So, last Tuesday, NPR books too to their twitter and posed the question, “what 3 books summarize YOU?” and in trying to come up with a response to this that would be slightly more erudite than just yelling ‘BOOOOOKS” and drooling in the corner, this got me thinking about my relationship to books, reading, the other arts, what they meant to me and how they define my identity and sense of self.
When I pick up a novel, poem or comic, I think about it as embarking upon a mental journey into the world created by the author, be it the Mycenaean age of heroes conjured up by Homer’s Iliad or the 1920s West Egg of the Great Gatsby. It’s as if the writer has painted a three dimensional picture into which I have stepped and am exploring. When reading a novel, I especially treasure a sense of place and time in the prose, giving a sense of tangible to the words in my head that I can reach out and touch.
Is it escapism? To some extent I feel all fiction is, the other that transports us away from the everday to somewhere where if we choose, we can never be found. and oft times I’ve found a good read can do that to me, not make me a different person per se , but to take me somewhere that the real world can’t reach. On the other hand, though the effect that powerful fiction can have on the real can be transformative. Good writing can touch us, soften and lighten the dark corners or amplify the light, or expand one’s mind and knowledge. Each book read, or re-read like revisiting a hug from a good friend changes us gradually in some way, leaving us a different person from the one who started the tale.
Musically, I find the same thing happens, though in different ways, some subtle, some not so subtle. Mostly I find the reactions more visceral in terms of light and heat generated, in the way say a guitar riff or song can race across my mind like a cheetah across the Serengeti. Classical music is a different story though, despite my atheism, I find choral music, especially renaissance polyphony like Tallis or Josquin really moves me, the beauty, the ambition are both uplifting and soothing simultaneously.
Well, you might have noticed, I’ve got this far without mentioning my three books, you cunning devils. Even as I type this the question of what is meant by defining you, haunts my thoughts on the question. So, I’ve taken it to mean the three books that would best summarise who I am and reflect my personality.
So, (drum roll…) the three books then, Firstly, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, for the sense of smart lost Englishness, that yes I play up to on twitter, especially with my American friends, but seriously does feed into my dress sense and liberal values. Secondly, yes the Iliad by Homer, for shaping my love and sense of the epic, and the curiosity of what those living through the end of an age go through. Finally my third book is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Guards! Guards!’, not perhaps on my Desert Island Books list, but I think his Terryness was crucial in defining and shaping my sense of humour, the mischief in the surreal, the absurd and the terrible pun.
So there you go, three books, yes all fiction, but the non-fiction side would be a whole other story to be woven, perhaps for a future time. Good night and good luck.