I'm back from, what can only be described as, The Best Vacation Ever. For many of you, great vacations may be about travel, beaches, sun, or some sort of water or snow based activity. For me, it's all about sitting around on my rear end, watching bad television, and doing little else. I was so relaxed by the end of the week, I practically floated to work yesterday.
Last year, NPR started a series called "You Must Read This" as part of their summer reading programming in which writers discuss their favorite books. I love the series. I love knowing what people are passionate about, especially when it involves books, and I wish they would ask me about my favorite book. Because, while I don't have a favorite color, and I'd be hard pressed to tell you what my favorite singer or movie is, I do have a favorite book. One that you should read.
I was 16 when I first read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. I think I picked it off of a reading list, so it wasn't required reading for me. If this book got shoved down your throat as part of High School American Lit (or whatever other class you had), I'm very sorry. You deserved better and so did this book. It's so grand and angry, but full of grace and love. Over the dozen or so times I've read it (including once in French), Grapes of Wrath has given me insight into some big truths: compassion, fear, love, humanity, generosity, selfishness, justice, and injustice. And so on. Steinbeck's story of the Joad family's migration west to pursue a better life in California rings true now, as we try to deal with today's migration issues. To me, the most universal message we take from Grapes of Wrath is the danger in losing sight of the humanity of the dispossessed. Society at all levels, rich to poor, becomes uncivil, fearful and violent. If you haven't read this since high school, do try again.
In other reading news, the other night I finished Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. The plot itself is simple: an international group of party-goers are taken hostage in some unnamed South American country. But it isn't what you'd think. Patchett digs deep into the nature of love, relationships and beauty. It's a gorgeous book and I was heartbroken when it ended. I've already passed it on.
I'm also reading Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, the first in Taylor Branch's compelling history of the Civil Rights Movement. Richly detailed -- Branch does not merely tell us why King's father changed his son's and his own name from Michael to Martin, but also discusses the importance of names in the Black community, both of themselves individually and as a group -- but never didactic, this book is Important and utterly readable.
What are your favorite books?