2011 at 5am Posted by Rebecca Joines Schinsky
The Bare Necessities is a series in which authors and book industry professionals share annotated reading lists of books they love.
Claudia Sternbach is the author Reading Lips: A Memoir in Kisses, part of Unbridled Books’ facemeltingly fantastic spring 2011 list. It hits stores on April 5. I’m thrilled to welcome Claudia today with a discussion of the books she would never kiss goodbye.
We used to have a book store in our small coastal village which sold used books. Some were highly valued for their age and condition. Some were the kind of thing one might find left in an umbrella shaded beach chair to be discovered by the next person looking for a place to get out of the sun. Once in a while I would try to become one of those organized, disciplined people who are able to look at their overstuffed shelves and begin to cull. To pull down books which may be parted with and after dusting them off, drive down the hill to the little shop and hand them over. It always sounded easy. The reality of the task was much more difficult.
I simply love my books. Even the ones I found to be rather disappointing. There is one shelf, however, where the books perched are safe. A place for books I would never think of letting go.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is one of those “keep your hands off” books. One of the best examples of memoir ever written. How McCourt was able to recreate a world of wet and dreary poverty while showing us the humanity and humor of a life in Ireland most of us could never imagine is one of those mysteries of writing. Actually, I can’t imagine parting with any of his books, but if a fire were to break out and and I was forced to save just one of his “children” Angela’s Ashes would be tucked under my arm as I ran out the door.
Friendly Fire by Kathryn Chetkovich would be included in that dash for safety. This slim book of sharp as a knife short stories won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press in 1998. How Chetkovich packed so much in such a seemingly small package I don’t know. But once a year I take it off my shelf and reread it. I always find something new to amaze me. I will confess that Kathy is an old friend. But that does not mean I am biased. I have many friends who write books. Many are really, really good. But Friendly Fire gets reread more than any other book on my shelf.
Grimms’ Fairy Tales illustrated by Fritz Kredel is also a keeper. This particular volume of vicious, bloody, children’s stories is more than 60 years old. Filled with exquisite jewel tone illustrations I grew up being read to and then reading myself, these nightmare inducing tales of witches and evil and consequences for bad behavior. It is deliciously torturous and I would never leave it behind.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has a permanent place in my house unless the fire breaks out in which case she will go with me to safety. As a teenager I spent countless hours in bed with the blankets pulled up to my chin to ward off the chill of Jane’s harsh life. But dispite the odds being stacked agains the orphan girl, Jane Eyre proves to be one of the strongest, most resilient female characters I have ever met. I could never leave her behind.
Tinkers by Paul Harding is the newest book to have a permanent place in my heart and on the shelf. This novel reads like nonfiction. The language Harding uses is lush and full, images seem to explode off the page. This slim book about the last few hours of a man’s life begs to be savored slowly. There is no skimming here. Each sentence is to be savored. Each chapter a cause for reflection. A book with one of the most beautiful, powerful endings I have ever read. But the kind of writing which, if one does not pay careful attention, take in each word and feel what the writer intends one to feel, one may miss the depth of the story. It is truly a slow down and pay attention kind of book. A skill many of us are losing. So for that I thank the author. His book is a banquet. Not at all a drive through meal on the go.