Good things come in threes. Bad things, too, they say. The point being that the number three has a ring to it. Three cheers. Fairy tales with three wishes, not to mention three little pigs, three bears, three billy goats gruff. Spiritually, three represents unity.
All of which suggests an underlying harmony — the collective unconscious at work — when I think of books with three-word titles, which seemed to jump out at me after publishing my short story collection, Shoes Hair Nails. Many of the stories are one-word titles, narratives constructed around them, pulled together by three stories chosen as a keystone framing the collection. A book title is always telling, the first hook, along with a (hopefully) alluring cover. Book titles that cut to the chase with three simple words are easy to remember, not just for their brevity; they have an archetypal undercurrent reminding us of beginning, middle end; dawn, noon, and dusk; the three phases of the moon.
by Karen Maezen Miller
A yoga teacher of mine once made the point that the body is a house, not a temple. A house is someplace you live — you trash it, you clean it up — whereas a temple implies worship and sanctification. Karen Maezen Miller, in a way, extends that metaphor with her utterly elegant book that is so filled with the light of everyday wisdom you almost forget the beginning of her story, the dark days before her spiritual awakening . "A true teacher is likely to be the most ordinary person you'll ever meet," she writes. Maybe it takes a Zen Buddhist priest who also happens to be a woman ever mindful of her role as mother and wife to make a metaphor of laundry as a starting place for loving the life we wake up to.
by Martin Heidegger
A central essay in the Heidegger's collection on the relationship between poetry, language, and thought is another trio of words: "Building Dwelling Thinking." There's a cadence to the essay (at least in the translation) that gives it the flavor of a meditation on the ways in which language shapes thought, and not the other way around. Heady stuff, yes, and at the same time spiritual in its reference to earth, sky, divinities, and mortals as connected in a primal oneness. This is not breezy reading, but so worth it for anyone willing to plunge into a deeper exploration of poetry as the essence of art and its power to illuminate. In his own poetic expression, Heidegger writes: "What is spoken is never, and in no language, what is said."
by Lynne Truss
A few years out of college, I edited and proofread journals that dealt with employment law. Lawyers wrote articles that I would 'translate' for more popular consumption. I gained renewed respect for the importance of a comma. Typos? I admit it, they mortify me, even in an age dominated by rebus-like shorthand and sloppy punctuation that would seem to cut me some slack. All the more reason to be completely delighted by a book that brings us back to basics with charm, wit, and intelligence. And while Truss herself puts out a call of sorts for punctuation sticklers to unite, she recognizes, too, that they may not be on the same page, stylistically speaking. Humility serves its purpose well here, but the bottom line: you need not be a purist to appreciate a simple nudge in the interest of clear, correct punctuation designed, in the words of one style book, "as a courtesy to help readers to understand a story without stumbling." Poetic license? You can't really bend the rules unless you know them.
edited by Shana Liebman
If Passover is the ultimate in Jewish nights of storytelling, the cover of Shana Leibman's collection says it all: instead of the egg, the bitter herbs, the roasted shank bone, we have cannabis, cocaine, and condoms. A very devout person might call it sacrilege, but anyone with a sense of (Jewish) humor would take up the invitation to peek inside, see what Shana Leibman, the Arts Editor of Heeb, has pulled together. The collection is the product of a literary reading series started by Leibman with the intent of giving voice to the Jewish experience as it exists today. Participants were invited to tell, not read, stories so that the effect would a more spontaneous and fun experience, and the series was a huge success; hence, the book, which covers a lot of ground in its reminder that the tiniest thread of tradition can still tug at those of us who have strayed from the fold.
by Chuck Klosterman
If the essays in Leibman's collection above often have the feel of monologues, in the way they capture the spoken word, it's Gen X-er Chuck Klosterman who draws on the cultural symbol of the CD as a framework for his acute, sometimes acerbic, always eye-opening essays. Topics range from virtual reality to reality TV to women who think they're in love with John Cusack to why Billy Joel is vastly underappreciated. With the picture of a CD case on the cover, and essays titled like songs ('running time' included), the music/entertainment metaphor strikes me as very much of a piece with Klosterman's observation that accelerated culture "doesn't speed things up as much as it jams everything into the same wall of sound." Or maybe he simply likes thinking of his essays as musical tracks, which, in a way, they are, with their rhythmic undercurrent and an unmistakable lyricism that cuts to the heart of what it means to be alive in a world where real people try to live like fake people and timing is possibly more of indicator of the information we're exposed to than the reliability of the source it came from.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
There's some symmetry here, I admit, in opening and closing the list with books by women who found themselves falling off a cliff, so to speak, into a life more spiritual. It's never an easy, straightforward path, and Gilbert underscores the triad of her title with an explanation, in the introduction, of the number three as representing 'supreme balance'; within the threefold structure she has deliberately incorporated 108 tales (36 times 3), symbolic of the traditional Indian japa mala necklace, strung with 108 beads. Gilbert's memoir, of course, became a runaway best seller and movie, which speaks to the appeal of stories that manage to incorporate romance and spirit. Those critical of the book want more, I daresay, of the kind of wisdom issuing from Miller's book. Those who admit to loving it clearly understand that the courage it takes to see things for what they, rather than what we'd like them to be. One clear message echoing through both books: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
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About Deborah Batterman
Deborah Batterman’s stories and essays appear in print and online journals, including her website/blog, The Things She Thinks About... She recently published a new, digital edition of her short story collection, Shoes Hair Nails.
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