Being tagged on Facebook to name 10 books that have stayed with me, I received these meager guidelines:
- Don’t think too hard or take more then a few minutes.
- They don’t have to be great works of literature but must have affected you in some way.
Of course, I’ve overthought it. And there’s the need to elaborate and provide context.
From youth, a group of titles comes to mind: Old Yeller (by Fred Gipson), Rascal (Sterling North), The Pond (Robert Murphy), The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings), and Animal Farm (George Orwell). All featured animals (but no cats).
So here’s my list:
Fahrenheit 451: My younger sister Kate and I accompanied our father to the the Francois Truffaut film version when I was 11 and she was 10. It was hard to comprehend. The fire trucks had funny sirens compared to those I was used to. And why were firemen setting books ablaze? I’ve read Bradbury’s novel a couple of times since and figured it all out.
Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky. My idea of a big, important novel. In our home, our father cultivated a disdain for high culture in general and British culture in particular. (Continental culture came in a close second, though.) The monarchy and all that proceeded from it were derided. Of course I was affected, so I wasn’t inclined to read Thackeray or Hardy. When I was 19, in my first college literature class, Crime and Punishment was exotic, a premium novel I’d always heard of. And not British.
The American, by Henry James. After an American literature survey course, when I first heard of Henry James, I read this novel over Christmas break. The experience opened me up to a different kind of writing–the realism and the prose–and gave a view inside a rare world. I’ve read a fair amount of James since.
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. After college, I found my way to this nonfiction novel, which in its enjoyably bombastic style and robust subject matter offered release from academic constraints.
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey (and illustrations by R. Crumb), was encountered when I was in my late-20s–the perfect thing at the time. I’ve never reread it, but maybe I ought to!
White Noise, by Don DeLillo, is a satire about a family fleeing an “airborne toxic event” (namesake of an indie rock band) and rings true in every line.
The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino, is my favorite of his novels, although not long ago I had a great time reading another of his absurdist fables, The Nonexistent Knight.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg, came along at the peak of my interest in Scandinavian literature and film, the rare thriller on my shelf.
The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, is the best contemporary novel I’ve found in years. The main female character, Madeleine, made me think of someone I’d once been very fond of.
Great Expectations, by Dickens, embodies the benefits of this great novelist, now that I’ve finally gotten around to him. (I finished in June.) It’s quite a page turner, actually, and one superb line after another.
That’s 11 books. Good thing I read so slow, or I would have finished many more, adding to the difficulty of this task.