Bus Station Book Talk

We were sitting around a bus station in Fresno, California, pretending we had a place to go. "It smelled like 1000 dead cigars."

We randomly asked total strangers, "What's your favorite book." If the stranger looked particularly well washed, we said "books."

This is what they said:

One crusty old man told us, "I love historical fiction and that may explain my fascination for Freedom by William Safire. The blend of well-researched historical events/people with fictional devices made the book both informational and entertaining. Though voluminous, it was hard to put down; you are engulfed with the drama, characters, and passions of the Civil War period. I learnt more about American history from this novel (Civil War period) than I ever did reading any history text. A great book."

A bird faced young man said he like Swift Justice by Harry Farrell. He wouldn't tell us why and he was kind of nervous. "Read it," he said. "And you will understand."

Others said:

"Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane was one of the best books I've ever read. It details the life of a young boy growing up in South Africa during Apartheid. The youth experiences great trials and tribulations and overcomes the odds by receiving a tennis scholarship to a U.S. university. He goes on to become a successful business executive. The book was tremendously inspiring, motivating, and one of the true success stories of the 20th century."

"My favorite book is Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. I like it because it's melancholy, nostalgic, sad. It's beautifully written, a quiet narrative that evokes a disappearing past. The story focuses on a gentle man who spent his life in teaching. He wasn't brilliant, he wasn't even an exceptional teacher. But he remembered his students ... generations of boys, many from the same families ... who grew to love him. And they apparently learned from him, despite themselves. Old Mr. Chippering even rose to the rank of headmaster when World War I drew away the younger (and more qualified) faculty members. A shy man, he stumbled into love late in life. She died before him, leaving Mr. Chips with regrets, but mostly happy memories to be dreamed by the fireside. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is not a great book, perhaps. But I like it. It's soothing. I try to read it once a year."

"My favorite book at the moment is Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and the Last Great Lesson by Mitch Albom . I read it two years ago and really was comforted by the incredible wisdom of Morrie. Now that my friend has terminal cancer, something reminds me of this book almost daily."

Peace Is Every Step : The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh "provides a compassionate path for living with all forms of life. It shows how peace can be enacted within ourselves and through our daily interactions. Thich Nhat Hanh articulates a profound understanding of the complexities and struggles of our lives, yet challenges all of us to live being fully aware."

"Handbook on How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres by Booker Whatley gave me inspiration to do agriculture production on a small scale successfully. Reminds me of the philosophies of George Washington Carver."

"I read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo after seeing the play in London when I studied abroad. While I loved the play, the characters and the plot in the book were even richer and better. It brought back fond memories of my trip and added to my understanding of life in that time."

"The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham is a powerful story of a middle-class London stockbroker who gives up his comfortable life to pursue his desire to paint. It is a fictional biography of artist Paul Gauguin. Although the title character's obsession becomes somewhat tragic, it presents the reader with a chance to fantasize about walking away from everything (job, family, other obligations) and pursuing their dream(s)."

"The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron. "Insight!"

"My favorite book is anything that I ever read to my children or grandchildren. Not because of content, but because of the sharing experience. For my children, two favorites were Borka : The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers and Humbert, Mr. Firkin and the Lord Mayor of London, both by the British author/illustrator, John Burningham." "My grandchildren prefer things like Big Black Fly and Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch by Nancy Willard."

"Personally, I think Huck Finn is one of the best, along with almost anything by Charles Dickens. He captures the flavor of Victorian London better than any other author. As a young teenager, I was much taken by The Citadel by A. J. Cronin and Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Another book that made a deep impression in my 20's was Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory. It's about the futility surrounding the Battle of Verdun in World War I. When my wife and I visited that battle site some 50 years later, vegetation still wouldn't grow in some areas because the ground was so permeated with gunpowder residue."

"Here are my top four:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
"Towering, almost Biblical work, with overwhelming narrative power and one of the great characters in literature, the villain-hero Ahab."

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene.
" A wrenching study of love and betrayal set in a backwater of Africa. Greene's laconic but vivid writing shows him as perhaps the greatest British prose stylist of this century."

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
"THE great novel of love and war, and further evidence that Hemingway, more than any other author, reshaped forever the way Americans write. (If you're looking for literary perfection, read the opening paragraph of this masterpiece.)"

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
"Fitzgerald's portrait of the dark, sad side of the American Dream, as revealed in the fast-money, fast-living, gin-soaked decade of the '20s."

"OK, those are my top four. I could have listed The Quiet American, Main Street, In Cold Blood.

"My best books would be different in different periods of my life. Best Combo: Poland by James Michner followed by Catherine, Empress of All the Russias by Vincent Cronin. This combination covers the struggle between Poland, at the time perhaps the greatest power in Europe, and Russia as it was emerging as a power. Same topic from different perspectives. Fun to read over and over: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Sci-Fi: Dune series by Frank Herbert. Book I could identify with: Moo by Jane Smiley."

"I read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom after going through a miserable divorce. Being alone with three little boys, I was certain that I had more heartaches and problems than anyone. As I read, it didn't take long to realize that I had just tripped over a little pebble in the road--I had no problems at all compared to the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps during World War II. It changed my whole outlook on life, even to this day. I was priveleged to hear Miss ten Boom speak at the Veterans Auditorium in May of 1976--I will never forget that lady! She traveled all over the world until she was in her early 80's, when she was given a home in California... she continued to write books, I think I've read them all! She died from complications of a stroke April 15, 1983--she had requested no flowers, but instead a Corrie ten Boom Memorial Missionary Fund was established."

"I think the best book I have ever read is Mila 18 by Leon Uris, the compelling story of the uprising by the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. I literally couldn't put this book down once I started reading it! The heroism and sacrifice of the people of the Warsaw Ghetto are unforgettable and inspiring. As for my favorite books, I like to curl up on the couch and read Excellent Women, Jane and Prudence or any other book written by British author Barbara Pym. Pym, who has been called a "modern day Jane Austen," writes with gentle humor, irony and insight about the ordinary lives of ordinary people."

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez "is a moving and sometimes heart-wrenching story of the strength of the human soul. I read it each year."

"I have a lot of favorite books, but having to choose I say The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Bradley does a superb job in this novel of drawing the reader into the world of the Arthurian legend as seen through the eyes of women. The prequel (written after Mists), The Forest House, is also a great read. Bradley is a compelling story teller."

"Besides the Bible, I consider the best book that I've ever read . . . the one that has had the most profound impact on my life . . . to be Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall. And I am a reader. I read all the time, across a fairly broad spectrum of books." "If I were to make a journalism/mass comm, magazines, "best book" choice, it would be The Fanciest Dive by Christopher Byron! It's a fun read, and a great eye opener to the real world of the hard realities of office/corporate politics that exists behind the 'glamour' of working in the media. Although a book can't prevent each of us from experiencing the pain that results from being on the losing end of corporate politics, if any book can raise awareness to a level that can help buffer the impact when this kind of experience comes . . . which it almost inevitably will . . . this one could!"

"I remember when I first read Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner I instantly felt at home with his winding, layered manner of story-telling even though I'm not from that far south. Later I read a biography that quoted what Faulkner was trying to accomplish with his stream of consciousness style. He said life was not really linear as words are on a page. He was trying to capture in each sentence that sense of something happening (Caddie on the swing in the opening of the book, for example) simultaneously with all the character's thoughts and feelings and past experiences, as closely as possible to how we experience multiple realities at the same time. So he jumbled impressions one on top of another and tucked in experiences or observations or descriptions parenthetically as often as he had to in order to mimic how we perceive reality. I have always related to that and admired his effort. Plus, the lines the title comes from are some of my favorite in Shakespeare. I guess because, what's more compelling than a good dysfunctional family story?"

The most salient book to me today (just because I have just finished it over the weekend), is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I was prompted to read the book in preparation for my China assignment next month, and was pleasantly surprised. First off, this author can write. She vividly evokes China's sights, sounds and smells to create grim yet perceptive accounts of growing up middle class in the maelstrom that has swept China since the 1920s. Second, this is not The Last Emperor. The narrative is more harrowing and more gripping. Third, it stars strong, beautiful women spanning three generations and provides cameo roles for men. Fourth, it's no romance but a story about how a family survived a century of disaster."

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