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Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday Discussion: What Three Books?

Today’s Monday Discussion is based on an old question that has circulated around books people on the Internet many times before today.  The question is, “What 3 books define you?”

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 PrinterRow 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 War America.
I 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.


Christi said...

1. Anne of Green Gables - as a child, I was completely captivated by Anne Shirley's imagination and I did my best to emulate it. I think it's a major part of who I am today - always seeking to be creative and to imagine the big possibilities.

2. Jane Eyre - one of the first books I think I truly fell in love with. As a teen, I related SO well to Jane, the obscure outsider who didn't really belong. I also find her road to independence and finding herself to mirror my own journey into adulthood.

3. The Shadow of the Wind - my favorite book for bibliophiles, I think the spooky atmosphere and beautiful language is reminiscent of Jane Eyre and it seems like a book Anne Shirley would love to read. It's one of my favorite titles to give to patrons.

John BPL RA said...

1. The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Phantom Of The Opera by Gaston Leroux. In that order. They are all stories of personal transformation/reinvention which is something I've always identified with in life. They incorporate horror and romanticism - two of my favorite elements in literature. Most of all, they have magnificent central characters with a powerful message of real meaning for the reader. You feel better for having known their stories. I guess it isn't an accident that two of the three were written in 19th century France and that the remaining title was set in the France of the 18th century. These books represent a philosophy which has fallen by the wayside. The rarity of it magnifies the value it contains.

A close fourth is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It is the first horror novel. It is the first sci-fi novel. But again, I love it for the underlying meaning it has: the commentary (prophesy?) on the nature of science, mankind, and creation.

Tara BPLteen said...

Wow, that is a tall order! I, as a rule, don't play favorites among books - or anything else, for that matter. I've never really questioned what books define who I am. But I'll take a stab at it.
1. The Princess Bride : S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The "Good Parts by William Goldman. I saw the movie first and fell head-over-heels in love with the characters and their ordeals. I found the novel and the love affair only deepened. The book is, in many ways, a farce, but the characters spoke to me and the adventure and wit and romance and magic of the story kept bringing me back.

2. Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man was one of my first forays into science fiction. It is a collection of short stories with a connecting narrative woven throughout. The illustrated man is covered in tattoos but if you look at them closely, they will show your future (not the pretty parts). There are still scenes and pieces of story that come back to me more than 20 years after I last read it.

3. Around the same time, I acquired a copy of Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. While the rest of the series was not to my liking, I found the first to be absolutely riveting. I related very intensely to Ayla's status as "other" and, later, as "outcast."

Looking at this list, these books don't define me as much as they helped to shape me. They are all books I read between the ages of 10 and 13 and have become a part of me.

One more recent book that I feel should be on the list is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. If I had a favorite book ever, this would be it.

Betty said...

The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain
This book introduced me to historical fiction, which turned out to be a lifelong love.

Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly. I still read this book every couple of years. The story of a "holy fool" who gave away everything he had and was happier than he had a right to be. A reading experience that helped me find my spiritual center.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White. This book has everything -- humor, romance, mystery, fantasy, pathos, sadness. You can find the whole human condition in this one book.

I also have to echo Tara and add The Princess Bride. I loved this book, and it's my favorite movie.