My Favorite Bedtime Stories
Me, circa 1979, sleeping with friends and a favorite book.
Since I was able to get through a Dr. Seuss book on my own I have loved to read. There is no sweeter smell to me than that of a new book. I have always read at night before falling asleep. I can't sleep if I haven't read something. My nightstand is forever overflowing with books. Every once in awhile a friend will ask if I have a good book to recommend. Can I recommend a good book? That is like asking a late night show host if they can deliver a pun! I decided to make a list this summer of books I have enjoyed throughout many summers just in case you are looking for something to carry you away while you drink in some summer sun. I didn't agonize over this list I just wrote down whatever titles came to mind and then a whole world of memories came dancing back! You may want to grab a cocktail...this is a long list.
"Miss Twiggly's Tree" by Dorothea Warren Fox
I am starting with this one even though it is a picture book because before there were books specifically written to try and teach our children empathy and kindness and forgiveness, there was Miss Twiggly and her treehouse and her bears and her faithful dog. This was one of my absolute favorites as a child. I don't remember if it was a hand me down from my sister or if someone gave it to me, I just remember reading it over and over again. Miss Twiggly lived in a tree with her bears and her dog. All the people in the town made fun of her, avoided her and chased her poor dog when he went into town to buy groceries. Yes he did the shopping. Clever dog. All until the rain came and flooded the town and the people had no where to go except up into Miss Twiggly's tree. Well she welcomed all those nasty people , including the Mayor's wife who was particularly unpleasant. My favorite illustration is of all the people in the town settling into her tree with hammocks strung up and the bears reading to children and the dog making tea. Miss Twiggly even gave her own bed to the mayor's wife! It was all so cozy and conveyed the message so brilliantly you couldn't possibly miss it!
"Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott
I first read this book in my 20s. I saw someone reading it in a bookstore in the reference section about writing. I picked it up and have been in love with Anne Lamott ever since. Almost every book she has written could be on this list but this one is special. This was the first time I heard someone say that writing was hard and nothing gets written perfectly the first time. It was also the way she helped me understand that we are all a little broken at times, that our edges can be rough and we can still be loved and we can still be okay. It helped me release some of that inner monologue that told me I had to be perfect and if I couldn't be perfect at something why bother trying. This book said you won't be perfect but you have something to offer. We all have something to offer. Her self deprecating wit and her ability to tell her truth without shame and with a whole lot of humility is refreshing and uplifting. So whether you want to write that great American novel or even if you think your aren't a creative person ( which you are because we are all creative!) this book can inspire you and make you smile. And maybe even make you glad you aren't perfect.
"Are You There God, It's Me Margaret" by Judy Blume
Another author who deserves more than one book on my list. Judy Blume. I read this book during the summer of fourth grade into fifth grade because my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Devokaitis, read us "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and I thought I had found nirvana! Who was this Judy Blume person? Who was this adult who knew exactly what it felt like to be a fourth grade kid? "Are you there" became the first book I would re-read over and over again. Everything about it spoke to me from Margaret shopping for maxi pads, to her wondering about religion and where she fit into that puzzle. Brilliant! I know so many books have replaced this one for our daughters but I feel like every young girl should read it. Your daughter will probably ask you what a "belt" is for when using a maxi pad and you may not even know the answer but that is the only thing that "dates" this book. It is about fitting in and finding yourself and growing up. I may just have to read it again this summer!
"Cold Sassy Tree" by Olive Ann Burns
My sister gave my this book when I was in my 20s. This is a beautifully written story about an old man finding his younger self and a young man finding his adulthood. Set in a fictional town in Georgia in 1906, Grandpa Tweedy is one of my favorite fictional characters. He is all talk and grump but underneath is a tender heart and a slightly lost soul. In the very first pages Will Tweedy introduces us to his grandpa Tweedy who is only a short time into his widowhood. He shocks the family when he announces he is going to marry not only a younger woman but one who owns her own shop! Enter Miss Love Simpson and a scandal begins that sets the whole town talking. Told in the voice of Will Tweedy and based on the author's own family, it is charming and sweet as sweet tea! It speaks to my love of stories set in a time and place I have not and will not ever live. So grab a copy and hit your front porch and enjoy a little Southern story telling at its best!
"Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man" by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg was one of the celebrity contestants on "The Match Game" when I was growing up. My mother called this show "gross". I called it hilarious. It made me laugh even though much of the humor went over my head. Any time adults laughed or made one another laugh I laughed too. I love to laugh and this book makes me laugh out loud. I gave it to a friend many years ago and she wrote to me telling me she sat in bed and read it and laughed out loud so much she had to leave her bed because she was keeping her husband awake. This story is told in the voice of 11 year old Daisy Fay Harper and her life in 1950's east Texas. Daisy Fay's voice is authentic and her view of the world makes her loveable and relatable. Peppered with the funny characters Flagg has become known for , this book will make you laugh out loud enough that your spouse may send you to the couch!
"God on a Harley" by Joan Brady
This was one of those books that I read at just the right time. I heard about from, of all people Regis Philbin. I was home one morning watching "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" and he was holding up this book and talking about a nurse who cared for him who had written it. Well that alone was fascinating to me. A nurse who is a published author? How fabulous! I headed right out to Barnes and Noble and got a copy. It is a fable about a young nurse who meets God, who is a long haired, T-shirt and jeans wearing, Harley riding, handsome guy who tells her to "step out of the shadows, you've spent too much time hiding..." It is set in New Jersey, on the shore where I had just worked and spent the summer. That summer had brought and ended a relationship which felt devastating to me at the time. This book took Christine, the main character , through a spiritual journey to find and love herself. It was the book that taught me I needed to love me. I needed to be able to spend time alone with myself and I had to learn what I wanted before I could really share that with anyone else. And that it wasn't the "stuff" that matters...the big house, the clothes, the "stuff" you think you need , what really matters is how you live and what you bring to the table. It was a revelation! Even if you aren't soul searching you might enjoy the lessons this Harley riding Higher Power has to share.
"The Night Swimmers" by Betsy Byers
This book I read the summer before 6th grade. It is about 3 siblings living with their country singer father after their mother's death. The oldest sibling ,Retta, takes charge of her younger brothers and each night when their father is away playing a gig, the sneak into their neighbor's pool, pretending to be what they weren't, rich and carefree There was heartache but there was also this sense of resiliency, not something I would have been able to verbalize then but I recognized it in a very real way. Retta was strong and took charge. She tried to show her brothers that life wasn't a dismal affair and that they could have fun , maybe just not like everyone else. I envied her in some ways but I also related to her as one of my biggest fears as a young person was that of losing my mother to her illness. This book left a lasting impression on me.
"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
This is probably no surprise and if you are a reader you have read this. If you have only seen the movie recently then you need to read the book. As always, even though I do love Oprah and I did enjoy the movie, the book is much richer. Books always are because of what writers can put in that movies cannot. The characters can envelop us in a way through their inner dialogue that we cannot get from what happens on a screen. I read this book in fourth grade. I think I took it out of my sister's book case. I loved it from the very first pages. Meg always felt a little cranky but there was something about her that made me want to keep reading. A depth to her that could only be found by getting through her story. Her younger brother Charles Wallace with his "old soul" and his friends Mrs. Witch, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit brought magic into my ordinary little life. Just wondrous. The whole adventure making me want to wake up and find out my father was secretly a scientist about to discover another dimension and not a high school math teacher. Sorry Dad.
"If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits." By Erma Bombeck
This is another book I "borrowed". This time I went searching in my dad's bookcase, most likely because I had either drained my sister's collection or she had locked me out of her room. In any case once I started reading this the summer between 7th and 8th grade I was hooked on Erma. This also proves that I was born several decades too late, as my husband likes to say, and that I was also born a 40 year old woman. I am quite certain I was the only 13 year old laughing hysterically over motherhood and marriage. When this title popped into my head I went back and started reading the first chapter and laughed through every line. Ms.Bombeck wrote as though she were your best friend , sitting at your kitchen table sharing coffee and regaling you with her humorous take on life at it's most mundane. She ranks up there with Carol Burnett and that is saying something.
"Cane River" by Lalita Tademy
This book is tragic. It is hard to read. Any novel set in the South during slavery, if written true to the horrors of the time, is certainly hard to read. It follows the authors own family, sharing the story of four generations of women and carries us through slavery, the Civil War, restoration and into the 20th century and the birth of civil rights. Each woman is complex and beautifully written. I cried. When I finished the book I had that awful feeling of loss that I get from a book who's characters have become so real that I cannot bear to say good-bye. This was an Oprah book club pick in the summer of 2001. I remember this for two reasons. One it was the summer I had my first miscarriage. Two because I was so moved by this book I wrote to Ms.Winfrey and received a call from one of her producers. Unfortunately for that poor woman I was not the same person who had written the letter. Between the time of writing that letter and receiving the call, we had lost our first pregnancy and the whole of that loss was deep and shameful and I am sure she could hear that in my voice. I wouldn't have wanted me on a national TV show at that time either. This book remains in my top ten for opening my eyes to the horror African Americans faced but also for showing me the grit of the human spirit. The tenacity and strength of the women in this novel is at times overwhelming but it stirs the soul and makes you want to shake some of those white folks right out of existence. We've come a long way but don't we still have a long way to go.
The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett
This book I read during the summer my boys were about 1 and 4. Those poor boys had to fend for themselves during this time. It is an 800 page book filled with betrayal, love, bad clergy and a cathedral that may kill everyone before it is completed. I, in the most literal sense, could not put this book down. The characters, of whom there are too many to begin naming them all, converge into the town of Kingsbridge during the 12th century. The story is about the construction of a grand cathedral. At the center are characters for whom the cathedral is either a symbol of status or just a job to help pay the rent. Each are mesmerizing either in their vanity, naivety, or treachery. The villains are perfectly drawn, we hate them, we see their evil painted in their actions and want to holler to the unsuspecting "look out!" If you are looking for a long read that will keep you jumping , cheering and cursing, this is the book for your summer!
"To Kill a Mockingbird" By Harper Lee
Need I say more?