15 Books in 15 Minutes

On Reading the Leaves, Terry Weyna issued this challenge: Take no more than 15 minutes to write down 15 books that have most influenced your thinking; that you refer to in your own writing, conversation or reflection. (Terry changed the idea slightly from the blog where she found it, A Commonplace Blog.)

Here’s my list. To be fair, it could change tomorrow, but if it did, a lot of these names would still show up. They are in approximate alphabetical order, not in order importance. I don’t think I could rank them in order of importance, anyway.

After I came up with them, I started thinking about what they did for me. Several of them changed my understanding of what a writer is/does. Some gave me direction in areas I was struggling with, like Christianity or feminism. Some do nothing more than fill me with awe.

Aegypt: John Crowley—Still not sure why this book holds onto me, when Crowley has written better books. It’s something about the full-moon party at the Blackberry River, what happens to Pierce after, that has burrowed into my mind and will not let go.

American Gods; Neil Gaiman. Belief and sacrifice. Honor and deception. Gods and con artists. Death. Need I say more?

The Gnostic Gospels; Elaine Pagels—Pagels is a bible scholar and this was the book that talked about the scriptures that got left out of the Christian bible. For the first time I started thinking of the bible as an anthology assembled by a committee with a definitive point of view and agenda and less as a cosmic “given.”

Jane Eyre; Charlotte Bronte—how to be a rebel. Plus, remember that awe thing? Some of her writing here is simply amazing. A hundred fifty years later and I hear a woman’s voice in my head, speaking those words, and they are just as valid now.

The Least Worst Place; Karen Greenberg—the struggles of the decent men and women who were ordered to prepare Guantanamo Bay for prisoners in 2002. The book is non-fiction. It gave me insight into just how serious true corruption is. Let’s hope I never forget that.

Left Hand of Darkness; Ursula K LeGuin—Lessons about tolerance, sex roles and anthropology in a cracking good story.

Little, Big: John Crowley– This is, simply, the Great American Fantasy Novel.

Lord of the Rings; JRR Tolkien—these books were a refuge for me as a teenage (of course) and they taught me about language.

Pride and Prejudice; Jane Austen—how to use the simplest and most mundane occurrences in a daily life to tell a good story, and the truth.

Sandman; Neil Gaiman. I came to Sandman decades late. Here again, another way to tell a kind of story. It doesn’t always have to be words. Besides, how can you not love the Endless?

Time Traders, Andre Norton. This book made me know that I could write books with adventure in them even if I was a girl.

The Translator; John Crowley. Awe and wonder. In the middle of his long, meandering series that started with Aegypt, Crowley took a break to write this. It’s as if everything he was struggling with in the other series suddenly distilled into one glass’s worth of pure, crystalline spirit.

Villette; Charlotte Bronte—ditto Jane Eyre. My sixteenth book, if I could have had one, would be a biography of Bronte called Unquiet Soul.

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: Lee Ly Hayslip—memoir of a Vietnamese girl growing up in a rural village during the American-Vietnamese war. For the first time, ever, I began to understand why we could not have won that conflict.

A Wrinkle in Time; Madeline L’Engle—Later in life, I read some of her adult novels. This is the one I first remember a teacher reading to me. This is the book where I made the connection to the conscious power of words to carry us away.

There are three non-fiction books on the list. That’s three more than I expected.

Are you ready to try this yourself? Fifteen books in fifteen minutes. Go!

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4 Responses to 15 Books in 15 Minutes

  1. Terry Weyna says:

    So we overlap by only three books. Interesting, given that we generally like the same sort of fiction. I think the biggest difference here is that you’ve read John Crowley and I haven’t. All his books are sitting there on the shelf, mocking me, telling me I’m not brave enough to read them, and you know what? They’re right. They require more attention than I feel like I can give them. But someday…

  2. Marion says:

    Well, I would recommend The Translator, I think. Little, Big is wonderful, and it definitely requires a commitment

    You are much more widely read than me–and apparently, you understood Zelazny’s books when I never really did.

  3. Terry Weyna says:

    My reading is a mile wide and an inch deep in any particular genre, so if you mean “widely read” in that sense, I’ll take it. On the other hand, I’ll be 53 next month, and I still haven’t read Middlemarch or the Gormenghast trilogy or many, many, many other books that people tend to assume you’ve read if you’re going to blog about books.

    I really want a second life in which I can do nothing but read. Borges better be right about heaven being a kind of library, because otherwise I’m going to be bored to tears in eternity.

  4. Marion says:

    Well,I haven’t read Middlemarch, but I did read Mill on the Floss. Does that count?

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