Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Influential books

The current meme of influential books is an interesting one, and I've decided to post my take on it. Most of the lists I've seen have been political bloggers rather than litbloggers, but that just makes mine all the more independent.

So here they are. This is influential, and not faves. Roughly chronological with my reading them.

1.) The Nancy Drew series. I read The Cat In The Hat books avidly before this, but these were the first books I hunted out on my own. (The Cat In The Hat books showed up in the mail.) Trixie Belden would do as well. I wasn't nearly as fond of the Hardy Boys.

2.) The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. There were a couple of years where I read two or three chapters a night before going to bed. I was once showing a short story to a friend of mine and he said he really liked it, but there was one sentence in particular he thought was beautiful. When he pointed it out to me, I realized I'd unconsciously stolen it from Tolkien. I don't know what that says about his taste or my writing.

3.) Goedel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. For a computer person, there's relatively little in the way of traditional computer nerd readings on this list. But there is this. This is the first serious non-fiction book I read on my own, and I took it seriously. I followed it with The Mind's I, which in particular led to #5. But first...

4.) The Odyssey. Out of all the Latin and Greek I've read, there's no doubt this is the most important. Computers pay the bills, but this is the reason I have a master's in Comparative Literature.

5.) Ficciones by Borges. I was using footnotes in short stories before I knew who David Foster Wallace was.

6.) Notes From The Underground by Dostoevsky. I read this and the four major novels in a relatively short period. I was working nights and sleeping days. I was devastated, maybe partly in a good way?

7.) Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The healthy antidote. I don't really understand why this isn't more popular than it is. People read Richardson, which remains slightly mysterious to me, and they read Sterne, which isn't. Short of Tolkien and the Odyssey, this is the book I've read the most.

8.) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Here's where I insert my rant about Tale of Two Cities. Dickens has become a deep and abiding pleasure for me, with this probably at the top of the list. But we read Tale Of Two Cities in high school, and everyone else who read Dickens in high school that I've talked to read that one as well. It's not funny! It's historical! While it has its charms, it has less of the things make Dickens Dickens. It wasn't until I read Great Expectations and Bleak House (I forget which came first) that I realized I actually liked Dickens.

9.) Middlemarch by George Eliot. Now when I read it, it's the tragedy of Lydgate that moves me, but it used to be Dorothea's story. I'm afraid I feel Ladislaw's not good enough for her. When I first read this, in my late twenties, this was the one book that made me wish I'd been lead to the great Victorians earlier.

10.) Selected Poems by W. H. Auden. For a long time I was a bad reader of poetry in English, but there was always this, and a few other things, most prominently T. S. Eliot. And I have a T-shirt from Finland (altogether elsewhere?) across which moves a 'vast/ herd of reindeer.' The T-shirt's black, however.

And now I'm going to turn it up to 11:

11.) The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. Notice the ring composition: we started with mystery and ended with mystery. Crispin's uneven but this one's great. This is the one that really made me want to write my own.

The one thing that strikes me about this list, though I guess it doesn't surprise me, is how old most of it is. There are living authors I like and who I think about, say Pynchon or Alice Munro, but none of them with the impact of the older stuff.


  1. Always a pleasure to read about favourite authors, books etc though one might not agree with the selection:). And totally agree with the last para.

    1. It's always fun reading a list, isn't it? Even if you don't agree. Maybe especially you don't agree.

      And this one was a while ago! I don't know if I'd agree! Though those are still probably the books I've read the most times.