What Are You Reading?


In a recent conversation with a group of friends, as it usually does when we meet, the subject of books arose.

What are you reading?

We talked about the most influential books we have read. To Kill A Mockingbird was at the top of two lists. Mudbound was rated high by a third friend. Another named A Higher Loyalty by the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey and said it was hard to put down and intensely moving.

I told them about three books on my list of influential novels; stories that were so compelling, I did not want to stop reading to sleep, eat or drink.

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie

The last one, Dai Sijie's lovely short novel, has stuck with me as a continual reminder to be grateful for books that have enhanced my life. Set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress is based on Dai's life experience in China when he was sent from away from his family and a life of culture to the mountains to be re-educated between 1971 and 1974. Sijie's book is about growth, determination, transcending relationships; and, most of all to me, the necessity of artful words.

In one chapter, two boys steal a suitcase of prohibited books, which contained among them Balzac's love story, Ursule Miroet. Bereft from the isolation and barren circumstances of the camp, one of the boys comforts himself by copying passages from the novel onto the inside of his jacket, fearing the books may be taken from him.

What would it be like, to live a life in which books were prohibited?

Coincidentally, just after I told my friends about the story of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, I watched the movie, Farenheit 451, based on Ray Bradbury's book, a required reading for many of us in middle or high school. The setting is a future world where reading and writing are punishable acts. Books are contraband sought out by firemen who burn them. Yet another story that bears the question - what if there were no books?

What are you reading?

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