Why am I finally posing the question today? Well, I have wanted to tackle this question here on the Monday Discussion for a while now, but I also knew that would mean I would have to accept the challenge for myself. Every time I tried to think about picking 3 books for myself, my head would start hurting. How could I do it? Only three books!?! I could never whittle it down.
And then, late last week, I had an epiphany. Well, epiphany is a strong word. It was more of a moment when I eyes told my brain, “Hey you, brain, stop over thinking this and look at the 3 books you have permanently stacked separately from all your other books, placed in a prominent location in your living room, with your picture of yourself receiving your library degree placed on top of them.”
Yeah, for someone who is supped to be smart, I can be an idiot some times. All this hand wringing and I had already implicitly made the choice years ago. And, once I had placed the books there 10 years ago, I have never changed which three books they were. So over the last few days, I turned my attention away from which books I would choose to why I had chosen those three.
It turns out, my reasons are tied to both what is contained within the pages of the books themselves AND to when I read them.
Book 1: Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Why? Although I was an American Studies major in college, I some how unofficially minored in Russian studies too. One of my favorite classes was on the literature of the Soviet era, but instead of the approved Soviet books, we read the novels and stories that were the true great 20th Century Russian literature, but were officially banned by the government and now allowed to be published in a post-Soviet world. Of all of these works, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita was the best (IMO). It is the 1 novel that defines all that I loved about my college and the classes I took while there. It was my most memorable class, and since it was a small discussion class all about literature, looking back, the class and that novel in particular, can probably be pointed to as the first tangible sign of my eventual career as a RA librarian. And, the novel itself showed me how much I love that type of book [see Book 2 description or any of these posts for more on that], setting the stage for my adult personal reading preferences. Here is the link to the other times I have mentioned my love for this novel on this blog.
Book 2: The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken. Why? This one is easy, it a perfect Becky book-- odd, interesting, character driven, macabre, and all of it told in a quirky, slightly askew way. AND the main character is a librarian. ’Nuff said. I also clearly remember seeing McCracken speak at Printer’s Row Lit Fest back in the summer of 1996, reading an excerpt from this novel, after she was named one the the best Young American Novelists in Granta 54. I was captivated by her (even more than Sherman Alexie who was also there and great), but my then boyfriend [now husband] and I were also beginning the final plans for the rest of our life together that summer. By the next summer, we would be engaged and I would officially move to Chicago.
Book 3: Underworld by Don DeLillo. Why? Well, I have gone on record on this blog many times saying this is one of my all-time favorite books. As I have written here:
It is October 3, 1951 and at the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hits “the shot heard round the world,” while half way around the world, the Soviets test their first atomic bomb. The story then jumps to 1992 in the American desert where Nick Shay, a waste analyst who now owns that famous baseball, reunites with a former lover, Kara Sax. DeLillo uses the two stories that of the fate of the ball, told from beginning to end and that of Shay and Sax, told from the end to the beginning, interweaving real historical characters, to create a web of interconnected experiences that recounts the shared experience of all Americans in Cold WarI love this novel because it has a baseball frame, because of the interesting double story lines told in two different directions (one in a linear time line and one in a backward time line), and finally, because of what these stylistic choices reveal about the history of 20th Century America [again, remember I was an Am Studs major]. But back to when I read it. I lugged this 800+ paged hardcover on the EL every day during a hot summer when I was a newly engage, recent college graduate, and had my first real Library job (as an ILL runner for a law firm library). I felt like such a grown-up, reading the hot critically acclaimed novel of the moment in my high-rise office’s lunch room as I looked out over Lake Michigan. I also went to the Chicago Public Library to see DeLillo read from the novel that summer AND I waited in line to have my copy signed!
So there are my 3 books. Do I think these 3 books define the whole complexity of me? No, not even close. But do I think they open a window onto who I am at this point in my life? Yes.
So for today’s Monday Discussion, join me and take the 3 book challenge. Pick three books that get to the heart of who you are now or who you were at another point in your life or maybe even who you want to become. If you feel like it is too hard, try looking for clues around you like I did. What books do you already keep close? Don’t be overwhelmed by the question, as I thought I was. It is much easier than you think. As a book lover, somewhere inside of you, you already know the answer. Today, let it out.
For past Monday Discussions, click here.