About two weeks ago, NPR tweeted the question: what three books define you?
(I’m linking you to a blog post about it, because I have no idea how to take a pretty picture of a tweet the way this blogger did. *sigh*)
In other words, if a stranger glanced at your bookshelf and spotted these three books, that person would be able to understand who you are and what you’re about.
Gee, NPR, could you propose a more impossible task?
I spent a lot of mental energy on this, because… well, because. It’s what I do.
The first one is easy. It’s “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. I have written several times on this blog about how that book changed my life in myriad ways. It opened my eyes to what fiction could be. It showed me an alternate world — a whole other universe — where I wanted to live, a family I wanted to be part of, a girl I wanted to be with and be like. And I realized that I could live there, be part of that family, be friends with Meg, every time I read the book. This was earth-shattering and mind-expanding for the seven year old child that I was. I was already a writer, but this is the book I can point to without hesitation and say it made me want to be a published author.
Plus, it’s a beautiful example of well-written fantasy, and it’s a young adult novel that not only understands the teen experience but doesn’t talk down to its audience. Scan a page and see how many words teenage you would have had to look up. Go on. I’ll wait.
Okay, so one book is set. But how do I choose two out of the other thousands I’ve read?
I think I have to include the Complete Works of Shakespeare here. (Is that cheating? Is each play technically one “book”? I don’t know; you tell me in the comments.) Where would I be without Will Shakespeare? He inspires me constantly; like my favorite songs, I keep going back to him. And when I do, I always find something new.
But now what? I came up with a short list that included Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana” and “A Song For Arbonne” and “The Lions of Al-Rassan” (I’d have to pick one eventually), the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf,” Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”…
And suddenly, it hit me.
I consume about 1 non-fiction book for every 2 to 3 fiction books I read. Where would I be without the books of Alison Weir? How would I get through my days without devouring everything there is to know about the Wars of the Roses, the Tudor dynasty, the Plantagenet kings, Eleanor of Aquitaine, mythology, religion, politics, American history, English language and grammar… I want to know everything about (nearly) everything, and non-fiction books offer that like nothing else.
I should probably have a non-fiction book in my group of three.
There is no way to choose one non-fiction book to represent all of my interests, so I have to put on my hypothetical bookshelf the one that will give you insight into what stirs and moves me, what pushes me, what inspires me. So the place has to go to Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth,” which sweeps across cultures and eras to survey all the major themes of mythology and delve into all of the important questions of life. There are no answers, only lots of wonderful, beautiful ways of thinking about the questions.
So there you have my bookshelf of three:
“A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
“The Collected Works of William Shakespeare” (Riverside edition, because I own that already)
“The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell
What’s on your bookshelf?