On the heels of yesterday’s post, I want to talk about some of other books that reside on my bookshelf.
Along with my collection of science fiction/fantasy books and works about presidential elections (as previously seen here on 336 Stories), I have one shelf that houses books with a common trait.
Some of the books on this shelf include Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond), Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides), The Dragons of Eden (Carl Sagan), and Blizzard of One (Mark Strand). Hiding behind the poetry collection of Sara Teasdale are To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Profiles In Courage (John F. Kennedy) and The Bridge Of San Luis Rey (Thorton Wilder). Slowly and piece by piece, I have been building up a collection of books that have all won the Pulitzer Prize.
Some people collect stamps. This is my hobby.
I have another shelf devoted to the books that I hope to finish within the calendar year. For my birthday, my mother-in-law gives me the same gift. It is a gift I eagerly anticipate come November. It is a gift card to Barnes & Noble. With this boon, I purchase the books that will keep me entertained and intrigued throughout the year. This year’s current lineup is below.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (which is also a Pulitzer Prize recipient),
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahri (Pulitzer Prize),
American Sphinx, Joseph Ellis (I do enjoy me some presidential biographies),
The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington (Pulitzer Prize),
The People’s Choice: From Washington to Harding, Herbert Agar (Pulitzer Prize),
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (a classic that I first read in high school and want to experience again now that I have a few more years under my belt),
The Triumph of William McKinley, Karl Rove (after reading Ohio’s Kingmaker: Mark Hanna, Man and Myth [William T. Horner], I was curious to know more about this McKinley fellow that Hanna helped elevate to the Presidency),
Hyperion, Dan Simmons (a science fiction classic that I have not yet experienced),
The Road, Cormac McCarthy (Pulitzer Prize),
The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett (the first in his Discworld collection of which I have already enjoyed two books in that series),
Honey in the Horn, H.L. Davis (Pulitzer Prize), and
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (see Madame Bovary).
It’s going to be a busy and fun literary year for me.
But what is my favorite book? What is the story that I have read over and over and go back to when I can? It is simply this tale:
This is its story.
Growing up, I attended a summer camp that was housed in the wild hills and chaparral of of Malibu, California.
At this camp, to help us little ones prepare for bed after a long hard day of archery, swimming, and macaroni art, one of the nighttime routines was to have a counselor or administrator go to a different cabin and perform some calming activity. Some people sang and some folk played the guitar. Stan Beiner, the activities coordinator and the number four guy at the camp, came in one night and told us a story.
My memory is hazy and I want to believe that he told this tale from memory, so that is how I will relate it to you. From the first words of, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” I was entranced. Lying in a sleeping bag on the top rung of a bunk bed in a room lit only by a sole flickering candle, it was mesmerizing to hear about the strange new world of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit-hole he lived in, the wizard who puts a strange mark on Bilbo’s door, and the dwarves who come for dinner. There was a hint of an adventure and a dragon to be tackled. Mr. Beiner ended his tale with Bilbo going to sleep and telling all of us campers to do the same.
The next day, I caught up with Mr. Beiner and I asked him how his story ended. He informed me that to know that, I would have to read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. After that camp session, I begged my parents relentlessly for them to help me find this book so I could discover how it all turned out. As seen in a previous story here, my parents were all too willing to indulge my literary wishes.
Tolkien’s tale may be the initial step that started me on the path that is the genre that spans Asimov to Zelazny. For that, Mr. Beiner, you have my gratitude and thanks.
That’s my story.
P.S. The Hobbit was not the only literary gift Stan Beiner bequeathed upon me. He gave me a troika a books that…well…that’s a story for another time.