Book thread

Jun 20, 2005

Yesterday, Dan “tagged” me and the other bloggers at the Duck to participate in one of those circulating book threads (or “memes”). I am now supposed “to describe the ‘five books I liked enough as a teen/young adult to read again as an adult.'”

Hmmmm. This is tough.

First, I’m older than the other guys and have thus had more time to re-read more books that I read as a teen/young adult. Theoretically, my list could be very long.

Second, and this is related to the last point, I have two children and have read many books aloud to them that I liked as a kid. I’ve also read books to them that I thought they might like, even if I didn’t, in particular. This distorts my list towards a younger audience since my oldest child is not yet 12.

Third, however, I don’t re-read very many books. Indeed, it is extremely rare for me to pick up a non-academic book that I’ve already read. More potentially interesting books are published in any given year than I can possibly devour. Why read ones I already know? This doesn’t seem like an odd decision to me — film critic Pauline Kael didn’t even watch movies twice.

Those caveats aside, I’ll produce a list:

1. 1984, by George Orwell. I read this book for the first time in the late 1970s when I was a teenager and thought it was cool that the title date was approaching. Plus, I was kind of a debate/policy geek, even in high school, and this book’s lessons about power and politics seemed to explain a great deal about the world. Somehow, my copy was left at my parent’s house when I went off to college, and I started re-reading it every summer when I came back to visit. While Winston’s Smith life was engaging, I haven’t read this book since….1984!

2. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. This is one I read to my oldest daughter a couple of years ago. She is a big Harry Potter fan and has preferred reading to herself for some years now. Thus, I selected this one because I was confident she’d like it and that she would let me read it to her. Most often, she finishes books that we begin together.

3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I suppose this is a predictable and clichéd choice, but I still remember being in a used bookstore as a teen and picking up the copy I continue to own…and sometimes read. In fact, I re-read parts of this book just a couple of years ago, ostensibly to see if it would be appropriate reading for my kids. I think I’ll let them discover it on their own, though I guess this could be a “guy” book.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. We own perhaps 20 or 30 slim books by Dr. Seuss, but this is one of the few that I really like to read. Many of his other books are for reading to babies or really young children. I read The Butter Battle Book to my eldest daughter’s classmates in spring 2003 when the US attacked Iraq, but that wasn’t published until I was out of college so it doesn’t count for this list. As an environmentalist, I like to read The Lorax to my children, but I don’t really recall reading it as a kid. So that leaves the Grinch, a nasty and entertaining character. The book was great when I was a kid, and it’s still pretty good (especially for reading to my younger daughter). The animated TV version was fun too, but the Jim Carrey movie was very hard to watch.

5. Ball Four by Jim Bouton. I realize this isn’t fiction, but I read a lot of baseball books for diversion from my day job. Virtually every baseball book I read before 1984 was crap. This book is the exception and I’ve read it several times over the years. What happened in 1984? That’s when I started reading Bill James. Now there’s an author I read again and again. I own all of his abstracts back to 1983 and no summer passes without my flipping through one or more of them. I would like to own the ones published prior to 1983, but they’re kind of pricey on the used book market.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.