I was challenged this week to list the ten books that have most influenced me, and my first thought was, “Only ten?!” Probably half of these would change on any given day, but some have been on this list for forty years or more. I think they’re safe. Completing this exercise, though, made me wonder about each of these books, and why I included it. A list of the books that have made an impression on me, or that I really liked, would have taken days to compile, so what makes these ten special?
1 – Carry on, Mr. Bowditch — Jean Lee Latham
2 – My Side of the Mountain — Jean Craighead George
3 – North to Freedom — Anne Holm
4 – The Black Cauldron — Lloyd Alexander
5 – A Separate Peace — John Knowles
6 – The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings — JRR Tolkein
7 – All the King’s Men — Robert Penn Warren
8 – Atlas Shrugged — Ayn Rand
9 – East of Eden — John Steinbeck
10- The Old Man and the Sea — Ernest Hemingway
The first three captured my imagination in a way I’d never experienced and took me places I’d never been. I think they really showed me how you can travel anywhere, and I mean anywhere, through the pages of a book. The Black Cauldron introduced me to fantasy and set me up to be a lover of all things Middle Earth. My aunt was friends with Lloyd Alexander, and gave me an autographed copy of The Black Cauldron. That’s something I will never, ever forget. It had never occurred to me that writers were real people.
In the eighth or ninth grade, we read A Separate Peace in my English class, and one of the many great English teachers I was fortunate to study with led a weeks-long discussion of the book using a series of questions she’d developed. She opened the world of literature to me and a couple of my friends with that assignment, and I’ll always be grateful. One question in particular still sticks in my mind, thirty-five years later: What was the significance of the hardness of the stairs? I had never considered anything beyond the fact that those stairs were old and well-used. That’s what happens to stuff. The answers that were waiting in the grooves worn down by generations of young men’s feet, though, were life changing for me. I’m stopping at number five because the author of number six is JRR Tolkein, and chances are pretty good he’ll get a post all his own.
Compiling this list was a lot of fun, and it got me thinking. I’m going to begin collecting copies of these books (the ones I don’t already have, anyway), and reread them all. It’s a tall order, especially since I tend to fall asleep too soon in the evening these days, but I find that I’m excited. It feels like I’m making plans to reunite with my oldest, best childhood friends. And, really, if I’m honest about it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
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