Bear With Me

There are days when you need a reminder that you aren’t alone. Days when you want someone tough on your side, someone to yell at the critical voices and defend you ferociously.

For those days, I’ve got these two bears that accompany me. They are unassuming and delicate in design, but strong and bold in meaning.

unnamed

They are connected to one of my favorite places on earth—Yosemite National Park. It is a place that taught me to love hiking, camping, and any kind of outdoor adventure. The days of roaming in the valley, encased by granite monoliths, are simple. From the groves of Redwoods, to the vistas above, each scene emphasizes my small presence in the world to humble me, while also expanding the limits of my mind.

It was the place where I first learned to ride a bike, gaining confidence with each rotation of the pedal, taking me to new places, and feeding my hunger for wind-swept movement. I was propelled forward, first around the campgrounds, then around the valley floor. Each year I rode the bike to new places, hiked to new heights, and found a different experience waiting for me.

Even when night falls, it is an adventure to sit in front of a campfire instead of a television, to stare at the flames pondering our ability and inability to contain their power depending on their size. Trees hoist the darkness above for hours until it seeps in and they become shadows disappearing into the sky.

John Muir, often quoted by anyone answering the call of the mountain, understood this sensation well. He spent a significant portion of his life exploring the Sierras, and he worked hard to preserve Yosemite as protected land. He knew no one could leave this place unchanged.

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”
― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

I bought my bear earrings in the Yosemite Village store at the age of 18. It was the summer before I left for college, and I knew there was the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to come back the following summer. I wanted something to keep the mountains in me, before I faced the skyscraper mountains and subway valleys of Chicago.

The sentimental side of me likes that they keep part of my favorite place with me at all times. The imaginative side likes to think that they protect me and infuse me with a certain fierceness. But more than anything they are a reminder of that enthusiasm for a world beyond myself, where nerves quiver along steep precipices and pores are filled with nature’s energy.

Do you have a favorite place?
Or something that represents it?

The Worst Question to Ask a Book Lover

It causes shudders of frustration, mind somersaults of decisions, and an explanation with lots of “ums” or “wells” or sighing in general.

Someone bold enough to consider asking such a question has also probably uttered queries about why Snape killed Gandalf or which episode Captain Kirk and Darth Vader faced off in. Depending on who they ask, they will either get strangled by the Force, stupefied with a swish, or perhaps given a large eye roll by the less defensive person in the room.

The question in question: What is your favorite book?

As an English major and an avid reader I receive this question more times than I can count. I have also watched as professors, classmates, and fellow readers wrestled with the question in painfully awkward moments of long silence or stuttered excuses. There is a reason that Goodreads has an entire element of their website devoted to book lists. In fact, we could probably fill an entire book with the various lists of books that exist out there.

Why is it so difficult, you ask? I could also make a list of reasons, but here are my top three:

  1. There are different genres for a reason: not all books are the same. Juxtaposing science fiction against a memoir is like trying to compare robots against puppies. Each genre involves a different range of expectations, style, and story development. It is safer to ask someone their favorite book in a specific genre, but you are still left with an ocean of choices.
  2. Decades change the scoring system altogether. Many books gained respect over time and became classics because of their ability to touch on universal themes. Literary writing styles also developed in accordance with declining public attention spans. War and Peace is considered a classic, but few people would call it a favorite because they think Tolstoy took too long to get to the point. This disregards the significance of Tolstoy’s innovation as well as the popularity of longer novels at this time in history. Trying to compare books written in different periods involves a complex analysis of varied language, writing styles, and historical context.
  3. I don’t ask you to pick your favorite child. This may seem extreme to some people, but book junkies will understand the deep emotional attachments that emerge between a reader and a book. So I didn’t actually give birth to it myself, but I carried these books lovingly for a length of time, watched out for their well-being, and saw part of myself in the eyes of each page. Picking a favorite just wouldn’t be fair, especially for the awkward middle book that no one else likes but I know its unique special qualities and love it anyways.

 

In case you still feel a deep desire to know people’s favorite books, you can check out this list of the 10 Best Top 100 Book Lists. That’s right, people even make lists about the best lists because it’s impossible to choose just one.

And if you still persist in asking such questions, go ahead and ask a cinephile their favorite movie, or a chef their favorite dish. I will have the ice ready for your ego when you get back, and a stack of books waiting for you.

What do you say when someone asks you about your favorite book?

Why do you think it is difficult to choose a favorite?