9 Books

I’ve been challenged, via Facebook, to “list 9 books that have stayed with you in some way.” Since I’m incapable of doing something like that without comment, I figured this was a better forum for me.

So, in to particular order:
1. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carrol
When I was growing up. I had a copy of both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I read it over and over again. I still have the book, but I believe some of the pages have fallen out. As a “talent show” trick, I used to recite The Jabberwock in Pig Latin.

2. The Stranger, Albert Camus
I read this in high school, and it was the first Camus I read. My English teacher at the time believed that Meursault’s emotional detachment made him a bad person. But I always read it differently. Meursault’s emotional detachment is a reasonable reaction to a terrible, broken world. Meursault is a “bad” person because he chooses to be a bad person. No one (or no being) is telling us what to do. All we have is ourselves.

3. The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
This is cheating a bit since it’s a poem, but after reading several, lighthearted Oscar Wilde plays, I was shocked to learn this dark, beautiful poem, which I read in middle school, was written by the same man. Wilde wrote the poem after being imprisoned for being gay. I used to know the whole poem by heart.

This too I know—and wise it were 
If each could know the same— 
That every prison that men build 
Is built with bricks of shame, 
And bound with bars lest Christ should see 
How men their brothers maim.

4. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
I read this in college, and it was my first Murakami. He writes metaphysical fiction. A little hard to explain, but interesting and mind-bending. The world is not always as it appears.

5. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
I read this in middle school because I’d been on a James Michener kick and a character in Space references this book through the line, “Blessed Saint Leibowitz, keep ’em dreaming down there.” It was among the first  post-apocalyptic books I read, and I found its metaphors of the cycle of birth and destruction to be quite powerful. In the end, it’s only the vultures who win.

6. The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
I read this book in college and thought it was hilarious. Just remember to do all the terrible things at once so later you can be nice and relax regulations a little. If you try to draw out all the terrible changes you want to make, your unpopularity will just continue to grow.

7. The Complete Works of Edgar Alan Poe
I couldn’t choose a specific Poe piece, so I had to go with the whole book. While I enjoy his short stories, I’ve always been more partial to his poetry. Particularly Annabelle Lee, and, because I enjoyed the cadence and its (relative) levity surprised me for Poe, The Bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


(Don’t worry, the story gets darker from there)

8. The Encyclopedia
I used to spend hours sitting in my basement reading the encyclopedia. I was really popular.

9. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
I read this in middle school. And, unlike the terrible movie version, this book is very civic. In fact, nearly half the book takes place in a civics classroom. Really the whole book is just a discussion of what makes good citizens, what should be expected of good citizens, and how institutions should work to support good citizens. For some reason, I was really into thinking about that. Go figure.

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