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Happy Friday and welcome to the “Books That Changed My Life” open forum! Once again you’re invited to dig deep into your memory to answer this week’s burning question of the day:  Have you ever won a book as a prize?

But first let’s have breakfast. Coffee in that pot over in the corner—yes, help yourself, this week it’s Kenyan coffee—and today we have toasted cinnamon raisin bread with butter and lemon marmalade.
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Last year I was pleasantly surprised when, having ordered two jars of this very hard-to-find lemon marmalade from the Trappist Monastery in New York State, the dear brothers popped a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread left over from that morning’s baking into the package as a bonus. Not only that, they included a fridge magnet and a small writing tablet to remind me to order from them again. Needless to say, I definitely plan to do that!

So do enjoy your breakfast and join us in the salon afterwards.

I’ve already mentioned in one of my Singapore diaries that I attended a semiprivate school run by Mrs. R., an Englishwoman with a flaming red Afro and pale skin that defied even Singapore’s tropical sunlight. For reasons best known to herself she liked me and always took my side when the other children made fun of my glasses or the way my mother had done my hair on a given morning. Learning that I liked Richmal Crompton’s “William” books, she led me from the school to her private quarters and opened a cupboard door, revealing a knee-high stack of "William" books. I was overjoyed, having already read the few available in the school library. Mrs. R. cautioned that I would be the only one permitted to borrow the books and to keep silent about it. Nothing loath, I borrowed all of the books and read them avidly—greatly to the enrichment of my vocabulary and understanding of English village life.

However, when it came time for the school prize-giving at the end of each term, only classic literature was given away as prizes. Thus I own two books by Charles Dickens that to this day, half a century later, I have yet to read.

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Dickens is one of the few British authors that bore me to the point of madness. The next time school prize-giving rolled around, Mrs. R. actually asked me which book I’d like. “Good Wives, please,” I answered. Louisa Alcott, who wrote about girls my age and older, did appeal to me. It was a book with a pink binding and naturally has not lasted: I read it to bits.

My handsome young father, sitting with my mother and the other parents on school prize-giving day, smirked with satisfaction as I, the master sergeant’s daughter, won First Prize term after term while the colonel’s daughter and son sat glumly in the ranks of the non-prizewinners.

But enough of this autobiographical chitchat. What about YOU? Did you win books as a child or college student, or as an up-and-coming young professional? If you did, do you still own the books or did they fall apart because you read them so much? Tell us about it—we’re all ears!

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Comment Preferences

  •  I won a Latin dictionary for highest Latin grades (12+ / 0-)

    ....wait for it...in my catholic HS back in '68.

    Sure came in handy...NOT! Soon after that mass was said in English.  OY!

    "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

    "It's said that the honest man has nothing to hide. Not true. The honest man has to hide himself, because honest men are the prime targets of those who lie."

    by roseeriter on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:04:19 AM PDT

  •  But roseeriter, haven't you found that you often (11+ / 0-)

    need to look up the meaning of Latin tags that you encounter in everyday reading? Happened to me all the time, so it was useful to look them up in the little Collins Latin pocket dictionary I once owned.

    Congratulations on winning the book! Kind of a bummer that they started saying mass in English right after that.

    Really dig your sig about the honest man!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:43:49 AM PDT

  •  We used to give outstanding undergraduates (12+ / 0-)

    who showed dedication to and passion for Spanish a two-volume set of the dictionary of the Real Academia Espanola de la Lengua.  The best Spanish-language dictionary.

    It's been at least a decade since we've stopped doing that, though.  The number of majors and minors has grown exponentially and at my institution, at least, there aren't that many left who want to dedicate themselves to the study of the language and the culture, period.  They take Spanish as double majors, hoping it will increase their chances of getting a job in some field.  Or they minor in Spanish, ditto.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:46:02 AM PDT

  •  Once, long ago, I won a book. (10+ / 0-)

    I won a bible—a bible I still have and still read. And, because it is in my nature, I will share the story of its acquisition.

    I finished my English degree as an undergraduate but needed several hours to graduate. So, as was my thinking back then, I decided to get a second degree in philosophy and religion. In my first seminar we had some assignment (heavens knows I can't remember exactly what it was) on Kierkegaard. What I did was spend days writing a 20- or 25-page paper on Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians; my dissection, explication, and exegesis of love. It was a paper that was so off topic, so out there that I knew deep down I was questioning my own decision to take this second degree.

    The professor (who was head of the department and ended up being my senior thesis advisor in philosophy) didn't hand the paper back with the rest. He just told me to see him that afternoon in his office. Okay, I wasn't happy about it, but I also wasn't too damn worried--all he could do was kick me out of the department and I could switch to art, get the second degree, and still graduate on time. At the time--and I kid you not--I didn't care what anyone thought of me and I wanted absolutely nothing out of life; that way, I could never be disappointed.

    In his office that afternoon the professor introduced me to a friend of his who was in town visiting, Walker Percy. The professor knew that I had done my senior thesis (in the English Department) on Time and Being in Walker Percy and William Faulkner. I figured he was going to make me pay, and pay dearly, for not taking his class seriously. What he did, after telling Percy that he needed to talk to me, was ask me if I wanted a chance to redo the assignment (I did) and whether he could keep the paper I had written (I said, "sure"). I was then dismissed. I redid the damn assignment and grew to appreciate Kierkegaard very much.

    The original paper, to a certain extent, was an embarrassment in so many ways: it was created out of contempt for myself and the structure of education and unnecessarily put my professor in a tough situation. I was also proud of it, however, because it was a good paper.

    At the end of the winter period (we didn't have semesters), the college awards came out and I was awarded the "Beekman Bible Award." Now, you can probably guess the paper that got me the award (the professor sent it to the panel), but the fact is that I had steadfastly refused for two years to enter anything into any of the competitions--an anomaly for an English student that had been invited to do so. Truth is that I was not so much unsure of my writing as afraid of rejection. While the award doesn't really sound like much, it was actually a sought after prize in the school and was open to all disciplines. In a small, private religious college, it was one of those "intellectual" prizes that went years without being awarded because "no entries" warranted its presentation.

    [If I end here, the story is about me and told (as I am apt to I do) in a way that puts me in the best light--I can't help it, my mistakes are legion, so I take the small victories when I can. But (against my nature and in line with what Diana has taught me about writing) I am forced to continue to the real ending of this story.]

    At its core, this rendering of my past mistakes is not about the professor, or youthful rebellion, or even my college days and the bible I won; it is about a paper on love and my failure of understanding. I had written forcefully about love, concentrating on agape. I argued that such love (different in significant ways from a love between a parent and a child) was not possible for an individual to hold--to truly, deeply, eternally hold--for another.

    But I have become convinced that I was wrong. Call me a romantic, if you will, or an individual who has worked seriously and without much respite to disprove a conviction I held at the age of 20 that saw the world as a place where unconditional love could not survive.

    I didn't deserve the bible, as proud as I was at receiving it: my premise, however eloquent and urbane and erudite, was wrong. This is the reason that I use the word "love" so seldom. For me it is an ideal that once held in one's hands and seen from all angles presents itself as more dear and more fragile than life itself.

  •  It wasn't really a contest, but back in the late (11+ / 0-)

    70's, I answered an ad in the back of rolling stone magazine and got a pre-sale copy of "A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" pretty cool.

    Here I am, now. Entertain me.

    by blueoregon on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:20:30 AM PDT

  •  Hmmm a two volume set on Evidence, IIRC (9+ / 0-)

    For #2 in law school class.  Barely ever cracked them, since Con Law was what I actually enjoyed best. Evidence books long gone, but still have my Con Law book - mainly because autographed by Byron "Whizzer" White.  Obviously would have preferred a justice from the other end of the spectrum, but I didn't get to choose who came to visit the school.

    But most cherished autograph is from another Con Law prof from Chicago, who autographed a copy of his speech on "A More Perfect Union."

  •  In high school I won two or three books (9+ / 0-)

    in a German competition that I think was administered through the German consular mission in Chicago.  That was about 50 years ago, though, and I no longer remember what they were.  Around the same time I also won a couple of books in a mathematics competition, but at this point I don’t even remember what competition it was.  I did actually read all of these books, but they were never important to me for their content.

    •  You appear to be of a scholarly turn of mind, (7+ / 0-)

      BMScott. I'm impressed!  German and mathematics? I loved German when I briefly studied it in college. Have never formally studied Spanish, as I gather you have, but it's impossible to live where I do and not absorb a little of it.

      Did you ever read that marvelous work, Mathematics for the Million, by Lancelot Hogben? My father owned a copy for years. In my late teens I was entranced by the work of Trachtenberg. My boyfriend of the time and I spent one whole summer doing sums on his parents' dining room table.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:40:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, I never studied Spanish, but languages (6+ / 0-)

        always interested me, and my main hobby is historical linguistics.  I’m actually a retired mathematics professor who reads German tolerably well and can in a pinch dig information out of French, Swedish, Dutch, and Norwegian sources, though I’d not want to try to read fiction in those languages.  If no other source is available, I can extract some information from Spanish and Italian Wikipedia, but it’s way too much work unless I really care about the matter.  Oh, and with total reliance on a dictionary I read Old Norse sagas in the original for fun; there’s a group of us where I live who have been doing it for about 25 years now, meeting once a month.

        I have indeed read the Hogben.  I was probably nine or ten at the time, and I remember that I had to use my mother’s library card instead of mine, because the book was in the adult section of the Amherst, Mass., public library.

  •  I'm pretty sure I did... back in elementary (8+ / 0-)

    school. Probably as part of a book fair or something. My daughter won one at the library. She won a Judy Moody book, about the time the movie came out. She liked the book better.

    I remember we gave my best friend in school a book for her 10th birthday. It was "Spell for Chameleon" by Piers Anthony and it started a Xanthian reading frenzy in her house and in ours (we loaned books back and forth just like we did kids). Later on her family introduced us to Douglas Adams, so it all worked out in the end LOL.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:41:43 AM PDT

  •  I won The Big Book in an AA raffle (7+ / 0-)

    I gave it away because I already had a copy ( a 1st edition!)

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:44:21 AM PDT

  •  roget's thesaurus (8+ / 0-)

    in 4th grade.

    well, we all 'won' a book from our teacher at the end of the year. he wanted each one of us to treasure reading.

     at the end of the school year, he handpicked a book for every one in the class, something he thought was appropriate for our reading level.

    he announced to the class he could not find a book for me because I had read everything in the catalogue ( not true).

     he gave me a big fat book, a Roget's  thesaurus. when I first got it, I was sooooo disappointed because I could not 'read' it.

    but I eventually figured out to use and I would still have it today but it fell apart.

    I still treasure his thoughtfulness and his announcement to the class.

    I think I won 'Henner's Lydia' by Marguerite de Angeli in elementary school but cannot recall the contest.

    I still have it and the cover is torn.

  •  Huckleberry Finn (8+ / 0-)

    I received it for being "Top Boy" in third grade, when I lived in Nairobi. I think they selected it for me because I was the only American in the class. That was the height of my academic success... It has always been a favorite of mine, and I reread it regularly. BTW, I love Dickens!

    •  Charles, what a wonderful book to win as a prize! (6+ / 0-)

      You made me smile when you said you were "Top Boy" in your school in Nairobi. How British!  My father used to bemoan the cruelty of the British habit of choosing elites in school. It was tongue in cheek, of course, as his daughter regularly won the week for having the most "stars" and therefore wore the "Top" badge all the following week.

      How funny, I'd forgotten that. Thank you for reminding me and I hope you enjoyed Huckleberry Finn.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 07:20:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Charlotte's Web. (8+ / 0-)

    Won it in 4th grade for reading and reporting on the most books.

    Eventually it became my daughter's. Now her son has it and he and his wife are going to have their second child who, if a girl, will be named Charlotte. Coincidence? I think not.

    :-)

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 07:25:47 AM PDT

  •  The Germans were a generous bunch. (8+ / 0-)

    In high school I applied for a scholarship/program that the German government offered back then.  The program sent American students to Germany for a trip to see the country.  The process began with a pretty extensive written test (in German) and students who passed that would be interviewed by a committee from Germany.  A handful of us in my German class were selected for the interview.  

    Three people came to interview us.  I don't remember their names, but I remember three serious, but friendly faces with varying amounts of hair.  (It was the 1970s and mustaches and beards were worn by most males younger than 50.)  All of them wore glasses.

    The questions were pretty tame and mostly what you'd expect.  Why are you learning German?  What will you take in College?  Tell us about your family.  Blah blah blah ordinary.  The entire interview was in German, of course.  

    Somehow we got on the subject of art.  Who is your favorite artist?   "Albrect Dürer!" I immediately answered.  That seemed to surprise them.  A few more questions about Dürer followed and I answered enthusiastically about how I loved his ink wood engravings and beautiful landscape studies.  The details that Dürer put in his work that capture the essence of his subject.  

    I probably became a bit pedantic, but the interviewers' faces seemed friendlier and encouraging, so I just kept talking about Albrecht Dürer.  The interview wrapped up and I left the room pleased, but pretty sure I had wandered too far off track to win the trip to Germany.

    I didn't win the trip to Germany.  A student from another part of the state won that year.  But, months later, a large envelope arrived for me.  It was from the German consulate and inside was a letter from the interview committee telling me how much they enjoyed our conversation.  They regretted that I didn't win the trip, but they hoped I would continue my studies and visit the country on my own someday.  Until then, please accept their gift.  It was a coffee table-sized book about Albrecht Dürer in German.  

    I assumed they had sent something to all the other applicants, but I later learned that I was the only one of our group to receive a book and letter.  My book has enjoyed a place of honor on my bookshelf ever since.  I like to think that it is a reminder that enthusiasm and passion will be rewarded. (And here I am being pedantic again!  LOL.)    

    BTW...You can send those Dickens books to me, Diana in NoVa.  I will give them a good home. He was one of those authors you're forced to read in school that I actually became fond of.  He was one of the first writers to awaken my awareness of life's many glaring inequities: poverty and wealth, hope and despair, love and rejection.      

    "Heaven ain't close in a place like this." ~ The Killers

    by koosah on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 07:32:13 AM PDT

  •  I have a friend (5+ / 0-)

    who is an author (NYT best seller and all of that), and a few years ago on his e-mail list he had a contest - design a character (a specific character) for his next book, and win a galley.

    Two of us on the list came up with very similar ideas,but mine was better fleshed out, and I got the book.

    A few years later, he was working on a TV series for HBO, and had a similar contest, but this time for a character who would fit into the series (which never got produced), complete with background, description, etc- everything the casting director might want.

    After getting that book, I stopped submitting ideas to him, and started working harder on my own stuff.

    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

    by trumpeter on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:11:53 AM PDT

  •  I won a book in Grade 12, as a member of a (6+ / 0-)

    team that won its division in the varsity quiz competition.

    It was a small softcover collection of paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, whose work instantly became, and remains, my favorite.

    I also won a book prize while studying overseas -- but that was a reimbursement-based prize. I found someone to donate me their book store receipt, because:

    A. Books were a lot cheaper back home
    B. I didn't want to carry heavy books back with me

    I don't remember what I bought with the money when i got home, though I think it was a couple of books.

    To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

    by UntimelyRippd on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:16:25 AM PDT

  •  Dickens is a peculiar favorite of mine: not for (5+ / 0-)

    being a perfect author, but because I see so much good, and so much bad, in his writing, that I find he greatly rewards the time I spend examining his work from different angles. I find a lot more good than bad, but I have trouble when he gets cloying. Oscar Wilde said, "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing."

    I did win a book prize, for reciting Dulce et Decorum Est with great élan. They gave me a book token to go spend, and return with a book. I went and bought two Oxford books of quotations (which I preceded to read from cover to cover, highlighting my favorites). Since they were paperbacks, and not suitably impressive for a prize-giving, I repurposed a hardback my father had given me (Machines Who Think) for the ceremony.

    I'm pleased to hear the Trappists were kind to you, Diana. You always serve us the best virtual snacks.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 10:43:10 AM PDT

    •  I like what Samuel Johnson said about Shakespeare (6+ / 0-)

      and it applies as well to Dickens--other writers give you jewels finely chiseled and polished to perfection; Shakespeare is a gold mine with vast rough chunks of treasure mixed in with sticks and mud and rock and who knows what kind of crap. I paraphrase.

      I am always amazed at Dickens's utter melodramatic shamelessness, e.g. the villain rubbing his hands and cackling over his captive lovelies in Barnaby Rudge, not to mention his equally shameless use of dogs.

      •  I guess that applies to Shakespeare. He poured out (5+ / 0-)

        the words, and invented many excellent things he never planned.

        George Orwell, who had devoured Dickens first, and then examined him thoroughly, has by far the most insightful and even-handed analysis of Dickens' work that I've read. It's several pages long, but this speaks to your point:

        Dickens is obviously a writer whose parts are greater than his wholes. He is all fragments, all details — rotten architecture, but wonderful gargoyles — and never better than when he is building up some character who will later on be forced to act inconsistently.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 11:41:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hmm (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Brecht, P Carey, RiveroftheWest, Limelite

          I'd have to take some issue with the architecture business.  Copperfield has a terrific bone structure derived from David's relationships with women: Aunt Betsey v. his passive "poor baby" of a mother to start, progressing to his wedding to a poor baby of a wife, Dora, and ending with his vanquishing the evil Heep for the hand of a woman as competent as Betsey, only better looking.  The wedding scene with Dora is hypnotic just because of the structure--he's repeating his patterns--and while killing off Dora with a charming disease is a bit pat, David's careful and intelligent wooing of Agnes and the great fun of seeing him get the gal he deserves make it more than worth the annoyance.  

          That's not just a plot structure, but an emotional structure that resonates--everyone's life is like that to some degree or other. And it's got lots of gargoyles.

          •  There's a lot of excellence in 'David Copperfield' (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            P Carey, RiveroftheWest, Limelite

            it was his own favorite, and you can see how much of himself into it. Even for Dickens, that one especially bursts with life.

            I'd want to reread half of Dickens, and read the other half, before choosing his best architecture. I think that Bleak House and Great Expectations are well-built. GE has that nice conundrum of the alternative endings (I thought his original, more downbeat, had more integrity with the morality and arc of the book).

            Dickens and Shakespeare are not deliberate writers, like Joyce and Nabokov; they poured themselves out on the page. But they were brilliant, and pushed all boundaries, and remembered what worked. Look at Pickwick Papers (his first) to see how far Dickens developed, as a plotter.

            Dickens was frequently pushing to keep up with his serializations. I think a lot of what looks like plotting was just the instinctive sense of shape of a great natural storyteller.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:10:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Think of His Audience (4+ / 0-)

        Marginally literate oral recipients of his serials printed in the newspaper that were read aloud to by someone in the household who could read at that level.  Cliffhanging is required.  Cliffhanging requires melodrama.

        Plus the Victorians were fond of their pathos, no?

        Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

        by Limelite on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 02:17:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  No, but (5+ / 0-)

    once in the 1960's a friend of mine put a copy of Conrad Hilton's "Be My Guest" on top of a fire escape and then went around saying he'd heard some holy man had left a secret book on the Path to Enlightenment up there, and one night some stupid hippie, who fortunately escaped serious harm, took a bunch of acid and went up there and got it.

  •  Alas, Prize-giving Not a Feature (4+ / 0-)

    of my totally American, totally public education.

    But my mother and aunts on both sides of the family were recipients of prize day books.  Mother and her sisters were primarily educated by nuns, so they were doomed to get martyrs and saints (in French, as it was Quebec), or similarly edifying and probably overtly religious selections.  Thank goodness I was spared such a "reward"!

    My father's older sister got books in English -- as she and his family were English born and raised -- and slightly more interesting ones (as I vaguely recollect) than my New World relatives got from their habit-wearing instructors, IMO.  One or two of which I still may have around the house somewhere.  

    Shamefully, I only ever won a radio as a kid, and it was not a school prize. And the damn thing was stolen.  Probably an omen.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 01:50:15 PM PDT

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