I was tagged on Facebook by Michael Neel to list 10 books that have stuck with me in some way. I’ve opted to post here as a longer standing reference to this list so I don’t lose it to the wilds of social media posts. From Michael’s post, he notes they don’t have to be the “right” books, or even good books, just books that have stuck with me and made an impact in my life, with some brief explanations of my selections:
1. Dubliners- James Joyce. This was THE book that drew me in to the evocative nature of literary writing. It is singularly responsible for setting the stage for choosing English Lit. as my major in college, and is the book I have revisited the most over the decades. Reading Dean Koontz later reminded me how Joyce would build fictional stories around real Dublin streets, basing his work in the real physical world.
2. Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis. The only book I have ever started that I never finished. The concepts are so lofty, I have had trouble digesting the pages. Started in my Junior year in High school, and still have the book mark set to the page in which I gave up years later (pg. 161 for those of you playing along at home).
3. Little Birds, and Delta of Venus– Anais Nin. Two books I obtained and read at the same time. Lover and contemporary to Henry Miller and his wife June, Anais’ writing is erotic and raw. These books blew away any notion of innocence of the past generations. They had a deep impact on my world view by showing the strength and passion of female sexuality from a woman’s perspective I’d not been exposed to prior and set the ground work for some of my more feminist leanings.
4. Where are you going, where have you been?- Joyce Carol Oates. Another piece akin to Dubliner’s for me. Evocative and steeped in imagery, this book again showed me what more contemporary authors could do with literary fiction and strengthened my love for English Lit. as a course of study. This book also reinforced my love for literary fiction set in the real world showing the dark-side of humanity from an unexpected perspective with an ambiguous end.
5. Beowulf- Seamus Heaney. A parallel translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic by the renowned Nobel prize-winning Irish poet. This work stuck with me as an intellectual pursuit and supported my academic love of English. Weaving both poetic beauty as well as technical skills in translation, Seamus took Tolkien’s translation head on, and gave you the original text at the same time. Having read this while in the candidacy process for the Methodist ministry, the parallel styling fit nicely with the biblical text of similar style I was also reading at the time, lending to a deeper love for this text.
6. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark- Alvin Schwartz. My first exposure to real horror, thriller, psychologically traumatic texts. This book stuck with me by virtue of the visceral reactions it was able to evoke through simple written words strung together in the right way. Not just a great book for scary stories, but a prime example of the impact good storytelling can impart and the reactions it can elicit from others.
7. The Compleat Distiller- Michael Nixon. If you can’t figure out why this book is so important to me, you likely haven’t been following me until this post was published. I use information from this reference book on a nearly daily basis. Combined with the Alcohol Distiller’s Manual for gasohol and spirits, by Dona Carolina Distillers, these books act as a first stop reference for any distillation question I may have.
8. Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller- by Darek Bell. Written by the owner of Corsair Artisan Distilling, this book has recipes for non-traditional whiskies beyond your wildest imagination. Need inspiration for a new product? Peruse this book. As a new distiller in the industry, I hold Corsair in high regards as innovators that have helped pave the way for people like me to come in and continue the innovation.
9. Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road- Neil Peart. This is an autobiography by Rush’s drummer covering the time period immediately after losing his daughter to a tragic car accident and then his wife less than a year later to cancer (or what he refers to as simply a broken heart). To process his grief, Neil got on his motorcycle and just rode. The book documents his journey both spiritually and geographically, and resonates with me at one of the deepest levels. Want to know what the open road feels like from an emotional perspective? Read this book. Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, Ghost Rider entwines the human condition in almost lyrical methods (to be expected from Rush’s lyricist, of course).
10. Elements of Style- Strunk & White. I live and die by this book. Yes, it is a reference book, much like number seven in this list, but a book that has stuck with me nonetheless and remains the most consulted book in my collection. It rests on my desk, always within arms reach and ready to be consulted at a moment’s notice.
This list is, of course, not all-inclusive. Limiting to only ten books that impacted my life was VERY difficult as reading was a huge part of my youth and young adult years. To encapsulate all the changes in my life over the past 40 years, this list would need to be at least five times as big and would likely include some of the ‘biggies’ as well… authors like Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Yasunari Kawabata, Earnest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Henry David Thoreau, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and many MANY others… Of course over the past decade my consumption of literary authors has declined dramatically while more journalistic and technical content has risen as a result of my career path.
Since I don’t believe in imposing any challenge or tagging socially to elicit others to play along, I’ll leave this post as it stands and ask that anyone who feels compelled to build their own list do so and post it so we can all see the awesome diversity of writing around our social spaces.