There’s a meme that’s been buzzing around Facebook and other social media for a while, that goes something like this:
“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.”
I’ve been planning to do it for ages and figured this would be a good place – it just had to wait until I had a day when I could approach it with the casual air required, and not attempt to list ALL THE BOOKS EVER. Even now I am a bit help i am leaving things out but we’ll just deal with that, shall we. By making this a list of eleven books, because I forgot one I had to put in and it was too late to take any out.
Here is my list (more or less in the order I read them first):
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Okay, everybody and their very intelligent dog has listed this one, but it really has stayed with me (the whole time travel thing, for one; the quotation game; etc.) and it can sit here representing all the other childhood literature I have to leave out or this would be “list 50 books.”
City, Clifford Simak. A radically different but similarly broadly-sweeping sort of classic science fiction. It’s dated, but I still reread it periodically with great enjoyment. Jenkins, the Websters, the dogs, the ants, Jupiter: beloved tropes.
The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope. Probably the book that got me hooked on 18th-century American history, because I love Richard Grahame’s spy-tracking-in-the-woods as much as the romantic elements. Delightful, funny, comforting.
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers. There is a reason I’m listing this one rather than Gaudy Night or The Nine Tailors, which are better books, and I intend to elaborate on it someday here in a post about why I love second acts. But yeah, everything she wrote, more or less.
A Mixture of Frailties, Robertson Davies. I went through a Davies period in my twenties and thirties, and first I loved the Deptford trilogy, and then the Cornish trilogy, but as I’ve grown older the Salterton trilogy is the one I turn to most, and I love the story of Monica Gall and her bitter and glorious coming of age. This is one of my Christmas books.
A Landing on the Sun, Michael Frayn. This is the book I usually choose when someone asks that impossible question (I mean really; I’m supposed to pick one favorite?) though it’s a slim enough volume that I’d never select it for the desert island. But it is a lovely, perfect novel, and one of those where the plot sounds ridiculous when you try to explain it: there’s this British civil servant, see, who spends the book investigating the doings of another, long-deceased civil servant, who was involved in a two-person committee with a philosopher to come up with a policy on the nature of happiness… got you hooked, yes?
The Letter of Marque, Patrick O’Brian. Because it’s the one I read first, before I went back and read them all in order, and it’s still one of my favorites in this marvelous series: the “Marriage of Figaro” bit at the end always makes me cry, along with Stephen’s dream about the balloon, and it contains my favorite line in the whole series: “… there were many kicked or bitten by the horses, an unreasonable number, for a naval engagement.”
A Letter of Mary, Laurie R. King. This isn’t my favorite of hers (which would be Folly) or the one I like best in the Russell/Holmes series (which might possibly be Justice Hall, though I’m not sure), but I chose it because it’s the book that got me into online fandom. I read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and then lost track of the series until this third one was out, read the two I’d missed in a rush, and burrowed around in the late 90s Internet until I found a mailing list full of people who wanted to talk about these books too. (Followed by an even more wonderful mailing list of people who wanted to talk about Lord Peter Wimsey, which really anchored me in the idea of conversing with invisible friends.)
Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold. Speaking of online fandom… but I list this book not for that reason but just because it is that good, and I love it best out of the fantastic Vorkosigan series (except on alternate Thursdays when I love Memory best). Oh, Mark.
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, William Woys Weaver. There had to be one gardening book on this list, and this one represents the direction in which I’ve oriented myself on the compass that is horticulture. I love the stories about vegetables in history, the devout concentration on their importance, and the gentle humor.
Death’s Jest-Book, Reginald Hill. And this final choice can represent the more recent era of [British] mystery fiction, as well as my continuing ability to acquire new favorite writers as I get older, which is VERY IMPORTANT in one’s world-view. I adore the characters in this series (Dalziel/Pascoe), and the cleverness of the plots, and the sense of place; I love that Hill was unafraid to throw in literary and pop-culture references and anything he chose to throw in; and this is one of my Christmas books too.
So, if this had been the 20-book meme, I surely would not have left out Tolkien or C.S. Lewis or Joan Aiken or Connie Willis or Shakespeare or many other writers to whom I owe much, but then I’d be here all day and you would have left by now. Post your own lists somewhere if you haven’t done it yet!