Monday, June 22, 2009

My Fifteen for Today

Several lit blogs (including one I usually read, A Commonplace Blog) have been tossing around a challenge to decide, within 15 minutes, one's 15 most significantly "mind-forming" books. I take this to mean any kind of book, and the point is not to name those that are "the best" in any absolute sense (whatever that would mean), but those that happen to have been the most influential for a given person.

Why 15 I wonder? I suppose it is more generous than the conventional 10 and less cumbersome than 20. Obviously the list I come up with today may be different from that of a year ago or a year from now. And again, I claim these not as the best of their genres, only as those that stuck with me most tenaciously and that have beckoned me back again and again.

How revealing is a list like this? Given all the books out there, it seems doubtful that a million examples of such lists would be identical. Armed with no knowledge of a person beyond this list, how much could be deduced? At any rate, here's my list for today, in no particular order:

Nathanael West, "Miss Lonelyhearts"
Freud, Civilization and its Discontents
Thoreau, Walden
Loren Eiseley, Essays
Anton Chekhov, Stories
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Peter Kramer, Listening to Prozac
Harold Bloom, The Western Canon
Emily Dickinson, Poetry
Wallace Stevens, Poetry
Nietzsche, The Geneaology of Morals
Kafka, Stories
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Several of these make the list not because of any towering literary merit, but because they exposed me to crucial ideas at particular times. And it is a shame that this kind of list excludes several favorites altogether--Proust, Blake, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, Tolstoy.

Anyone else out there care to share?


Retriever said...

Sorry, clicked on the wrong comments box (brain dead after hours of looking at financial reports all day, and lost glasses....):

The Bible
E.O. WIlson Sociobiology
Charles Darwin Origin of Species
Poetry of Wilfrid Owen
Poetry of Anna Akhmatova
Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of The Bicameral Mind Julian Jaynes
Adaptations to Life George Vaillant
James Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
The Odyssey
Walker Percy Love in the Ruins
Baudelaire Les Fleurs du Mal
Eugene O'Neill Long Day's Journey Into Night
James Joyce The Dubliners
Collected Poetry of William Butler Yeats

That's my 15 as fast as I could type them (no consideration, except that these on your list would have been on it, if not for wanting to be different:
Selfish Gene
Dickinson Poetry

I suppose Freud, because his cases are such great short stories. He is a novelist, not a scientist. Love him as a storyteller, one of the first writing physicians one actually enjoys reading, self-deluded, blind to himself at times, always fun to read....(brace for Freud disciples to shoot a hail of arrows)

leigh said...

Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil
The Death of Ivan Ilych, Chekhov
False Match, Henry Bean
Art and Ardor, Cynthia Ozick
Being and Time, Heidegger
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf
John D. McDonald novels
Dreamtime, Geoffrey O'Brien
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor

Poets...Syzmborska (sp),Charlie Smith, Stephen Dunn, William Stafford...

And Yeah, Freud as Literature. That was the prevailing zeitgeist when I was in school. Influenced by Bloom and his proteges. The anxiety of influence and the absent fathers.

I hate lists of favorites, and on principle don't compile them. I did this as an improv. Whatever came to mind.

It would change if I did it in an hour, with probably Weil as the only constant.

Anonymous said...

In random order:

Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges,
A clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Hunger, Knut Hamsun
Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson
Auto Da Fe, Elias Canetti
The Woman Destroyed, Simone De Beauvoir
The Fall, Camus
Descartes' Error, Damasio
The Quantity Theory of Insanity, WIll Self
The Illusion of Conscious WIll, Wegner
Frankenstein, Shelley
Other miserable/absurd Russians

Fiction moved me in my youth in a way it doesn't as a fully functional sane adult. I think there's that transitional phase between late teens and early 20s when literature transmutes your world and sense of being in a joltingly ecstatic way: ideas/values/perceptions throw sparks in all directions, disorienting you to the life you thought you knew.

leigh said...

I am an idiot, Tolstoy wrote The Death of Ivan I. But any Chekhov will do.

Oh, and Russell Banks and T.C. Boyle and Voyage to the Bunny Planet, and, guilty pleasures like Bukowski, and so much poetry...

Anonymous said...

Man against himself by .Karl Menninger M.D.

Why I am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell

The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir

Molloy by Samuel Beckett

Dark Light(photographs) by Michael Martone ,lustrum Press NY

The Artist in Society by Lawrence
Hatterer M.D.

The History of Photography by
Peter Pollack

The Myth of Mental Illness by
Thomas Sazsz M.D.

Accidental Center by Michael Heller

The Balcony by Jean Genet

The Clowns by Jean Genet

Treatise on Conducting by
Hermann Scherchen

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman