10 Books

The hot new thing going around the local blogs and columns is the “10 Books that have impacted your life” list, pushed to the forefront by columnist Sean Kirst. I read the list generated by my friend Chris Malone, in his blog, and decided I needed to think a bit about it all as well. The inability to connect to my work server via VPN this morning helped in getting this done…

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
    I can’t even remember how old I was the first time I read this, maybe 8? My grandma had a copy and I was always in need of more bathroom reading. The pages of this book are indistinguishable from my body at times, as far removed as I was from growing up in a Brooklyn tenement. Francie Nolan is often my alter ego and, as I grow older, I am more and more Katie Nolan. Thank you, Betty Smith.
  2. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
    It’s hard to pick an Atwood novel as all of them are so important to me, but this is it. Childhood, identity, feminism, motherhood, acceptance of self, art. Elaine Risley is also a huge part of my consciousness. These first two books are ones that I read at least once a year.
  3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    I remember buying this in the early days of high school (middle school? Can’t quite remember) and it was just as I was going through the requisite geek Monty Python era and here was that same sensibility in book format (obviously so). Apologies to all the English teachers who had to read everything I wrote that tried so hard to be Douglas Adams.
  4. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams Bianco
    The book that reveals the horrible sentimentalist hoarder that I could become if I let go. I remember hearing this book read during a library trip or something and I was overtaken with grief, thinking about such things happening to my beloved teddy bear. Which I still have. Luckily Cecilia has not asked me to read this too many times, as I can still barely deal with it all.
  5. James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
    I had a Dahl-heavy book collection and I think this one tops the list. The humor, unsanitzed for children, and turns of phrase, as well as the surreal situations spoke to me. The BFG is probably a close second.
  6. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
    My other alter ego, Meg Murry. Science fiction themes, a female protagonist, the battle against the dark, and non-conformity? SIGN ME UP.
  7. The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Jane Jacobs
    It’s nothing groundbreaking to say that this is one of the most important planning books ever and the one that guides many of my thoughts on planning and preservation and community. I see it as a utopian novel of sorts, describing both the idealized city of the past and what we want to strive for in the future.
  8. L’Étranger (The Stranger) – Albert Camus
    This actually isn’t one of my favorite books. But when I first read it, it struck me very deeply. Mersault’s indifference and actions and estrangement from society all read to me as a warning that I could easily become this character (although perhaps not to such an extreme).
  9. A Separate Peace – John Knowles
    I’m a Gene, for sure, although I try to be more of a Finny. Do I have to say any more?
  10. Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
    A girl living on her own, surviving in the wild? SIGN ME UP. I loved reading about the details of how Karana created her tools and shelter and learned to live on her own and I’m pretty sure it informed 95% of my playing as a child, although I had to do without cormorant feathers.