Ever since seventh grade I’ve had a fascination with ‘snapshots’ in time. We had a project at the end of the year where we had to fill up a poster board with the things we were interested in throughout that year, making the more important things take up more room on our posters, and the things that weren’t so important take up less space. I wrote mine all in gel pen, obviously.
I kept that thing for years (I think it’s somewhere in my mother’s garage currently) – and while I always admired the concept of it, I always secretly hated it. Of course I didn’t capture all of my 13 year old priorities in perfect proportions on the page. I wrote small so I included a lot of things I didn’t really like in the first place and had to doodle little meaningless things in the white space so my life didn’t seem so empty – because it wasn’t…not at all.
Probably because my first attempt didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I’ve never actually attempted to ‘snapshot’ my life on a piece of paper again, although I had an urge to a few times. I think the idea behind it, though, is very valuable. Don’t forget who you are. Journal and remember who you’ve been, what you liked, who you liked, why. Who else will remember your innermost thoughts and feelings if not you?
It’s because of this feeling of nostalgia that I write today’s post: my favorite books.
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the main character, a 9th grader named Charlie, proclaims that every new book he reads becomes his favorite book. First of all, I love that. What an endearing and honest way to answer such a question –but it’s not true for me.
To me, this isn’t a question taken lightly, and yet it is a very easy question to answer. I’ve read a lot of books, and I’ve liked most of them, hated a few, and read some that really made me feel. A favorite book, I’ve come to realize, is one that really stands out – one you have trouble describing in words; one you feel you could never really explain to someone – they’ll never ‘get it’ like you do. A favorite book contains a part of your soul, and the author becomes your best friend, because they must be something a bit like you. There are three of these books in my life – and I knew immediately before I’d finished them that they were.
My junior year of high school is when I found my first favorite book – the book that knocked every other piece of literature to another plane altogether – A Farewell to Arms. I’ve read this book only two other times since then; I like to savor it. Do you know the feeling of reading the right book, at the exact right time? That’s what happened to me with this book. I happened upon it completely by chance – it was an old hardback my mom had – I’d never seen it around the house before I picked it up that day, I’d never even heard of it. Hemingway, of course, I’d heard of – which is why I did pick it up. I was on a mission in those days, to experience as much of the world as I could in as short a time as possible. I didn’t sleep much. Classic literature was high on my list, though I didn’t get through much of it in those few insomniatic months. My edition was perfect: old, worn, but not damaged, small, simple, delicate, and beautiful. I fell in love on the first page:
“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves. “
It was complex and simple, beautiful and terrible, funny and heartbreaking, and it didn’t hurt that it was written by a master of his craft, either – it was utter brilliance. I loved how the sentences seemed like little poems. I loved the names of the characters and what they said to each other. I loved the war and the foreign settings. I love all of these things still. It’s my favorite book. I don’t know why I connected so thoroughly with such a bleak book about war and hardship, why I still do – but I know myself a little bit better now, don’t I?
It was another several years before I found another of my favorite books. I’d seen some of my friends on facebook had read it and loved it – and the title intrigued me, I definitely wanted to read it some-day, when they hype had died down. And then one day, the price was right, and that’s all she wrote. I believe I have read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society perpetually for five or so years, and I’ve bought as many used copies as I’ve ever found. Of any book I’ve ever read, I’ve never wanted literally everyone I know to read it as much as this one. I’ve leant it out to anyone who was willing to read it, and several who weren’t, but may some-day. This book is a joy and a treasure, and each letter (it’s a series of correspondence, I don’t mean every consonant and vowel :-)) is like a little gift. I’ve never read anything that made me feel as warm and welcome as this one. It also has a theme of war – but another side of it…recovery, rebuilding, renewal – New Life. If I could recommend one book to anyone – it would be this one. It’s about a search for identity, friendship, falling in love, adapting, being steadfast and selfless, survival, and childhood. It’s about reading books and how they unlock pieces of ourselves we didn’t know were there. It’s an excellent book – I’ll lend it to you, if you’d like :-)
Just this year I discovered another of my favorite books, and all you have to do is take a look at my tag cloud to see what it is: Jane Eyre. I’ve written all about it in about 10 other posts on this blog if you’re curious about this one, so I won’t gush about it again here.
So there you have it – three favorite books, not a never-ending list of perpetual ranked favoritism. Really, there isn’t a limit to how many favorite books I will have, it just so happens that three is how many that have touched my soul up to this point:: One I read exactly when I needed to, one that feels like my best friend and will always pull a smile from my lips, and one I fell utterly in love with. Part of the magic of reading is looking for the next book that is going to change your life.