Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two novelists reveal their most cherished book

I am currently immersed in Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book. Talk about kindred spirits! Few things can be more fascinating to avid readers than to learn what tomes their favorite writers treasure. One such person for me is Francine Prose, whose fiction and essays are always so finely tuned and intelligent. Prose takes us on a magical journey through the 1945 Grosset & Dunlap edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Arthur Szyk (left: The King and Queen of Roses). After 50 years she had a sudden desire to put her hands on her childhood copy of the book and it seemed to have disappeared in a move:
"I missed the book more than a keepsake. I grieved for it as if for a person.... After so many years, I remembered the images with startling clarity, and I knew that my longing for the book had as much to do with the illustrations as with Andersen's text. I wanted the Proustian moment of experiencing once again the effect that had been produced on my by the alchemical combination of the strangeness of the stories and the bright, exotic pictures. I wanted to touch the object I had so often touched as a child....  
Szyk's images evoke medieval manuscript illuminations and the miniature paintings of India and Persia. In the illustration for 'The Marsh King's Daughter,' the part Egyptian, part Art Nouveau Princess sways her shapely arms in the hula-dancer tribute of an altarpiece angel; in the background are two large storks, with three more in the air, all of which could have been plucked from a row of hieroglyphics on a Pharoah's tomb.... The insects and forest creatures menacing 'The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf' seem like visitors from one of Bosch's nightmares....
The way words and pictures reveal themselves as we page through a book cannot be approximated by the touch of an e-Reader button, or by gazing at them, all at once, however handsomely framed, on the wall. That is why, in a few years when she's a little older, I plan to give my granddaughter my copy of the 1945 Grosset and Dunlap edition of Andersen's Fairy Tales. I cannot quite imagine feeling the same way about passing my first e-book down to a new generation."
Susan Straight, whose most recent novel is Take One Candle Light a Room, has read Toni Morrison's Sula every year since the age of 14. I experienced it for the first time last year, and both the story and the prose shook up my molecules in a way few books ever have. Pow! It is a sucker punch of a novel that had me down for the count. It was the same for Straight.
"This slim novel ... became a dark and luminous icon for me," she writes. "It was like a premonition. It made me into a writer, it colored how I became a mother, and images and words from it unfurl themselves in my mind—like dye dropped in water—nearly every day.... Morrison's words from the first instant made me see differently. Made the world controllable with metaphor and simile, made everything a possibility of description inside my own head even while things around me were unutterably dangerous or sad." 
Are there are books you prize above all others? That you treasure for personal reasons or that you go back to, time after time? Tomorrow I'll share more great titles and stories from Bound to Last.

6 comments:

  1. Prose has long been a favorite of mine, too! Mine would certainly be Katherine Paterson's "Bridge To Terabithia." Though many books could easily fit the bill, this one just happened to be first. I believe I was in second grade. Ill-prepared for what literature could do to me, I was reduced to a heaving lump of sadness, confusion and, ultimately, triumph. It opened the world of literature to a little Wilhelm:)

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    1. I haven't read that one, though I've seen the movie. Sounds so much better as a book. thanks for sharing how deeply it affected you.

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  2. I can't say enough for Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which was all but glued to my nine-year-old hands. It was easy to enjoy the stories and overlook the scholarship she brought to the task of relating Greek and Roman mythology in a way that preserved its beauty while giving it continuity, by adding the substance of "Trojan Women" to the Iliad, for example. Her presentation heightened the tragedy and added poetry that made it unforgettable.

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  3. 2 votes again? What is wrong with the voting gadget?

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    1. Is it only displaying votes that were received that day? It doesn't make sense!!! :'-(

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    2. I don't have a clue what's wrong w/ it ... It's a gadget from the Blogger repertoire and always worked fine before. I'm going to have to bag this contest and give prizes to all of the finalists. So sorry!

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