SOLC 2014: Just Three Books?

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Last night, NPR aired an interview with Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery (Algonquin Books, 2014). During the interview, Zevin explained that she wanted to write “a love letter to the joy of reading” and that she believes asking someone what they read “is a much more informative question” than any other question we might ask.

So NPR asked the question. On Thursday, they tweeted:

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This question has been asked of readers on social media many times in recent years, but it’s one that I always have difficulty answering. I believe, as Zevin does, that “We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”

I have written before about the fact that Charlotte’s Web is the book that made me a reader because I recognized myself in Fern and her world.

If Charlotte’s Web was my mirror, then To Kill A Mockingbird was my first true window: a book that showed me a way of life very different from the one I knew. And yet I understood Scout and her fears. 

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I read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was in eighth grade, and after that, my reading was wildly eclectic. I was “trying on” different personalities, trying to figure out who I wanted to be. A book I wish I’d read during those years to help me find an answer is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think I would have loved Francie more then than I do now. I would have loved that she imagined herself “living in a tree” as she read her precious library books each Saturday afternoon. I would have loved the little stories she made up to make arithmetic tolerable. I even would have loved her for lying about her name to get the beautiful doll for which the other girls refused to beg.

Beyond these three books, it is impossible to choose: The Bean Trees, Bel Canto, The Book Thief, Middlemarch, and more. All of these books helped me, as Karen Armstrong writes in A Short History of Myth, “…make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another.” They have taught me “to see the world differently; … how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.” (Armstrong, p. 149)

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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17 thoughts on “SOLC 2014: Just Three Books?

  1. I love those books and NPR. Where would I be without books and NPR. I didn’t read a Tree Grows in Brooklyn until I was in my twenties, and I remember thinking when I read it, I wish I had found it as a younger person. This is why we read and why we teach reading — “to see the world differently; … how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.” Great post and a great quote.

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  2. Like Julieanne, I don’t know where I’d be without NPR and books. Mockingbird is one of mine, too – especially because I shared the reading experience with each of my children and that became life defining moments for them, as well.

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    • I would have a completely different list of meaningful books I shared with my children, but we never read To Kill a Mockingbird together. If I were to ask them now, I think they’d both say Where the Red Fern Grows is the book they remember most.

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  3. I’m going to have to really think about this question! I have read “The Boxcar Children” so many times, mainly because as a kid it always seemed like those kids had such a great life. Living in the woods, eating berries, finding what they needed in the dump, never an adult to boss them around: all of these appealed to me greatly! What does that tell you about growing up at my house? 😉 (It wasn’t all that bad, by the way.)

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  4. I don’t think I could limit myself to just three books, though I did reread A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN many times growing up. I forget who did it, but there’s a book where different people list 10 books that define who they are along with an illustration of the 10 books. I might be able to do it in 10, but I suspect some of the titles would change.

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  5. That is quite a difficult question…and I think the answer might change daily. I liked how you made your decision…as one was a mirror and another a window. I could have chosen the same books as you…for the same reasons…so let me think of three different ones. One would be “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” which then makes me think of “Huckleberry Finn”….but then that would be two by the same author. Hmmm….I don’t think I can do this without more thought…there are books lined up in my mind fighting for a place to be noticed. Jackie http://familytrove.blogspot.com/

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  6. No wonder we feel a kind of kinship, Catherine, I love all these books too! If I had to choose 3, I would leave out A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, although I love it so, & add Willa Cather’s My Antonia. Ah-books are so great! PS-I have “A Storied life” on my IPad, waiting patiently! Thanks for a great post!

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    • I’m ashamed to admit that I never read any Cather until I was an adult, but I agree, My Antonia is a wonderful book. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both of these books are about strong, self-sufficient female characters! Looking forward to hearing what you think of A Storied Life…I was only able to get a preview on my Nook. Maybe it’s just as well the whole book wasn’t available today. I wouldn’t have accomplished anything!

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  7. I heard part of that NPR segment yesterday and loved reading your slice and all the comments. It is so hard to choose. I do LOVE A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I love The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, a book where I read and saw myselfm a white-suburban girl looking for a more interesting life. I also like the idea of illustrated books so I have to say all books by Eric Carle due to his illustrations. And reading Wonder to my class may be as good as reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Oops…that is 4. Agreed. # is not enough. Like Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” Thanks for a great slice book reflection!

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  8. Wow…that is definitely a difficult task! I think I’ll try this one day soon…although I have no idea how I’d narrow it down. By the way, I have yet to read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I will this week while I’m on Spring Break. Hope it lives up to the hype. 🙂

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  9. AggieKesler, I was just about to link this post to you. Glad you read it!

    I just love reading about books that other readers enjoyed and found inspiring. I have just added the books from your list to mine.

    Just 3 books is impossible, I think I need to do some reflecting to come up with a small list myself!

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  10. I love this question; however, I think I had books that defined periods of my life. I loved The Secret Garden as a 9 year old and then again when I read it as an adult. It held up for me. As a 9 & 10 year old, I loved historical fiction or mysteries. As a teen, I read little bits of everything. During my college years and just post college, I was in a philosophy, spirituality phase of reading. Then nonfiction for awhile. It is funny how every one of those books held meaning in different ways at different times. Great post – and I too loved To Kill a Mockingbird.

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