“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”
― Gore Vidal, “Julian”
I still like books. And no, I don’t mean e-books, although I’ve considered buying one of those tablet readers. It’s a lot easier to find rare and obscure texts with those newfangled things, but to me, old-fashioned ink-and-paper books are plenty fangled enough.
So naturally, I was intrigued by the Lifestyles feature in our March 2 weekend edition, which asked area residents: “What is the most influential book you’ve ever read?” My initial reactions were twofold: first, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller apparently has good taste in literature (picking Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”), and second, this is a fun and interesting topic to read and write about.
Bur choosing one favorite book isn’t easy. For me, choosing a top five isn’t much easier; Julian was my first runner-up, so the late Gore Vidal will have to settle for the lovely quote that began this column.
• “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut. This strange tale of a time-traveling World War II veteran is my favorite of Vonnegut’s many great stories. After a brutal experience at the Battle of the Bulge that left him in a POW camp, Vonnegut wanted to write a novel that made sense of it. Years later, Vonnegut admitted he never really found a way to make sense of something so tragic and horrifying as the war, which explains a lot about the book. One little gem is the chat between a friend and protagonist Billy Pilgrim, who asks why something bad happened to him in particular. The friend responds by asking if Pilgrim has ever seen a piece of amber with insects trapped inside. Pilgrim says yes, and his friend says: “Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”