Monday, January 16, 2006

those enduring books, part one

I wrote recently to an author whose works are on this list that I had to add those remarkable books to my all time favorites.
But then the list was in my head, and scattered through years of notebooks and accountbooks.
And so, I thought, why not an adjunct blog, where lists, and oddments can safely live.
So, here it is.
You must understand that I write surrounded by books, books on shelves and tables, books stacked at my feet, books in my imagination...but there are, always in the lives of the bookish, some handfuls of treasures. Like beach glass gathered on the shoreline, translucent, luminous, forever lovely.
The Tomes of Childhood:
Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit. Because it was the first book I read, because I longed for chamomile tea, because I wanted to live at the roots of a tree, because the little paintings were so lovely, and Peter so naughty. (I went on, as a mother, to get all the Potter books for my offspring. They did not greet them with the same enchantment.)

Palgrave's Golden Treasury. It is not a children's book by any means, but my mother had a red bound copy with black and white drawings, and from the age of 3 I took it for my own. I still have it, this anthology of a peculiar slice of British poetry. It was there I met Wordsworth, and Keats, and Shakespeare. I memorized many of these poems, the good ones and especially the sad, bad ones. I used the book to tell fortunes, to determine if the boy I loved at 11 loved me. I scribbled on the drawings when I was 4, to improve them. This year I found a very early edition of Palgrave and gave it to a young man I know, the son of a dear friend. He wishes to be a poet; what better gift?

The Encyclopedia Americana of the year of my birth. My mother was convinced to use the rent money to purchase this for her four month old baby girl; by the time I was old enough to read it of course much was out of date--but literature wasn't, nor was early history, nor a whole lot of random amazing facts. Many a summer's day I spent reading a volume or two, purely delighted.

Easy Stories. I have no idea who the author of this was; it was a little brown paper leaflet of a book, given me by my Japanese maid (in Japan, post world war II). It had been designed to help the speaker of Japanese learn English. There were fables, and brief stories, all illustrated in black. Also of the time, and lost to me, was a collection of Japanese folk tales--the little peach boy, the badger who was a tea kettle, a version of Cinderella, Japanese style, and others, printed in green on soft rice paper.

All of Andrew Lang's Fairy Tale books--the Red, and Blue, and Orange, and Yellow,and so on. The school library when I was 10 had these. Pure dizzy delight.

Tennyson's Idylls of the King. This was my grandfather's book, and at his death came to me--but as a little girl I would sit for hours reading it, the stories of Camelot, of passions and honor and betrayal and loveliness.

Eleanor Estes The Hundred Dresses. It was given me by my aunt; with watercolor pictures; the story of a poor girl who wears the same blue dress each day to school, yet boasts she has a hundred dresses at home (and she does, in the triumph of art over life). I cherished this book greatly--partly because my aunt was one of the few who took me seriously when I asked for books. But alas, like Potter, this book did not impress my own little ones.

and more soon (including those come on most recently)


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