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:
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.
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)