The beauty of the "Best of" series, I believe, is the way it highlights the fact that we are all individuals in our reading preferences. Like our genetic makeup, no top 10 list is the same. It gives me a wonderful peek inside the minds and lives of my friends and family - I am learning things I never knew about them. And adding more books to my TBR list!
I feel I need to emphasize this as I introduce Kevin. Kevin is my husband's cousin. He is the musical director at his church, at one point was the editor-in-chief of the Macedonian newspaper in his home town, he speaks over a dozen languages, he loves to cook, he has seen more movies than anyone else I know (except maybe my sister), he travels to places I never knew existed, he is a published author of a book as well as magazine articles and brochures, and is deeply immersed in his Polish and Macedonian heritage. He is also the reason my husband immigrated here from communist Poland. He is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet.
With that said, I KNEW, when I asked for his top 10 books, that I would get more than I ever imagined or bargained for. He not only has provided his favorite books, but has written a paragraph for each, detailing a little about each book and how they have affected his life. Because I want to be sure that each entry gets its due, I have split The Kevin Chronicles into three parts. So without further ado, let us take a look at Kevin's first three favorite reads:
1. The Travels of Marco Polo
There was a 1914 edition in our elementary school library. I latched onto it at the beginning of fourth grade in 1959 and, since no one else was interested, I was allowed to keep it for the whole school year. That September, my eyes popped wide open on the first page and they have never slammed shut. I became Marco Polo. His great travel saga planted the seed that grew into that most delectable of fruits—travel to a new place, where I know no one and do not speak the language. Marco Polo’s account turned me into a sponge, soaking up the colors, rhythms, melodies, flavors, textures, languages and thought-ways of those around me.
2. The Trumpeter of Cracow, J. P. Kelly (1928)
In 1958, at the beginning of third grade, I came upon this in our local public library branch. Written for young people, Kelly’s story embellishes on Polish tradition and ties the daily bugle call (the hejnal) from the spire of St. Mary’s Church in Cracow (Kraków), Poland to the Tatar invasion of 1241. The last, broken-off blast recalls the Tatar arrow that pierced the trumpeter’s heart as he bravely played on. The drama and romance of the legend sold me forever on the drama and romance of my Polish heritage. Polish family, history, music, literature and travel in socialist and post-socialist Poland have been passions ever since. Few things delight me as much as beautifully spoken and beautifully written Polish (piękna polszczyzna). This is tied to the next entry.
3. My Mother’s Polish-language Elementary School Bible History Text Book
First the wood-cut illustrations drew me in—Adam and Eve in Eden, the Crossing of the Red Sea, David and Goliath. I had seen this book around the house all my life, and loved looking at the pictures, but in 1959, with my mother’s help, I began sounding out the text. Mind you, I understood no Polish, but I loved the way it looked (particularly the l’s with lines through them and the e’s and a’s with the little hooks under them), and I loved even more the way it sounded. My mother would read a sentence and I would repeat it. Eventually, I could sound my way through any Polish text, taking sensual joy in the movements of my tongue, my lips and my jaw, and the sounds I heard coming out of my mouth. I was eating language. When I finally began to speak Polish in 1970, during my first trip to Poland, all those early sensations filled me up again and I began to digest what I had been devouring for so long.