Jacob Alfarah is a Corporate Communications Summer Intern. His Book Print—the five books that have shaped his reading life—is below.
It has been said that we are a sum of the five people closest to you. My bibliophile self instead believes that we are a sum of the five books that have most influenced you.There are distinct times when a piece of literature has changed my life’s trajectory. Some authors have an almost unhuman ability to know us better then we know ourselves. After I complete a particularly powerful book, I’ll sit with it in my hands, wondering how this stack of paper and ink just altered my view of the world or life or humanity. The following books are examples that have done just that for me.
The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein)
I adored this book when I was younger. As many children do, I interpreted the tree to be a metaphor for my parents. As my mother read to me the story of a tree’s undying love for a boy, I would be reassured that she would be willing to do anything for me. The story gave me such an innocently blissful sense of security that I wish every child had. Looking back, now knowing Shel Silverstein’s penchant for sarcasm, I realize the story likely has layers that are meaningful on another level to adults, but that only makes me adore it more.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
Before I read Betty Smith’s semi-autobiographical work I didn’t understand the concept of having a favorite book. Sure, I enjoyed some books more than others, but having some sort of pinnacle of my life’s reading experience made little sense—that is, until I tore through the story of Francie Nolan and her incredibly difficult upbringing. I was inspired by her persistent optimism, rooted for her underdog character, and, perhaps most importantly, related to how she embraced her otherness.
The Corpse Washer (Sinan Antoon)
Middle Eastern authors are not often given the attention they deserve in the United States’ literary scene. Sinan Antoon is one example. His novel The Corpse Washer chronicles the experience of a young Arab boy’s coming of age in Iraq during the time of the Iraq-Iran War. It so vividly depicts the internal struggle between wanting to remain loyal to the century-old traditions of our ancestors with the thirst for following our own dreams—a struggle that all cultures can relate to. He ties this together with a heart-wrenching story of loss and war. The main character Jawad, was my first encounter seeing a young Arab boy being the main character in a book, and his experience made me appreciate the value of my culture.
The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
I think of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch more as a close friend than as just a good book. Theodore Decker’s journey after experiencing a traumatic event is filled with obstacles both big and small. Some, I so closely related to and others I was astonished by. I loved that Theo’s mother never left the story, blurring the line of what death really means. But most of all, Boris’s steadfastness and loyalty to Theo taught me so much about what true friendship is.
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
I read Animal Farm for the first time in the sixth grade. Although the content of the book was quite mature for a class of eleven-year-olds, my English teacher at the time knew exactly the right way to present the material. Orwell’s work planted the seeds of social justice in me and instilled a strong sense of self-awareness in regards to how we treat others. As I revisited the book in the years since middle school, Animal Farm continued to reaffirm my commitment to equality and empathy.