Dune by Frank Herbert
read by Simon Vance and cast
The library at my high school didn’t have that much of a selection when it came to fiction—just three waist-high aisles. (This was not, as I briefly entertained, to cut down on canoodling; there were plenty of ceiling high shelves over on the nonfiction side.) But it was the only library I had constant access to until I was about sixteen, due to a family vendetta against the public library over a fine. (Not mine, obviously, but Madame McBride never forgets.) That was perfectly alright, since I wasn’t really reading much beyond occasionally inhaling a Jodi Picoult novel in a day, whatever was assigned for the school’s book club, and the occasional Heroes fanfic.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
read by Cori Samuel
Recently, the leadership in my ladies only sf book club opened up. Naturally, because attempting to navigate adult life, working two gigs, and garner funding for Operation New York isn’t enough of a challenge, I decided to take on the responsibility. To be fair, it’s a lovely gig—running discussion, organizing our monthly meetings, and thinking about fun field trips for a pack of literary-minded lady nerds. (Oh my goodness, we should totally all go see Her before it leaves theaters! Good idea, me!) To mark a new era of our book club, I decided that we needed to start at the beginning, when the eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley created science fiction, to significantly better results than her protagonist.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
read by Ron Rifkin
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, since it was such a significant moment in my development as a reader.
I read The Giver for the first time in middle school, when I was roughly around the same age as Jonas is when we begin the novel. I was already reading adult novels (we didn’t have a fancy thriving young adult industry when I was a kiddo, sonny jim!)at that age, so it wasn’t a particular challenge. What did challenge me was the ending. Something was clearly off about the strange, dreamy ending, but there wasn’t enough information for me to determine what happened. The author chose not to tell me what happened. My teacher couldn’t tell me what happened with any certainty.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
read by Eden Riegel
As y’all know, I am a very visual person—that’s why this is a reread feature, not a first read feature. As a kid, cover art could make or break a book for me. What was depicted on the cover was not so much an artist’s interpretation of the work but the law as set down by the powers that be. (I also thought television shows happened when people spontaneously wandered in front of cameras. That might sound adorable, but I also didn’t understand that television shows came on weekly until I was fifteen. Knowledge is power, people.) Obviously, given my utter delight with awful book covers these days, I’ve grown out of this. But I encountered Ella Enchanted while laboring under these beliefs, which means that its original cover is seared into my brain like screen burn-in to such a degree that any other covers make my skin crawl. (I won’t talk about the movie. Until I see it again!)
Redwall by Brian Jacques
read by a full cast
Since Reading by Ear is my reread feature, I will eventually begin eating my own tail and re-examining books that I’ve already written about here on the blog, but I’m trying to make a good faith effort to cover as many of the books that I read before college before I start doing that. Given my fickle memory, however, drawing up a complete list is pretty much impossible.
Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was a pleasant episode in my youth: convinced that the only books worthwhile were the ones in series, the seemingly endless Redwall books were a perfect complement to eating Ritz crackers and mild cheddar cheese after school. It’s such a sense memory for me that just listening to this made me want cheese. Although, to be fair, I always want to sit down with a little pot full of goat cheese, so it’s not like that’s hard or anything.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
read by Hope Davis
My geographically unstable childhood had, at least, one constant: heat. While it’s dry in southern California and humid here in Georgia, oppressive heat is such a part of my life that I am the most cold-blooded person you will ever meet. A friend, trying to explain how cold-blooded she was, held my hand as proof. “Your hands feel like mine do to other people,” she said. I’m very familiar with M&Ms liquifying in their shells, rearview mirrors melting off windshields, and the covers of paperback books detaching from their contents. One such book during middle school was a copy of Walk Two Moons. Stumbling across the audiobook at the public library, I realized I remembered very little about it, making it a perfect candidate for this feature.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For a very long time, I hated Kurt Vonnegut. More specifically, I hated Slaughterhouse-Five. It was assigned to me during my first or second year of high school, so I was still doing debate and still in the throes of what I like to call “The Wombat Years”—a bad period spanning most of my adolescence that featured bangs, rabid femmephobia, and constant, quiet anger. That last one had a hair trigger, and Vonnegut tripped it by, in my memory, calling Billy’s daughter “a bitch”. (This may or may not actually happen in the book.) I finished the book, since it was for school, but I scowled more than usual all the way. I am no longer a wombat, but that loathing remained. I did know I’d have to revisit this eventually for Reading by Ear—I just didn’t read that much as a kid, y’all!—but I was expecting the worst. And all I’ve got to say is praise and hallejulah, the Wombat Years are behind us.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Frank Muller
I didn’t pick up The Great Gatsby just because the film’s coming out in a few months. I mean, it is a major factor in my decision, I’m not going to lie. (Can we talk about how Jack White’s cover of “Love is Blindness” is amazing? Because it is.) No, I picked it up because, despite the fact that this is the novel most kids are taught the beginnings of literary criticism on in American high schools, there are still unplumbed depths. One of my peers here at Agnes wrote her senior thesis on Great Gatsby on a topic that, to the best of our research, hasn’t been written on seriously. Texts like that—well, those are the texts I like the most.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
read by Christopher Hurt
Like many American teenagers, my first exposure to Fahrenheit 451 came in high school, although Bradbury was definitely a staple of those reading anthologies I was assigned during my primary education. (I once got to go to the room where they kept all the textbooks they handed out. It was magical.) It was used in my freshman English class, where the teacher played the Empire Today jingle ad nauseum while the students were talking, to illustrate the difficulty of Montag trying to memorize the Bible on the subway. That was eight years ago (man!), so it was high time to revisit this classic sci-fi novel.
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
read by Anton Lesser
Back in high school, I read the first three books of the Sally Lockhart Quartet in sort of a breathless week or so. I was still sorting out how to ferret out books I might like, and had hit upon the tactic of going through the back catalog of every writer I knew I liked. (This is no longer my approach to books, but it is my approach to music, which has, in recent months, helped me discover my love for The New York Dolls.) Philip Pullman, by virtue of His Dark Materials, was a prime candidate. I remembered them fondly but vaguely when I picked up this audiobook to revisit it, but perhaps I should have left it on the shelf…