You can learn a lot through five stories: A My Bookprint guest post
By Guest Blogger on July 14th, 2011
This week, we tapped Erin Davis (our senior producer of creative services and one of the talented people who created the look of this very blog!) to tell you about the five books she chose for her Bookprint on You Are What You Read. It’s pretty remarkable, folks. Check it out, and don’t forget to create your own Bookprint!
Choosing my Bookprint was difficult. After all, how on earth do you figure out the criteria for making such a decision (especially when you are only allowed five books!)? What helped me come up with my list was an experience I had as an undergraduate.
I was a Psychology major, and in my last two years I was head research assistant for a Professor of Personality Psychology on a project that involved gathering memories and analyzing them. We asked people the following question: If you had to explain who you were to another person by telling them five personal memories, which memories would you choose? They had to recall concrete, specific memories that relayed something personal or self-defining. By so doing, they turned these memories into stories, writing narratives that revealed what they cared about, what they valued, who they perceived themselves to be, and who they were trying to become.
You can learn a lot about a person through five stories. As a person reading these narratives, you were left with rich impressions of strangers and vivid images of moments in lives you’d never encountered. There were also many unanswered questions. And, one of them, of course, was, why these five moments? Why these particular stories?
Creating my Bookprint was a lot like choosing five personal memories. I thought of books that conjure up specific memories: books that reflected the various stages of my life, books that changed my thinking or my behavior, books that said something about the people I’ve come to know and the person I’ve become. Of course, the list will change over time, as some memories fade and new memories take precedence, but so far, here’s what I’ve come up with for my Bookprint:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: This was a close one – The Hobbit, or There and Back Again came in a close second, but was pushed out through no fault of J.R.R. Tolkein. As a kid I forced my father to read The Hobbit so many times that he started making up hobbit stories to entertain himself – in the version I know, there were definitely motorcycles. So I chose this book because it tells us to not be afraid of being afraid. Even though there is plenty of space in the realm where the wild things are to dream, play, and have adventures, things are never quite perfect – and that is absolutely fine. I have always loved Sendak for this – the fearlessness in boldly embarking on adventure and embracing imperfection along the way.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: This I chose because it represented a specific relationship at a specific point in my life: My favorite teacher, Mrs. Magdeneli, 4th Grade. Everyday, after lunch for a half hour, Mrs. Magdeneli read a book aloud. We could put our heads down on our desks or draw quietly, and listen. I usually drew. It was the only time in class that Ms. Madruga got 30+ nine year olds to sit still – we were all so involved in the story. In the context of the rather divided town I grew up in, and of course the heated politics of the playground, it might have been the one thing we all had in common. I don’t think there was a single kid in class who didn’t cry at the end.
The Marx-Engels Reader: My father is a Political Science professor with a bit of a rebellious streak. For example, when I was young he would get me out of school by telling the school office I had a “doctor’s appointment.” I would receive a note in class, and it would scare me every time (“Is this the day I’m getting my teeth pulled?! No one even TOLD me!”). But I’d leave school to find him standing there and that HE was the “doctor” I had an appointment with. This appointment invariably involved lunch or ice cream or both. Often on our excursions he’d talk to me about work, and he’d draw diagrams on napkins or placemats exploring different ideas. I loved these times together; he just had a way of making ideas the most exciting things on earth. One day, on one of those paper placemats, he drew out Marx’s Theory of Historical Determinism in a series of interconnected boxes. Not an easy concept for an elementary school student to grasp, but by drawing these boxes my father made the ideas accessible and exciting. When I was old enough to read Marx for myself, I did, and I continue to love his ideas, not just because they connect me to my father but also because they prioritize connections between people in general.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck: Coming from a small rural town in California it’s hard not to love Steinbeck. What was difficult was choosing which Steinbeck book to include in my Bookprint. I love Steinbeck for his sense of place and time. When I read something by Steinbeck I feel completely enveloped by the familiar landscapes in which I grew up. Time feels slower, the way it did back then, and I tend to actually slow down myself for a moment – not an easy thing to do in New York City. Ultimately, I chose East of Eden because it is, to my (unhappy) knowledge, the one Steinbeck novel I haven’t fully read. During college, I worked at the Bombay Company and often picked up display books to pass the time when it was slow. East of Eden happened to be on the shelf one afternoon. I loved the book, couldn’t put it down. As I finished the book, with that disappointment that comes when you finish a great book, I saw on the binding two embossed words that said: Abridged Edition. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe I didn’t notice it before. All those words I didn’t get to read! (I still need to read the full version.)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: I love this book both as an adult who lived in Greenwich Village, Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and simply as a person who appreciates a beautiful, poignant story. I don’t think there’s a book that I’ve bought for people as a present more often. Like Where the Wild Things Are, it’s a book that is full of dreaming and of fantastic impossibilities while being simultaneously truthful about the realities of what is. It grapples with a topic that’s difficult to approach, and I love the book for being playful and honest and unafraid. The book reminds me to be a bit braver as well.
What do you think of Erin’s Bookprint, readers? And don’t forget to create your own!
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