There's a thing on Facebook right now where you're supposed to list the ten most influential books you have ever read. I'm not sure why this is a thing, but I'm sure glad they're books instead of, say, movies or video games. So I guess I could have just put this on Facebook, but I figured, why waste a perfectly good blog post on Facebook when you could stick it on your blog and beat your Thursday deadline by almost a full forty-eight hours? (And boy, are they ever strict about those deadlines around here. Last time I missed one they threatened to cut my salary in half. Eep.) Anyway, here they are, in no particular order except for the last one.
Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin. Really, if you haven't read it there's no way I can explain. Pick it up and give it a read; it's only about 70 pages long, and if you don't cry at the end, there's something wrong with you.
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Hannah Green. Read it at least 40+ times and I get something different out of it every single time. (Like the John Calvin vs. Thomas Hobbes for custody of the child in the middle third--didn't know that was even in there, did ya?) And yes, it's dated, and some of its theories have since been proven wrong, but it was the Sixties, and things were different then. Go back in time and experience them.
God's War by Kameron Hurley, and its two sequels to a lesser extent. Best Muslim space western sci-fi shoot-em-up ever. And possibly only.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - not because it's a great story, although it is, or because the author is so good at building characters, though she is, but because it exploded the boundaries of YA fiction in a way that had never been done before and made the series that came came after (Divergent, Wasteland, the Matched trilogy) not only possible but plausible.
Columbine by Dave Cullen. Yes, it's about the high school shooting, and no, it's not pleasant reading, but guess what? Almost everything you know about Columbine is wrong. A series of popular myths has grown out of Columbine and other school shootings, and those myths need to be addressed with the actual cold hard facts. This book goes a long way toward doing that--if we're willing to listen and put some of our Robin Hood fantasies down.
Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. Hey, they said most influential, not Most Scholarly and Serious. This was my introduction to Anne McCaffrey, and it blew me away (though unfortunately, a lot of the later ones in this series didn't). But here we have a rather simple tale about a girl nobody understands, who turns out to be one of the most important people in the world because of something she--sings. How can you not like a story like that? And the old "be yourself, and do what you have to do no matter where it takes you" message isn't that hard on the old subconscious either.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens takes Douglas Adams' general wackiness and runs with it at a speed I would not have thought possible. You cannot get through a page without laughing out loud, and it confirmed some of the things I always suspected but didn't know for sure (like, for example, the truth that any cassette tape, left long enough in a car, will somehow morph into Queen's Greatest Hits no matter what it started out as). Especially in light of Sir Pratchett's failing health, I'm glad we have this gem among gems (his Discworld series is pretty awesome, too).
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Lots of authors write lots of books about lots of things that really happened, but not very many of them invent a whole new subgenre while they're at it. To Mr. Capote, inventor of what's now called "narrative nonfiction," I give a bow. And to In Cold Blood, which is a dark and brooding tale that well deserves every single award it ever won, a salute.
Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God by John Donne. Okay, it's a sonnet and not a book, but it so perfectly captures my problem with religion that I just couldn't help but include it here. Look, if you want me to believe in your God, your God is gonna have to steamroller me to get my attention. That's exactly what John Donne said--only much better, and much more wistfully. In about 1618. So Google it, it's long since out of copyright.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This is my favorite book of all time.
Of. All. Time.
If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? Yeah, you know how it ends, but still, give it a try. Again, it's about 70 pages long. You can read it in an hour, even with all that highfalutin' 19th-century prose. The way that Stevenson sets up his final shocker is masterful; we start with Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, follow him around for a while, then he exits stage left right around the time another character enters from stage right, and then we get to follow him for a while. Dr. Jeckyll, himself, doesn't show up as a character until almost 2/3 of the way through the book, and by then you're not sure you can trust anything he says even though you desperately want to know what the hell is going on.
I could go on for decades (I'd make this book my master's thesis, if I were going to grad school, which I am not) but I'll just stop with this: This is not only the scariest book I ever read, it's one of the most important--heck, maybe even the most important. And if the idea of your subconscious leaving your body and walking around on its own, developing a personality, meeting your friends, taking your stuff and just maybe going on a murder spree, doesn't scare you, my friend, I suspect not very much will. For other versions of this story I'll give honorable mention to the movie Mary Reilly, which documents some of the same events and is one of Ms. Julia Roberts' best performances ever, and the BBC series Jeckyll, starring James Nesbitt (who was robbed of a Golden Globe for his performance here).
So that's it. My list of ten influential books. Hm, nothing by Hemingway or Big Steve. That's interesting. Maybe I'll do this again in a year without looking back and see if anything changed. In the meantime, happy reading, kids.