Culture Sunday: The Three Books You Love the Most

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I thought I’d take a break from my fanatical posting about the Montana Legislature and take a moment to write about my first love, books. Today’s post is about the three books that, after a lifetime of reading, I love more than any others, and would recommend that everyone read.

I’d love to see what books others would choose as well.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Nothing I’ve ever read has as much truth for me as Thoreau’s classic. My first paperback copy was so thoroughly highlighted and annotated by my furious scribbling and battered from being carried in my backpack that it quite literally disintegrated. Forget what you remember from reading excerpts in high school; whether it’s his love of the natural world or his keen insight into the triviality that we consume our lives, Thoreau better explains life than any other writer I know.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”

Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

I’m not a particularly religious person and Tolstoy lays on his vision of Christianity thickly at the end of the book, but nothing in fiction has resonated as powerfully for me as this story about a man’s struggle to become a a good person. Tolstoy’s protagonist, Nekhlyudov, doesn’t have an epiphany one day and become a better man; instead, like all of us, he fails and succeeds in each moment. As much as I love Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Resurrection is the pinnacle of Tolstoy’s work for me. Bitterly satirical and yet full of hope about humans, Resurrection shows not just how weak and selfish we can be, but how much better we can become.

“And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others.”

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
I have two strong feelings when I read Neruda: a sense of awe and a question about why anyone should ever bother to write about the human heart ever again, because Neruda said everything there is to say. I’m not sure there is much difference between Thoreau (the lifelong virgin) and Neruda (the sensualist): both knew that life was about living without reservation or hesitation.
“Here I love you.
In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.”
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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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