I have been remiss at writing these days… I am working, working, working. Thankfully I like my work… actually I love my work and I always have, so working, working, working is alright with me. I am also reading a ton right now because I am in a book group, I have a list of titles I need to review for the literature students I work with… and then I like to read on my own. Selecting a favorite book or a book that changed my ife seemed like an easy thing to do… But that was an illusion.

I feel too much pressure to try to choose a MVBook and it goes something like this:

“Let’s see… favorite book… alright, well…”
“If I say ——, what does this say about me?”
“Is it deep/intellectual/unique/significant/controversial/etc enough?”
“Now, what about if I think about who gave me the book?”
“Or how about why I read the book?”
“Or maybe what I was doing while I read the book…”

I left this posting challenge and decided I could not do it.

Then it came to me. The Book that was most important to me was not really my favorite book (changes with age and reason – I read The Cat Ate My Gymsuit about 15 times in the 4th grade… Juniper Tree Burning said what I needed to say for me when I could not, and Avoiding Prison and Other Noble Vacation Goals set me free when I was mentally locked up) nor was it the book I think about most often (The Amber Spyglass explained my life to me in a way that I still reflect on regularly, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius/You Shall Know Our Velocity come to mind as often as work by the late and great HST.)

The Book that has had the most tangible and abstract effects and affects on my life comes from the reading list of my European History class that I enrolled in with special permission from the professor, Dr. Hughes, as a sophomore at UCSD. I added the class because there was no other I could take (or not one that would accomodate the finals schedule I wanted which would end early and facilitate my summer plans.) It was an upper division class for which I had no prerequisites. Though I had changed my major about five times in the previous year, it had never been to history. Dr. Hughes let me in. His comment on handing back my add card was, “I hope you like to read.”

The reading list was indeed extensive… the class focused on Europe during WWII and Dr. Hughes thought it was imperative that his students get a larger understanding of the war aside from the quantifiable nightmare of the era.

The Book was The Plague by Albert Camus (The Tin Drum in retrospect holds equal value for this story, but I think I liked Camus’ text better, though both stories are beautiful and tragic and powerful.)

When I started reading the novel I treated it as sort of a folly, I mean people didn’t really read all this stuff did they? I would sit out on the beach across from my house in Del Mar and think I looked cool reading it. But no one was really paying attention to me or what I was reading… so I just read. And read. And when I finished it I read it again because I couldn’t believe I had really read the whole thing… I must have missed some of it… it had gone so quickly.

That a town, or city could be so devastated and in response come together in crisis only to be left fundamentally unchanged in the end blew my undergradute mind. Only now do I see how accurate Camus was. People faced with inevitability and irrationality are sometimes the most perservering and rational. But how people deal with crisis in such a way that almost excludes them from integrating it into the permanent fabric of their souls is still such a relevant and important topic.

That year was one of the most difficult of my college career and in my crisis I found a teacher who was able to put the peices of something so big, so absurd as a world war, or as personal as bad roommates, together in my consciousness.

I changed my major to History and I never looked back.

I have been teaching history classes on the amazing, the treacherous the wonderful, and the absurd for fourteen years now.

Thank you Albert Camus and thank you Dr. Hughes.

Advertisements