Choose Nine Books for Your Gift Box

3 11 2007

Books to give, that is, not books you want to get and read. Red Molly explains it here, and I’m taking up her challenge, rare for me but how can an old librarian resist a BOOK meme??

(If you take on the challenge too, please leave a link here so we can come see.)

The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is trying to encourage more of her citizenry to read books by giving boxes of as many as nine books to 400,000 poor families, according to The Economist. The big question, of course, is which nine books, exactly? The London-based weekly newsmagazine said Chile’s selected titles, like “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, were “unexceptionable fare.”

How about you? If you had to fill a box with nine books that everyone ought to have, what would they be? What if you had to pick just one work of literature? Wow. Nine and only nine. What a concept! Should one go for the lofty and cerebral? The literary and timeless? The uproariously funny?

. . . I’m so tempted to tag here, despite my fear of calling anyone out by name, but rest assured that this is one in upon which I most heartily encourage y’all to weigh.Here’s my stab at a list, which I’m sure I’ll revise mentally many many times, especially immediately after posting it:

Okay, it’s JJ again. The challenging part for me would be putting even nine books in a box to throw away — why my house is nothing but stacks — not choosing nine or nine hundred wonderful books to share with new readers! So I easily came up with a box of nine books to share, no overlap to RedMolly’s list although I’d be proud to send it too.

Leaving aside the obvious — the complete Harry Potter set of seven books plus two players to be named later — my nine books-in-a-box in no particular order are:


1. Ann Patchett’s heartbreakingly beautiful and metaphorical “Bel Canto” which is all about love that connects strangers — love of music, chess, each other, life, freedom and the simplest things — for reasons I recently mentioned here. Also Patchett tends to pack the whole world into “home” (albeit a mansion this time; she sets other books in a home for unwed mothers, a tract house in Nebraska in the snow.) I interpret this to mean “there’s no place like home” — maybe even that there’s no place *but* home.

2. John Holt’s “Never Too Late” because it keeps us parents humble as learners instead of letting us kid ourselves that we’re teachers. His late-life love affair with the cello was my late-life flirtation with the alto saxophone . . .

3. Howard Gardner’s “The Disciplined Mind” because nothing can make you think about what’s worth thinking about in education, better than this book surely will do: the true, the good and the beautiful.

4. Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” because everyone should fall in love with a book as a child, to become a real book-lover for life. Power of story! Doesn’t really matter what quality the book is; what matters is the quality of the passion and attachment the child experiences. GWTW was my first real love affair with a work of romantic fiction, a book that took a whole summer to read and that I savored word for word like an epic poem, until its juices ran from my mouth and dripped down my chin. I don’t try to defend it intellectually or historically but I still bristle up just like a lover to hear it mocked or messed with. My best friend and I memorized most of it and quoted it to each other for years, like a secret language. Did you know there’s a brand new authorized sequel coming out titled “Rhett Butler’s People?” I haven’t read it yet and so I won’t add it to my personal box, but see NYT Nov 4 review here.

5. The complete works of Shakespeare, especially because Romeo and Juliet was largely memorized and quoted among my nearest and dearest friends, just as GWTW was.

6. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, because that was Favorite Daughter’s first love affair with a book as above, AND because Harper Lee supports homeschoolers, and she explicitly wrote Scout as almost accidentally learning to read well at home, which pissed off her officious second-grade teacher, AND also because it’s at least one impeccable cultural choice on my list — Harper Lee is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom Monday (Nov.5) at the White House.

7. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Rip-roaring good fun and a musical the kids just did this summer in community theatre.

8. “Ragtime” by EL Doctorow, same musical theatre rationale plus same culturally credible choice as Mockingbird. (But I’d push it out in a wink to include something our hypothetical nation of poor families could read with their kids at bedtime — Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” because it was the little kid all-time fave in our family. Read it, know it, live it! I recited it for hours in the emergency room one awful day and night; it worked like nothing else could, to soothe and protect.)

9. “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver” — or anything — by two-time Newberry Medal winner EL Konigsburg. This is juvenile historical fiction special to me for a bunch of reasons including: our family experiences reading it aloud; Konigsburg raised her own kids in my state, just a couple of hours away from where I sit blogging; it’s smart and regal intrigue, good feminist fun all at the same time; and for the silly symmetry of having the word “scarlet/t” figure prominently into a full third of my selections! (not to mention having two different but equally awesome authors on such a short list both writing under the initials “EL”)



12 responses

3 11 2007

Eeee, thanks for playing… and for giving me a fine fistful of books to add to my “must-read” stack. Er, shelf. Er, flood. Er, plethora.

4 11 2007

I too fell in love with Gone with the Wind as a teen. I think I probably read it about 5 times. Thanks for the update about the sequel.

4 11 2007
4 11 2007

I see now what a strong southern river runs through my list . . . 🙂
Also without planning it or noticing, I see my female authors have the edge, 5-4.

And there’s the “home” thing, with Scarlett needing Tara as the home that sustained her through war and the loss of everyone she’d ever loved, Patchett’s proclivity to set her books at home, and Lee’s Scout learning to read at home from watching her dad absorbed in reading the newspaper at home. Max coming HOME to his very own room, where he found his supper waiting for him, and it was still hot!

Probably this historical fiction reflects “home” as theme too, if we think of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Pimpernel and Ragtime’s characters all leaving home either to defend home, extend home, or create a new home?

From Ragtime’s “Journey On”:

Is that other ship going back home?

No, no. America is our home now.
America is our shtetl.

5 11 2007

Sam found a quick quiz and I took it just now:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: “Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm”

“You’re probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people’s grammatical mistakes make you insane.”

I used to think these things were phony . . . 😉

8 11 2007

Wow! Great list! I loved Bel Canto, too. 🙂 Hmmm….what books would I choose? I’ve got some thinking to do!

8 11 2007

Hi Colleen, welcome!

Yes, wasn’t Bel Canto amazing? Most people I mention it to haven’t discovered it yet —
You know, this maybe could be more than just a fun meme. As a new unschooler you could use it over time, maybe choose nine books now without much thought and just write out what they have meant to you. Put it away and forget about it, but do it again next fall with nine more books, and then compare the two lists as a thinking tool to cast any changes of attitude and priorities into relief so they pop out clearly, all at once where you can see? Then reflect on what it might mean.

And/or suggest it for your DH to see how different (if it all) his lists turn out to be. And your son as he deschools toward happy unschooling — ooh, this could be a whole new form of self-medicating bibliotherapy!

26 11 2007
Thought Experiment: Unschooling Lessons for a School-Minded Dad « Cocking A Snook!

[…] him to outline and teach YOU what he learns from it all. Ask him to make that book list I suggested in a comment for you at Snook, and press him into service independently scouting out research from unschooling and education […]

30 01 2008
Reading Power of Story plus 100 Books Every Child Should Read « Cocking A Snook!

[…] UPDATE – more on book-loving changing our kids’ lives at “CHoose Nine Books for YOur Gift Box.”. […]

28 04 2008
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[…] And here’s how Harper Lee fits into our story, as homeschoolers and booklovers: From “Choose Nine Books for Your Gift Box”: […]

27 02 2009
Making Another Book Meme My Own « Cocking A Snook!

[…] I blog the virtues of my own best books without following any meme or popular vote, see “Choose Nine Books for Your Gift Box.” Or this, in which I demonstrate that to me, all holiday gift list memes should be book lists too: […]

27 07 2009

8. “Ragtime” by EL Doctorow. . . (But I’d push it out in a wink to include something our hypothetical nation of poor families could read with their kids at bedtime — Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” because it was the little kid all-time fave in our family. Read it, know it, live it! I recited it for hours in the emergency room one awful day and night; it worked like nothing else could, to soothe and protect.)

Saw yesterday in the Harry Potter 6 previews, that a movie of “Where the Wild Things Are” is in the works! Coming to a theatre near me, in October.

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