1. What book did you struggle to get through but is something you’re glad you read
Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. I had just read a book about Catherine the Great and wanted to read something about modern Russian history and culture (one of my favorite subjects). I had read volume one of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn years earlier and was interested in this book because it was the first study of the Russian penal system ever undertaken by a Westerner. In 2004, it won the Pulitzer Prize and covered the entire gulag system from the time of the czars until its dismemberment in the early 1950’s. I would have perferred to read more personal accounts of life in the prison system rather than all the statistics, but it was a very informative (though sad) read.
2. What is a book whose popularity has baffled you?
I just don’t get all the hype surrounding Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Perhaps it’s because I’m southern, but I just don’t understand why people loved this book. In my opinion, it relied on timeworn stereotypes and didn’t really add anything to our nation’s ongoing racial debate.
3. If you could make everyone you know read one book, what would it be?
That would have to be The Shack by William P. Young. It’s the story of a man’s faith-based journey after his youngest child is abducted and murdered by a serial killer. Although there have been many critics of the book, I found it to be a powerful spiritual message. I don’t think The Shack should be read with an eye to a specific Christian doctrine. Instead, it should be read with an open mind and it will touch the heart in whatever waycoincides with your beliefs.
4. What book have you liked less and less as time has gone by?
Recently, I revisited Contact by Carl Sagan. It was one of th ebooks I adored in my early teens (I probably read it in 1987 or 1988 – it was published in 1985) and I completely identified with its main character, Dr. Eleanor Arroway. I was beyond thrilled when Robert Zemeckis made it into a movie in 1997– I have it on DVD now and it’ s on my short list of favorite science fiction movies. So imagine my utter disappointment when, over 20 years later, I reread the book and couldn’t understand why I loved it so much. Ellie came off as a feminist who had to be a bitch to make it in a man’s world; S.R. Hadden, the eccentric benefactor who funds the project to build the alien spaceship when tragedy strikes, came off as a pervert in the book. This is one of the extremely rare instances where I like the movie much better than the book. I still haven’t figuered out what I loved about it at 13. Maybe some books should just stay part of our past.
5. What book have you liked more and more as time has gone by?
One of my favorite short stories is Easter Eve by Anton Chekov. It’s the story of a man who’s waiting to take a ferry across a river to a midnight Mass on Easter Eve. He talks with the ferryman, who is in mourning over the death of a beloved monk. The ferryman tells of the monk’s talent for writing hymns, and the passenger (as well as the reader) is touched by the depth of this simple man’s love for his friend. That’s really all there is to the story, but it’s the way Chekov chose each word for its maximum effect that makes the story get better as I read it every Easter Saturday. You can read it at http://www.online-literature.com/anton_chekhov/1159/