Liz and Gianna are two of a dying breed--traveling sales reps for book publishers--who sell books in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and the Deep South. Since we're constantly on the road hawking books, we must find ways to amuse ourselves. So here we've decided to share our anecdotes, adventures, favorite books, and efforts in making the world (or at least these few states) a more literate place to inhabit.
The greatest book I have ever read about friendship is The Breakfast Club. It is the intricate and moving story of five students in detention who couldn’t be more different. Ninety minutes later, I mean 400 pages later, they realize they are all the same at heart. They are each the brain, the athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, and the National Book Award in 1985, and the author John Hughes went on to become the Nobel Laureate a few years later and then the King of England. The End.
The best book about friendship is Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail damn Caldwell. End of story. I wish you people would stop making me write about her book! Annoying. [I'd normally link to other blog posts in which Gianna mentioned this book, but seriously, it's about every other post. Take some initiative. Read through them yourself.]
Here are some other favorites that have great friendships at their core. Not all of the friendships last if memory serves….
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – this is the story of four friends and it is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Set in India during severe government crackdowns, the book tells the story of four very different people brought together by the changes in India. Great book. [One is a brain, and one is a jock, and one is a basket case....]
I feel I should mention The Color Purple by Alice Walker, but that was more like a “friends with benefits” situation (that’s what the kids call it).
Another favorite is Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (pronounced just as it is written). This is a really lovely story of best friends who are sent to a re-education camp during the Cultural Revolution in China. They fall in love with the daughter of a local tailor. The two friends decide that they will help educate the seamstress with forbidden foreign books that they have hidden. This has a bit of a twist at the end. This is also one of my favorite book jackets.
You know, I always thought that the best friends to have are the types that help bury the body (Colleen, Stephanie and Liz all have shovels at the ready). But I now realize that a good friend is also the type who puts you out of your misery when needed. Liz often asks me to help her in these situations, but so far I have not been that good of a friend to her. Of Mice and Men –George and Lenny. Now those two were great pals. [I like to watch the rabbits.]
Rarely would my mind turn to children's books first, but in the case of this category, my two favorite books about friendship both fall into that category for younger readers. They also happen to be the two books I most often re-read as a wee Liz.
Anne of Green Gables is all about trying to find connections and family through friendship. It's about finding community when you're an outsider, and being accepted and loved even though you have fiery red hair and lack social graces and like to read. It's about forgiveness and supporting each other and learning to belong. I suspect that the children who read and loved L.M. Montgomery's series as children know how to be stalwart friends as adults. I certainly count Anne fans among my closest friends now.
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson struck a chord with me growing up. In the summers, my sister and I formed an alliance with the boy on the other side of the neighborhood, and the three of us created adventures in the woods that stretched for miles behind our neighborhood. We had our own worlds, clubs, perils, and discoveries, and though school was a different world entirely separate from our summer escapades, we remained close. It's not a childhood you've have in an urban area, and though I have many, many, many criticisms about the town in which I was raised, that pastoral freedom is never on the list. The Bridge to Terabithia reminded me of those adventures and that friendship from my small town. The book has a tragic ending; my friendship faded with time and divergent paths in high school and college.
On the adult book front, I think that Toni Morrison's Sula is one of the greatest books ever written about the complexities of friendship between women. It one of the reasons this is the book I've re-read most often.
I also loved To the End of the Land by David Grossman, and since it's new in paperback, I encourage everyone to add it to their reading group lists. To the End of the Land is a pilgrimage book; a mother and her childhood best friend--a former soldier suffering from PTSD--set off on a trek across Israel because the mother is terrified that her son serving in the Israeli army will be killed in the latest uprising. This is a mature book about friendship, loss, love, and the uncertainty of living in a perilous world. It's also beautifully written. I struggled with To the End of the Land as I read it, but more than a year later I still regularly think about this story.
These are the types of friends who, according to Gianna, would help you bury the body. Or, you know, send you a dirty joke when you're having a bad day, no questions asked.