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A Good Book

March 13, 2017

I’ve lived much of my life with a book which, until recently, I’d never read, a book belonging to my mother. I remember seeing it on a bookshelf as a child, listening to Mom talk about it over and over when I started writing in earnest. Mom would have been a child when she first read it, and it made such an impression that eighty years later after she passed and I was closing down her apartment, I happened across a copy of this special book. Finding it wasn’t hard. It was on the coffee table in her living room.


Mother was a voracious reader; it’s hard thinking of her without a book in her hand. Back when I received my driver’s license and was dating the future Mrs. Chatterbox, I’d be given the keys to the family car so I could make a library run for Mom. I’d pick up Mrs. C. and we’d canoodle in the library for an hour before snatching half a dozen books for Mom, books selected because I liked the illustrations on the cover, biographies, historical romances, mysteries. Often I’d return with books Mom had already read two or three times.


A family joke was that my mother first started reading Shakespeare in the womb, unlikely, but she did start reading at an early age. She must have enjoyed the escape reading provided. Life wasn’t easy as the baby of an ethnic family that didn’t value females, a family unbelievably poor after her father died when she was nine, with a mother who bucked family and tradition by refusing to remarry. Years later when Mom told me about the people and places she’d read about, a wistful expression would come over her face and I knew she regretted not laying her eyes on these things.


Mom was the font inspiring my desire to travel. She was pleased to hear about our visits to the Taj Mahal, Spanish castles and colossal Buddhas. While Mrs. Chatterbox and I traveled, Mom stayed behind and read…and read…and read….  By the time Mom was free of family obligations and money worries, she didn’t have the courage or energy to travel, and my dad wasn’t interested in strange lands and foreign languages.


The book that affected my mother so lastingly was written in 1931 when my mother was only six years old. An immensely popular book, it received high critical acclaim, earning the author both a Pulitzer Prize and later the Nobel Prize for Literature—the first woman to win.


After fifty years of listening to my mother talk about this book, I finally sat down and read it. Yes, it was certainly a good book, the story of a poor Chinese farmer struggling through good times and bad, a tale of rural life far from centers of power or influence, a tale written in beautiful prose similar to that of the King James Bible.


This book sparked my mother’s fascination with China, a country she talked about frequently. She admired the Chinese people, their work ethic and ability to negotiate, their commitment to family. Over the years she was convinced we Americans needed to be wary of China’s incredible patience and willingness to endure any hardship to succeed.


The book in question was The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, the story of poor farmer Wang Lung and his plain, uncomplaining wife, the former slave O-Lan, a novel I’ll always associate with my mother. If you haven’t read it, or haven’t revisited it in a long time, I highly recommend it.





Pearl S. Buck





Have you read The Good Earth? Is there one book above all others that has stuck with you over the years? Care to share? 




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I picked that book up on the used shelf of the Homewood Library last year. I haven't read it yet, but I will. I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I've read it several times. R
By: Rick Watson on March 13, 2017
While she didn't get to travel, I have a feeling she traveled the world many times over in books. Cool you kept a copy of her favorite and found time to read it.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 13, 2017
Stephen, what a wonderful memory and legacy of your mother. The Good Earth rocked me as a student, really widening my horizons. Thanks for the idea, I will read it again. I'm a book lover and there are so many to favor but two that I read over and over are Graham Greene's A Journey Without Maps and Hemingway's Old Man and The Sea.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 13, 2017
I think I might have that one on my Kindle to read.
By: PT Dilloway on March 13, 2017
Your mother had discerning taste. I read The Good Earth at about age 20, and went on to read anything else of Pearl Buck's I could find. They were fascinating. I rarely re-read books, preferring to forge ahead and find new ones to love.
By: jenny_o on March 13, 2017
It has been many years since i've read The Good Earth, it probably is time to put it back in the ever growing to-be-read pile.
By: messymimi on March 13, 2017
I have read The Good Earth and was surprised when I just loved it. The Last Whales by Lloyd Abbey still haunts me.
By: Arkansas Patti on March 13, 2017
I'm not much of a book reader, I think I have a short ADD kind of attention span, often fall asleep while reading. As I was reading this, I did think to myself, that's why he likes to travel so much...and then you said it, I was shocked to see you canoodled in the Library!
By: cranky on March 13, 2017
"The Good Earth" was wonderful!!
By: fishducky on March 13, 2017
I read the Good Earth but along time ago. Yes I should read it again. I like Pearl S. Buck and should look for some more of her books.
By: red Kline on March 13, 2017
What a strange coincidence, my mother was slightly older than yours, and the circumstances were very similar. The Good Earth was her favorite book as well, and I have read and enjoyed it many times. As an adult I saw Valerie Harper in a one woman play. Fabulous! Thank you for bringing back memories
By: Gloria on March 13, 2017
My mom loved this book and, funny, her grandmother always said to be careful of the Chinese as they are patient. This means In No way to be prejudiced but it's funny how your mom thought. I still have to read the book but I have seen the movie which I think is excellent. It speaks a lot about your mom and what she went through because she could relate to the book. Did she love her mom deeply??
By: Birgit on March 13, 2017
I have two other Pearl S. Buck books on my bookcase (they are in German). I don't think I've ever read The Good Earth. I'll have to check our library. When I was a teenager I read Anne Frank's Diary once a year.
By: Pixel Peeper on March 13, 2017
Yes, I read The Good Earth when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I found it on a shelf in the basement, with some of my mother's books for her college classes. She never read a book for fun. Another book that sticks with me is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Both of these stories put me right there, in China and Brooklyn. I cared about what happened to the characters.
By: Val on March 13, 2017
I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of it. I wish I was more of a bookworm and that my parents were. But that's not the case. Glad you still have the precious book. Thanks for the recommendation.
By: Robyn Engel on March 13, 2017
I have known about it for decades but don't think I ever read it. I'll have to give it a try. As for books that had an impact on me, I think "Slaughterhouse Five" may have had the biggest. And made me a lifelong fan of Kurt Vonnegut.
By: Bruce Taylor on March 13, 2017
I have never read "The Good Earth." Maybe it's about time.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 14, 2017
I have read The Good Earth. one of the earliest books I read when I was about 8 was Edith Hamilton's Mythology, Timeless tales of Gods and Heroes which began my fascination with mythology in general, not just greek or roman.
By: Ellen Abbott on March 14, 2017
I visited her childhood home (Buck) and was enchanted about the small house. I read The Good Earth, saw the movie, but now realize I need to revisit it.
By: Tabor on March 14, 2017
I remember reading The Good Earth years ago - it really is a great book!
By: The Bug on March 14, 2017
My mother loved The Good Earth, so yes, I have read it more than once. The books from my childhood that stay with me are Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. So many books I read as an adult have informed my beliefs and remained in my thoughts. Chief among them is The Great Gatsby. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 14, 2017
You won't be surprised to know that I haven't read the book or even heard of it. :D My mother used to love books, reading about 8 a week, but now she never reads.
By: LL Cool Joe on March 14, 2017
It was a required book for us to read in my high school literature class. Loved it- will now read again- I still have it!
By: Kathe W. on March 14, 2017
Your mother was a remarkable woman. Someone I've come to admire over the years... through your many posts. As for reading a book... it hasn't happened in years. I was a technical writer in a former life.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 18, 2017

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