My 5 Favorite Books

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Always a book before bed!

I was lucky to grow up with family members who loved to read and loved to teach me to read. I was read to before I could talk, and I started reading pretty much before I could spell my middle name (which has only five letters, but was somehow challenging for me as a kid). I essentially haven’t stopped since. At any given time I’m circulating between two or three books, and I often tote a paperback in my purse for when I’m stuck in long lines. I haven’t read near the number of books as some bookworms, and I’m looking forward to reading my way through many more decades. In my 29 years, however, the following five are, as of now, my favorite:

1) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea was Hemingway’s last work to be published while he was alive, and I believe it is his best. On the surface, the book is about an old fisherman who finally hooks a giant marlin after 84 fish-free days, but then struggles to reel it in and not lose it while heading home. Guised in that simple tale is a much deeper message about a humble, determined, prideful and strong man who refuses to give up or give in, despite continued hardships and seeming defeat. It is about the journey rather than the destination, and about having an optimistic outlook on life despite whatever obstacles arise.

2) The Giver by Lois Lowry

Many a Miss America contestant has stated her wish for the end of world suffering. As ideal as that sounds, Lowry’s “children’s novel” implies that a lack of pain and strife—by converting to “Sameness”—really wouldn’t be all that fantastic. The book starts off in an orderly-run society in which husbands and wives are matched according to their personalities, jobs are assigned based on skill, and everyone lives in harmony. Oh, and no one has any emotions. Which is, of course, the catch. Without the ability to feel pain or sorrow, how can anyone know happiness or joy? The members of the Community don’t seem to mind and are content (or, more accurately, apathetic) with how things are run. Until the hero, an eleven-year-old boy named Jonas, is assigned the job of “Receiver of Memory.” He is to become the sole keeper of the memories the Community has before the conversion to Sameness. When Jonas meets The Giver, the man whose job he will soon take, he is exposed to a world he didn’t even know could exist. A world far surpassing that of the bland, boring Sameness in which he grew up, and one in which I bet most Miss America contestants would actually prefer to one without world suffering.

3) Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley

In this heart-wrenching, intense and honest narrative of arguably the most iconic image from World War II, Bradley—the son of one of the six American soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima—describes the anti-climactic flag raising that was merely coincidentally captured on film, and the harsh realities the three flag-raising survivors faced after returning home. Though Bradley has had no personal war experience, Flags of our Fathers is especially poignant as he is able to describe with such detail and accuracy how the photo itself—and what the American civilians believed it represented—affected, haunted and immortalized the three men, his father being one of them. Due to my affinity for war accounts (in film or book form), I have been exposed to a decent number of war chronicles—some firsthand accounts, others more removed like Bradley’s, and others mostly fictionalized. None has left as indelible of a mark on me as Flags of our Fathers. I read it just once, but I fear scenes and lines will forever be imprinted in my mind.

4) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If I could have penned any book in the world, I would have wanted to write one exceptionally similar to Zafon’s marvelous masterpiece. The story is infused with clandestine love, murder, war, espionage, intrigue and more, and is beautifully written. What else could one want from a novel? It opens with Daniel, a young boy, being taken by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is permitted to select one and, not surprisingly, chooses The Shadow of the Wind. After flying through it, he sets out to find more books written by the same author. What he finds, however, is that in his quest he becomes highly involved in tracing the author’s entire life, at which point all of the aforementioned aspects of what make for a fascinating book come into play. Zafon’s novel is riveting, intriguing and unforgettable, and it is one of my favorite reads.

5) Columbine by Dave Cullen

No, it’s not about flowers. Yes, it’s about the horrific shooting that took place at the high school of the same name in Colorado in 1999 that left 15 dead (including the two teenage shooters who committed suicide after going on their murderous spree) and 24 injured. And families in devastation, a community in mourning, and a nation whose focus on guns and gun control grew even more intense. Cullen, who claims to have spent 10 years on Columbine, sought to dispel the myths and uncover the truths regarding the massacre. He also wanted to know why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed their classmates, and what became of the survivors. It is painstakingly researched, rife with information that was rarely disseminated to the public—if at all—and expertly written. Cullen takes as close of a peek inside the minds of the killers as one can imagine is possible, and offers his thoroughly thought-out reasons for why they committed the atrocity. It is riveting, upsetting and tragic. I won’t likely pick it up any time in the near future, but I won’t need to; the first and only read through was memorable enough to last quite some time.

Have you read any of the books on my list? What are your top recommendations? Let me know in the comments; I’m always looking for great reads!

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Inside the Actors Studio 10 Questions

Inside the Actors Studio is a show on Bravo in which host James Lipton interviews actors, concluding each interview with the following ten questions, to which I have provided my answers:

1) What is your favorite word? Elephant. Hearing “elephant” always makes me smile and recall wonderful memories, like the day I spent feeding, bathing, and riding (bareback) an elephant in the jungles of Thailand, or the day I saw a huge bull elephant emerge from the bushes while on safari in Kruger Park, South Africa.

2) What is your least favorite word? Piss. Ugh, I don’t even like writing it. Whether someone is pissed off, taking a piss, or taking the piss out of someone, in my lexicon it is a negative, crude and tacky word. However, Colin Ferrell’s use of the word in an episode of Scrubs does make me like it a tad more.

3) What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Film scores. (See My 5 Favorite Film Scores post for more explanation).

4) What turns you off? Inconsiderate people. I’d go more in depth, but I’m halfway through completing goal #22 of not saying anything negative about anyone.

5) What is your favorite curse word? Ass hat. I don’t know that I’ve ever even said it (because, Mom and Dad, I never curse), but I enjoy when other people say it. It kind of makes me inexplicably giddy.

6) What sound or noise do you love? Laughter. Uncontrollable, irrepressible, wild, unabashed laughter.

7) What sound or noise do you hate? Screaming babies on an airplane. Especially if the baby is seated right behind me, or in my row, and it’s during the time of the flight when no electronic devices—and therefore no drowning-out music from my iPod—can be used. I understand babies need to cry, and that’s okay, but it’s just a sound I don’t like to hear while I’m flying through the air at 30,000 feet with nowhere to escape.

8) What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I answered this in My Top 5 Dream Jobs post, but to summarize: being an actor would be pretty fantastic.

9) What profession would you not like to do? Anything where I’m in a cubicle in the corporate world.

10) If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? They weren’t lying.

10 Things I’d Tell 10-Year-Old Me

Dear 10-Year-Old Me,

As a lover of lists and things that align numerically, it seems only perfect, and necessary, to create a list of 10 things I’d love for you to acknowledge as a 10-year-old.

1) Appreciate the time your immediate family spends together. Over time, the occasions where you, your sister and your parents will be in the same place at the same time will become fewer and farther between. For better and for worse, they will never be like they were when you were a kid. Take advantage of family time while you can, even if it frequently involves a considerable amount of bickering between you and your sister.

2) Bicker less with your sister. It will help your relationship grow, and it will surely decrease your parents’ headaches. Though you share many similarities, your sister’s differences create chasms you are too young to fully appreciate and understand. Rather than argue, try to understand your sister and her differences. Or, at the very least, let her do her thing and respect her choices.

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Look, I carried my things differently.

3) Let your sister do her thing and you focus on yours. Don’t wait until she’s grown up and out of the house to start forging your own path. Being the youngest, it is easy to follow your older sister in her footsteps—especially if hers seem well worth following—but find something that is uniquely yours, something she has not yet discovered or delved into. The world is full of exciting new opportunities waiting for your individual exploration.

4) Keep as firm of a grasp as possible on the close friendships you have now, but understand that some—even your very closest—will become diluted or completely vanish over time. Remember that the dissolution is no one’s fault, but rather a differing of interests and subsequent paths taken. Try to reconnect with some of your childhood friends when you are older and see where each of your lives has taken you. You may be surprised with how easily a long-disbanded friendship can be reactivated.

5) Kiss the boy. You know the one. He will die much too young, and though you will have wonderful memories (like the time you shoveled horse manure together as punishment for violating field trip rules), you will not have the one where you brazenly, unabashedly plant your lips on his. It’s important to maintain a good moral compass, but sometimes it’s okay to be a tad, smidgen, iota, shred, wee, tiny bit less of a stuffed shirt and goody-goody.

6) Be a tad, smidgen less sarcastic. Secretly revel in your intelligence and wit, but learn that a more intelligent person knows when to let sarcasm fly and when to rein it in. Know that it is not always the best tool for humor in all settings and scenarios.

7) Like that of your father and sister, your hair will become categorically, without exception, frustratingly-at-times, undeniably curly. Appreciate its straightness now, and its curliness when it transforms. Rather than cursing it for changing, and trying to destroy it by using a flat iron day after day to straighten it, learn to manage your curly hair as your genetics intended. Or, at the very least, amass a large quantity of ponytail holders.

8) Run, run, run until your lungs burn and your legs ache. And then keep running. One day shin problems will make routine running only a fond memory and faraway dream. Run as much as you can before your body poses its aggravating limitations.

9) Don’t routinely settle for second best or merely rely on your genetics and natural talent. Without reservation, put 100 percent of your time and effort into something, just to see what the outcome is. You may excel or you may not even come close to meeting your expectations, but you won’t know until you really give it your all. No doubt being well-rounded has its upsides, but working insanely hard at one specific thing to see what you can truly achieve has its own unrivaled rewards.

10) Learn to dance. You will dance on countless occasions in your life and being moderately good at it would be fun, while also decreasing the chance that friends will tease, “She sure can run, but she sure can’t dance!” When you are older, you will lose some of your gumption for trying things you have accepted are “not your thing.” Make dancing your thing. Or, at the very least, take a few proper classes.

Love,
29-Year-Old Me

What would you want your past self (at any age) to know? Share it in the comments!

13) Get a Suitcase with Wheels

The wheel is arguably one of the greatest inventions in human history. The success of the wheel has aided in countless additional inventions, primarily having made travel easier. First it was wagons, then cars, then planes—and some other things in between.

It took until 1970 for luggage with wheels to be introduced to the market, thanks to the ingenuity of Bernard Sadow. It took nearly two years after that for the vice president of Macy’s Department Store to request that his buyer place the first order. If you’ve traveled in the last few decades, you can likely attest that the vice president made a wise decision.

When I was just a few weeks old, I was flown out of state to see a doctor. I essentially haven’t stopped traveling since. As evidenced by my post, Oh, the Places I’ve Been, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a decent amount. However, in all that time—all the airports I’ve walked through, the hundreds of planes I’ve boarded, the long list of cities, states and countries I’ve traversed—I had never taken advantage of the ease and convenience of a suitcase with wheels. Until two weeks ago.

Perhaps it was my stubbornness (okay, it was surely my stubbornness), but I hadn’t understood the hoopla around bags with wheels. Until two weeks ago.

Since middle school, I had been given various pieces of luggage from playing sports and never really had the need to go out and buy anything new. Over the years, I had realized that I was nearly the only one in the airport lugging around a duffle bag for domestic travel, while my fellow travelers conveniently and easily rolled their suitcase beside or behind them. I simply wrote it off as them being lazy and reconciled that I was getting in a good workout before being idle on a plane. In college, I became the owner of a great hiking backpack, which was large enough and suitable enough to use for my international travels.

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When a backpack is a good idea!

It wasn’t until I took a job on a cruise ship that I realized a back-pack wasn’t really the best option for all travel—just travel that involves a lot of, well, backpacking. Carrying a 50-pound bag on my back, while also toting a large purse, and a laptop slung across my body (of which mine is roughly the size of the first super computer), proved difficult. Carrying my backpack and laptop at the same time was my breaking point.

I resolved to buck up, yield to the norm and buy a “wheelie bag” once and for all. Taking baby steps, I got a carry-on bag with wheels. I used it for domestic travel and it was sensational. My arms and shoulders experienced relief I had never before felt while walking through an airport. I was also surprised to feel okay joining the masses—something I often try to steer clear of on principle. While rolling the bag was great, carrying it was awkward. Unfortunately this meant that taking the stairs, something I almost always do (see above references to fitting in exercise when and where I can, and steering clear of the norm just because it’s the norm), was pretty much out of the question; as was walking up the escalator, which, to my disappointment, I more or less had to use.

I thank Mr. Sadow for his invention, and I will continue to use my “rollie bag” with joy, but I will certainly keep my backpack!