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book list: my favorite titles from college

September 17th, 2023

(Photo by Nancy Ellen Rawley; use with permission only, please)

A few of these fall crocus have popped up, in the six years we’ve lived here. But last year? Huge, vibrant, gorgeous patches of them everywhere. I think the chicken poop is paying off.

I started making a list the other day, in my journal, of my favorite books from college. I majored in English, so you know we read a little bit. And then a little bit more. Here’s the stash:

Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” freshman year. This one changed my life. It ripped something open in me and shifted me forever. “Beloved,” “Sula,” “The Bluest Eye…” everything Morrison wrote was great. You can’t say that about many authors. “Jazz” was a favorite, senior year. I read it aloud because the cadence of the book is like a jazz composition. Morrison is that good.

“Woman on the Edge of Time,” by Marge Piercy, is one of a kind. The integrity and passion of her writing is the best. Her poetry is exquisite, too.

Senior year I read an odd little book, “Snow White,” by Donald Barthelme. I never would have given this book a second look, but It Was Required. It was spring break, I had bronchial pneumonia, was up late crazy with a fever. My live-in boyfriend, and my not-live-in boyfriend, along with all of my other friends, ran away on some school trip and I was too ill to go. It was a new low.

Especially when I found out that my live-in boyfriend spent the entire trip hitting on my other boyfriend.

When people say your 20s are the best years of your life, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s a slim book, “Snow White,” so I decided to power through it. It’s about (i recall) the princess herself, the Seven Dwarfs, porno, strange happenings, and yes, a list of things that terrify Snow White. I was like, what the actual hell?!? fell in love with it, and decided to spend the rest of my life writing 1) how I wanted 2) what I wanted 3) when I wanted. And that’s pretty much what I’ve done.

So I guess what I want to say here is, Thanks, Barthelme, ya freak.

“Norma Jean the Termite Queen,” by Sheila Ballantyne, walloped me in the head, too.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” (dubbed “One Hundred Years of Reading” by my friend Heather) and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

All 19 of the Shakespeare plays I devoured, but especially “The Winter’s Tale,” “Twelfth Night,” “Macbeth” and “All’s Well That Ends Well.” I like the sonnets, too, of course, but not as much as the plays. (Will S. wrote 34 or 38 plays total, depending on who you ask.)

Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

Poetry by Tess Gallagher

“The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker

James Baldwin, “Go Tell It On the Mountain”

“Native Son,” Richard Wright. (My not-live-in boyfriend spent the entire time we were reading the book saying, “No, Bigger, no. Please, no. Bigger, no.” You should have read our essays, extraordinary. Hahahah. Nooooooo just noooo oh this is bad please no, make it be OK.) (It’s still not OK.)

“Sister Carrie,” Theodore Dreiser

All of the Celtic mythology. All of the Greek mythology. My Bible as Literature class. Black studies. Women’s studies. Journalism classes and the readings. And cannot forget Leo Tolstoy and “Anna Karenina.”

“Oh!! How about when…?” my live-in boyfriend’s mother asks me, when she sees me reading the book, and gives away the entire ending. Gah. It was taking me forever to get through it, it’s an insane book. Insanely good, but yeah, kind of out there. I loved it, though, and was getting to the ending.

“I haven’t finished it yet,” I told her. (That’s why I was still reading it.) (Hello.)

“Didn’t you see the PBS version?” Nah, i usually just read the book.

She’s gone now, this lady. I feel bad for every time I thought rotten thoughts about her. Read, and keep reading until you can’t anymore. Then find someone to read to you.

Peace, xo and more later.


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