A friend of mine posted a challenge to 10 friends on Facebook, which was about books they had read, and then invite 10 more of your friends to do the same – sort of an intellectual chain-letter. I started, but it took me longer to explain my choices than I thought it would. By the time I was half-finished, it was too late to continue this on FB.
“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be the right books or great books of literature, just ones that have stuck with you in some way.”
Lord of the Rings – I read this over and over, but I read Tolkien’s appendices on the languages of Middle Earth and the Elvish writing even more times. In English, there are multiple spellings for each sound (as in way and weight), while his writing systems attempt a 1-to-1 relationship between sound and spelling (as in weigh and weight). The difference was mind-expanding, and I developed a long-time interest in reforming the spelling of English, and it started here.
Quiddities, An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary, by W.V. Quine – my favorite entry is about how English spelling does not need to be reformed, because there is, in spite of appearances, an internal logic and consistency to our current system.
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle – the tale of three unlikely companions: a unicorn, seeking her lost kin; Molly Grue, drawn to help the unicorn in the quest; and Schmendrick, an inept magician who “couldn’t turn cream into butter”, but might be the unicorn’s only hope. It is very much a fractured fairytale, going from the sublime world of myth to the ridiculous everyday world, and then back to the sublime. Over and over.
A New Guide to Rational Living, by Albert Ellis – for instance, when something happens to make you angry, it can be described as A (something happens), B (your thoughts about whatever it was that happened), and C (you get angry). When you find that the response of getting angry does not make sense, the thing to pay attention to, and possibly modify is at letter B. Sometimes your thoughts concerning the thing that happens actually are irrational.
Time Enough for Love, by Robert A. Heinlein – Lazarus Long thinks about his own nearly 200 years, in which he was a soldier, a spacecraft pilot, a pioneer, a medic, etc. Also within it are excerpts from Heinlein’s “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, a guide to life from the oldest human being in the universe.
“Be wary of strong drink, it can make you shoot at the tax collector..and miss.”
“Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.”
The Chronicles of of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, (and also the Second Chronicles, as well as the Last Chronicles) by Stephen R. Donaldson – Written over the past 30 years, I call it an anti-fantasy. Covenant, the “hero” is seriously ailing recluse and furiously angry. Transported to “The Land”, a place where healing can be found in the earth itself, he believes that it and people he meets there are figments of his diseased imagination. He tells everyone of this belief. And he really is a dick. In spite of this they view him as a reincarnation of the one person who could possibly save them from the evil Lord Foul. If Thomas Covenant had only read book number 4, above, he might have been have been less of a dick.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – like all good science fiction, it is commentary on this world and its ways. For instance, concerning The President of the Galaxy: “Very very few people realize that the President and the Government have virtually no power at all, and of these very few people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded. ”
The Gormenghast Novels (Titus Groan / Gormenghast / Titus Alone), by Mervyn Peake – Gormenghast is a gigantic, decaying, tradition-bound castle in the middle of nowhere, ruled by the Earls of Groan. The “Titus” of the title is will one day succeed his father, 76th Earl of Groan. It is full of characters (and names) that I find impossible to forget – the current Earl, Sepulchrave; the Lady Groan, constantly accompanied by 50 white cats; Mr. Flay, servant to the Earl, and his murderous feud with the chief cook, Abiatha Swelter; family physician Dr. Prunesquallor, among others; and Steerpike, whose ambition sets the plot in motion.
The Earthsea Cycle (A Wizard of Earthsea / The Tombs of Atuan / The Farthest Shore) – Ged, or Sparrowhawk, is as the title says, a wizard. In his world, such people are known as mages. A mage knows the “true names” of things, which, coupled with his innate abilities, allow him a range of powers, from creating illusions all the way to powerful magics that might save the world or destroy it. One of things a mage can become is a Dragonlord. One day, as Ged goes out to fight against dragons, his friend asks him, “What makes a mage a Dragonlord?” If the dragon will speak to you first, before trying to kill you,” says Ged, “you are a Dragonlord.”*
Shadow of the Omnivore by Paul Shepard – the one book on my list I have yet to read. The writer is a respected intellectual and a pioneer in a field called Human Ecology, looks at the role of humankind in the natural world. I couldn’t get into it, 14 years ago, because it’s written in “Professor-ese”. This writing style seems to be asking the question: “Why use a one-syllable word and a simple sentence when a four-syllable word and a complicated sentence will do?” But this book is coming along with me until I read it.