If You Were a Book . . . ?

arcimboldo-the librarian

“The Librarian,” by 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

If I were a book . . . Hmm.

I’m not talking about some macabre flesh-bound book, or the “art” of anthropodermic bibliopegy, but rather what works of literature have molded your world and mind.

A local bookstore got me thinking about this topic, by way of a novel called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and a National Public Radio (NPR) piece on Gabrielle Zevin’s aforementioned book.

If a book were my “spittin’ image,” what would that book be? And, moreover, if I could stretch it out to three books, what books would make the list? Back in March 2014, NPR even called for a tweet-out on the three books that summarize or define you, with the hashtag #my3books.

I would love to hear your answers on #my3books. Like Zevin mentions in the interview, you have to resist the impulse to present a facade as yourself. Perhaps everyone wants to think that the perfect novel or even the “Great American novel” — whatever you perceive that fits into either category — epitomizes him/herself. So I tried my best to take off the mask. And keep it off.

Here’s my list. What’s on yours? (Yes, I’m trying to not do the Samuel L. Jackson “Capital One” impression here.)

  1. “The Scarlet Ibis,” a tragic short story about brothers and grit and regret, by North Carolina writer James Hurst. (There are some typos in this link, but it’s the best online copy I could find for you at this point.)
  2. I’m cheating here, but the next influential book is actually a nexus of horror books that sparked in me the desire to become a writer: Watchers by Dean R. Koontz, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by Stephen King, and Book of the Dead (edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector).
  3. Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot.

Also relevant to my fellow writers is the introspection-invoking discussion at Ionia Martin’s Readful Things Blog, in the article “A question for the authors out there.” Do you read in your genre, outside of it only, both, or none? Please share your insights in the comments, here or there or anywhere (as Dr. Seuss might write)!

And remember: to read is to travel through time (thank you, astrophysicist Carl Sagan).


17 thoughts on “If You Were a Book . . . ?

  1. Very interesting, off the top of my head:

    Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
    1001 Nights
    Handwriting – Michael Ondaatje

      • I humbly offer this highlight from Handwriting to entice you to it:

        Buried 2 Part IV by Michael Ondaatje

        What we lost.

        The interior love poem
        the deeper levels of the self
        landscapes of daily life

        dates when the abandonment
        of certain principles occurred.

        The rule of courtesy – how to enter
        a temple or forest, how to touch
        a master’s feet before lesson or performance.

        The art of the drum. The art of eye-painting.
        How to cut an arrow. Gestures between lovers.
        The pattern of her teeth marks on his skin
        drawn by a monk from memory.

        The limits of betrayal. The five ways
        a lover could mock an ex-lover.

        Nine finger and eye gestures
        to signal key emotions.

        The small boats of solitude.

        Lyrics that rose
        from love
        back into the air

        naked with guile
        and praise.

        Our works and days.

        We knew how monsoons
        (south-west, north-east)
        would govern behaviour

        and when to discover
        the knowledge of the dead

        hidden in clouds,
        in rivers, in unbroken rock.

        All this we burned or traded for power and wealth
        from the eight compass points of vengeance

        from the two levels of envy

      • Amazingly good, and with mostly pretty simple (but evocative and allusive) diction. Thanks for typing or pasting that, Ali (though I didn’t need convincing!) 🙂

  2. I love Dean Koontz’s Watchers but, a word of warning, don’t watch the film of the book as it does something so astoundingly horrid to the story that I can hardly bare to mention it.

    And my 3 …
    The Stand — Stephen King
    Music and Silence — Rose Tremain
    Far From the Madding Crowd — Thomas Hardy

  3. “Going Postal!” by Terry Pratchett. A con man is giving a second chance (the alternative being death) to run the failing post office. While I might not be a con man, I have done a lot of different things in my life. And any book I chose would have to have a sense of humor about the lead character.

    • Sounds really cool; thank you for sharing that, Syd. Coincidentally, we were watching “The Colour of Magic” just this weekend (funny!). I REALLY need to read some Pratchett. Oh, and I love your Bradbury post!

      • I stumbled upon Pratchett while on a business trip looking for something to read on the plane. It was the “Weird Sisters” and I laughed the entire five hours. I have never been disappointed in one of his books. The satire has me in stitches. BTW “Going Postal” is also available as a movie.

  4. Off the top of my head:
    Camus, Les Justes (play not book)
    Tales of King Arthur – can’t remember the edition
    Mary Renault – The Last of the Wine

    Mmmm, interesting exercise. These are all about emotion and justice, the complexities of right and wrong, the individual versus the common interest, head versus heart. Thanks for that.

  5. Just three? Hmm. Gustaf Sobin’s The Earth as Air, which opened my eyes to possibilities; Toby Olson’s The Woman Who Escaped from Shame, which is one of the strangest and most wonderful novels I’ve ever read – how is it possible to combine themes of possibly magical miniature horses, incest, friendship and pornography in two separate yet connected narratives? Olson does it with beautiful prose. And number three? How about Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, which seems truer each time I open it.

    • I know, only three. What a difficult task. Of the three you mention, I only know of Dillard’s book, but, sadly, I’ve not read it. Do you like Bird by Bird? (I’ve got it, but haven’t read it either; I know I should.) I’ve read Old Friend from Far Away (Goldberg), but not her Writing down the Bones, which so many people (and a poet who was my professor once upon a time) cite. Oy, so many gaps in my reading! I will have to pick up Sobin and Olson. I don’t think our home library has either. Thanks for the remarks, Robert!

      • Yes, I like Bird by Bird, but find Dillard’s book somehow more in tune with my writerly struggles. I’ve not read Old Friend from Far Away, but read Writing Down the Bones many years ago. It would probably resonate more today than it did back then. Sobin was a poet/novelist, as is Olson, but neither is as well known as (I think) they should be.

    • Aquileana, that YouTube video was a great gem (I was the 13th person to like it, in fact). I like the breathy, mystical way she reads the section and the ethereal music she puts behind her voice. Here I was expecting it to incorporate only a little of FQ and be more about Lana del Rey’s interpretation (arrangement, I guess they call it in the music world), but it stuck really close to Eliot’s concerns with the numinous at that time in his life and career, I feel. Thanks again for sharing that; it was very pretty and I’ll check out some more of her music, too. I don’t have any of her stuff, and had only ever heard the name. I tend to get ‘stuck’ in 1970s-1980s progressive music and rock, pop, and heavy metal, though I enjoy something from just about every genre. Anyhow, rock on, Aquileana!

      • Lana del Rey is really a Queen… I admire her a lot. So glad that you enjoyed it… I think she could have made it longer.. and yet… The first stanza of Burnt Norton is already “too much”… 🙂 Love & best wishes!

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