“More than a week ago, Tyler Cowen kicked off an irresistible blogospheric listing exercise: In this case, the theme is “10 books which have influenced your view of the world.” You can find Matthew Yglesias’s list here, Will Wilkinson’s list here, Matt Continetti’s here, and many more at this link. My own follows below. Note that these are not my 10 favorite books, nor the 10 best books I’ve ever read, but the books that quickly came to mind — I was following Cowen’s “go with your gut” admonition.”
In the last few days I’ve seen other lists. Here’s mine, done in true-to-the-idea, off-the-top-of-my head style:
YA series: the Winston SF series and the Hardy Boys series – These are what really got me reading, reading in a way that became a lifelong habit and love. They were interesting, exciting, introduced me to the genres of science fiction and mystery. I never looked back.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle – I loved these stories the first time I read them: the setting, the characters, the plots. I still love them and reread them frequently, along with the rest of the Holmes canon.
The Blue Train by Agatha Christie – The first British traditional mystery, and the first “cozy” I read. I’d not read any mystery fiction in a decade or more when I read this, being snowed in at a cabin with nothing else to read. I loved it and went on to read all of the Poirot books and most all of Christie. I didn’t just read these, I bought them, which began a whole other process.
Pickup on Noon Street and Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler – Okay, so it’s two books. Sue me. The short story collection was my introduction to hard boiled, and what an introduction! Then I read the rest of Chandler, then moved on to Hammett, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, Bill Pronzini…
The Man Who Counts by Poul Anderson – Besides being a real favorite, this is as good an example as I can think of when it comes to a story set within a big SF saga (in this case the Psychotechnic League stories and novels). This got me thinking about galactic empires, the economics and politics of empire, fighting in space, and intelligence trumping strength.
Shogun by James Clavell – I’d read big thick novels before, and I’d read historical non-fiction, but this particular novel combined it all with incredible characterization, setting, plot and I learned a little Japanese in the process. I just couldn’t put this novel down, and – unfortunately, since few other things measure up – it’s the standard by which I compare all such books.
Watership Down by Richard Adams – I’d read comics in which animals talked, and there were the children’s books when I was little, things like The House At Pooh Corner and especially The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, with it’s wonderful Ernest H. Shepard illustrations, but this was the “talking animal” novel that woke me up. Here were animals with real believable lives and threats. It reinforced the reading I’d done in the past of what I call nature fiction and led me to read and enjoy more of it. I still do.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (also The Lord of the Rings novels) – Who knew fantasy could be so involving, vast and well done? Not me until I read this. I’d enjoyed fantasy before this, but had no idea the genre could provide anything with so much background, so researched and inventive. Wow.
Silent Spring by Rachael Carson – I’d always been drawn to nature, but this opened my eyes to the environmental damage we were wreaking upon the world. Written in 1963, I read it a year or so later. Things here on ol’ Mother Earth certainly haven’t gotten any better, but this book was a revelation to me and altered my thinking and habits.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’d been rasied with books and being read to, and I loved the rhymes and poems in everything from Mother Goose to an especial favorite, When We Were Six by A.A. Milne. I think it was my early encounter with this book and a general collection of American and British poetry, which cemented my love for poetry of all kinds. I read and enjoy poetry to this day.
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupéry – This memoir, published in 1939, was among the books on the shelves when, as a child I was looking for something to read. I have read it perhaps a dozen times since, and each reading is a moving experience, reminding me of the beauty of the world and the necessity to see it, and of my admiration for acts of simple bravery.
So there you have it. As others have said, tomorrow it might well be a different list, but for now I’ll stand by these.