I’ve been tagged in the Facebook thingy where you list 10 books that have stayed with you. Not necessarily your favorite books, but ones that have gotten hold of you and not let go. Rather than just list the books out, I wanted to add some explanation as to why they’re on the list. So without further ado…
1. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities reads like a travel guide to imaginary and fantastical cities in made-up lands. Each city has some unique trait or facet that makes it stand out from all the rest: Arquilla, the city mirrored by itself in a great lake; Irene, which is a different city from a distance than up close; Leona, where everything in the city is thrown out and replaced every day.
The book is a powerful example of setting description, but more so a description of character, the character of cities unseen, which are, perhaps, not so different from the ones we ourselves inhabit.
2. The Pushcart War – Jean Merrill
Fifteen years after I read it, The Pushcart War is still the most accessible political satire I’ve ever read.
Ostensibly a children’s book, The Pushcart War describes the secret war that the truck drivers of New York City waged on the pushcart vendors, and how the pushcart owners struggled to defend themselves.
Along the way, readers unwittingly learn about the factors that cause real wars, how politicians come to power, the role of the media in conflicts, guerrilla warfare, espionage, war funding, non-violent protestation, and more, all under a blanket of humor that still makes me laugh out loud to this day.
3. Misery – Stephen King
Misery was the first Stephen King novel I ever read, and it’s still the one that sticks with me the most. This thriller about a novelist held captive by his psychotic “Number One Fan” is more than a tense page-turner; it’s also an exploration of the relationship between author and audience. Who really holds the power? Is art more important than accessibility? And what are you going to do with that axe, Annie?
4. The Sandman – Neil Gaiman
I believe I mentioned The Sandman when discussing zwintampo, but I didn’t go into much detail. The Sandman is a series of graphic novels about Dream, of the Endless. Dreams morph into stories, and stories into realities, through the 75 original issues…and there is a six-issue prequel currently being worked on.
The stories of The Sandman are ethereal and haunting, and often melancholy. The darkness of some tales is only matched by their beauty, both in writing and in the artwork from a rotating cadre of artists.
5. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Yes, it was a movie, but it was a book first. And yes, it is a comedy, but it’s more than that, as well–it’s a farce, a satire, an adventure, a romance, a metafictional romp. When I originally read The Princess Bride, it was the first time that I realized that comedy, even farce, could still contain emotion and heartfelt characters. These weren’t the Three Stooges or Looney Tunes characters…they have desires, fears, passions, hatreds–they are alive.
This sort of creative sensibility, hilarity side-by-side with heartbreak, is one that has never left me, and runs through almost everything I write. And for that, I owe Westley, Buttercup, Fezzik, and Inigo Montoya a long-lasting debt.
6. Ishmael – Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is less a novel than a conversation–between the narrator and a hyperintelligent telepathic gorilla.
No, really, it is.
Once you get past the strange premise, Ishmael is a thought-provoking read. It explores the growth of culture, the evolution of ecologies and economies, the relationship between environment and humanity. It approaches environmentalism from an intellectual standpoint rather than an emotional one, and it shows why large issues like war, poverty, and famine, are too complicated to solve with broad, simple social policies. It taught me the value of seeing things from alternate perspectives and digging deeper into the ramifications of a culture’s actions.
And did I mention there’s a telepathic gorilla?
7. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
If you ever find yourself trapped in the Doldrums, try shaking free with a visit to Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, the Castle in the Air, or the many other lands in The Phantom Tollbooth. Filled with humor, wordplay, and similes made literal. This book, more so than Alice in Wonderland, imbued me with a love for abstract thinking and a healthy disregard for the line between metaphor and reality. It taught me that Conclusions is an island only reached by jumping, and that killing time is a more serious crime than most believe.
8. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
It’s Nick and Amy Dunne’s 5th anniversary, but Amy has gone missing, and Nick is quickly becoming the primary suspect in her disappearance. As we see the current investigation through Nick’s eyes, Amy’s diary entries take us on a journey through their five-year marriage, gradually leading us to the horrifying truth.
In addition to being an un-put-downable psychological thriller, the novel is rife with exploration of the marriage dynamic. Attitudes change over the years, and the book’s unreliable narration shows how different a marriage can look to each of its participants. A movie version, directed by Fight Club and Se7en’s David Fincher, comes out in October.
9. This Book is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It) – David Wong
David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com, so you’d expect this book (the sequel to his first comedy-horror novel, John Dies At The End) to be hilarious and full of dick-jokes. And you’d be correct. What you might not expect is that within the invasion of parasitic, mind-controlling spider monsters is a surprising vein of humanity. It never takes the forefront, but it’s always in the background: the fleshed-out side characters, the moments of poignancy, the villains who actually have some good points. The questions the novel raised stayed with me, which is more than I can say for a lot of books that took themselves more seriously.
10. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
I’ve only read this book once, ten years ago, but it left images seared on my brain that I can still recall with crystal clarity: Ender and his brother Peter; Ender brutally dealing with a larger bully; the final solution to the giant’s riddle. And the emotions I felt: fear, rage, betrayal, sorrow…Ender’s Game is a rich tapestry of feelings, as well as social commentary and tactical strategy. If you haven’t read it, it’s time to start.
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This is hardly a comprehensive list of books that have had a lasting impact on me, but it’s a decent start. This literary smackdown I wrote a while back references several authors that have held meaning for me. And if you enjoy reading, you may also enjoy this Manifesto For The Uncensored.
And if you don’t enjoy reading, then what are you living for?