Sunday, January 31, 2010

I have to choose just one?

When I saw the challenge to write about a favorite book, I was stunned, unable to write anything. How do I choose just one book? I have many favorites, books I read over and over and find something new each time, some I've read since childhood and new favorites that pop up all the time.

I could write about how I couldn't get into Jane Austen the first few times because the language seemed incomprehensible or how Shakespeare was like climbing a mountain without the proper equipment, classics and bestsellers that initially left me cold and banned books like hidden gems that I read because they were banned. I couldn't abide Robert Heinlein the first few times I essayed his heights and then like magic I couldn't get enough. Jane Austen's stilted language melted like frozen butter on a hot griddle and enriched the way I saw relationships and society. Shakespeare's daunting mountains of literary wit and wisdom became green hills that begged to be rolled down and skipped up and around until I was dancing in heather and falling in love over and over, the words and phrases like honey on the tongue. 

The deceptive simplicity of Andre Norton's fantasy and science fiction which was more space opera with fantastical elements, the seeming complexities of Stephen King's apocalyptic and horrific visions coming down to the basic elements of good and evil, and the overwhelming sexuality and visceral emotions of Henry Miller contrasted with the fey sensuality of Anais Nin are all steps leading to a wider and more wonderful world full of words and ideas. How can I choose just one when one book leads to another and another and another? 

I finally did choose one favorite book and it was a hard choice, going back to my childhood for books that remain in memory still, hard wired in memory and emotions. It was a tie between Heidi by Johanna Spyri and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. 

Heidi was given to me for my tenth birthday and the window it opened on the world was one where I ran barefoot in soft alpine grass among goats and slept in a fragrant hayloft beneath the stars after dining on fresh milk, homemade bread and toasted cheese. Even when Heidi was kidnapped and taken to Frankfurt there were adventures to be had and a wide vista of possibilities to be taken back to Grandmother and Grandfather so Clara could share Heidi's mountains and be healed. 

But Ivanhoe is the one, my favorite book, with its interplay of Saxon and Norman frictions, valiant Crusaders, King Richard the Lionhearted in prison and brother Prince John wreaking evil havoc in the land where Locksley fights against injustice and tyranny and turns Sherwood Forest into a haven for freedom. Serfs, knights, Templars, damsels in distress, kings, tournaments and castle sieges, what's not to like. The historical references were romantic and horrible and Brian de Bois Guilbert kidnapping Rebecca in violation of his Templar vows set me on a course of study that have stayed with me throughout the years, resulting in a collection of books about the Templar Knights and times in history that still affect the current times and culminated at one point in America.

Ivanhoe reminds me how all things are connected and that the least pebble dropped in the biggest ocean still send out ripples that are felt everywhere. Where else but between the pages of Ivanhoe is it possible to see how society is formed and reformed and good and evil switch tracks so that good isn't always completely good and evil not so evil. Sir Walter Scott's historical fantasy is a blueprint of how a book can enlighten and inform while it also enchants and is as much a reason why becoming a writer became more real and was within my reach. As Wamba the serf became Wamba the Squire, I knew that nothing was impossible and the world was wider and more wonderful than what could be seen from the front porch. 

I still remember the characters and Sir Walter Scott's story as if I read them yesterday and, although I love Heidi, The Stand, Shakespeare, Andre Norton's simple magics, Jane Austen and every other book and author that have a place on the shelves and in my memories, I return to the world of King Richard, Rebecca and Wilfrid of Ivanhoe all the times among the pages and in the memories laid down so many decades ago that they have all become a part of me as a person and a writer.

Thank you, Sir Walter Scott.

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