By now you will have seen the “Ten books that stayed with you” meme that’s going around Facebook. Since I was finally tagged (what took you people so long?), here are mine.
1. The English Patient
This was assigned reading in an English class I took. A few chapters in and I “got” Ondaatje’s rhythm and there was no going back. This book more than any other truly opened my eyes to what “literature” is. I read it, or parts of it, every year and am reminded of what the word “prose” really means.
This is one of my all-time favorites, a book I read once a year. It will ruin politics for you and teach you how tricky language can be. The only book I’ve considered tattooing sentences from onto my soft pale flesh. (“Call me Ishmael.” has nothing on “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”)
3. Slaughterhouse 5
To most people, Slaughterhouse 5 will be too silly to finish. It is an odd book about a man who becomes “unstuck in time”. This means that he jumps back and forth between times in his life. He is sent to fight in World War II and survives the bombing of Dresden, something that really happened to Vonnegut himself, and gets abducted by aliens and forced to live in a zoo with a porn star, something that probably did not happen to Vonnegut in real life. Probably. In amidst all the silliness of the novel we realize the utter stupidity of war itself and that, to me, is the novel’s true power.
4. Fahrenheit 451
“It was a pleasure to burn.” The book is a pleasure to read as well. A warning to any who would censor books or writing, this book is truly timeless and, along with 1984, proves that science fiction is a genre of predictive power above all else.
5. The Lord of the Rings
Pure escapist fiction and the mold in which most other fantasy books are made. I was surprised when Robert Bruce (who is reading his way through Time’s Top 100 books) placed as his second best so far, just after The Great Gatsby, saying it was “quite possibly the best novel ever written“. I don’t know about that, but it is among my all-time favorites, and I really look forward to reading it to my kids.
6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
This book taught me never to take anything too seriously. It is also a load of fun, though you do get diminishing returns as you read on in the increasingly wrongly named trilogy. The first two books are the best. No one will mind if you skip the rest.
Whooo boy! This is one of those rare novels that are difficult, wonderful, horrifying and beautiful all at the same time. I read it partly because it was something I would normally not pick up; a book by a Nobel-prize winning black woman. I thought it would be so far out of my frame of reference for life that I just wouldn’t get it or enjoy it. I was half right. Beloved went over my head but it gripped my heart while it did so. I can’t wait to read it again.
Another thing I was assigned and thought I would dread. The first time I read something by Shakespeare and a few chapters (scenes) in I was scratching my head. Could this be? Is it possible that something written in 16-hundred something was this awesome (Hamlet stabs a guy through a curtain just because, and then duels with another guy using poisoned blades.) I was going to add quotes to further drive home the point but… well, just take a look at Goodreads’ list of Hamlet quotes and you’ll get an idea of the awesomeness.
9. A Brief History of Time
I read this at an impressionable young age and, yes, had my mind blown. I have always been an atheist (religion is not really a big thing here in the land of ice, snow and volcanoes) but this book sort of puts everything into perspective and shows us how the world makes sense. A difficult read at times, no question, but very rewarding. Condensed down to a fine point, the book made clear to me that those who look at the world saying “It is perfectly made for humans, there is no way that happened by chance so there must be a god.” are like water in a puddle thinking “This hole is perfectly made for me, there is no way this happened by chance, there must be a creator.” No there must not. You are just not thinking clearly.
10. Flowers for Algernon
I read this for two simple reasons; I had heard Chandler mention it on FRIENDS, and subsequently heard a lot of people mention it as well. So I picked it up. And read it just about in one sitting. Then I cried a bit.
Please add your ten books in the comments.