Y’all are a little too smart for yesterday’s book meme. And you read this site from work. The results weren’t what I had expected. To compensate, here’s a second book meme with which to play:
Over the weekend at Baraita — one of my favorite weblogs — Naomi posted a list of her ten Most Important books. Tracing the meme, I found that it started with here’s luck, who describes it like this:
[This list explores] the notion of one’s own Ten Most Important Books. Not favorite books, or best books, but the most important. Truepenny pointed out that such a list requires not only picking the most important books but deciding what “most important” means in one’s own case. I said that in her case I would imagine there would be some books that are most important to her as a writer, and others most important as a reader. And then she noted that of course there are those books that are important because they got us through difficult times (middle school, anyone?). And so on and so forth.
Here are my ten Most Important books, in the order I read them:
- 1. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
- This book is representative of an entire class of books that I read between second and fifth grade: childrens’ books of adventure. Similar books include: Bertrand Brinley’s The Mad Scientists’ Club; John D. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain; Isaac Asimov’s David Starr, Space Ranger; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien; and Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
2. The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
What was the first thing I ever collected? Hardy Boys books. Between third and sixth grade, I collected all 56 volumes of this detective series (and then a couple of the new paperbacks). I read each book many times. I could read one adventure in two hours flat. (Sometimes I would read the final three chapters before I read the rest of the book — each book had twenty chapters and about two hundred pages.) I discovered my first Hardy Boys book laying around in Grandma’s house. Perhaps it had belonged to Dad or to Uncle Norman. Whatever the case, this series was an important part of my childhood.
3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Sometime during my third grade year, I picked up The Two Towers from Philander Lee Elementary School media center shelves. Though it was confusing — I had no idea it was the second part of a trilogy — I loved it. I loved the dwarves and the elves and the Ents and the orcs and the hobbits. Thereafter, I read The Lord of the Rings nearly every year. And it led me to Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels; Stephen R. Donaldson; and The Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. The Lord of the Rings also led to role-playing games.
4. Red Rackham’s Treasure by Hergé
While browsing through the school library in fifth grade, I came upon a comic book bound like a book. “A comic book book?” I thought, confused. I checked it out. I was already collecting comic books by this time, and was curious to see what comic was worthy of being bound in hardcover. What I found surprised me: even at that age I could tell that Tintin was as much art as comic. Slowly, I read other adventures in the series. (I wouldn’t read them all until the end of college.) I was fascinated by Hergé’s iconic figures cast against detailed backgrounds, intrigued by his stories of adventure. Tintin taught me that comic books were more than just superheroes in tights.
5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I read and liked a lot of classic fiction before my senior year of high school, but none of it had the impact of Crime and Punishment. I was an intelligent young Christian man who had a lot of questions that it seemed could not, or would not, be answered. Here was Dostoevsky, by all accounts an intelligent young Christian man who had similar questions a hundred years before. He wrote books to explore his questions. And with Crime and Punishment, he tackled themes that I had already begun to explore in my own life: the nature of existence, the possibility of a “superior man”, the nature of good and evil, of God. This book did not change the way I thought at the time, but it opened my mind for further exploration in the future.
6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
If Crime and Punishment opened my mind to further exploration, The Unbearable Lightness of Being took full advantage, took me to the farthest frontiers of thought. When I read it during my sophomore year of college, I was still a Christian, though working my way to agnostic. From its very first paragraph, this book had my mind in a tizzy:
The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed philosophers with it: to think tat everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?
And from there Kundera explores the nature of mind and spirit, body and soul, the “weight” of life, the nature of love, the concept of language, and the existence of God. I started the book a Christian becoming and agnostic; I ended it an agnostic becoming an atheist. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being again years later, and it didn’t have nearly the same effect as it had the first time. It couldn’t possibly.
7. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is not a particularly well-written book. Intellectually, it’s sloppy, relying on the same sort of propaganda techniques and logical fallacies that the government uses to convince its citizens that war with a distant country is acceptable. Some of the books’ ideas are interesting (the concept of Takers and Leavers, for example: that some people consume, or Take, the worlds resources, while others produce, or Leave, resources for others), and they can provoke a certain amount of thought. Why is this book important to me? In November of 1996, it was our very first book group reading. Paul and Connie and Kris and I had a brilliant discussion about it, and as a result we decided to continue this crazy book group idea. Nearly eight years later, the book group is still going strong, is, in fact, an important part of my life. It all started with Ishmael.
8. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
You know how sometimes you finish a book and you think to yourself, “Wow. I loved that book. I’ll have to read it again.” And then you read it for a second time. And then maybe a third? Cold Mountain was like that for me. I read it several times over the course of a few months, and since have read it once every year or two. I love the book. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the language. This is my favorite book.
9. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
I’ve raved about Proust many times over the past year, and with good reason. The man was a genius. Hidden beneath a sea of labyrinthine sentences, couched in an ocean of dependent clauses, rests a beautiful novel that explores that nature of love and the meaning of life. Presumptuous, perhaps, but full of poetry. I never know when the next sentence is going to leave me awestruck. I’ll be tackling the second of the seven volumes in Proust’s vast novel later this year. I can hardly wait.
10. Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
When I took the writing class last fall, I didn’t know what to expect. My previous writing classes had left me cold. They didn’t teach me how to write; they didn�t teach me anything. This class was different, and one of the differences was this fantastic anthology of short fiction. Each story is a gem. If you read them all, you’d have a good education on plot and character and dialogue and crisis and voice and point of view.
There you have it: my ten Most Important books. What are yours? (If ten’s too many, share five. Or three. Or one.)
Co-incidentally, scrubbles just linked to a similar collection of peoples’ 10 favorite novels. (I’m guessing that this will be the eventual permalink.)
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Craig Jue said: