What are your five favorite books and why?
Listing “My five favorite books” proved too stressful. Instead I give you “Five of my favorite books and five others that didn’t quite make it.”
A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. According to Alan Bennett in The History Boys, Oxbridge candidates needed gobbets for successful entrance essays. More than 25 years earlier, I had quoted Tigger in a biology essay and was awarded a scholarship to Oxford on the basis of my cite. (These are books that should perhaps be better classified under “books that have helped me most in my career”!) However, I also have many fond memories of my father bringing Pooh, Piglet, and the rest of the 100 acre wood crew to life for me when I was very young as he convinced me that the forest was really the woodland at the end of our garden, and anyway, how can you not love stories about a bear who, when offered “Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” was so excited that he said, “`Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, `But don’t bother about the bread, please.’” A wonderful antidote to weight watchers!
Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. One of the most moving and beautifully written books I have ever read. A tale of four characters from different areas and castes set against the turbulent backdrop of a changing India in the 1970s and 1980s. Exquisitely composed sentences can be found on page after page as the reader is led through a world that vacillates between hope and despair. This book was given to me by a wonderful graduate student and I chose it for the OSU library when I was promoted to full professor in the hopes that many more students might learn from its pages.
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. A story of a Baptist missionary, his wife and four daughters, who move from Georgia to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Drawing on her own diary entries written while a child living in Africa, Kingsolver brings the political turmoil of the era to the forefront of her novel. Each book chapter is narrated by one of the family members and so provides wonderful insights and impressions that cut across the ages of childhood and into adulthood. A book of humor and great sadness, and another “must read”.
Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You. While most Americans know Roald Dahl for his somewhat quirky children’s stories, I grew up in England on a diet that included Dahl’s much darker short stories. Someone Like You was written in 1953, and although roast lamb is now a favorite meal of mine, for a portion of my childhood I was a little leary of my mother when she cooked it for Sunday lunch!! (You will have to read the book to know why).
Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life. A sociological study that provides an indepth description and insightful analysis of the ways in which children’s lives unfold within the constraints of race and class-based stratification in the United States. This book is forceful, provocative and full of detail yet easy to read. The second edition presents updates to the children’s lives a decade later.
…. And five that didn’t quite make it: Atonement (Ian McEwan), Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (Kevin Boyle), Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), Promises I can Keep: Why Poor Women put Motherhood Before Marriage (Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas) and The Magus (John Fowles).
Who is your favorite character in literature?
My favorite character is Elizabeth in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A wonderful, strong female character who just happens to share my name. What a role model!
What is the last book bought?
The most recent book I bought (but have yet to read) is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Alas, it sits in a basket next to my bed with a stack of other books I have yet to read.
What important book have you not read?
There are all sorts of classics on the American High School curriculum that I was not exposed to growing up in England. Instead, we had to read multiple books by Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy and if we were lucky, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I don’t remember reading more modern day authors. I certainly never read books such as Slaughterhouse Five or Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps after I retire?
What book would you most want your kids to read?
I would choose Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth – clever and witty. I’m glad I came across this gem when my own children were growing up.
What classic novel was a disappointment to you?
Lord of the Rings. I LOVED The Hobbit, but Lord of the Rings is one of the very few books I just couldn’t get through. Too many battles and not enough humor!
What magazines do you subscribe to and why?
I subscribe to a number of magazines but my two favorites are The Week which provides excellent reports on “world” events (something that we tend to lack in many other American media outlets) and Travel and Leisure because it is good to have dreams, especially during an Ohio winter.