In tenth grade, I read “Gone with the Wind” during three weeks of classes. I remember sitting in my economics class — front row to boot — and my teacher saying, “Suzanne, put the book away.”
Looking back, regardless of the hot water I got into for ignoring my teachers for nearly a month, it was totally worth it.
A few years ago, I reread “Gone with the Wind,” revisiting the it’s 1,000-plus pages for the first time in 30 years. While I enjoyed Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War-era story the second time around, reading the book as an adult was quite a different experience.
To be honest, based on its negative stereotypes of African Americans, I’m pretty amazed “Gone with the Wind” hasn’t been torched in piles.
It was also during high school that my interest in history was piqued, perhaps by “Gone with the Wind,” but most likely by “Gizelle, Save the Children!”
The nonfiction book, which I checked out of the school library, was about a Hungarian Jewish girl named Gizelle whose mother implores her to save her siblings during the Holocaust.
“Gizelle, Save the Children!” was the first of many books I’ve read since then about the Holocaust and World War II. Most of these books have been biographical, centering on the experiences of specific individuals.
One I read this past year was fictional, but no less gripping.
“All The Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr, tells two colliding stories — of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Warner, an orphaned German boy who longs to be an engineer. The story is set in France and Germany during World War II. So I don’t spoil the plot, I’ll just say I mourned a little when the last page was turned.
Here are the other 13 books I read during 2016:
“A Walk in the Woods” (Bill Bryson)
The funny story of Bill Bryson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. This life-affirming book made me believe that I, too, can attempt anything, even if it doesn’t work out exactly as planned.
“The Road to Wellville” (T. Coraghessan Boyle)
A novel set around the turn of the 20th century at the famous Kellogg sanatorium in Michigan. I blogged about this book a few months ago.
“True Grit” (Charles Portis)
The story of an Arkansas teenager determined to avenge the murder of her father in 1870s Indian Country. I also blogged about this book.
“Dead Wake” (Erik Larson, who also wrote “Devil in the White City,” another good book.)
This book tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.
“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” (Mitch Albom)
A novel about a man who learns lessons in the afterlife. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did.
“My Name is Asher Lev” (Chaim Potok)
The fictional story of a Hasidic Jewish boy who just wants to be a painter, and the struggles that result.
“And The Dead Shall Rise” (Steve Oney)
About the 1913 Atlanta murder of Mary Phagan and the subsequent lynching of Leo Frank, the man accused of killing her. (While fascinating, this extremely well-researched tome took forever to read and I blame it for not achieving my 19-book goal this year.)
“The Prince of Tides” and “South of Broad” (Pat Conroy)
The former is my all-time favorite book, and as for the latter, I don’t know why I waited so long to read it. In each book, set in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the late-Pat Conroy tells the story of a dysfunctional family with secrets — and he does it in the most beautifully written way.
“Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves” (Sana Butler)
In late 1990s through early 2000s, author Sana Butler was on a quest to interview the children of African-American slaves. And, yes, she finds several still alive.
“For the Glory” (Duncan Hamilton)
A biography of Eric Liddell, the famous sprinter from the “Chariots of Fire” story.
“Fast Girl” (Suzy Favor Hamilton)
Tells the true story of Olympic middle-distance runner turned Las Vegas call girl Suzy Favor Hamilton and her battle with bipolar disorder.
“The Coalwood Way” (Homer Hickam)
A memoir by NASA engineer Homer Hickam about growing up in West Virginia coal country.
Currently, I’m reading, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” Timothy Egan’s biography of Edward S. Curtis. Curtis (1868-1952) is famous for his iconic photographs of Native Americans, such as the one pictured above.
The photographs were published in his 20-volume book series, “The North American Indian.” Curtis worked on the project for three decades. Photos from the series can be viewed on the Library of Congress website.
Happy New Year and happy reading!