reading journal and its successors served me well through a wide spectrum of reading adventures and major life changes. Looking back through its pages is like reading a diary – I can see where my interests wandered, when I felt happiest, what I was reading during life’s big moments. It even captures the depths of postpartum depression, when months passed without a single entry. In 2016, after 15 years of handwritten, closely-held notes, I decided to embark on something bigger and, to me at least, braver – a book blog. Thus was Chronic Bibliophilia born, initially with the idea of chronicling a Year of Reading Women and later as a delightfully fulfilling project documenting my literary journey.

 

My final selection of books that “built” me as a blogger, then, is Jacqueline Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming.” This book, ostensibly written for youth but truly meant for EVERYONE, is poetic perfection. An autobiographical novel in verse, “Brown Girl Dreaming” is all about the power of stories and storytelling. It is an ode to reading, a hymn of praise to the importance of books to our inner and outer lives. “Brown Girl Dreaming” is the perfect defense for my blog’s premise – that we need stories to find ourselves and our place in the world and that those stories ought to expose us to a rich diversity of cultures, voices and ideas.

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“Brown Girl Dreaming” , too, was one of the first books I discussed on my blog where I felt like I was hitting my stride and gaining confidence and courage in my writing. Reading this treasure reaffirmed and strengthened my desire to spend more of my time writing and talking about books.

About Chronic Bibliophilia

For as far back as I can remember, reading has been more than a past time for me. Reading is breakfast; it is a hot shower; it is sleep on the perfect pillow. Sure, I could go a day without it. But why on earth would I? Chronic Bibliophilia chronicles my journey as I endeavor to become a ridiculously well-read human being. This blog provides reflections, reviews, and recommendations from a reading list focused on supporting and highlighting the voices that continue to face suppression. I believe that this project has changed not just what I read, but how I read and how I think. I hope you’ll join me on my literary odyssey. Click here to visit Chronic Bibliophilia and to sign up to follow the blog.

I love Joslyn’s choices and her thoughts behind them. The Phantom Tollbooth is a firm favourite in our house and has already been read to the twins! A Prayer for Owen Meaney is a book that is very close to my heart as it was my beloved Daddy’s favourite book. And now I’m totally intrigued by Brown Girl Dreaming, which sounds amazing!

It’s also interesting to read about the transition from book journal to book blog, for what are blogs after all? Other than an online journal?

Are any of your favourites in Joslyn’s list? Did anyone keep a physical book journal before starting a blog?

A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

Top Ten Tuesday – Friendship

 

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Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is friendship. Once I’d written my list, I quickly realised that I haven’t exactly chosen books about friendships, rather I have chosen books which contain striking friendships. So, rather than do it all again, I hope you’ll indulge me!

 

1. Roseanne McNulty and Dr William Grene
From The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Roseanne McNulty, nearing 100 years old has been interred in a mental institution since she was a young woman. With the hospital facing closure, it is up to Dr William Grene to decide where Roseanne should go. In researching what brought her to this place, Dr Grene finds himself becoming more and more attached to his elderly charge and in tracing her unknowable past, shares his own losses and hurts. As they search for their own personal truths in this artfully constructed novel, they find their histories are more intertwined that could have been imagined and their friendship builds to a climax that is both heartrending and moving.

The world is not full of betrayers, it is full of people with decent motives and a full desire to do right by those who know them and love them. This is a little-known truth, but I think it is a truth nonetheless. Empirically, from all the years of my work, I would attest to that. I know it is a miraculous conclusion, but there it is. We like to make strangers of everyone. We are not wolves, but lambs astonished in the margins of the fields by sunlight and summer.

 

2. Owen Meany and John Wheelwright
From A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
During a baseball game in New Hampshire in 1953, one eleven year old boy – Owen Meany, hits a ball that kills his best friend’s mother in a freak accident. But Owen doesn’t believe in accidents and despite being severely undersized, with a voice defect, and tortured by his classmates, maintains a heart-warming and selfless friendship with the friend whose mother he killed and comes to command love, respect and fear before dying his predestined hero’s death.

It makes me ashamed to remember that I was angry with him for taking my armadillo’s claws. God knows, Owen gave me more than he ever took from me—even when you consider that he took my mother.

3. Tyler Durden and Narrator
From Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
“It’s only after you’ve lost everything,” Tyler says, “that you’re free to do anything.”
What does a good friend do? Allow you to be your true self? Give you courage to make hard decisions? Let you make mistakes without prejudice? Then let’s face it, Tyler Durden is a pretty good friend to our insomniac unnamed Narrator in Fight Club. The imaginary friend writ large, Durden is the perfect creation, everything the narrator is not. Or so he believes….

 

I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free, and I am not.

 

4. Vladimir and Estragon
From Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

When you think of Waiting for Godot, friendship doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. It’s a play of stagnation. Of waiting for that which won’t come, of the futility of that waiting and of our inability to escape it. But one important thing is, Didi and Gogo and waiting together. Their relationship is one of dependence and intertwinement and it is impossible to imagine these clowns without the other. This is a shared loneliness, and it is their friendship and its stark contrast to the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky that give the play its brief moments of hope, humour and warmth.

Estragon: [on one leg] I’ll never walk again.
Vladimir: [tenderly] I’ll carry you. [Pause.] If necessary

 

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5. Emilia and Desdemona
From Othello by William Shakespeare
In Emilia and Desdemona, Shakespeare gives us one of the strongest depictions of a female friendship in all its dimension and death. Emilia is one of my favourite Shakespearean characters. Under the influence of her husband, she unwittingly brings about the downfall of Othello and Desdemona, but her courage and loyalty to her friend in her public unmasking of Iago brings a small measure of hope within the tragedy. Their friendship provides the necessary counterpoint to the hypocrisy and plotting of that between Iago and Othello and she remains a loyal, intelligent and forceful friend to the end, sacrificing her life so that Desdemona’s reputation can be restored.

I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,
Lay down my soul at stake: if you think other,
Remove your thought; it doth abuse your bosom.
If any wretch have put this in your head,
Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse!
For, if she be not honest, chaste, and true,
There’s no man happy; the purest of their wives
Is foul as slander.

 

6. Mouse and Mary Ann
From the Tales of The City series by Armistead Maupin
When thinking about Tales of the City, a series of books that always makes me think of friendship, I considered including Anna Madrigal and any one of her charges. But Anna is the obvious choice. Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton are the odd couple, with Mary Ann functioning as the straight, uptight foil to the laid back unshakeable community who accepts everyone. Even her. The friendship between Mouse and Mary Ann survives lovers, murder, children, abandonment, stardom, AIDS and finally cancer. There is no question of not being there for one another, regardless of what has passed – what else should friends do?

 

It occurred to Michael, that this was the great perk of being loved: someone to tell you that it will get easier up ahead. … Even when it might not be true.

 

7. Michael Lamb (Fr Sebastian) and Owen Kane
From Lamb by Bernard MacLaverty
It’s hard to imagine that the story of a young disillusioned priest who runs off with a boy from his school would not touch on the theme of child abuse. But Lamb was written in 1981 and this wouldn’t have seemed as odd an omission over 30 years ago. Regardless, it doesn’t feature in this heartbreaking story of Michael Lamb who runs from the school he teaches in and takes with him a 12 year old boy he has befriended who has severe epilepsy in the hope that they can both find better lives. Michael is hoping to save Owen and in doing so, save himself, but the outside world inevitably closes in and Michael’s solution is bleak and uncompromising, but driven solely by his love for Owen.

It was motivated by love. It would be a pure. Of this he was sure.

 

8. Cathy and Heathcliff
From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

It may seem strange to include Cathy and Heathcliff in this list, given they are often seen as the most romantic of doomed lovers. A lot of that perception has to do with the film versions, which show them as adults. In fact, in the book, they are inseparable friends from the age of 6 and Catherine is a mere 15 when she decides to marry Edgar with the immature request that he allow her and Heathcliff to continue as they have for most of their lives. ‘Well, if I cannot keep Heathcliff for my friend––if Edgar will be mean and jealous, I’ll try to break their hearts by breaking my own’ No one understands them the way they understand each other to the point that Catherine sees them as being one person and that person cannot be denied.

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

 

9. Richard, Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla
From The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is probably not the best example of friendship as it exists to nurture and create a loving environment. This is the dark side of close friendship, where a lack of boundaries, too much information and a tendency to bully can have far reaching and dangerous consequences. Henry, Richard, Francis, Charles and Camilla support, help and lie for one another, trapped in a cold complicity, Theirs is undoubtedly a friendship, but one with sinister and disturbing ends.

The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant – the idea was so truly heavenly that I’m not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.

 

10. Chris and Gordie
From The Body by Stephen King
I read The Body after falling in love with the movie version Stand By Me back in the 1980’s. Both seem to capture perfectly that precarious moment between childhood and adulthood when you are trying to hold on to one whilst simultaneously reaching for the other. The boys banter and ribbing give way to a lovely, nurturing friendship where Chris and Gordie buoy each other u and become each other’s support systems in place of family. It’s a friendship told through rose tinted glasses to be sure, but it’s an unforgettable one.

We were clinging to each other in deep water. I’ve explained about Chris, I think: my reasons for clinging to him were less definable. His desire to get away from Castle Rock and out of the mill’s shadow seemed to me to be my best part, and I could not just leave him to sink or swim on his own. If he had drowned, that part of me would have drowned with him, I think.

So, who are your favourite friendships in literature? Any particularly great ones I’ve overlooked? Do let me know what you think.