So, there’s a meme going around Facebook, to the following effect:
Rules: In your status line, 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” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.
I participated, but since I’m a book nerd and ostensibly an author, I figured I’d expand it out to a full blog post. Because it’s not just a list. No list of books that mean something to you is just a list. There’s a story with each one. To give even a hint of the story for 10 books is too much for a Facebook post. But to not even give a hint of the story seemed… wrong.
Also, asking me not to think too hard about something is like asking a duck to keep her butt dry at all times.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
So here’s my list, with a little bit of the story for each book.
1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
I’ve seen people use the whole series as one entry in their list. And I could do that. But the way Rowling stuck the landing on the entire series, and finished with the strongest book, I think deserves special recognition. I bought it the day it released, started reading around 7 or 8PM, and finished it around 6AM. I think I was crying for most of the last two or three hours.
2. Little Women, Louisa Mae Alcott
Probably the formative book of my childhood. I got it in paperback as a Christmas gift, and I think it was probably one of my all-time favorite gifts. The edition I had included some beautiful color illustrations in the middle (probably sparking my desire to do Victorian cosplay). As much as I wanted to be the sweet, pious Beth, I was always Jo. Difficult, prickly, verbose and stubborn Jo.
3. Persuasion, Jane Austen
One December, a large company courted me for a Big Serious Corporate Marketing Job. They flew me to Chattanooga, picked me up with a car service and put me up in a lovely hotel. It was all very flattering, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in the wrong place. A lovely place, but not the right place for me. (Apparently, the feeling was mutual. I keep telling you guys–I’m much more impressive in text than in person). While I was there, I picked up Jane Austen’s final book, Persuasion. The job didn’t work out, but reading Persuasion rekindled my desire to write fiction. That trip was, for a lot of reasons, the point at which I seriously re-committed to writing.
4. Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
It’s difficult for me to talk about this book. Reading it obliterated me. I was in the midst of my own personal “accusation against the gods” when I first read it. And the extent to which Orual’s story was my own story, just completely undid me. This book didn’t just affect me, it changed me, deeply.
5. His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley
For a true romantic, reading this book is like adoring stage magic and then seeing a play-by-play of how the illusions are done. It’s eye-opening, and freeing, and awful, all at the same time. Because once you learn how people fall in (and out of) love, and see how heart-breakingly easy it is for someone to get tangled up in an affair (and how obvious it is for everyone else to see it coming) you can’t ever not know it.
However, if you’re married, you have to ask yourself “Do I want to believe my car is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and runs on magic, or do I want the ability to fix the damn thing when it breaks down?” I picked the latter, and while I miss my romantic illusions, I don’t miss my heart being utterly at their mercy.
6. The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
The first 95% of this book is a completely engrossing, centuries-spanning ghost story filled with vivid characters, terror, wonder and mystery. My feelings about the ending mirror some folks’ outrage at the endings of LOST, Seinfeld, and The Sopranos, but that doesn’t keep the first 95% from being one of the better and more memorable books I’ve ever read. In my own personal head-canon, the book ends with Rowan and Michael having a perfectly healthy, normal baby and living happily ever after, and Lasher being exactly what he seemed for the first 95% of the book.
7. Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding
Just an unpretentious, ridiculously good time that evoked the best memories of Firefly and LOST.
8. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Clear. Uncompromising. Ruthless. Freeing. A complete kick in the pants for anyone who needs to know if they’re actually a writer, or if they just want to say they’re a writer.
9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne Valente
A modern twist on Wonderland, Oz and Narnia, that works equally well as a love letter to every grown-up who spent their childhood looking for those places. Features one of the most fascinating villains I’ve ever read, and an ending that was a breathtaking sucker punch of the best kind. I finished it, put the book down, and immediately bought the sequel on my Kindle because we don’t have 24 hour bookstores in southern Indiana.
10. Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas
His Needs, Her Needs is a perfectly adequate, jarringly pragmatic manual for how a marriage works. This book is a lengthy, thought-provoking discussion of why marriage matters. It’s relationship-as-crucible-for-spiritual-formation. I think I wanted to fling this book across the room multiple times, not because I didn’t agree with the conclusions, but because my selfish heart didn’t like the conclusions, even while I acknowledged their truth. Intense stuff.