The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Cornucopia of Literary Gratitude

"Pride and Prejudices" is what I am reading these days via flickr user Nina Matthews Photography

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, The Big Read team asked NEA staff which books or authors they were grateful for and why. Below are their responses; feel free to add your own picks in the comments section!

Allan Hung: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, probably because he was always having a worse day than I was.

Denise Brandenburg: I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson is the only book I've ever read that even begins to capture what it's like to be a married, working mom with little kids. It was as if the author was inside my head. She put into words the feelings and thoughts I've been slogging through since I started my family (my kids are now 4-1/2, 2-1/2 and 1 year old), the limitless love a mother feels towards her children---especially in small moments like watching them sleep---the push-pull guilt of loving your job though it takes you away from your kids, the hit a marriage inevitably takes every time a baby comes along, the imaginary/self-imposed competition with other moms, the obligation to work and to home, the shifting priorities, trying to be a nursing mom and working mom at the same time, and the complete and total and constant exhaustion. While reading that book, I was just so grateful that somebody was able to express the myriad thoughts and feelings a working mom has. It takes a lot for a book to make me tear up---this one did several times.

Maryrose Flanigan: When I was a kid, I was totally enchanted by Watership Down. I read it when I was nine. It was the biggest book I'd ever read---my aunt gave it to me. I was completely enchanted by this world of rabbits I figured just came from this guy Richard Adams' imagination, and yet I felt I just wanted to buy the whole thing as real because it was so detailed and compelling. It had such great characters who had their own myths and honorary titles. It was fascinating to see the world from the perspective of a rabbit at the side of the highway. It was also this journey of a people trying to find a new land for themselves (hey---that sounds familiar!). I still have the stuffed rabbit I bought and named Hazel. Okay, I named him Hazel-rah.

Adam Kampe: Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver. It's the reason I became an English major.

Paulette Beete: The book I'll forever be grateful for is a slim volume by May Sarton called Journal of a Solitude, which was given to me by the poet Danna Ephland during an afternoon of browsing a used bookstore. I suppose you'd call it a memoir, but it's really closer to the old-fashioned idea of a writer's diary (of which Sarton wrote several). In this journal she struggles with what it means to be a woman artist, and what it means to need solitude as much as you need the company of others. It was the first book I read in which I completely recognized myself and the pull I felt between wanting to engage with the world and at the same time retreat from it so I could have the time and space to write poetry. Sarton helped me to change my idea of myself from "antisocial" to "artist," and to appreciate the balancing act that living the artist's life requires.

Laska Hurley: It's a cross between the original Goosebump series, The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder (which is super brilliant) and The Story of a Soul by Theresa of Lisieux. Lastly, anything by Robert Massie. Mr. Massie, if you're reading this, could you write a biography of Emperor Paul? (When you have the time that is.)

Pepper Smith: To hear Edmund B. Ratner confess, "I lied to you a minute ago. I am not actually the world's smallest perfect man. Not anymore. I do have reason to believe I am the world's smallest perfect fat man," or see our hero Norwood liberate Joann the Wonder Hen, The College Educated Chicken, still makes me laugh, so I am thankful for Norwood by Charles Portis. I've lent it out to a lot of people who didn't like it, which makes me stick up for Norwood all the more. Most people can't get over the fact not much happens---the plot revolves around Norwood Pratt leaving Ralph, Texas to find a friend in NYC who owes him 70 dollars. But it's beautifully written and I get caught up in the dialogue and the appreciation for eccentricity (another reason some people don?t like it). Norwood is funny and for that I am grateful.

Jason Shupbach: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It was my favorite book when I was young. I loved the sense of adventure mixed with a love for nerdy wordplay and mathematical puzzles.

Rebecca Gross: I am eternally grateful for Roald Dahl for showing me just how magical reading can be. More than any other person, book, or experience, he's the reason I decided to pursue writing professionally.




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