A few weeks ago there was a flurry of Facebook activity with people posting their Top 10 Books of All Time, or something to that effect. Only two friends tagged me, but still I never thought I'd actually fulfill my end of the implicit 'tagging' agreement, since the idea is preposterous. Top ten books? Top ten books of what? For when?
The only way I could wrap my head around this was by changing the game. There may be lists often on this blog - consider this fair warning. Today, this list is Ten of the Top Transformative Books - these books are certainly among my favorite, and above all else informed my continued interest in reading.
So, here we go.
- The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson: A completely heartbreaking story, and the first time I cried over words I read. Devastating for a seven-year old and a 27-year-old alike. I took this book out of the Green School Media Center every week for all of first and second grate.
- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster: I remember asking my mom what all the different words meant, and how the definitions had me laughing in delight. This was an eye-opening book about the magic of language, and a lesson in cleverness.
- Marjorie Morningstar, Herman Wouk: I still look for this book in every bookstore I go to. This was my mother's favorite book and I was so confused when she recommended it to me- was she endorsing open rebellion? Smoking pot with nonconformist, artsy beautiful boyfriends? Straying from the path of highly demanding Jewish parents? Surely not. But it's a beautiful story, and the first story I read when I realized that people have been rebelling against the norm for ages - history was not so cleanly slated as I had imagined. Reading it today is worlds different from reading it as a ten-year-old.
- Girl Goddess #9, Francesca Lia Block: A collection of nine short stories, beginning with little girls and ending in (fully?) realized young adults, these stories painted a picture for what I imagined life could look like, feel like, smell like, sound like. So vivid, so romantic, so ethereal - prime fodder for a tween looking for something beyond boybands. It inspired my near-decade-long dream of moving to Berkeley and writing poetry in petticoats (I know!) while running through canyons. She remains among my favorite all-time authors, and now she is a facebook friend. #fact.
- Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami: The first of his books that I read, and one I've re-read most. A story that bleeds loneliness, and the first that I read that inspired by (ongoing) fascination with Japan. It makes me think of highschool, and heartache, and looking for something else, something better (but I love the feeling). They made a movie of it, but I have not seen it yet.
- The Prophet, Khalil Gibran: Poetic essays, written with what I read as wisdom and poise and music and love. We used to write quotes from this all over the insides of our notebooks, in the margins of our study guides. Beauty where you can find it, I guess.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey: I read this in class and my mind was blown by the symbolism. The story is outrageous, the moview phenomenal - but the intentional choice of language was like a science, and it's the first time I remember cracking the code without (much) of my teacher's guidance (he just confirmed my suspicions). Trilogies, messianic figures, the works. I loved that this book became more than a story but was like a code that I could work out on my own. This might be the pivotal moment when I realized I might be not just an avid reader but maybe a clever one too?
- Slaughterhouse-Five, or, the Children's Crusade, Kurt Vonnegut: I love nearly everything I've ever read by him, not least of which his stunning account of the Dresden Bombing as told through the experience of one Billy Pilgrim. I read this book first under the personal instruction of a beloved high school teacher, who broke his own rules by allowing me to take a 'individual study' course with him when I was a second semester senior. Such a phenomenal opportunity - I was granted access to one of the best educators in the school and given free reign to focus on this one spectacular writer. I learned so much, and read so much, but in the end I disappointed the teacher - the only paper I was asked to write, about humanity and Vonnegut and humanism and storytelling, essentially tying a semester's worth of learning and conversation together - I never got around to it. He allowed me to pass the class, of course, but what a shit thing to do. So my freshman year of college I wrote my term paper on it, but I never sent it to him. I'm still so ashamed
- And still, I love that book. Special mention to Welcome to the Monkey House, and my favorite short story, "Harrison Bergeron."
- Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov: This is another function of having the unbelievable good luck to have spent an entire semester immersed in the study on one particular artist - in this case, Nabokov. What a privilege to chart an artist's course and growth and development. Pale Fire was the most outrageous, though I loved Lolita and Humbert Humbert - one of the first times that an unreliable (hateable) narrator really drove the story home for me.
- Troublesome number 10. To be fair, I'm writing on the road and don't have the luck to be sitting in front of my bookshelf, reliving old lives brought to me from old bindings on the shelves. Maybe The Orphan Master's Son, a book that was more immersive tome than anything I've read in the last three years (barring GoT, because that's not fair). Maybe I'll Love you Forever, because I can't wait to buy it again and read it to my own little one (eventually). Maybe You Shall Know Our Velocity!, but only for its title; only for the title. Nothing brought my brothers and I together quite like Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and I could speak to that benefit for ages. "The man in black fled across the dessert, and the gunslinger followed."
Sorry for the disappointment, I guess it's not a proper Top Ten. But those lists seem so finite, and my love for these books is anything but. Don't make me decide if I don't have to - I promise to create another list next Friday.