Today is World Book Day (did you know?) (you DO still read BOOKS, don't you?...I mean, e-readers are cool and all, but I bet they're very similar to going from smoking real cigarettes to smoking e-cigarettes--gives you the same kind of high, but something's just OFF) (Maybe cigarettes was a poor choice of example...next time I'll use gluten).
At any rate. World Book Day. So I have a list (with some side thoughts) of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Books I Absolutely Cannot Make It Through This Life Without and You Should Read These Too If You Haven't Already and If You Haven't Already Read Them What The Holy Hell Is WRONG With You?! World Book Day list. Here it is:
1. THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum.
Seriously, if you haven't read this book and you've only watched the movie? You aren't really getting it. This is like a book-movie companion kind of thing. Symbiotic. Binary. You are NOT a real Wizard of Oz fan if you haven't also read (and made notes in the margins) Baum's book. The ORIGINAL book; not any kind of abridged crap (stop being lazy). The WIZARD OF OZ is a Life guide; it will teach you about what's important, what's not, and what to do when you're really in a quandry. (Which is: sing a song, and believe in yourself.)
2. THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by Kate DiCamillo.
Kate also writes the Mercy Watson series, which are really wonderful. But this book. THIS book!! O.M.G. Seriously, your whole life will be changed. Your heart will never be the same. You will never, ever know at what True Love is until you read this book. And when you're done, go read Margery Williams' THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, because (like the WIZARD OF OZ book-movie companionship), these two books should be the two books on which you base your entire philosophy on Love and Life.
3. PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie
Peter Pan isn't just about a boy who won't grow up. It's about the power of imagination and possibility. It's about courage and fear, and being Who You Are. It's about acceptance and love, letting go, and how to handle fairies and pirates. (Which I think are symbols of good angels and evil angels, but that's just me pontificating.) When I was growing up, I wanted to BE Wendy...and I wanted to marry Peter Pan. And I wanted to be a pirate and a Tiger Lily and a Tinker Bell, too. This is a ageless tale threaded with fibers of magic and, just like WIZARD OF OZ, if you're just watching the movie versions and/or movie interpretations of it, you seriously aren't getting the core meaning of it and you're doing it wrong.
4. EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert is my writer hero. She is my female aspiration, both in writing and spirituality. Liz has gone to the rockiest depths, clawed her way out, and eaten some excellent pizza in Sicily while doing so. Whatever Liz says about life, love, and spirituality I pretty much agree with. And she usually favorites everything I @gilbertliz tag her with on Twitter. She's my hero, and her memoir of her own personal Hero's Journey is something I've written in over and over, dog-eared, slept with, eaten with, cried over, and whispered a million thank yous into. It's a Bible of sorts, and I think the Holy Spirit gets me on that even if you don't.
5. STORIES OF ANTON CHEKHOV by Anton Chekhov (and some editors)
Oh, Anton Chekhov. Anton, Anton, Anton! What a yummy writerly dish you were, back in the turn of the century. And with every single short story, he'll show (NOT tell) you how to write right. If you are a short story writer, and you have not ever read a short story by Chekhov? You're doing it wrong. Get thee to a bookstore (NOT an e-reader store--a real, physical BOOK store) and pick you up a copy of Anton's short stories. Go home, get comfy, and start to learn, grasshopper.
6. EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck was a master storyteller and a master (a MASTER) of the descriptive paragraph. When you start this book, your brain is woven a tapestry of what California looked like, in Steinbeck's--and his characters'--eyes. And then you're given an ancient tale of Cain and Abel, good and evil, right and wrong, and the temptations and horrific choices we all have to make. It's a subtle Bible for how to live, and who not to be. With tapestries of How To Write Descriptive Narrative woven throughout.
7. THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison
This is the book that made me understand what it's like to not be in the Majority. It's about quietly fighting a system that is set up to invalidate and demoralize and keep you from soaring to your highest heights. Love yourself, as is...even when They tell you that you as is is simply never going to be enough. On the surface, it's about what Jim Crow and slavery and The Good Ol' Boys network has done to our country, our black women, our society, and our world. But underneath all of that, is something that--no matter your gender, nationality, or race--we can all connect with: the need to belong. It's just amazing. Please read it if you haven't.
8. WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
I read this book over and over and over and over when I was in high school. I wanted to be Cathy...but I wanted to be Cathy before she went nutters. And I desperately, seriously, deeply longed for Heathcliff. I still do, quite frankly. Also, there are ghosts. And ghosts, in my book? Are always good.
9. ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forrester
This is about keeping a chick down; clipping her wings and--like THE BLUEST EYE--fighting a system set up to invalidate/demoralize/keep you back from living your dreams. It's also about not succumbing to someone else's opinions, being really real, and that British class system? Gots to GO. (Sadly, I don't think it has and here in America we're making it worse.) But I love it because it's about being loved for Who You Are, as is. I cannot stress how important that is.
10. BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
Annie is funny and sincere, irreverent and serious, all at once. She knows your pain because she's been there, sister (or brother). She's been down and out, up and over, and she's got the scars to prove it. And she will tell you about them, how she got them, AND give you a lot of good tips on how to Do Writing Right. One little step at a time. Baby steps. Tip toes. Bird by bird. It works for writing, but it's also just a smart way to live a life, the end.
And, just because I like them, I'm going to extend World Book Day further by listing movies based on books I personally love a lot and think are excellent filmatic takes on the written word, even if famous film critics disagree with me. Here it is:
1. WIZARD OF OZ
This is L. Frank Baum's book...with some artistic license...in technicolor (and black & white for Kansas, which I think was a really brilliant creative decision for MGM in 1939--ahead of their time). I used to LIVE for the airings of this movie, and I wanted to BE Judy Garland/Dorothy. I can't even calculate how many hours I spent, in my room, as a child re-enacting this ENTIRE movie.
One time, my mom didn't feel like braiding my hair so I could put on my Oz play in my room, and she suggested I pretend to be Glinda the Good Witch instead. Drama actress ego meltdown ensued. I was Dorothy! Only I knew how to interpret the role of Dorothy! and HOW DARE SHE.
2. PETER PAN (2003)
The Disney version is cool and all, but PJ Hogan's 2003 adaptation is just magically superb. And I promise I'm not saying that because Jason Isaacs plays Captain Hook and Mr. Darling AND responded to a dry erase easel board note my class wrote together and sent him on Twitter. You should see this movie because, like MGM's 1939 WIZARD OF OZ adaptation, this IS J. M. Barrie's book...with some artistic license...in CGI magic technicolor.
I used to spend hours re-creating the story of PETER PAN in my bedroom too, as a child, but I wasn't as attached to the role of Wendy like I was to Dorothy.
3. LIVING OUT LOUD
Simply, this is my all-time favorite movie made for grown-ups. This is an independent film made in 1999 by Richard Lagravenese. It's based on two short stories by Anton Chekhov, and it's about being true to yourself, finding out who you are, being accepted and loved as is, and forgiving yourself. Like Elizabeth Gilbert's EAT PRAY LOVE, whenever I'm in a what-the-hell?? kind of moment, I re-watch this movie. Every woman in the WORLD should be exposed to it.
4. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
There are fish (I'm a Pisces), there is water (I'm a Pisces), and there is Brad Pitt AND Craig Sheffer in it (I'm a heterosexual woman). This is about family, ultimately. And addiction. And struggling. And knowing that you can really, really love someone a lot but not like them very much. It's about how people who need the most help are often the ones who least want it; and so then it's about growing through and in spite of that pain. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT is about letting go, and it's about trusting in something a lot bigger than your limited self. It's about the ancient art of growing up, breathing in spite of the pain, and acceptance of the unknowable. It's about how the "river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
5. APOCALYPSE NOW
In 12th grade AP English, we had to read Joseph Conrad's THE HEART OF DARKNESS. What a freaky book. What a freaky movie based on that freaky book. On the surface, it's about some dudes traveling up river through war torn Vietnam and all the freaky crap they saw and endured while doing that. But underneath, like Conrad's book, it's about Us vs. Them kind of thinking, which leads to all kinds of stupid shit...like, oh I don't know, The Vietnam War. And people killing each other for dumb reasons. As humans are wont to do.
It's a disturbing movie, but then THE HEART OF DARKNESS is a disturbing book. Sometimes disturbing is bad, sometimes it's good. This is one of those times it's good.
6. THE COLOR PURPLE
Whoop Goldberg--I fell in love with her. She played a pure, gentle soul who went on an inner odyssey of figuring out who she was in and in the process discovering her own amazing strength. Sort of like Dorothy in WIZARD OF OZ, but black and living in Jim Crow times. This book/movie is also about family, growing up, and being loved as is.
Best line of a movie EVER: "Everything you done to me, already been done to you.I'm poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God, I'm HERE..."
7. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
I'm not going to lie: Daniel Day-Lewis, in this movie, is someone who spends a lot of time in my night time fantasies (sometimes day time ones as well). Family, trust, respect, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, staying true to your roots. It's all in there, set to gorgeous scenery and a sweeping soundtrack that makes your soul soar and spirit weep.
8. DR. ZHIVAGO
I had to find a book that complemented FATHERS AND SONS by Ivan Turgenev for my senior year thesis, and this was it. So happy I picked it, because this was about a tough, kick ass woman. Oh, she LOOKED sweet and weak and naive on the surface, but ultimately men were broken by her and because of her.
This movie is about love and grief and loss and it's all wrapped up in one amazing journey with a lot of snow in a country that is full of pain and horror and stark, unadulterated beauty. (I really wish Putin would stop mucking it up.)
9. THE GODFATHER
This is, literally, the ONLY mafia movie I can and will watch. I think Marlon Brando and a young Al Pacino might have something to do with it; I'll be honest. I read Mario Puzo's book, and then I saw the movie. Like WIZARD OF OZ and Hogan's PETER PAN, this is Mario's book but in visual format.
I would like its theme song to play whenever I exit a room.
10. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Gregory Peck. Social justice. Gregory Peck. Truth vs. Lies. Gregory Peck. A bildungsroman through a young girl's wide eyes. The way Law OUGHT to be. Gregory Peck. And also: Gregory Peck.
I hope Harper Lee's new book will do just as well as this one did in both written and cinematic format. I mean, hello...she's had 50+ years to hone it.
And last (but not least) I do have one favorite book that's been made into an excellent television show series: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon.
It's got time travel, Scots in kilts, Scots speaking in Scottish brogue, and a lot (I mean a LOT) of sex. With some historical background. Or maybe a lot (I mean a LOT) of historical background. With some sex.
Either way, Sam Heughan. And so watch it. It's On Demand.