Tag, you’re it: Books that have stayed with you

old book by Thalita Carvalho | Flickr | cc:by

old book by Thalita Carvalho | Flickr | cc:by

Recently, this has been going around on Facebook:

List ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. It is not about the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.

Once you’ve listed your books, you are supposed to “tag” 10 people. I am not usually a big fan of these chain letter things, but I really enjoyed reading the lists that were posted, particularly when they involved commentary. When my college friend Cathy tagged me, in turn, I asked OCLC Research colleagues to contribute.

Earlier this month, the Facebook Data Science team posted an analysis of the “top” books from the meme. It was interesting to see how many of the books listed showed up on our lists but perhaps even more interesting to see the interests of our group reflected in some of the more unusual choices.

If you’d like to check out our lists, please read on. If you’d like to play, consider yourself tagged — leave your list of books below. And enjoy!

Karen Smith-Yoshimura (WorldCat list here)

  • Rublowsky, John. Is Anybody Out There? Read this as a kid – my introduction to what was then called “exo-biology”. Have been fascinated by astro-biology ever since.
  • Ridley, Matt. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. This book is just fascinating, and I keep re-reading it…
  • Laozi, Bi Wang, and Zhe Su. Laozi dao de jing. Not sure which edition I read, but this was the first Chinese book I read cover-to-cover and served as a basis of a discussion with a philosophy professor at TaiDa. Really opened my mind to a completely different way of thinking, and influences me still..
  • Hersey, John. The Wall. Read this as a teenager. My introduction to Holocaust fiction and inspired me to read far more about it.
  • Bosworth, Allan R. America’s Concentration Camps. Read as a teenager. My introduction to Japanese internment camps. One of the books that made me realize that the US has a number of dark periods in its history beyond what I had learned in school…
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. Huis clos. The first French book I read cover-to-cover, again as a teenager. It was a time when “L’enfer, c’est les autres” really resonated!
  • Cheng, Nien. Life and Death in Shanghai. This autobiography really gripped me as no others about the Cultural Revolution.
  • Polo, Marco, William Marsden, and Jon Corbino. The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian. Not sure which edition I read, but read it as a teenager and likely put the “traveling bug” into me. A factor in my living/traveling for 9 years before returning to the US…
  • Hofstadter, Richard. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. A book I read in college – understood from then on that the ignorance I often see around me is nothing new…
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One of the first books I remember reading ALL BY MYSELF as a child – and reread later for the wonderful portmanteau’s of language.

Devon Smith (WorldCat list here)

Jackie Dooley (WorldCat list here)

  • Hijuelos, Oscar. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Cuban American brothers in New York City and their visions of the perfect woman. I felt like the heat and humidity was enveloping me the entire time I was reading. Painfully human characters.
  • Tartt, Donna. The Secret History. An incredible writer in the technical sense who also weaves weird and wonderful tales. Classics prof draws his students into the supernatural, woo hoo! Many didn’t care for her next (The Little Friend), but I did. Can’t wait to dive into The Goldfinch.
  • Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings. Borges: the most amazing short story writer of all time. And of course the most fascinating fantasy library ever imagined is the centerpiece of The Circular Ruins.
  • Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel. Such a weird but endearing protagonist, matched only perhaps by Iggy J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces (which, alas, didn’t occur to me until my list was already at ten).
  • Solženicyn, A. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. My first view of life as a member of Soviet society. Indelible.
  • Gardner, John. The Sunlight Dialogues. Gardner was one of my favorite novelists when I was in my 20s (add to that Vonnegut, Irving, and Robbins, weirdos all). Sunlight stands in for them. Or maybe I should have picked his retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of the monster Grendel.
  • García Márquez, Gabriel. One hundred years of solitude. Speaking as a student of Latin American literature, is it necessary to explain why this was, and is, so affecting and influential?
  • Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. It’s the librarian in me, but also, I suppose, the fallen Catholic. Not to mention his amazing depiction of the Middle Ages.
  • Craig, Charmaine. The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy. More ex-Catholic fascination with Medieval times and the joys of the Inquisition! Craig evokes the era with extraordinary skill. And she did her research in lots of Medieval libraries. Oh, and the Cathar Heresy is a fascinating bit of French history.
  • Neruda, Pablo, and Nathaniel Tarn. Selected Poems. Extraordinarily beautiful use of the Spanish language, generally well-translated into English–but read him in the Spanish if you’re able. One of the top reasons why I’m glad I majored in Latin American literature.

Bruce Washburn (WorldCat list here)

Bruce says, “Not all of these remain influential, for me anyway. One thing they have in common is that I’ve read each one multiple times and have recommended them to others.”

  • Gilliam, Harold, and Gene M. Christman. Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region. This might be the little book that has influenced me the most. I still have my copy from 1970. The great Harold Gilliam taught me all about fog. His 1962 commentary at the end regarding climate change is fascinating from this distance.
  • Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. This shows up on many lists, I imagine. If you read it when you were young, especially. Old Atticus is still kind of a role model. And I learned what a “chifforobe” is. That’s important information for a 12 year old.
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Actually the whole series. I read it in the early 70’s before LOTR became an industry. I remember an intro by Peter Beagle about these works, saying “the strangest strangers turn out to know them”. That hooked me.
  • DeLillo, Don. Libra. I’ve read this a bunch of times and am always entertained. It influenced me to read everything else from DeLillo.
  • Banks, Russell. AfflictionThe take-away for me was advice given to Wade Whitehouse by his brother. Wade is plagued by problems, including a bad tooth. His brother says list your problems in priority order and tackle one at a time starting with the tooth. Wade doesn’t listen.
  • Catton, Bruce. Mr. Lincoln’s Army. Actually, the Army of the Potomac trilogy. Here’s Catton describing the battle of Antietam: “south of the fence, filling all of the ground between the road and the wood, was Mr. Miller’s thriving cornfield — THE cornfield, forever, after that morning.
  • Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. I’m not exactly sure why but I always really enjoy re-reading this one. There must be some pattern to that.
  • Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Everything that can go wrong, does. Not that this should influence any further adventures, I’m sure those will be great.
  • McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I imagine. But after reading it I looked at the West differently. Harsh and arbitrary rather than pastoral and benign.
  • Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Probably a good time to re-read this one again. I was willfully ignorant about the forces and people involved. Still kind of am.

Roy Tennant (WorldCat list here)

Roy says, “Although I cheated and did 15. So sue me. ;-)” Never a rule follower, that Roy….

  • Kazantzakis, Nikos. Report to Greco. I fell in love with Kazantzakis before I met my Greek American wife. So my inevitable trip to his beloved Crete was made all the more sweet when it happened. I raise a glass of Raki and toast him and his work.
  • Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why : True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death. Read it. Understand it. And one day, when you need to live it, you’ll be ready.
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune. The single best marriage of Ecology and Science Fiction there ever was, or ever will be. Two of my loves, joined at the hip and completely believable. Amazing.
  • Eiseley, Loren C. All the Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. Loren Eiseley is my hero. I need no other. A scientist, a thinker, an outdoorsman, a writer, a poet and a prose poet, a true Renaissance Man. What I aspire to be, and fall short of, but love to strive to achieve.
  • Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. I read this in two weeks as a teenager, and I felt like I was 80 when I was done. It was like mainlining all the hate and disaster this world has to offer and it was almost more than I could take. It still is.
  • Zinsser, William Knowlton. On Writing Well The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. My bible of writing. May I one day prove worthy.
  • Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Lord of the Rings. I read this as a mid-teen and the poem “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” become my mantra, as I spent 17 virtually alone in my treehouse on an Indiana farm.
  • Trevor, Elleston. The Flight of the Phoenix. I’ve always tried to be the ultimate Boy Scout — prepared for anything, and ready to deal with whatever is thrown at me. So I fell in love with this story of doing exactly that to survive. Rebuild a crashed plane and fly it out of the desert. Awesome.
  • White, T. H. The Once and Future King. Because some legends require a whopping good telling.
  • Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. One of the best introductions to Socialism, buried, in the end, by its account of slaughterhouses. Which goes to prove that people care more about what they eat than just about anything else.
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. There are no words.
  • Solženicyn, Aleksandr I. The Gulag Archipelago: 1918 – 56 ; an Experiment in Literary Investigation. It was slow going in a lot of places, but this is one of the most important accounts of 20th Century history. And every now and then you would come across a true gem of insight. Without him no one outside of Russia would know.
  • Robbins, Tom. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. If you can only read one thing before you die, read the Preface of this book. I mean, srsly.
  • Stegner, Wallace. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. As someone who learned to run rivers at 21, and within a few months of that set off down the Colorado River as a guide, I cannot begin to imagine what Powell and his men thought as they made the same journey for the very first time. And with science.
  • Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. I’ve always been in love with the outdoors, so this paean to nature, and to the desert that I learned to love in my teens and early 20s, really spoke to me. It still does.

Ricky Erway (WorldCat list here)

Ricky says, “I’m being literal, going to earliest influences.”

Melissa Renspie (WorldCat list here)

Melissa writes, “Now that I step back and look at it, I wonder what it means that my list is made up of books I read as a child or a young adult. I’ve also read most of them to my children. I can interpret this in several ways: 1.) I’ve read these books so many times they’re burned in my mind, or 2.) I really love children’s books. When I was young I wanted to write children’s books when I grew up. That hasn’t happened yet but it still could. Maybe I just haven’t grown up yet?! ;-)”

Ralph LeVan (WorldCat list here)

  • Leithold, Louis. The Calculus, with Analytic Geometry. My dad pushed me into mathematics. (I suspect he felt weak in it.) I enjoyed it, but never felt the passion for it that I do for programming. But, this book was just about as good as it got. Leithold had a wonderful way of making the concepts simple.
  • Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. Counter-culture in Los Angeles in the 60’s. This book defined it.
  • Pratchett, Terry. Small Gods: A Novel of Discworld. A book about a man and his personal relationship with his god. This is one of the two books I try hardest to get people to read.
  • Pratchett, Terry. Reaper Man. “There is no justice, there is just us.” Terry Pratchett creates characters that you care about. I often cry while reading his books. One of his most endearing characters is Death.
  • Knuth, Donald Ervin. The Art of Computer Programming. My sophomore year of college was about working my way through this book. I won’t swear that a lot of it stuck to me, but the experience certainly did.
  • Heller, Joseph. Catch-22, A Novel. My mother told me to read this. I’ve always respected her suggestions and this was a good one. I was depressed for a week after reading it.
  • Cheech And Chong. Cheech And Chong. I know this is supposed to be books, but this album was exactly what my life in Azusa was like. I knew all the characters in this album. I snuck friends into the drive-in in the trunk of my car. Dave’s not here.
  • Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I love this book. It’s one of two books I try to make people read. It’s a great mystery. It’s a great love story. It’s a loving insight into Yiddish culture. The story is one surprise after another right up to the end.
  • Cherryh, C. J. Downbelow Station. I love the books of CJ Cherryh! This book is part of her Company series. It does a wonderful job of making you feel like you understand what it’s like to live on a space station. It’s not a happy life.
  • Kraft, Philip. Programmers and Managers: The Routinization of Computer Programming in the United States. The Communist Manifesto for programmers. I was lucky to take a couple programming and society classes at UC Irvine in the late 70s. This book has a lot to say about where we fit into our businesses.

And finally, my own list.

  • Eastman, P. D. Go, Dog, Go! I loved the illustration of the dogs in the houseboat, and playing in the trees — I could look at this for extended periods of time.
  • Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. …and the many other books that followed – thankfully I didn’t know it was an allegorical commentary on the gold standard
  • Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. So beautiful, and so sad.
  • McCullough, Colleen. The Thorn Birds. The first book I checked out of the adult section of the library – don’t judge, I was 10 or 11.
  • Michener, James A. Centennial. I loved James Michener books because they were so very, very long. I have never wanted a story I liked to end.
  • King, Stephen. The Shining. Stephen King is an amazing story teller with a very twisted mind.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. For a while I could not get enough of the dystopian future thing.
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. I spent several years in college and after doing research in archives trying to figure out why in the heck the Joads would move on from the FSA camp, which seemed like heaven to me.
  • Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. The levels of manipulation are fascinating.
  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. A college friend assigned it to me. I love rereading it, and of course all the derivatives are fantastic.
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10 Comments

  1. Milton Friedman (Capitalism and Freedom)
    R.A. Lafferty (var. short stories)
    Robert Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, etc.)
    C.S. Lewis (English Lit in the XVIth Century, etc.)
    Arthur Ransome (We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea)
    E. Nesbit (The Phoenix and the Carpet)
    John A.T. Robinson (Redating the New Testament)
    John Barton (Reading the Old Testament)
    John Buchan (Huntingtower)
    Hilary McKay (Saffy’s Angel)
    Margaret Mahy (The Changeover)
    Charles Dickens (Our Mutual Friend)
    James Boswell (Life of Johnson)
    J.L. Borges (Ficciones etc.)
    J.R.R. Tolkien (LOTR)
    E. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros)
    Edmund Crispin (Buried for Pleasure)
    G. K. Chesterton (The Ball and the Cross)
    Isaac Watts (Hymns and Spiritual Songs)
    William Morris (The Sundering Flood)
    Thomas Traherne (Silex Scintillans)
    R. Adams (Watership Down)
    F. H. Burnett (Sara Crewe / The little Princess etc.)
    Amy Schwarz Bea and Mr. Jones

    • Thanks, Paul! I see a number that were not on my list that could have been, particularly The Little Princess (I read that one to tatters!) and Watership Down. And many more I could be reading. Off to the library I go!

  2. If I had followed Roy’s lead & listed more than 10, I also would have added Watership Down. And the Autobiogrphy of Malcolm X. Regret I didn’t think of them when I created the list (but I followed the instruction not to think too hard about it!)

  3. I guess those of us adding to this thread have the advantage of reading everyone else’s lists, and I was tempted to put a number of works listed to my own favorites list, while perhaps adding a few related one’s ( like Jeanne Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar, which like Karen’s internment camp recommendation had a big impact on me, I even used in in my classes while teaching in Germany).

    But this was the list I ended up with…

    Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. This was the first ‘real’ book I read from cover to cover, and I still remember the moment clearly. I was an eight-year old bilingual French-Canadian and L’Engle’s classic was one of the first books I checked out from Windsor Public Library, located in an idyllic park a block from where I lived. Little did I know what this seemingly simple act of learning to read would lead to…

    The Art of Love, by Erich Fromm. This was one of those ‘chain’ reading books that circulated around among my 10th grade classmates: you read the book, and then gave it to a friend to read. I still recall this being a transformational book for me, not least because it was so surprisingly different from what one expected by the title. I suspect that most of my classmates didn’t get very far with it (my friend gave it to me after struggling through the first couple of pages). For me the book had a profound effect on how I understood love, and it eventually led to my becoming immersed in Freud and Jung’s works.

    Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda. I devoured the Don Juan series through high school and beyond. Though controversial and cloaked in mystery, Castaneda’s books most closely brought me into the fascinating spiritual world of Native Americans. I immersed myself in Native American literature, another memorable read was Kenneth Lincoln’s The Good Red Road. Inspired by this reading, I won a national junior scholastic award for a Native American short story I wrote in 12th grade Creative Writing.

    Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare. This play was the first Shakespeare I read, and it is still my sentimental favorite (I suspect Zeffirelli’s gripping film adaptation played a role in this). Like so many others who discover Shakespeare’s other-worldly use of language, I return again and again to his works (the iPad Complete Shakespeare is alone worth the price of an iPad), each time deepening my appreciation of his unique genius.

    The Labyrinth and Other Stories, by Jorge Luis Borges. Like Jackie Dooley, Borges’ dense prose fascinated me, and this collection of course includes the classic essay The Library of Babel. I’d like to think that the bibliographic challenges this story raises led to my deciding to become a librarian only a couple of years after reading it, as an undergrad at Pomona College. It also led me to the wondrous magical realism of other Latin American authors such as Marquez and Allende.

    Μένων, by Plato. Reading Plato in the original Greek was a watershed moment for me. My undergraduate major was Ancient Greek, and being able to read such a foundational thinker in his original language approached a spiritual experience for me, and doing so while studying in Athens made this moment even more special.

    Philosophie der Freiheit, by Rudolf Steiner(Eng: The Philosophy of Freedom). I guess this one requires some explanation, since he’s likely unfamiliar to American readers. Steiner’s thought and contributions are impossible to condense in a couple of sentences, but he essentially took the post-Enlightenment thought of the 19th century and brought it together into a powerful synthesis that incorporates both modern scientific thinking and 20th century humanism; he initiated the body of thought known as Anthroposophie, and he is responsible for the Waldorf education movement. The Philosophie der Freiheit, is his most accessible work. I’m a trained Waldorf teacher and taught for several years in a Waldorfschule in Hannover, Germany.

    Phänomenologie des Geistes, Friedrich Hegel. I guess this is one of those ‘most famous books no one ever read’, yet it is foundational to the modern world. Those who did take the trouble to work through his intellectual journey played important roles in shaping how we think today. It is a challenging read to get through, and the German is no easier than the English. My persistence paid off while a librarian at Penn State, after taking a seminar by Joe Flay that was devoted to this classic. The effort was worth it…

    The Passion of the Western Mind, by Richard Tarnas. I’d have to say this is my favorite book written in the past 20 years. Tarnas makes a history of Western thought an intellectual roller coaster, written in a style more suited to a mystery novel. If you read the book carefully you’ll be a different person by the end, you’ll understand your place and how you think from a new and powerful perspective.

    Gospel Truth : the New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and History and Why it Matters, by Russell Shorto. An historian associated with The New Netherlands Institute, Shorto is my favorite contemporary author. He’s a terrific non-fiction writer, and has written highly engaging page-turners on the history of New York and Amsterdam. His books are filled with interesting facts and thought-provoking interpretations, for me his older work, Gospel Truth, had a significant impact on my understanding of 21st century Christianity.

    • Thank you, Roger! Your commentary is compelling (and I love the idea of having Shakespeare on a tablet — I’d return to it more often if that was the case!). More for my pile of good intentions.

  4. If I had added a Richard Adams book to my list, it would have been Shardik, not Watership Down. I found the message to “save the children” to be quite moving.

  5. I am so glad to see Go Dog Go on the list!! While I’d love to share a more intellectual-sounding list, Go Dog Go also tops my list for ‘Most Memorable’. (The dogs partying in the tree is a favorite page.) My Dog, if only life could be as fun as that book!

  6. My 10:
    Bragg, Melvyn The adventure of English. Reads like a thriller novel.
    Bascomb, Neal Hunting Eichmann. Also reads like a thriller.
    Michener, James. Caravans. Read in my teens.
    Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the wind. I was 11 or 12 and we were told to read a novel over the holidays. I chose the book at home with the most pages.
    Packard, Vance. The waste makers / and or Hidden persuaders. Appealed greatly to me as an undergraduate in the late 1960s.
    Jungk, Robert. Children of the ashes. Very moved by the survivors of Hiroshima.
    Wynne, Frank. I was Vermeer: the rise and fall of the 20C’s greatest forger. Truth is stranger than fiction. Also a fantastic insight into the skills of forgery.
    Avram, Henriette D. The MARC Machine Readable Cataloging. 1968. I was the first person to borrow this from the University of Tasmania. After I had read it I hoped some day I would understand it. Definitely at title that stayed with me.
    Willocks, Tim. The Religion. Remarkable story of the siege of Malta in the 16th century.
    Eliot, George. Silas Marner. My favourite novel. Read it 3 times.
    Milosz, Czeslaw. The captive mind. Suggested to me by a Polish journalist about intellectual manipulation under communism.

    and I did also read and love The wall (as did Karen). As a trainee librarian I had just read Mila 18 and so read a review that led me to The Wall.

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