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
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
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?