Looking over these books I cannot abandon, I find most of them fit into one (or more) of four general categories. From most cerebral to most visceral, they are:
1. BOOK-booksSince I was 10 years old, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (illustrated by Jules Feiffer) has been unceasingly my favorite book. One of many things I love about it: it can only be a book. It wouldn’t work as a movie or a stage play; it is, innately, BOOK-ish.
My Shelf of the Unabandoned contains a lot of BOOK-books, that elicit from me a cackle of delight and the thought, “I didn’t know you could do that!”
Among the BOOK-books are: 1339 or So, by Nicholas Seare (a charming historical novella obsessively annotated by a scholar incapable of appreciating its charm); Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut (in which Vonnegut appears as the author of the novel you are reading); If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, by Italo Calvino (stories interrupted by, commented upon, and interlaced with other stories; his Cosmicomics also deserves mention here, but utterly defies description), Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (spoiler alert: they never get there) and Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg (a tale of love and murder told through a fractured lens of newspaper articles, letters, recipes, gossip and traditional narrative, moving freely back and forth through time).
2. BOOKS WITH A MESSAGE
The first book I could recite from memory was The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The National Wildlife Federation promoted it to bring attention to Ranger Rick, their children’s magazine about the conservation movement (to which I instantly subscribed). I can still recite most of it.
It’s a delicate balance, novels that are About Something without being preachy. Two of the most successful, in my opinion, are Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Just seeing them on my shelf makes me want to make the world a better place, and myself a better person.
3. YUMMY BOOKS, or, Books Written Just For Me
It’s impressive how many authors were put on the planet principally to write a book that was specifically intended just for Nicole Galland’s Reading Pleasure. (I’m sure they have meaningful, productive lives in their spare time.)
Possibly topping this list is a book by the hilarious Christopher Moore: Lamb, or the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. I was a Comparative Religion major (and a Buddhist skeptic), and this is the book I would have written while in college, if I’d been funnier. Similarly, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials felt like a personal gift.
Most other books in this category are historical fiction. For instance, Dorothy Dunnett’s entire Lymond series, but especially The Game of Kings, leaves me as giddy and breathless as if Francis Crawford has just flirted with me in several languages at once. I was studying chess intensively when I was first introduced to Game of Kings, and I was astonished by how perfectly she structured the novel to resemble a chess game. Years later, I went back to re-read it, having forgotten all my chess savvy, and could not find the evidence that so wowed me the first time – a comment on me, not her. There are so many layers of wit and subtlety to her work.
4. BOOKS ON BEING HUMAN
Finally, there are the books I’d save in an apocalypse-proof vault for survivors of whatever apocalypse awaits us.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace contains almost every literary genre, and Tolstoy is a master at them all: political intrigue, daily life, action-adventure, history, philosophy, social commentary, romance – it’s a one-stop reading extravaganza.
I must put in a place-holder here reading: “countless other books.” Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Anything by Isabel Allende. This paragraph could go on for weeks, so I’m cutting it off now and moving on.
Besides, the granddaddy of all books about the human condition is not a book in the strictest sense – it’s the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The beauty, humor, depth, complexity and yet simplicity, of Shakespeare’s stories is really meant to be seen and heard, not read. But his stories have survived the test of time and inspired dozens if not hundreds of other writers.
I’m one of them. My novel I, Iago takes the plot of Othello and tells it from the villain’s point of view. The story of a good man who becomes a bad man without realizing it until it’s too late, it is the most recent in a steady stream of homages going back 400 years. The source material – all of it, all of the Bard – will be last into the box and first out as long as the binding holds together. It is a part of me.
Nicole Galland’s previous novels include The Fool’s Tale, Revenge of the Rose and CROSSED: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Her novel I, Iago has just come out from out from William Morrow. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard, but you can also find her a nicolegalland.com or facebook.com/nicolegalland.