In a class last week, I co-led a discussion on “Travesties,” Tom Stoppard’s play partly inspired by “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Being the studious student I am, I brought with me “The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde” in case I needed to reference his work and/or pretend to be more well-read than I am.
As I pulled the book out of my backpack and threw it on the table, without thinking I said, “I brought the Bible!” One classmate half-chuckled.
Though my remark was made in jest, the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the truth. Having been raised without religion, for me, the Bible is just another book. So, my self-proclaimed joke about Wilde got me thinking, “What is my Bible?”
It could be Wilde’s collected works. His essays and novel have informed my view of art more than any other, and “The Importance of Being Earnest” is more or less the reason I study drama. But what else could it be?
Perhaps it is “United States: Essays 1952–1992,” Gore Vidal’s gargantuan collection of essays, which, to my mind, is the gold standard for U.S. political commentary. Whether you agree with Vidal’s views doesn’t matter, he is a master craftsman and the first writer I turn to for perspective on the 20th century. As much as I admire Vidal and treasure his body of work, his essays can’t be my Bible, can they?
If I were to answer the question ironically, I suppose my Bible could be “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, the writer whose words first made me feel comfortable in my lifelong disbelief.
Maybe it’s “Harry Potter,” the series to which I have the strongest emotional connection, the books that first taught me about friendship, perseverance and loss.
Last week, as part of an internship application, I was asked to name my favorite book. I went with my gut reaction: “In Cold Blood.” It’s one I discovered after a rough first semester at Middlebury, when I ordered a stack of books from Amazon. Truman Capote’s seminal piece of new journalism was packaged on top, so I read it. I now have a personal connection to the novel because it came at a time when I needed to temporarily leave our world for a different one.
And that’s the one thing all these books, and others, and some I have yet to find, have in common: They’ve been there for me when I needed them, when I needed guidance, reaffirmation or to escape. They’re my Bibles.