Monday, July 6, 2009

Fifteen Books

This collection was inspired by a challenge that my brother David recently put up on FaceBook. This post is for those of you who might find this interesting but are not on FB...yet!

The idea is to put down, in just fifteen minutes, fifteen books that "will always stick with you". Here are mine:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

This book changed my life. I read it at a very critical juncture in my personal and intellectual growth, when I was 23 and desperately searching for meaning. I loved the story but didn't 'get' the philosophy until the second or third reading. I was so taken by this book that I made Lynda read it and was most disappointed when she was not as impressed as I was. Still I find things to learn about 'reality' and myself every time I re-read it, which is about once a year.

The Bible

I went to an Episcopalian school for the first six grades, and not only was Chapel a mandatory 'class' on Wednesday mornings, we also had Bible study as part of the curriculum. I loved hearing the stories of the patriarchs in the old Testament and the Parables in the New. Later, studying Art History in college, I came to discover the Psalms and of course, Revelations. I have two Bibles on my dresser. One was Lynda's, given to her in 1925 and so inscribed; the other was Valery's grandmother, Dorothy's. This is an illustrated bible, and while I find the pictures in it interesting, my real fascination is with the use of words in the Bible.

In Flanders Field, by Leon Wolff

This book was the crucible in which my commitment to pacifism was formed. Though in the face of life's cruelty I have perhaps softened that commitment, recalling that 300,000 men died in a single day during World War I is still enough to rouse in me ferocious anger at those men who would so willingly and callously sacrifice the best and the brightest of their time for so very little. After reading this, I was convinced that all war dead were so taken in vain. It was also the time of the Vietnam war, and there was some question of whether or not I would be drafted, but my convictions were not formed of fear, but anger.


Wow, was there ever a better horror story? Has Alien or Psycho or Jaws ever really scared anyone more or, for that matter has any story scared more kids down through time? Lynda read this to me at some point, and I have not forgotten my initial mental picture of Grendel: teeth and claws, bright red eyes; a vicious fear that is re-awakened whenever I re-read this. I have a comic book version but it is the one that a professor read to a class in the original Old English that most sticks with me.

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery

And, was there ever a better love story? Actually, I am still trying to understand the meaning of this wonderfully simple tale. I read it, think I understand and know that I still do not. I am not daunted by this, merely encouraged to read it again with the eyes of a child. I am still trying.

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I feel as if I actually lived in 19th century Russia for a time in my early twenties. I read this for a class, then re-read it over the summer just because I felt it was too short. I've never encountered a denser, richer, more engaging piece of fiction, and God knows I love Dickens, who doesn't even appear on this list...yet.

The Gutenberg Galaxy, by Marshall McLuhan

I am still reading this. McDonald Smith gave me a copy when we were seniors in high school but I didn't 'read' it till I was in college the first time, in my early twenties. I thought I got it back then, and it was an important revelation, but as I re-read it now, I realize that I am just opening my eyes to the transformation that the electric field is currently (get it?) causing in our society.

Selected Poems, by W.B. Yeats

Yeats is my favorite poet of all time. Sailing to Byzantium is my favorite poem. I keep this book by my bedside.

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

Here's one I haven't re-read in a long time. I read it in Paris, while hanging out in the Cafe Select and Le Dome in Montparnasse. No, I never made it on a fishing trip to Spain, but in 1976, I experienced what may have been the very last vestige of the Paris that Hemingway lived, and his writing inspired me as it did a generation before. I'm afraid I didn't emulate him that well as, alas, my prose still suffers from 'too many words'.

In Bluebeard's Castle, by George Steiner

Dense engaging prose that led me to re-evaluate my cultural heritage (ie Jewish) and set a standard for the quality and clarity of thought that my own prose should emulate. That hasn't happened, yet, but one of the essays in the book, along with The Gutenberg Galaxy and Snow's Two Cultures form the axes of a theory of literary criticism that I am developing.

Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

I was devastated when Charlotte died. Really. I have never mourned for a fictional character in quite the same way again.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson

I'll admit, reading this book made me want to do drugs. Lots of drugs. More drugs. Different drugs. Seriously I cannot remember laughing longer and harder while reading a book. Just thinking about the over-pressurized tires on the 'White Whale' makes me chuckle. And does anyone know where I can get some adrenachrome (sp)?

Jaws, by Peter Benchley

Talk about a page turner! I was waiting for the bus to go to work while reading the scene where the scientist gets eaten by, well, the shark, and missed it--twice. I may have read the whole book that day. The movie, good as it was, was, of course, lame by comparison.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

One of my most recent reads and among the most inspirational books I have ever read. Bryson's ability to make even the most difficult scientific theories and subjects readable and relevant instantly inspired me to read more about science. I came away from this book believing in the power of original thought and possessed of the notion that I too am capable of it.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes

This book has an impossibly long title for a subject that is really pretty simple. Jaynes is not the most rigorous of scholars, but his argument is so compelling that I can overlook the similarities with many crackpot socio-linguistic theories. It seems a shame that the work is overshadowed by less adventurous empirical theories, and it may well be recovered as we learn more about the brain from magnetic imaging.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Yes...I want to try this too...but where is David's list?