Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Likes to Read

Hello, girls! I hope you are enjoying your Monday! Personally, mine’s been pretty good. I had auditions for my musical today, and this is going to be a tough show to cast. 32 incredibly talented students, and that’s only day one! Wish me luck; I’m gonna need it come Thursday and casting.

Onto questions! The one habit I can never seem to break is, as was already said, procrastination. I’ve always been a procrastinator, but it’s getting worse and worse the older I get. I have to work to a hard deadline anymore, or things just won’t get done. I also play with my hair and face a lot, which I really need to force myself to stop doing.

To answer my own question about what I would do if money was no issue . . . open a bookstore. That’s always been something that I wanted to do. Open a corner, mom and pop kind of little bookshop somewhere while simultaneously running the artistic side of a town’s arts center. Let my life be entirely about theatre and books, please and thank you.

Which is a brilliant segue to this week’s theme!

So, I’m a reader. Like, whoa. I can’t remember not being able to read, and a few years ago, someone asked me how many books, on average, I read in a year. I had no idea, so when 2008 rolled around, I decided to find out. Since then, I’ve kept careful track of the books I read each year. In 2008, my goal was fifty. My final tally was 113. I decided I liked setting myself challenges, so in 2009, my challenge was to read 100 books (I just barely made it), but that 50 of them had to be new reads. I met that goal, and met it again in 2010.

This year, I’m upping my number. Originally, it was 115, but that was back when I was going to be starting grad school in the fall. Now that I’m not, I’m officially upping it again to 125, at least 60 of which have to be new. Right now, my tally stands at 42, so I’m well on my way.

So, yeah. I read a lot. And since starting to keep track of my reading, I have tried to learn to read more critically, to more readily be able to identify what it is that makes a story good and worth reading. I’ve learned, through this process, to differentiate between a good story and a story that’s enjoyable. They’re not mutually exclusive, of course, but just because we didn’t enjoy a particular book or fall in love with it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good, worthwhile book to read.

To this end, what I’d like to share with you all is my list of Ultimate Recommendations. This is not the same as my favorite books – though there are many titles in common. But rather, these are the books that I think everyone needs to read at some point in their lives. You don’t have to fall in love with them, you don’t even have to like them. But they each have a message that I think everyone should be exposed to, and they tell them in a way that is meaningful and compelling and wonderfully well done.

So then! My list of Ultimate Recommendations! There are six titles.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

First on the UR list, first on my favorites list, and hands down the best book I have ever read. I love this book so much. I am moved to tears every time I read it. Set against the backdrop of early WWII Germany, The Book Thief follows a young girl, Liesel Meminger, growing up in Hitler’s Germany. She steals books to learn how to read, and the relatively simple world she lives in is turned upside down when her foster father begins hiding a Jew in his basement.

The book is narrated by Death, and it is all about the way that we are all connected through words and language and stories and the fact that we will all one day die. Death is a weary voice, captivated by this young girl and the truths she learns from the Jew and her foster parents and her best friend and the life she finds herself living. It is a devastatingly beautiful story, and if you haven’t read it, you need to now.

I Am the Messenger
by Markus Zusak

Listed second to keep like authors together, this books tells the story of Ed Kennedy, a thoroughly ordinary guy until he accidently stops a bank robbery and starts receiving playing card aces in the mail. Each card leads him to three people, all of whom need something from Ed. Some are as easy as sitting down to eat with an old woman. Others are much more difficult. And through the missions Ed receives, he begins to change, to take chances, to recognize the difference between what is easy and what is right.

This book makes the list because of the last five pages, the reveal of who exactly is sending Ed these cards. I never saw it coming, and it completely blew my mind. This is a story about what ordinary people can do if they just go out and do it and forget about being defined as a hero.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I completely understand why some people don’t care for this book. It doesn’t make my top five favorites, and if it makes the top ten, it’s near the bottom. It’s a hard book to read. But I think it’s still a book that people need to read. It’s all about how quickly our lives can be changed by one person and a single choice, and how death affects us all.

I also love the style of this book, the buildup and the misdirection and the way that John Green uses language. I always have to read something light and fluffy after finishing this book, but the weight is what makes it real for me.

Paper Towns by John Green

I list this one after Looking for Alaska because I love how it builds on the themes that are interwoven into Looking for Alaska. It’s not a sequel by any means, but thematically, it seems to pick up where Alaska leaves off and look more deeply into that so central Nerdfighting idea of imagining people complexly.

I love that the physical journey to find Margo so closely parallels the metaphorical journey to find out who Margo really is, and I love the idea that in finding the essence of other people, we come that much closer to finding our own selves.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I am always appalled to learn how many people have never read this book. I had to read it in eighth grade, and while I enjoyed it then, it didn’t make the list until I reread it in high school. I think I was able, then, to understand what I hadn’t gotten before. The dystopian world portrayed in this novel is so fascinating to me because it is a world that, on the surface, seems so appealing. No pain, no illness, all decisions about our lives taken out of our hands so that we don’t make mistakes.

But it’s the exploration of what all that means that earns this book a spot on the list. This book asks us to consider what it means to be human and what happens to our humanity when our flaws are taken away. I think the message of this book is so strong and so well portrayed in such a short amount of time.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The most recent addition to the list. Both dystopic and post-apocalyptic, this book explores the definition of monstrosity and again, what it is that makes us human. This book makes its reader think, really think about the nature of the world and our place in it. The characters and the story are compelling and heartwrenching. I powered through this book, in a way that I have with very few (we’re talking not speed of reading, but of un-put-downable-ness), and that’s always the first hint for me that there’s something that might earn a story a place on this list.

Brilliantly told, Collins makes you ache for her characters and the situation, and the fact that it’s set in the future of our own world just makes it that much more gut-punching. The whole trilogy is amazing, and really, the whole trilogy should be on this list.

So those are my top six titles. I can’t wait to hear what recommendations you all have for me!


  1. I read The Giver in 3rd grade? In any case, it was the first book like that I had ever read and it SHOOK my world. It's one of the few books I think about constantly, and it definitely shaped who I am as a person today. So I'm glad it made this list.

    Also, I wish more people would read deeply. I think it's something that's gone out of fashion/has been forgotten, which makes me sad because it's so life enriching.

  2. I actually started reading The Book Thief a couple months ago, but had to return it to the library before I finished. I'm waiting to get it back, but the holds list is pretty long- and rightfully so it seems.

  3. I Am The Messenger pretty much blew my mind; I'm glad you included it on your list. Can't wait until I get to blog my picks!

  4. Cassie's brother's UR list, in case any are curious:
    The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
    I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak
    Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Paper Towns, by John Green
    The Giver, by Lois Lowry (sounding familiar?)
    The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous, by Suzanne Crowley
    To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, by Louis Sachar
    The Bermudez Triangle, by Maureen Johnson
    Nation, by Terry Pratchett