Over at Facebook, this pops up from time to time: The 10 Books That Changed Your Life. I'm often tagged to chime in, and have always conveniently "forgotten". For me that top 10 list changes year to year, sometimes month to month. What I think "changed my life" at 12 fell off the list by 20, what moved me enormously at 30 slid away when I tried to re-read it at 40. And so on. Plus – changed my life how? Which life? My reading life? My entire life? My life as a writer?
Recently though I saw it worded slightly differently: The 10 books that have stayed with you. I interpret that as the ones I keep remembering, the ones I find myself opening at random and reading from the middle of for no reason at all, the ones that are perhaps more meaningful not because they are the finest literature ever produced, but because I read them at a time in my life when I was especially open to the story, or the writing, or both.
I've left off the true classics all writers admire and return to, and I'm probably forgetting some marvelous contemporary soon-to-be-classics, but I've limited my list to modern books I've read in the last 15 years or so—and the ones I can remember distinctly and with pleasure, and without walking over to my bookshelves. I've mixed the genres together. And I went way over 10. Hey, it's my list and I'll do what I want with it!
Living Out Loud – Anna Quindlen
The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Mountain City – Gregory Martin
Blue Peninsula – Madge McKeithen
In Revere, In Those Days – Roland Merullo
Small Wonders – Barbara Kingsolver
The Opposite of Fate – Amy Tan
Sleepless Days – Sue Kushner Resnick
The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
Picturing the Wreck – Dani Shapiro
Expecting Adam – Martha Beck
The Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst
Swimmer in the Secret Sea – William Kotzwinkle
Manhattan Memoir – Mary Cantwell
We Didn't Come Here for This – William B. Patrick
Making Toast – Roger Rosenblatt
A Slant of Sun – Beth Kephart
Here if You Need Me – Kate Braestrup
I Married You for Happiness – Lily Tuck
The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni
Without a Map – Meredith Hall
Eclectic, yes? Sure. I'm also sure this is incomplete, which I'll realize and clap my forehead for, as soon as I get up from where I'm sitting in my bedroom composing this post, and wander into my office and scan my bookshelves. Or tomorrow, when I read a new book and then can't stop thinking about it for a week or month or year. Or maybe this evening when I plan to read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, who passed away yesterday (and which I somehow never read).
Do you have a list like this? One that would make no sense to anyone but you? A list of books, which although they are excellent books – probably signals as much or more about you, and who you were when you first read it, and why you keep picking it up again -- than about the book itself? I'd love to hear (especially if we have a book in common)!
Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - The Lost Gallery