Stories from middle America

I still recall the cover, deep red and worn and not at all striking or memorable in design. Bennet Cerf’s Book of Laughs was a title I discovered at my grade school library sometime in the late 1980s. Something about the quips and clever one-liners caught me.

The library tracking card affixed inside the front cover featured my oversized and careful childhood signature, line after line, month after month. I took pride in the temporary ownership of that book, poring over each page. The number of consecutive times I checked out the book escapes me, but I remember it was a lot.

Today, more than twenty-five years later, I couldn’t tell you a single sentence from that title without an exhaustive Google search. (Or, better yet, tracking down a used copy.) Yet in a heartbeat I could recount how the book smelled (something old and wonderful) and how it made me feel (Robert Aris Willmott said it best: “A first book has some of the sweetness of a first love.”).

In many ways, that little book of jokes unknowingly paved the way for my adult life.

Humor has always been ever-present. It started with my family – where belly laughs are the main course of any gathering – and continued with the man I married, whose comic genius keeps me in equal parts tears and stitches.

My love of the written word evolved from Bennet Cerf’s popular publication to various fiction titles and literary classics through high school and beyond, to time spent studying journalism in college, working as a newspaper reporter, and publishing my first book in 2010.

And today, in my full-time role as development director of the Omaha Public Library Foundation, I’m surrounded by books. My weekdays are spent in our city’s four-story, main branch downtown. My working hours are filled advocating and raising money for the Omaha Public Library system and its twelve branches.

When I look around my home at the hundreds of titles I have collected, read, savored, pondered, and enjoyed over the years, I am struck with the strong emotion I feel for these thousands of pages. The letters become words, the words become sentences, the sentences become paragraphs. Together they create magical, memorable experiences.

Given our mission here at COOP to live lives (ours and yours) brimming with inspiration, creativity, and accessibility, we thought the timing was ideal to focus further on books. We’re talking the hold-in-your-hands, cradle-in-your-lap kind, be they titles from your local bookstore or neighborhood library.

In the coming months you will meet new faces and read more about the titles they love, those books that left behind an imprint that remains today.

Allow me to go first.

It was truly a challenge to narrow down the following titles that have stuck with me and also explain, in a single sentence, the reasons why. (Rest assured, however; my selections go well beyond the boundaries of childhood jokes.)

Yet here’s the thing I love about literature – and it’s the same, I suppose, about music, film, art, and even food: our “favorites” can vary from day to day, moment to moment. Today’s picks could disappear in five years. What copy I covet can easily change based upon my own life’s chapter.

wendy books | COOP

On Family
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
One family member’s seemingly protective decision can create ripples for generations.

On Marriage
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Depressing, of course, yet Didion provides glimmering memories of her late husband; reminders, I am learning, that make marriage a rich experience, even in the worst of times.

On Love
A Father’s Story by Andre Dubus
With a focus on familial love, the final paragraphs left me silent and stunned.

On Friendships That Become Family
The Tales of the City Series by Armistead Maupin
The relationships we choose, that we maintain and keep close, are among the most life-giving of all.

On Writing
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
The late Ephron, my literary jewel, taught me that good writing need not always be complex.

On Food
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
I feared the kitchen for much of my adult life until Bittman, calmly and clearly, taught me the basics.

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