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The Book I’m Thankful For: From Watership Down to Murder on the Orient Express

The right book says the thing you needed to hear, the thing you didn’t even know you needed to hear, but you did need it and when this book said it, it was like bell sounding. Or not. Because sometimes the right book is just some piece of fluff that you picked up in an airport and it doesn’t say anything at all, but reminds you of something, maybe who you were when you read it. I’m grateful for a lot of books (two kids on, What to Expect When You’re Expecting springs to mind), but for some more than others: the right books, the ones that found me at the right time and carried me through, held me up, kept me interested.

I remember sitting in the bath, five years old, and listening to my mother, perched on the closed toilet, read Trudy Phillips, New Girl. It was a book from the 1950s, all bobby socks and Sadie Hawkins’ dances and a girl called “Spooky” and scrubbed-up optimism. I have no idea where my mother got it – she doesn’t remember, either – but I loved it. (I’ve since found and bought a copy on eBay; I can’t say it’s held up.) My childhood self is also thankful for Watership Down, which ferried me through a two-week bout with scarlet fever, for anything that Tamora Pierce ever wrote, for the Stephen King novels my parents read and left around the house for me to read and not understand, and, my God yes, The Babysitters’ Club series. I binged on those like I binged on candy at Halloween, except without the guilt or the nausea.

These were the years when reading books was like falling in love, a breathless obsessive sort of devouring that kept me up all night. The books I’m thankful for from this time are the ones that I couldn’t put down, that I’d prop up at next to my bowl of soup at dinner and read between slurps. Books that, even after I had a car and places to drive it to, I’d stay home on a Saturday night to read. There was Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, which was at once affecting and completely over my head emotionally. I went through a big Gabriel Garcia Marquez phase, and passages from One Hundred Years of Solitude remain with me now. I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind halfway through my semester abroad in India during college and whoa, how I needed that book. I read it selfishly, cocooning myself in the blind gentility of Mitchell’s bizarro Civil War South, trying not to see the real desperate poverty around me. I clung to it like a life raft.

Posted by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie