The most important book I ever read...
holy shazbut. This one is really tough. It's not because I never read as a kid, or as an adult. It's because I read ALL. THE. TIME. This is like picking your favorite kid. I can't do it.
I LOVE to read. I am inspired by the different stories that I read, the different genres, fiction, non-fiction, self-help. There is not one book that stands out that I can say unabashedly changed my life because there were so many.
Judy Blume was definitely one of my favorite authors growing up. "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" taught me about being a girl. "Deenie" taught me how to accept the differences in other people. "Fudge" taught me that I am not the only one with an annoying younger sibling and that there is actually some shit to laugh at even when they are getting on my last raw nerve.
Beverly Cleary was another one of my favorites as a kid. I really wanted to BE Ramona Quimby. I actually thought I was her, but without the older sister to look up to. I just used the older kids in my neighborhood to fill that role. I even created "No Smoking" signs to try and get my mother to quit smoking. That did not go over very well. Ramona got a hug from her father, I got to try my first cigarette (my cray cray mother was trying to prove a point in her infinite wisdom by trying to show me smoking isn't that bad... HELLO, I was SEVEN).
Harper Lee blew my mind with "To Kill a Mockingbird," and that is definitely an outstanding book that is one of my favorites of all time but is it the most important? I mean, didn't everyone want Atticus Finch as their father? We all had a Boo Radley in the neighborhood that everyone was afraid of (I still do, but I call him Rain Man, the one before that I called Sling Blade). Scout was just a girl who recognized what was wrong with the world and was fearless.
An obscure book that I really think changed me forever was "Death Be Not Proud" by John Gunther. This man wrote an incredible story of his son, Johnny, who developed a brain tumor and died at the age of 17 but did not go quietly. This kid did everything he could to get into Harvard before he died. Freaking HARVARD. I had to read it for school, but it is one of those books that I think of often and want to read again and again.
Upon reflection, THE most important book I ever read was an Ernest Hemingway novel. When I was 14 years old, my parents separated and my father and I went to live with my grandparents. My grandfather had a small bookcase in the living room with these old, dark blue canvas-bound books. I had always been curious about these books so one day I asked him about them. He told me to choose one and we could talk about it. My grandfather was a World War II veteran, and had lived through a lot of experiences that Hemingway wrote of so eloquently. I chose "For Whom the Bell Tolls" as my first book to read with my grandfather. It transported me - it took me three days to read it. I was engrossed, I was enthralled by the action, the excitement, and the romance of the Spanish Civil War. When I finished, I was speechless - probably the main objective of my grandfather since I was an asshole teenager at the time - but he had me choose another book. And then another, and another. By the time the summer was through - I read every single book on that shelf. He had saved me from what could have been a horrible summer for me, with all of the life changes that I was facing with my parents' divorce, starting a new school, and just being 14.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" is the most important book to me, not because of the story or the author, but because of who introduced me to that book. My grandfather was a strong, silent Irishman who never said he loved us, he never said he was proud, but you could tell by the way he was and the gifts he gave us (and not the ones you can buy at the store) that he did, and that he was.
I feel like I let my grandfather down when I was in my twenties. I disappeared. I was going through some stuff, and withdrew from my life after I found out that he had multiple myeloma. I ran away, because I didn't want to see that man wither away into a shell of himself. I wanted to remember him as the strong man who wore Christmas socks in July to bust my grandmother's balls. He died a few years later, and I sobbed at his funeral. I was ashamed for having abandoned him and for having let him down. He deserved better from me, but sometimes I dream of him and I think he knows.
I hope that he does. Because when I hear a bell toll off in the distance, no matter where I am, I always think of him.