HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Macmillan Audio asked me a terrific and thought-provoking question. They were doing a survey of authors, asking: "In and around your college years, and especially at graduation time, what was the book that most prepared you for real life?"
I think that's fascinating--because a book you loved might not have been the one that later you realized changed your life.
And I had never thought about it that way. Shakespeare's plays, of course, I adore, but did that prepare me for the real world? Maybe. All the thrillers like FAILSAFE, yeah, I suppose. And Advise and Consent, I remember, being so intriguing. Maybe--The Great Gatsby? But how? Or Look Homeward Angel? Yeah, but why? Custom of the Country? Sort of.
And then I got it. And I sent Macmillan my "about 100-words-only" reason:
"Character's names? Can’t remember. Plot? Vaguely. But the philosophy Robert Pirsig taught in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is never far from my consciousness. I still think about that book. Every day. Yes, it’s cool, and a road trip story, with adventures, chance meetings, obstacles, and triumphs. But what I profoundly remember are the reminders to be present. To do the best you can. To pay attention. To seek quality. (Is that what you meant, Mr. Pirsig? That’s what I decided forty-five years ago.) In one scene, the rider tries to ignore an obviously broken motorcycle. Why live with that? the main character asks. Face your problems, fix them, then go forward with knowledge, serenity, and power. What better lesson could there be?"
So how about you? What book would you give a graduating senior? As it turned out, was there a book that prepared you for reality?
HALLIE EPHRON: A book that PREPARED me for reality? Through the Looking Glass? Catch-22? Portnoy's Complaint??? Seriously, the books I remember reading and thinking a lot about when I was graduating were novels by Anne Tyler and Barbara Kingsolver. and Toni Morrison. Pick one? Aaaagh. I'll go for "The Bean Trees" which, according to Kingsolver, addresses the question: "What are the many ways, sometimes hidden and underground ways, that people help themselves and each other survive hard times."
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, not fair to make us think so hard on a Monday! This was really tough. Most of the books that I think of as having had a big impact on my world view were read earlier. Real life? I'm not sure I've ever been prepared for real life. But I'll throw in two, although I can't swear I read them in college. Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift from the Sea, and Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Both those books made me very aware of the beauty in small, everyday things, and of the fact that people do manage to cope with loss if they can still see that beauty.
LUCY BURDETTE: This is a very hard question Hank! Because I don't really remember reading much fun stuff in college. I was majoring in French literature and art history and reading about poet Paul Eluard and artist Max Ernst and most of that I couldn't begin to remember or explain now...
However, my best friend was a poet and he sent me poems to read, and I still have a lovely book of poems by Denise Levertov called LIFE IN THE FOREST. I was buried deep in late teenage angst and trying to figure out who I'd be and who would travel along with me. I remember being deeply touched by this poem by Sappho:
Tonight I've watched
the moon and then
The night is now
goes; I am
in bed alone
It's beautiful isn't it? But so sad. Still speaks to me about how fast time goes and how important the people in your life are--like you Reds!
HANK: I love this! See? A THEME! All of these choices are about COPING. Right? ! Amazingly so. And so very personal, and so very revealing. Oh. Fabulous.
If you are interested in what the other authors in the survey chose--it's fascinating! Click here. But first tell us what you think--As a college age person what book did you realize later best prepared you for real life?
And don't forget Lucy Burdette's FATAL RESERVATIONS is now ON SALE! Come visit tomorrow, hear all about it, and you could win a prize. (But it will not be her book! So you know what to do....)