The beauty of this project of ours is that there are no rules. But before I sat down to write my first contribution, I gave myself one: ‘Surprise them. Do not write about sports.’
And I won’t. Because, while sports may be what I live, breathe, and yes, write about most of the time, it’s not all that I am. So here’s a post on another of my passions, one that I believe has shaped me more than a football match or Olympic tournament ever will.
See that little girl up there? That was me, from as far back as I can remember. At the library, I was known as the crazy girl who took out 16 books instead of the allowed five (I had a deal with the librarian, obviously), and read half of them before she got home (yes, I could read & walk). Whenever my mom wanted to make me super happy, all she had to do was announce a trip to the bookstore and know that I’d be in literal (and literary) heaven for hours.
I’m sure you get the picture by now. I was a tiny bit book-crazy. The one thing I could never do, though, was choose a favorite. That changed as fast as I turned pages and uncovered new stacks to conquer. Even now, when I feel like I’m old enough to be an established human being with a favorite color, food, drink, and well, book, the answer is still no.
What I do have, is a Top 5. Now, while I like to glance at lists dramatically titled ’50 books you have to read or you die’ (or something along those lines ), just to make sure I’m not missing something, I’m not the biggest fan of the pop culture cannons they’ve become. Reading is one of the most personal, intimate things we can do. We are alone with our thoughts and the author’s words. And while one author’s work might be magic to you, it could be nothing more than a handy bedside coaster for me.
So, you most definitely do not need to read these five books before you die, but I am VERY glad I did.
1) The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
There have been, and always will be, books about time travel. There are (way too) many books about love. But I have never encountered a world where the two fit like puzzle pieces the way they do in Niffenegger’s novel. Henry and Clair. One has a genetic disorder that makes him travel through time, the other has spent her whole life waiting for her time traveler. Their world is consumed not by time, but by destiny. And I resurfaced from the pure anguish that is this book, convinced that destiny must exist.
Facts: There is a movie, you’ll cry your eyes out. But I’m much more inclined to associate the book version with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Again, destiny.
2) Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Yes, along with being a book nut, I’m also a Shakespeare nut. I’ll put it bluntly and briefly – Shakespeare was a genius. He turned everyday truths, and basic common sense into a masterpiece of fiction and coined up half the phrases of the English language while he was at it. There is more truth in just one of Hamlet’s monologues than you’ll ever find in a self-help book, or sadly, a daily paper. Hamlet and Ophelia aren’t the core relationship in this play, center stage are Hamlet and his mind, as we see him toe the fine line between genius and madness.
Facts: There are tons of attempts at a movie, but Walt Disney did it better than anybody else. All I’m going to say is Hakkuna Mattata.
3) To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Novels narrated by children have always been a special source of fascination for me. It is one thing to have a child recount the terrible, horrible, very bad day they’ve had (golden star for anybody who gets the reference), but it’s a whole other thing when this book is meant for adults. To Kill a Mockingbird covers issues as grave as racial prejudice, segregation and bigotry in the depression-era American South, but covers them through the voice of six–year-old girl, Scout Finch. Her innocence is in stark contrast with the blind hatred and intolerance around her, and it is only the wise words of Atticus Finch, literature’s ultimate father figure, that can make sense of the world.
Facts: The 1962 film adaptation of the book is fantastic. And I hate black and white movies, so that’s saying something.
4) The Damned Yard – Ivo Andrić
Now what kind of bilingual would I be if not one of my Top Five books was written in Serbian? Not a very good one, I’d say. The Damned Yard (Prokleta avlija being the original title) is just one of the many masterpieces of Ivo Andric, Serbia’s very own literary Nobel winner in 1961. This masterpiece in particular tells of a story of exclusion and pain, and the torture that comes with not belonging anywhere. Destiny and history intertwine with reality to form a metaphorical circle, one that represents the prison – or damned yard – where everything takes place.
Facts – Ivo Andric’s very specific, heady, style of writing make his novels what they are, but there is an English version , and I’ve heard it’s good.
5) The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Sometimes a book is recommended, sometimes it’s an unavoidable classic, other times, at the hardest of times, a book and its characters find you. My relationship with The Book Thief is a very personal one and it’s something I’m reluctant to get into. The point is, that this book is different. Death is the narrator. World War ll is the setting, and again, we’re following the life of a little girl. Not a Jewish girl though, a pure-blood German girl living in Hitler’s Munich. Death tries, and succeeds in telling us that there is never one side to any story.
Facts: The movie is currently being filmed in Germany, directed by Downtown Abbey’s very own Brian Percival, and is set to come out sometime next year. Will I watch it? Of course. Will it live up to the book? Of course not.