Books I Can’t Forget or Why I Have a Secret Desire to Go Camping in the Wilderness

I may look tough, but I’m actually scouting for the pool boy and nearest 1000-thread-count sheets.

Miles run today: 10

Things accomplished today: 0

Mediocre book I am currently reading: 1

Some of my friends don’t read.

I know!!! Pick your jaw up off the floor.

This is as alien to me as it would be to you if I said that I don’t follow any sports teams. Any.

I know. Some people think I’m pretty strange, like when I was five, and my mom took me to a birthday party at Pizza Hut and had to tell the mom that I didn’t like pizza. The mom immediately nominated me for Weirdest Kid Ever and wouldn’t let me play with her daughter anymore. Or maybe I did, but I didn’t get invited back to Pizza Hut for years.

Since then, I’ve eaten a lot of pizza. A lot.

Anyway, sometimes I wonder what those friends and I talk about. I mean, if you missed The Time Traveler’s Wife, maybe you need to pick it up and give me a call afterwards. And I don’t mean see the movie. I mean, fall in love with Henry and Clare in print and get back to me.

If you can’t stop thinking about a book, I think the writer has done his or her job. I thought I would share some books I’ve read in the past few years that I can’t stop thinking about.

1. Man/Woman vs. Nature vs. Self

I am intrigued by a single person up against the odds. Walking, running, swimming, pain, torture, overwhelming odds… and they make it.

I am also the person most of my friends and family would nominate as Least Likely to Embark on a Solo Camping Trip Through the Mountains. And yet… I cannot stop reading about people embarking on solo trips through the mountains.

I read the historical novel Follow the River by James Alexander Thom several years ago… I can’t forget it. Based on a true story, Mary Ingles was kidnapped by Shawnee Indians from her home in Virginia in the 1700s. She walked a thousand miles, making some horrendously difficult choices, to get back to her husband and former life. Without a GPS.

I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail just the other day. Her memoir starts with her mother dying and a painful divorce and involves hiking and quite a few toenails falling off. I couldn’t put it down.

Both Mud, Sweat & Tears by Bear Grylls and Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes aren’t memoirs to read for exquisite writing. But if you want to feel inspired by the journey of two extraordinary people pushing on in the face of pain and exhaustion, these are the books for you. They’ll make your little thirteen mile run look like a comfy soak in the tub.

I am fascinated and forever changed by books I’ve read about World War II and the Holocaust. You will thank me if you read Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Not only is the true story of Louis Zamperini riveting, I can’t say enough that I bow down to Hillenbrand’s way with words, superior narrative nonfiction and impressive research skills. Any other book you read will pale in comparison. Really.

If you read only one book about the Holocaust, let it be Night by Elie Wiesel. We read it a few summers ago for book club. I took it to the beach with me and read it almost in one sitting. I can’t recommend it for ocean-side happiness, but Wiesel’s life has forever changed mine.

2. Crush-worthy Women’s Fiction That’s “Quiet” (gasp)

I admit it: I have a writer-crush on Elizabeth Berg. She has small moments of genius everywhere in her work. I love her novels, but one of the books that made me love short stories again was her collection called The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. She writes as if she has been inside your home, thinking your thoughts and talking to your husband.

Much has been said to writers about “quiet” books. As much as I love Hunger Games and Divergent and things that blow up and self-destruct and are wonderfully “high concept,” I wish agents and publishers would listen to readers: many of us enjoy “quiet” books. One that is a favorite for me is The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. If you are a writer learning how to say a lot in a few words and develop characters that readers will love, read this book like a bible.

I love all of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. When Alexander McCall Smith writes about Africa, you escape into a different way of life. I especially love to read about Mma. Ramotswe in the dead of winter. I almost start feeling warm again.

3. Narrative Nonfiction that Made Me Love Nonfiction

Perhaps you are one of the only people in the world who has not yet read the memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. So read it. You won’t be able to look at bacon, candy bars or poverty the same way again.

What is the What by Dave Eggers defies categorization and perhaps isn’t exactly narrative nonfiction… but I saw into another way of life, the struggles of refugees who live their entire lives in camps in foreign lands. I used to think that one day, they would go home. This book opened my eyes and changed my worldview.

4. Page-turning, Epic Fiction

What could be better than vampires, witches and age-old secrets? A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness connects us to a reluctant witch, her sexy, intelligent vampire scientist love interest and a manuscript sought by witches, vampires and demons alike. I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy, recently released.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett made me remember why I loved castles, kings, cathedrals and epic tales. My lifetime favorite book, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, has a similarly epic vibe. And castles. And kings. Evil and heartache, destiny and heart.

5. Humor

I’ve read a lot of great memoir/humor in the past few years. But The King of Humor, David Sedaris, remains king for me. If you haven’t read it already, check out Me Talk Pretty One Day.

My husband won’t allow me to read Sedaris’s stuff in bed anymore, because I get hysterical and can’t stop laughing and get that annoying gasping sound and start pounding on the bed when he’s trying to calm down and go to sleep.

What are the best books you’ve discovered or rediscovered in the past few years? What do I need to put on my to-read list? Which books have changed your life… as an adult?

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43 thoughts on “Books I Can’t Forget or Why I Have a Secret Desire to Go Camping in the Wilderness

  1. Amy Mak says:

    Oh, I just love book recommendations!
    Yes, I am the only person who hasn’t read, The Glass Castle. But I sure love that Elizabeth Berg! She is quiet and yet I find myself wanting to underline passages everywhere but I can’t since it’s always a library book, darn it!

    Now I must pick up The School of Essential Ingredients. Haven’t read the #1 Detective Agency but I keep hearing about.

    Loved, loved, loved Unbroken. The writing was esp. impressive as Hillenbrand was so sick with chronic fatigue. I keep thinking of her in bed with a laptop.

    I recently discovered The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. The heroine is an 11 year old girl who is so sharp, funny, and astute I wanted to be her. Reminded me of Scout!

    Thanks for the post and good job with the ten miler!

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I, too, love the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series. So breezy and light that you can’t help feeling all unicorns and rainbows after reading one.

    One book that stayed with me years after I read it was “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. It takes place in India and is probably the most beautifully written book I’ve read. It’s full of heartbreak but also fortitude. Loved it. “Memoirs of a Geisha” is another one of my favorites.

    By the way, you wrote that you accomplished “0” things today. I’d say running 10 miles is a pretty big accomplishment! 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      I loved Memoirs of a Geisha, too… but I read it enough years ago that I couldn’t properly claim that it was a “recent” read for me. Such a well-written book!

      I will put “A Fine Balance” on my list. Thanks!

  3. Subtlekate says:

    Amazing to think some people don’t read. Actually the stats are quite scary so I won’t think about them.
    A book that changed me and propelled me to write was The Thirteenth Tale. It’s a glorious gothic tale of writers, siblings, secrets and loss.

  4. Hey Anne,

    I love this post! ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ is one of those that stuck with me for a long time and I recommended to all my friends. I think my husband even shed a tear when he read the book! As your reader, Carrie mentioned, ‘A Fine Balance’ is also a book that needs to be read. My husband recommended it to me but warned me that it’s pretty heavy so I had to be in the right frame of mind when I finally decided to pick it up. And when I finally did, I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely on my top 3 list.

    Some other books I would recommend: ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini, I can’t decide which one I liked better. ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind is also an excellent book. It’s definitely a challenge for the senses. I also enjoyed ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts is fantastic. Though Roberts claimed it was a based on his own experiences I found it a bit difficult that he had managed so much, but a great read nonetheless. Nick Hornby’s ‘Juliet Naked’ is absolutely funny, and I love John Irving : ‘The Cider House Rules’, ‘A Widow for One Year’ and ‘The World According Garp’ (again, can’t pick a favourite). I also have to mention ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, and state that I think ‘The Corrections’ is better, though they’re both very good. I also thought that James Frey ‘Bright Shiny Morning’ was a fantastic read. He did a great job of taking very cliched characters and using them to bring to life the city of Los Angeles.

    There are many more books that I would recommend but these are the ones that instantly came to mind.

    p.s. There’s also ‘The House of Special Purpose’ by John Boyne. I love anything Russia.

  5. Two books you must read. Both are by Colin Fletcher.
    “The man who walked through time” – His walk through the length of the Grand Canyon.

    “Thousand Mile Summer” – His walk the length of California, from Mexico to Oregon. The part through Death Valley is amazing.

    Let me know what you think of them.

  6. Melissa says:

    What a great reading list – I’ll have to check some of them out. I am the only one in my house that likes to read and they think I’m weird.
    I have to admit that I’m going to have to revisit “The Pillars of the Earth.” I started it years ago and couldn’t get into it. But this was when the boys were younger, which might have been the problem…too many interruptions. Two books that always get me (Yes, I’ve read them more than once) are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Gone With The Wind.” There is such a strength to the characters that I admire. I could go on ad nauseam, so I’ll stop now 😉

    • annewoodman says:

      I LOVE “Gone With the Wind.” LOVE.

      Honestly, I think it’s been too many years for me to say much about “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I enjoyed it, but some people (like you) have a deep and abiding attachment to it that I didn’t get the first time I read it. Maybe it’s time to pull it back out again.

    • annewoodman says:

      Amen, sister. And find ways to use “Tomorrow is another day” whenever possible. ; )

  7. I adore Sedaris, but I prefer his audiobooks; I find nothing funnier than hearing his words in his wonderful, distinct voice. (Sedaris’ are the only audiobooks I own.)

    On another note, how in hell can you run 10 miles and then say that you’ve accomplished nothing? Seriously, Anne, come ON!

    • annewoodman says:

      Huh. I haven’t tried his audiobooks! And yes, I can see how that would be the way to go. For his next collection, I’ll go that route. (Have you heard anything about his next book? I’ll have to check on that.)

      And when you do the 10 miles (that, by the way, are just another 10 miles in your weekly plan of always doing 10 mile long runs) but can’t muster up the energy to do anything else productive, it’s a sad day. My husband looked at me reading in the bed in the middle of the day and just shook his head.

      • For the record, if I ran 10 miles, the only thing I would be doing for the rest of the day is hitching a ride to the emergency room. That is, if I had enough energy to extend my thumb.

        I havent heard about Sedaris’s latest, but I’m gonna get it when it comes out.

        BTW, have you ever read any travel writing by Bill Bryson? He has a very different voice than Sedaris, but I think you might like him. “A Walk in the Woods” is a sort of masterpiece.

    • annewoodman says:

      I LOVE Bill Bryson! He wrote one I read years ago about the differences between English people and Americans… very fitting, since my husband is English. I read some of it out loud to him, snickering like a schoolgirl.

      I have read A Walk in the Woods also and loved it (again with the hiking stuff!). Also the one where he travels through Australia. But I haven’t read A Short History of Nearly Everything or At Home. It might be time to pick those up.

  8. robincoyle says:

    The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald is hysterical. I read the book on an airplane and got the strangest looks from the people around me for snickering. She had a darling sense of humor.

  9. David Gentry says:

    I’m impressed by running one mile.

    You and your readers might like “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. I think it is a work of genius. It reminds me of “Animal Farm” and “1984,” but maybe “The Giver” is more difficult to stop reading. It’s been a long time since I have read the other two books. It amazes me that “The Giver” is categorized as a children’s book! Children must be a lot smarter now than when I was a kid.

    Note: I do know that the names of books should be italicized, but I don’t know how to italicize in this blog. Anyone? Anyone?

  10. David Gentry says:

    Yes, I too find “The Time Traveler’s Wife” memorable, well written, imaginative, and captivating. I have a difficult time recommending it because for me it was sad. I mean she spends her life waiting for him! How much fun can that be?

    • Daryl says:

      I agree it was very sad, but for someone who is used to detective/anthorpology style books, it hit me like an 18 wheeler. It changed me, and changed my realization of what books can offer.

    • annewoodman says:

      But what good would a great tragic love story be if the end of the book was “Well, then she married a guy named Al who worked at Home Depot, had seven kids and got fat”?

  11. thepoelog says:

    I’m about 100 pages A Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Wentz. She and a fellow college student were camping 7 days into a cross country bike trip back in 1977, when they were attacked by a homicidal maniac with an ax and both survived. Oh, and the guy was never caught. It will put you off bikes and camping forever. (I’m personally not into either of those activities and this confirms my impeccable self-preservation instincts. Plus public parks give me the willies.) I’m pretty sure this book is going to stay with me a very long time.

    • annewoodman says:

      Yikes! Yes, that would definitely put one off camping.

      I read A Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (true crime, about Ted Bundy) several years ago. Can’t stop thinking about it. If you’re into the Wentz book, you may want to try A Stranger Beside Me also. Creepy.

  12. Thanks so much for the recommendations! I will put The School of Essential Ingredients on my “must” read list. I would say the top life changing books were Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m a sucker for what my husband calls wrist slitting novels (or movies) etc. I call them a good read 🙂

  13. 4amWriter says:

    Great post, lively as always! I love The Pillars of the Earth, it’s in my top 5 of all-time great books. I am the other person who has not read The Glass Castle.

    I recommend Water for Elephants. If you can get past the animal cruelty, it’s a wonderfully written book with a great ending.

    A book that always sticks with me is North & South by John Jakes, great Civil War historical novel–in fact, the whole trilogy is amazing but I read the first one over and over when I can.

    I love The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, not just for the moving story but also for the description that I can actually smell. 🙂

    I am currently reading The Little Book by Selden Edwards, and I’m loving it. It’s very smart, and it was written over a span of 30 years–so I feel a special kinship with the author. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      I read and enjoyed Water for Elephants… Prince of Tides is from my childhood… one of my favorites!!!!

      I’m putting The Little Book on my list… anyone who can write a smart book and stick with it for 30 years is a kindred spirit, for sure! ; )

  14. I’m catching up online and reading your posts backward. Ten miles is awesome but the thing that is wearing me out is trying to figure out how I could ever have time to read all the books that have been recommended! I’m going to print the entire screen and head to goodreads. And I’m never going to get this pile of memberships posted.

    • annewoodman says:

      Great–check me out and friend me on Goodreads so I can see (stalk) what you’re reading. Unless it’s something that makes you say, “Bah” and stop reading. I don’t want to read those.

      • I’ll tell you they were great so I can see if maybe I just have lousy taste…
        I’ll tell you book I absolutely HATED: Lord of the Flies. Oddly, I was a compliant child (?? where did that go?) and it was all I could do to read that book and do the assignments.

      • I remembered it – that you might look into for your son, but I don’t remember his age, this might be more a high school book. I loved them: Cassandra Clare.

      • annewoodman says:

        Thanks, Terrilee! I’ll check them out to see if they’re right for him. He’s just starting 6th grade but loves to read older. ; )

    • annewoodman says:

      Funny post on the two authors! I’d love to go to more author events–both big names and small. I fear that I get out to very few of them, but as my kids get older, I’m making more of an effort. ; )

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