I have never before done one of these, when someone on Facebook tagged me with this, I was intrigued. But my Facebook is generally for short form posts, and I don’t really want to post this without annotations. So as a distraction from politics, religion and controversy…..
The request is to list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that affected you in some way.
I hate getting tagged in these things, so I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you feel inspired, please consider yourself tagged
1) The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
In Grade 10 or 11, this was one of the books we had to read for English. For some reason, I had in my head that Margaret Atwood was a “crazy feminist” and was her books were “feminist propaganda”. Never mind that I’d never read her or anything about her, and besides that, had no reason to fear, care about or otherwise watch out for “feminist propaganda”. I was just a super enlightened 16 year old.
So when my English teacher introduced the book, I commandeered the class and had a 20 minute debate about her regarding why we shouldn’t have to read this book.
Thankfully, I’m not longer such a gigantic douche (I think). Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors and reading the Handmaid’s Tale was the beginning of my forging my own political identity.
2) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
3) The Dark Is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising Sequence was my first experience with the fantasy genre and got me hooked. It was first given to me by my Elementary School librarian when I was in like grade 5, and I’ve re-read the series every few years since. It’s not super complicated or subtle, but it has staying power. (Don’t watch the movie. It’s terrible)
4) The Chosen - Chaim Potok
A book equally about religious tolerance, internal Jewish community politics and the importance of and tension between friends and family. I actually most appreciated The Chosen and its sequel for the treatment it gives to the challenges and tensions in defining ones identity. This is another one that I come back to every few years.
5) The Way it Works - Eddie Goldenberg
Pretty self explanatory. I basically want to be him.
6) Defending Identity - Natan Sharansky
At what point in this book, Sharansky asks: "Can different identities be framed by democracy to become linked identities in which there is room for their full expression not only in private but also in a shared public space?" I believe identity and nationalism are important and can be harnessed for good. This book helped me define that belief (albeit with a very particular geopolitical bent of the author in mind).
7) The Cremation of Sam McGee - Robert Service
Now that I’m older, I’m acutely aware of how creepy it is that this was a regular in the “bedtime stories” rotation at the Shefman household. A poem about a guy dying of exposure and getting cremated (and coming back to life?) is kind of odd for children, but oh well. It brings back good memories when I read it, and after re-reading it recently, I got a collection of Robert Service’s poetry, to start my collection.
8) Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin
Not a lot of attention is paid to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency besides the Civil War, slavery and related events. This book was a fascinating look at how he built and held together his team, and managed a group of people that more often than not wanted nothing to do to each other. Instructive, if tough to emulate.
9) Young and Jewish in 1930’s Toronto / The Life of a Simple Man - Milton Shefman
My grandfather had a high school education and spent most of his childhood in poverty. He was a storyteller at heart, and in between telling his grandchildren stories, he also wrote them down. He wrote two books of short memoirs from his childhood and young adult years, the first of which we self-published shortly before he passed away. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to see the world how he saw it and to have these physical remembrances of him.
10) A Short History of Progress - Ronald Wright