If I Only Had 8 Books

If I Only Had 8 Books - May 7, 2019   Submitted by Beth

This year one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read outside of my usual book genre. One of the genres I fell out of the habit of reading was Young Author or YA books. I have no good reason for this, so it has been a delight rediscovering a whole section of books that I forgot about.

One of the books I recently read in this genre was The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe. This translated book is the true story of 14 year old Dita and her secret occupation as the librarian of Auschwitz.  Eight books and 6 “living” books (prisoners who knew certain books so well that they were used as storytellers) were the only books that the Dita had to teach, to inspire reading, as well as to provide a small measure of comfort and normalcy to both children and adults alike who were being unfairly imprisoned. She worked on a rotation, of the 8 smuggled books the prisoners have hidden from the guards, among the teachers in Block 31, the “school” for the children at the camp. It is an excellent read and one I enjoyed thoroughly. If for nothing else, read it to be inspired (and grateful) that this story has been told and that we are able to read whatever books we like.

This book has had an enormous impact on me, a huge reader of books. I always have a book (okay, honesty check, six) out and started. I am either in the middle of a book, just starting a book, or wrapping up a book. I am constantly adding books to my To Be Read pile. How would I live with zero books? Do I know books well enough to be considered a living book? If I had to give up all my books (gasp!) could I do it? What if I only had access to 8 books? What would I choose? I will attempt to narrow it down to 8 of my favorites* to recommend. (* I already know I plan to post a series, so my total will be higher than 8. Call it the whim of this writer. It’s my list. You can write your own list. In fact, please do. I am always up for book recommendations.)

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. These murder mysteries start with the delightful book Still Life and ends (right now) with The Kingdom of the Blind. There are 14 books in this series, though a 15th book is due out at the end of the summer. The books have individual plots and various locations making them stand alone books, but have repeating characters including the town of Three Pines. I love Armand Gamache and Clara, Gabri and Mryna and Ruth, though she would hate me for saying so. I wish Three Pines was a real place for me to visit. I would sit in the Bistro, drink my cafe a lait and have a chat with every neighbor who stopped by. I would obviously have stopped by Myrna Landers’ bookstore first because books. Secondly because I love supporting my independent bookstore. Third, is there anything better than a cozy fire, a book, a hot drink, and friends? I say no, there is not. 

Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory. This sounds like a dark one, doesn’t it. But Caitlin Doughty will challenge what you think about death, and what you think about how to care for the deceased once they have passed as well as how to care for the living left behind: hint - you do not have to rush your beloved to the funeral home. This book will leave you more at peace and make you realize that death is not so mysterious and that there are much better ways of dealing with our dead than we do currently and she’ll do it in a way that you’ll have a smile on your face most of this read. Her follow up novel From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to FInd the Good Death is definitely worth a mention. Read it too. You’ll thank me.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a brilliant look at what it is like to be young and black today. I am not in high school any more, nor am I black, so this book is a definite pulse point of what reality looks like in a way that does not preach. It made me understand what Black Lives Matter is talking about much better than a march or a TED talk could. This is the story of sixteen year old Starr Carter and her life as she navigates between her home in the working class neighborhood and her fancy suburban prep school. When her childhood friend is shot in front of her (the second time it has happened to her) Starr takes a real good look at her life. Go read this. I admit I can be as white girl clueless as they come. I live in such a pretty bubble sometimes. This book made me appreciate Tupac and get why he is still influential today. Read it. Pop your own bubble a little.

Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah will take you away from what you think you know about race. Born as a crime in South Africa during Aparthoid when the mixing of race was not allowed starts you off rethinking what life is like when you are poor, when your mother is defiant but spunky and you too are somewhere between funny imp and obedient child. His honest stories are done so well you cannot stop reading them. This is a great autobiography. More bubble popping will happen as a result of your reading this gem.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. Read all of them. Well, maybe skip the 5th book. Do you want to disappear into a story for a while? Pick these books. There is a reason that they are so popular. Harry and Hermoine and Ron should be names you know as well as your own, as are Hagrid, Dumbledore and Snape. Why skip the 5th book? Harry was going through a phase I guess and was angry at everyone. He needed a good swift smack to his backside. The rest of those stories - Sigh. Block out a week and read away. Then read them again. The audible version narrated by Jim Dale is brilliant as well.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a fascinating historical fiction read about the first female spy network in WWI and with a parallel story line in WWII. Although this story flits back and forth between the two world wars, it is a great thriller and while you know the general idea of what happens during both (spoiler: Germany loses both times) the hows and whys and how having female spies affect the war effort makes this a fascinating read. It’s fabulous.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Woman by Kate Moore Yes, this book is another non fiction gem. But it’s written in such a compelling way that you cannot help but keep reading. When the Curie’s first discovered the radioactive element radium, it was put in EVERYTHING from face cream to tonic. It was also mixed with paint to make numbers on watches so they’d glow in the dark. That sounds like a great idea until you realize that the girls at the factory were licking the radium paint brushes to keep the points sharp and then painting away. Not knowing that what they were doing was killing them, they worked away, happy to contribute and have employment. Even after some girls started getting sick, no one doctor was able to piece together right away what was happening to them. Don’t let the length of the book fool you. It was a great read and a cautionary tale about the latest and greatest claims on what is healthy.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi The premise of this book might not make you pick it up: A devoted wife and mother commits suicide and leaves a devastated husband and daughter behind. Except she does not stay dead and decides to find a replacement for herself. Suspend your reality for a minute and follow the twists and turns that life takes as you realize what really happened to make a mother who loved her family so much leave it. Hint - things are never as straightforward as they appear.

There you have it - my list of 8 (ish) books I’d choose if I had could only have these. If you only had 8 books (I’ll even allow you a series or two) what would you pick? Share them with us at the store! I love hearing about favorites and am always looking for good books to read.