My Favorite Book

On a job application for a teaching position one is asked to write a one-page essay on “my favorite book.”  Here’s what I’ve got.  Thoughts?

Do you have a favorite?  If so, can you let me know what it is an why it’s dear to you?

My Favorite Book

I don’t have one.  To be sure, you might ask tomorrow and get a different response.  I have favorite authors sometimes, but these too are always flowing in and out of my esteem.

At present I could offer a favorite idea and quote from Camus on Kafka that “a symbol is always in general and, however precise its translation, an artist can restore to it only its movement…” in order to move into Emerson’s “Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes…”  Over the last several years I have discovered that there is so much of which I have been unaware that becomes me.  And that is only referring to literature, or better, the written thoughts of past ages.

Eliot Weinberger, essayist and translator, introduced me to Susan Howe’s book on Emily Dickinson and from that book I discovered Howe’s poetry and her other literary study, The Birth-mark.  In this book (perhaps I might call it a favorite) Howe dances around in Puritan conversion narratives, in marginalia from Melville, in captivity narratives such as that of Mary Rowlandson, in antinomian history and persecution.  She weaves a literary tapestry out of what nearly all of us have never known but yet still find in the fabric of our national mind.

What the poet finds is that the world is collage: that the Word is collage: that the Logos can be translated “Conversation.”  Think of it, what is our true difference as beings?  Language.  In the beginning was the conversation; consequent to that, discrimination of sources.  We pick and choose as to our moods.  Emerson says this too, “our moods do not believe in each other.”  Louisa May Alcott was a great reader of Emerson and as her father was one of his best friends, she knew the man in the flesh of text and body.  A great gift that spills into her own well-known works.

I am a great fan of Walden as it is endless in its revelations.  At one point Thoreau speaks of how the pond floods every few years and then recedes.  How, when in recession the land springs forth new shoots and growth, but all that is then covered again under water by the pond overflowing its banks.  That is only one of the many metaphors for the book itself.  It presents its main body, “Economy,” and then overflows those banks by a seemingly endless effluence of thinking made to flood the received economics of “banks.”  All praise to the fecundity of texts that offer us repeated and new pleasures each time we open their covers.


photo credit: Robert F. Stowell, A Thoreau Gazetteer, edited by William L. Howarth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 2

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