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!