Sunday, September 7, 2014

Books of Influence

I was tagged on facebook to list ten books that have affected me.  I have cheated and listed more than ten here.  I have a feeling of déjà vu, as if I have already posted about this, in which case forgive me.   But I can’t find anything in my blog archives.

You can play along too, if you want, by listing one or more influential books in the comments or on your own blog.

Here goes.  In no particular order:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first read this in high school and loved it.  I can’t really say why, which makes me a bad student.  Maybe it’s because in the end, Reader, she married him.   (Cue happy tears.) It’s been several years since I re-read it.

Genesis (first book of the Bible)
This is where it all starts.  A group of people trying to become a nation needs a back story, and here it is.  But more than that, this book dares to say, against all the odds and all the evidence, that the creation we are living in is good.  The whole first chapter is just beautiful poetry and deep truth.  Plus it’s got some rip-roaring great stories.  Not for children. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
When I first read it as a teen, this book reinforced my idealism about the world. When I read it the second time, I realized how ridiculous the plot twists were. While being chased by his sworn enemy, suddenly Jean Valjean jumps the wall and finds himself in the protected sanctuary of a nunnery with a gardener who owes him a favor.  Really?!  And Hugo can go on for pages about obscure 19th century French political and social figures.  But he created enduring characters and scenes.  And then, the musical came along.  Do you hear the people sing?!

Go, Dog. Go! By P.D. Eastman
I still quote this book regularly, mostly when stopped at a traffic light, or when wearing an unusual hat, or when it is hot here under the sun.  Note that this book is not by Dr Seuss.   “Go, Dogs.  Go!  The light is green now.”

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
I just loved reading this book to my kids.  It has a certain poetry to it.  I love the geese’s speech pattern.

Down with Skool! by Geoffrey Willans
My father spent many of his childhood years at a boarding school in British India.  He related directly to much of the stuff in this book, which is about Nigel Molesworth, as any fule kno.  This book is marked by its atrocious spelling, dreadful punctuation, and the narrator’s marked dislike and disregard for the skool authoriteez.  It is from this book that I gleaned such gems as this French lesson:
            Je suis – I am
            A pot of jam.
            Tu es – thou art
            A jelly tart.
Yeah.  Pretty high-brow stuff. 

The Presbyterian Hymnal
When I was a teenager I spent hours at the piano just playing through the hymnbook. 

English Dictionary
In particular, the dictionary I won by coming in second in the county spelling bee in Columbus, MS when I was in sixth grade.  I think it might have been the American Heritage Dictionary, but I am not sure.   I was SO much happier winning that dictionary than I would have if I had won the spelling bee and had had to go on to the next level of competition.  (I also won a gallon of chocolate ice cream.) I was that kid who enjoyed just reading the dictionary, especially the word origins.  I loved my prize dictionary so much that it became tattered and the front cover fell off.  At some point my husband threw it away.  I have almost forgiven him. 

Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr Seuss
Another childhood favorite, often quoted by me and my siblings.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
My college Russian professor mentioned this book, in relation to what, I can’t remember.  I didn’t read it until after college, though.  It’s outrageous.  The narrator plays tricks on the reader and the book is one huge joke.  If you are going to read this book, I recommend reading it in actual book format, not on an e-reader, because the layout and typography matter a great deal.

Whatever book I am reading now
Not everyone in the world can obtain books with ease.  It is truly a privilege and a blessing to have books available. What I am reading at the moment happens to be:
a)  Lawrence in Arabia, by Scott Anderson.  It’s about the machinations of four individuals during the first World War and how they shaped the Middle East situation we have today:  British Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence), Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn, American William Yale, and German Curt Prufer.  
b) The Blue Virgin, by M.K. Graff.
c) The Grapes of Math, by Alex Bellos
d) The Bible.  I’m skipping around in it, these days, with little focus.  Recent personal events have brought me back to the Psalms.

There are so many more books I could list, but now it’s your turn.  What book has influenced you?

Here are some Also-Ran influential books that
 I just pulled off the shelves.

Recent and future reads: Books in and near my nightstand.
See why I am not allowed to acquire new books?
The shelves are overflowing.


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

This list pleases me, for what I've read on it and what I've missed. I just posted my list on FB today, at last, but without the annotations!

Cassi Renee said...

The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings both had a strong influence on my feelings about the world and how we treat each other. Stranger in a Strange Land, too.

Emma is reading a couple of things for school just now that also had a strong influence on me. She read The Yellow Wallpaper, Flowers for Algernon, and an excerpt from The Martian Chronicles. All three of those stand out for me as stories I've spent a lot of time thinking about.

Joanie said...

The first book I ever read from the Library (8th grade) was a book called "Ginger" and it ended badly. I had found it in the children's section and immediately went to the adult section where I found "The Listener" by Taylor Caldwell. It was a good experience for me.

Probably the most powerfully influential book I have ever read is "Exodus" by Leon Uris. I became so fond of the characters that, when I closed the book, I felt that I had closed a world that I could not re-enter. I kept flipping back to the front pages to see when it had been published and I could not believe that such horror had happened only a handful of years before my birth and no one had ever told me. WHY WEREN'T PEOPLE STILL TALKING ABOUT IT????

Another book that I read that resonated with my values is "To Kill a Mockingbird". I read this book time after time and each time I learned something more. I saw the movie multiple times and it, too, touched me.

"Genesis" awakened me to many important foundational biblical stories and showed me how non-Jews were included long before the birth of Jesus the Messiah and the spread of the gospel beyond Jerusalem.

"Acts" taught me about the early church, which is the foundation of contemporary Christianity.

"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck taught me a part of American history up close and personal. The book was much more tragic than the movie. The ending broke my heart.

A very powerful influence in my life was Steinbeck's "East of Eden". I had seen the film with James Dean and thought that was the story. Then I saw a miniseries starring Jane Seymore and thought that the screenwriter had taken liberties so I went off to read the book. I learned that the miniseries brought the entire book to life and that the movie had been only a small part of the book. I have read the book multiple times.

I know that is only eight books but that is all I can recall without climbing the stairs to rummage through my "library" that has overflowed from the bookcases and grown into several piles on the floor. If I had my way, the house would have books in every room!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I just love your list! I love hymnals too! I have really enjoyed reading everyone's choices. It is really hard to narrow it to 10 books, huh?

The Crislers said...

Well. I read this list soon after you made it, and I was so, so struck by the last item, whatever you're reading right now. I've read several of these "favorite books" or "most influential books" lists this week, but after reading yours I was like WHY IS CHM SO WISE? Because YES, whatever I'm reading right now is always extremely influential, I'm always being changed and challenged by a current book. I've thought about this post all week.