Since I’ve been so bad about posting regularly, I’ve decided that instead of writing a proper new entry, I’d post something short and sweet (or as close to short and sweet as I can manage). A few months ago, a friend of mine (and a fellow English major) named Allison tagged me in her Facebook note, “15 Books,” in which she listed 15 books which always stuck with her, and a little explanation as to why.
The note was of the chain-letter, tag!-you’re-it-now-pass-it-on variety, and the rules, loosely rephrased, are as follows: without taking too much time to think about it, list 15 books you’ve read that you’ll never forget, listing just the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. I really enjoyed reading her list, and the lists of some of my friends and professors that I discovered as a result of reading Allison’s. At the time, I didn’t give any thought to creating a list of my own, but after nearly eight weeks of solo travel, I’ve become even more hopelessly self-involved than I was before, so this exercise in self-reflection and remembrance seemed agreeably narcissistic and far easier than writing another full-length blog entry when I’d rather be out exploring.
Somewhere in the two months since I read Allison’s note, I’d forgotten the words, “books which have stuck with you,” and had substituted for them the phrase, “books which have changed your life,” and so when I first thought about doing this “assignment” for The Art of Reading (what does one do for blog titles? italicize? use quotation marks? hyperlink? nothing at all?) I found the idea rather daunting. Fifteen seemed a challenging number. I would have felt better about list as small as eight or as large (or larger) than 25. It seemed like then the divisions, the inclusions, the exclusions, etc. would have been much clearer and more easily explained. But then luckily tonight I actually checked her note before beginning my list and realized that it does not have to be 15 books that have changed my life, but only 15 books which have stuck with me, and so many books have stuck with me that I was no longer worried about not being able to come up with enough books of sufficient (or sufficiently equivalent) life-changing caliber.
But when I finished my list, easily within 15 minutes, and read it over, I realized that it didn’t make any difference whether it was a list of books which stuck with me, or of books which changed my life. All fifteen of these books have stuck with me, and all of them have changed my life. I guess it makes sense that the books which stay with you do tend to change your life, maybe just as a result of being always there within your mind.
In no particular order, then, and with little to no explanation (ask, if you want to know more), are 15 books which have stayed with me, 15 books which have, somehow or other, changed my life:
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. — The first book I ever bought for myself.
Slaughterhouse-5, by Kurt Vonnegut.
The Collected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. — “dapple-dawn-drawn falcon” and “pitched past pitch of grief,” to cite just two of his phrases that I’ll never forget.
The Forbidden Zone, by Mary Borden. — The book that wrote my thesis.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. — Humor and poignancy, absurdity and affection, such a beautiful, illuminating exploration of the question (one I ask far too often), “Why me?”
Relativity, by Albert Einstein.
The Bible – King James’ and children’s illustrated versions.
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy.
Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, by Annie Dillard. — The most recent book I’ve read to make this list, her writing has stuck with me throughout this trip.
The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir.
Ariel, by Sylvia Plath. — Something in these poems taught me to breathe more deeply (so deeply that it hurts).
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.
The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. — Dickinson’s poems tie my mind into knots and then release, from within, bindings I didn’t even know were there.
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. — Every time I finish this novel I’m already looking forward to the next time I’ll read it.
So there it is, my 15 books. If you’ve read this, consider yourself tagged. I, for one, would love to know: what’s on your list?