If You Could Save Only Eight Books… Part Six

31 Jan

And so we come to the fourth of my guests to take up the challenge to rescue just eight books from their collection, the Canadian writer, Lisa Pellecchia. As with my previous guests, she found that the choice was a hard one.

“My books are the only material things that I treasure, and listing only eight of them would be a gross understatement,” Lisa says.

Ah, but that’s the whole point, Lisa. She explains what books mean to her.

“They were the only luxury my parents would allow despite the wrath of poverty we endured for several years. The library became my refuge, where I could change my mind as many times as I wanted, and the librarian would smile patiently. Books were my companions during the lonely hours of my awkward childhood. The stories that poured out of the pages put things into context for me, and gave me time to sort out what mattered. The ideas I read about could not possibly exist only in these pages, my mind would say. I could feel these emotions too. I used the characters in the books I read to help me understand people, and it became easier to make friends because kids were interested in what I had to say. I was more confident.”

There are a couple of writers who might have made it on to my list – Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kurt Vonnegut – had I compiled it on another day. And there’s also a John Irving title on there. I have to confess at this point that I’ve never got around to reading Irving, even though he’s the favourite author of several people whom I know. Here are Lisa’s choices.

After my sixth grade teacher told me to read a real book (she saw me reading one of the Sweet Valley Twins serials), I felt ashamed that I had chosen such a frivolous novella to feed my brain.  I knew that she was right, and so I abandoned Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield in favour of the kind of books that were like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Caroll) and Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery).  In retrospect, I think that Anne Shirley is the literary character with whom I most identified, because she was naïve and curious, cherished friendship and had a wild imagination. The Canadian landscape made her even more accessible because I played in it every day.

Heeding my teachers’ advice, I went to the library and found a tattered copy of Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). The English countryside and wild weather bewitched me, and would forever hold me in its clutches, not to mention the torturous life circumstances and emotions that Jane experiences gave me a different perspective. I believe that my capacity for adversity stems not only from my own life, but also from a deeper understanding of how much more difficult many others lives’ can be, thanks to this story.

I loved watching the Italian news, soaking up every bit of vitriol and controversy that they could squeeze out of the bespectacled figures hurriedly making their way from one old building to the next, pressed by reporters for comment on the latest topic. I read everything about government and philosophy that I could find, trying to make sense of De Tocqueville, Plato and Hannah Arendt while sinking into Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird as though his words were quicksand.  It was this book that created a sort of ethereal mystique about Harvard College, and the way Vonnegut writes is why I felt that I could engage this story. His sentences can be short, but they are heavy with purpose. He had no use for the excessive descriptions of Thomas Hardy nor the thought to be politically correct. Jailbird is about a guy who was involved in the Watergate scandal and is now out of prison. The story uses the main characters’ life to show how absurd certain aspects of America could be.  Sacco and Vanzetti (the Italian-Americans who were convicted of a murder and robbery in 1921 despite evidence being disproven in court) are an example of a historic event that influences the protagonists’ psyche. But this story also presents some “a-ha!” moments, such as why Urdu was developed, and the underlying taste of diplomacy is drizzled throughout, despite the presence of JD Salinger-like phoneys.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez succeeded in making me sob over a book like no other writer because he chose the most impossible love to craft a story that needed to be told. Of Love and Other Demons left me wanting more words to somehow explain the intense emotions stirring inside me.  His stark descriptions of the human condition appeal to the basest layer of my instincts, as though I could smell the rancid flesh of rotting morality. The passion that the priest feels for Sierva Maria is wrong but I want their story to go on. Then I read this book in Spanish… and I was hooked. The language is figurative and scathing in its depiction of emotion, social etiquette and bizarre beliefs held by the characters.

My next choice would be The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint Exupéry). It was on the curriculum for twelfth grade French.  Our teacher had a nervous breakdown halfway through the semester, so our only course work was to read and analyse this book. I spent every day talking about the possible meanings of the short parable-like vignettes with my dear friend who is no longer with us. His ideas were so different than those of anyone I knew, and he seemed to see through the words to grasp the apple bobbing in the barrel without so much as flinching. I learned to notice how people can be graceful even though they are dealing with personal turmoil. My friend will always be a Prince. The stars at night will always remind me of his shy laughter.

I have never thought of myself as a feminist, only because I was never told that I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted unless it was rude or illegal. My family always let me be who I wanted to be. My mother let me wear makeup when I turned 12, because she realized I loved dressing up. As a result, I never looked garish because I could always ask for help. Conversely, I was encouraged to ride my bike and play in the fields with the other kids. If my upbringing had been different, perhaps my interest in feminism may be greater.  When I read The World According to Garp (John Irving), I was fascinated by the relationship between Jenny (a woman of means who becomes a single mother and later writes a book that would inspire a generation of women who don’t feel they need a man) and her son (a boy who grows up without a father, and lives the most conventional life possible). I thought it was so interesting to read a female character written by a man. I had no idea what a transsexual was until I met Roberta Muldoon in this book. Garp wanted to be a writer, like I did, but he was growing up in a very different time. I am grateful to Mr. Irving for teaching me the word lasciviousness, and to appreciate handwritten letters.  His writing style continues to appeal to me, and the stories he chooses to tell address sensitive issues with bold matter of fact simplicity.

Street hockey is a Canadian tradition. We played until the street lights came on, and even we girls were accepted by the neighbourhood boys because there usually weren’t enough kids to make two full teams. Everyone loved the Maple Leafs. When real hockey was on television, the streets were empty and we were face-first into the screen, listening to Don Cherry rant or give praise, wishing we were sitting in the first row so we could jump when Wendel Clark slammed someone into the boards. It was no surprise that when I saw The Hockey Sweater (Roch Carrier) on the shelf at school, I picked it up. It was then that I became aware of the rivalry between the Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens hockey clubs. Hockey had never been about rivalry, except when my older brother didn’t want me tagging along. I became obsessed with learning enough French to be able to follow the play by play on Radio Canada, learned the history of the team and soon enough, I was under the spell of the legends who were really just men who used to be boys, like the ones I played street hockey with in my youth.

The eighth book I would take is my Falcon Guide of Knots for the Outdoors (Cliff Jacobson).  I can never remember exactly how to tie certain knots, and you never know when you’ll need to have the instructions handy. That’s all I have to say about that book.

It just remains for me to thank Lisa for sharing her eight books with me. I hope that you enjoyed reading about them too.


3 Responses to “If You Could Save Only Eight Books… Part Six”

  1. www.laurensapala.com January 31, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

    Oh The Little Prince…my heart throbs with love for that book 🙂

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves February 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Hi Lauren. An ex of mine liked it so much, she bought it twice. Another confession… I’ve never read it.

  3. Lisa February 1, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on I wave, Hello.

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