Five books that have stayed with me

When I saw the Lawrence Public Library Book Squad’s first Squad Goal (Re-read a book you haven’t read in more than 5 years), I was excited for an excuse to pick up one of the books that have been sitting untouched on my shelf for longer than I care to admit.

It also gave me an excuse to reflect on the many books I’ve read over the years. Here are five that have stayed with me:

"The Accidental Florist" (Jane Jeffry Series) by Jill Churchill

When I was in high school, my grandmother introduced me to Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffry mysteries. Starting with "Grime and Punishment," the series follows the suburban housewife turned amateur sleuth who, with the help of her neighbor, solves the string of unrelated murders that happen around her. In the final installment, "The Accidental Florist," Jane marries her longtime beau, Detective Mel VanDyne, and it wouldn't be a Churchill mystery without someone turning up dead. Hanging on to these books has been a way to keep connected to my grandmother after she passed away more than a decade ago.

"Where the Heart Is" by Billie Letts

Beyond serving pizza and ice cream at a gas station, my only extracurricular activity in high school was book club. I’m pretty sure this was the first pick my sophomore year. Seventeen and pregnant, Novalee Nation is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma with just $7.77. She takes up temporary residence in the discount department store and meets a number of friendly, caring people who help her adapt to the community. With characters as eccentric as their names — Sister Husband and Benny Goodluck, for example — and heartbreaking events, it’s a story I never forgot. Overall, I think it’s a well-crafted representation of low-income, small town life in the Midwest.

"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison

My junior year of college, I took an author study class on Morrison. There were about nine other students, and over the course of a semester, we read and discussed the seven novels she had published up to that point. It was basically like a book club, but with quizzes and term papers. "The Bluest Eye" was my absolute favorite, and I learned so much from it. The story — centered on a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes — exposed me to a world that I will never be familiar with and opened my eyes to the damage of popular culture’s portrayal of beauty as “whiteness.” Definitely memorable.

"Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie

As an English major, I also took a course on Native American literature. Among the mix of books, short stories and poetry, we read Sherman Alexie’s novel about a group of misfits from a Spokane Reservation in Washington who form a blues band. Robert Johnson — the famous blues singer, who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil — winds up on the reservation in search of a local medicine woman called Big Mom and leaves his guitar in the hands of Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas convinces two others from the reservation to form a band and they garner near-instant fame in the Northwest.

"Invisible Monsters" by Chuck Palahniuk

I read this in one sitting at an overnight job I had right out of college. A model recovering from having her lower jaw blown off in an accident meets a transgender woman who introduces herself as Brandy Alexander (among many other names) and drives across the country selling stolen drugs at nightclubs. In my favorite scene, the model and Brandy are at the top of Seattle's space needle flinging postcards off the edge. On the back of each they scribble little sayings like "All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring."

The best thing about re-reading books is that it can remind you of where you were when you first read one, and of how that book has affected or changed your perspective. For the Squad Goal, I ended up re-reading "Reservation Blues," and I was immediately taken back to both the Spokane Reservation in Washington and my college dorm room where spent a number of late nights trying to keep up with the reading.

What books have stayed with you?

— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


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