Thursday, November 7, 2013

Living Books

Living books is a term for books that basically become part of your psyche, something that you relate to on a deep visceral level. Sometimes it can be just a line from a book, but it can be a character that touches you, a philosophy, whatever. You know how, especially in movies, the whacked character is running around with a copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye? I suppose that could be considered one, but mostly a living book would touch your life for the better, like that line in Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl “I still believe that people are good at heart.” We all know that Anne’s life ended in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. For me that line was written on my heart in the tragedy column, but it is that line that took root inside me, and to this day, and no matter how I end, I will believe it is true.

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is another one for me. The part where all the little pigs are being herded up a ramp to be processed, and the horrible excess of a seemingly mindless meat processing facility surrounds the reader, and Sinclair tosses out, “And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning?” I read The Jungle out loud (ouch) to my hunter son, and we both shuddered. I think of it sometimes, when I look at that case of hams at Costco. I honestly doubt he thinks of it while archery hunting, but I know, though I had to almost hog-tie that boy to get him to listen to that book at first, in the end he agreed it was brilliant.

Not all living books go in the tragedy column. While I sit here writing on a rainy morning the line “and they sat in the house all that cold cold wet day” often springs to mind. Thank you Dr. Seuss. If you’re a fan of Horton Hears a Who, you should know that even my dog – when he’d done something particularly foul – was aware that the quote “BOIL THAT DUST SPECK” meant he was in trouble. I can actually clear a room with that quote. When Mom isn’t happy…right? Then there is the wonderful Kevin Henkes quote from his children’s book, Chrysanthemum, “The day she was born was the happiest day in her parent’s lives…” For years my daughter lit up at that line – while my son wilted a bit if she quoted it to him – which she of course would never have done ten or twenty thousand times.

You get the gist of what a living book is I’m sure. Now share yours. For better or worse, good, bad, or funny, what books have attached themselves to your DNA? And what line, if you don’t mind sharing?


  1. The one that comes to mind for me, granted I probably have hundreds, is from Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. It's the last lines.

    I cried for TJ. For TJ, and the land.

    I never forget that line. Ever.

  2. Adding to my read list. Next to actually reading that is my next favorite thing to do with books. Look at that bee-you-tee-ful pile. *sighs*