Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me
I was recently tagged in a Facebook post that seems to be going around, inviting me to record ten books that have “stayed with me.” Beyond that vague parameter, the only direction was to “not think too hard about it.” The impossibility of constructing such an obtusely described selection led me to blow it off, until the tagging friend claimed to be “dying to see your list.” I can’t say no to that, but I have failed utterly to “not think too hard.” This blog has been filled with lists and other miscellany lately, so I feel bad posting yet another one. On the other hand, just putting the list up on Facebook without lengthy explanations and excuses is thoroughly distasteful. After all, I’m going to bare my soul a bit here; I need a chance to defend it.
A few things this list is not: it is not a list of favorite books, nor is it the best that I have read. It is not necessarily SFF. It is not balanced in any way, by any metric. It is not a list of recommended reading. It is merely the titles of books that, for one reason or another, have exercised undue influence on me, or that I find myself going back to when thinking about things. They are what bubbled to the surface with a minimum of thinking too hard. They may be good or bad, may be distasteful to some, and may very well be by a bunch of white dudes. I may not be proud of some of them. Ten years from now, I expect a healthy amount of turnover and I hope that it is not so aggressively patriarchal and Anglo-Saxon. For now, this is what I have, in no particular order.
1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
My parents started reading Tolkien aloud to me when I was, I think, three. I took down the whole trilogy on my own, plus The Hobbit, in either third or fourth grade, likely understanding almost none of it. These books got me in the door and remain, flaws and all, the most reread and most important in my bookish development.
2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I’m not going to say that Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect changed my life or anything, but it must mean something that I still remember all of the gags, lo these many years later. I will also confess to trying very hard for many years to cop Adams’ writing style.
3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
Not sure what to say about this that hasn’t already been said. I’m sure it helps that much of the book takes place not far from my home town, while also going on at length about aesthetics and philosophy. (Not things one normally associates with the state of Montana.)
4. Reflections of a Scientist – Henry Eyring
5. Dialogues With Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience – Eugene England
Though I am neither devout nor orthodox, my upbringing in the Mormon Church forms a huge part of my identity. These two books remain foundational to my (thorny) relationship with my religion. Why and how is beyond the scope of this post (and really of this blog), but I am willing to engage the curious.
6. The Dragonlance Chronicles – Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman
Tolkien got me in the door, but Dragonlance slammed it shut behind me. (Larry Niven turned the lock.) I, uh, kind of wish that I could forget how thoroughly this series dominated my early adolescence, but I guess we all have dark secrets. David Eddings is also on this list. We should probably just move on before I say anything to embarrass myself further.
7. The Hyperion Cantos – Dan Simmons
Now we are back on firmer ground. I won’t say that this is one of the “best” SF series, but it leaves an impact crater. There are some scenes I will never forget.
8. 2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
Last year’s Nebula winner might be the most complete extrapolation of our semi-near future that I have ever read. Robinson covers everything from the expansion into space, environmental degradation on Earth, and politico-economic development to the future of music, gender, and human evolution. This stands out as everything science fiction is supposed to be and is very near the top of my Best Ever list.
9. 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan – Richard Samuels
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan is a charged and emotional event for me. It’s probably better to just read my post about it, since pithy summation escapes me.
10. Japan – Lonely Planet
As a young missionary in the smelly fish port of Ishinomaki, I somehow acquired a a mid-90s edition of Lonely Planet’s Japan travel guide. For several years, this was my primary source for information on Japan’s geography, demographics, food, and culture. I suppose there are worse places to learn this sort of thing.