by Public Service Associate Owen
I find Thanksgiving to be a wonderful holiday, where friends and family can gather with purpose to be thankful for each other and for what has gone well in their lives. This is the time of year where I am most attentive to what good is around me and what has shaped me as a person. This is especially true with books, which have had such a profound effect on how I was raised and how I view the world today. In this blog post, I will briefly elaborate some of the literary works that have had a substantial impact on my life. In doing so, I hope to both open your eyes to some of these monumental works, as well as to encourage you to reflect on some of the authors and books that have affected your life in a positive way.
The first books I would like to highlight are those that shaped me as a child. One of the very first books I fell in love with was Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona. It is a tale of a magical Italian grandmother who uses her spells to help her local townspeople. She also possesses a pot that can magically produce spaghetti, which her assistant Big Anthony uses to accidentally flood the town in pasta when Strega Nona leaves town to visit a friend. It is a fantastical tale that I gravitated towards when I was younger, especially since it is set in Southern Italy, where some of my ancestors hail from. My favorite books when I was little were books that were able to whisk me away to a different time and a different place. Along with books like the Magic Tree House series and the Harry Potter series, which had an uncanny ability to transport my younger self across years and continents, Strega Nona allowed me to experience a life and time that was unlike my own and yet comfortingly familiar. Looking back, these books had a profound impact on how I view the world, and I am eternally grateful for them.
Another book that I am especially thankful for is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It is a book about the total erosion of a man and his culture by European capitalists and imperialists. Set in rural Nigeria, the story follows Okonkwo, who is a strong, central figure in his village. Okonkwo, marred by a negligent and shameful father, strives to work hard and maximize his masculinity to overcome his father’s poor image. He becomes a prominent figure in his village due to his hard work, but his incessant drive to appear as masculine as possible begets his personal downfall. Things Fall Apart is a story decline; of personal decline, of societal decline, and of cultural decline, all in the face of ever-encroaching modernity. It possesses a great deal of insight into a wide variety of topics, from toxic masculinity to the value of traditions to European imperialism. It is possibly my favorite book of all time, and one that I would recommend all to read. It is as immersive as it is insightful.
There are several books that I have read throughout my academic career that I am thankful for. They bring with them fond memories for me, and every time I revisit them I am whisked back to nights reading by lamplight at a library carrel or in a dormitory lounge chair. Mystical and thematic, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream conjures these memories most prominently. Shakespeare’s collective works are as expansive as they are rich. In many of Shakespeare’s works, the zany and absurd become prominent themes as readers and audience members alike have their expectations subverted. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a brilliant example of this, as the forest outside of Athens where the main plots unfold is the perfect vessel for the supernatural, the whimsicality of love, and, of course, the dreamlike state of being that the characters find themselves in. There’s a troupe rehearsing a play, mischievous sprites, a fairy queen falls in love with a man with a donkey’s head, and a messy love quadrangle, all of which is backdropped by low branches and a shrouding fog. It is as comedic as it is enchanting, and, unlike many of Shakespeare’s works, does not end in abject tragedy. It is my favorite work of Shakespeare’s, and one that I can easily recommend to any who are interested in the legendary playwright.
Wacky, zany, absurd, and widely regarded as the first European novel, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote is another book that I thoroughly enjoy. It tells the story of an aged man called Don Quixote who believes himself to be a knight, despite the Medieval Era and the time of chivalry having already passed. Don Quixote and his “squire,” his neighbor Sancho Panza, constantly rebel against society and their own empirical senses. A great example of this is when they attempt to combat “giants,” which are actually windmills. With each chapter, the reader thinks they know the themes of the story, but Cervantes consistently subverts expectations. Themes such as rebellion against society and against your own senses and the freedom to live your life by your own worldview, as well as the lush settings of early modern Spain are all prominent in Don Quixote, which make it one of the more memorable books I’ve ever read.
All of these books have shaped my worldview, and I am thankful to have been able to read all of them, as well as countless other books. While I am constantly searching for new books to love, I always find myself coming back to these stories. Different people react differently to different books, and so I hope that you have some books in your life that you rely on and that you are thankful to have read. I hope you find them here, at Bexley Public Library, and that you can continue to find books that you grow to be thankful for.
From all of us here at BPL, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!