Why I can't live without these books
Friday, December 31, 2004

One of my favorite recent threads is the “Books you can’t live without” thread started by BadgersHat:

It took me a while to come up with an entry, partly because when I would just free-flow-type I would end up with a huge list. So I culled it down to books that I would try to save if a fire broke out in the apartment. And I ended up completely leaving out most of my science fiction/fantasy choices because that would’ve made the list long again.

Even then, my list still felt incomplete. I used a number of different criteria in selecting books. So this is more in the way of supporting background on why these books are so important to me designed primarily for my own benefit so I can get a handle on my thought processes.

Battle of Midway by Ira Peck
This is definitely not a scholarly work on the Battle of Midway. But it was my introduction at a young age to a battle that had such profound impact on the Pacific Theater during World War II. I dog-eared this paperback, reading and re-reading, cringing every time the torpedo bombers made their runs, rooting for the defenders of the island to survive the attacks, waiting for the dive bombers to burst through the opening that was paid for by the lives of their fellow pilots, and just reminding myself of how many things had to go right for the US leading up to and during that engagement and how thin the margin for error was.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
My parents had a rule when I was growing up for checking out library books. For every fiction book we checked out we had to also check out two non-fiction books. This rule got somewhat blurred when the topic of great authors of western literature came up and I was able to argue that Jules Verne (among other authors) should count on the serious side of the ledger. I only ended up reading a couple of his books but this one was my favorite and I ended up purchasing a copy for myself. I’m not sure if he would be a successful author today but for the time he was writing he was so far ahead of the curve that he was off the chart. So I’ve always made sure I had at least one of his books sitting on my bookshelf to pick up every so often and remember where science fiction came from.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton
I keep this book around not so much for the story, even though it is an enjoyable one, and not because it is the first reference to the concept of a Shangra La (at least in western literature, not sure if this is the first ever reference to the concept), but instead because it was the first book released in that newfangled paperback format. The majority of books that I buy are paperback and so this is more a homage than anything else.

Give a Man a Gun by John Creasey
This was the first John Creasey book that I ever read. I picked it up at a garage sale when I was in junior high school for a quarter. Since then, I have bought well over a hundred of his books. He is definitely not a master of the art of detective/mystery writing, he’s more of a journeyman worker – churning out book after book over the course of his career until he wrote more than five hundred. All of his books are quick reads – I can usually finish one in a few hours after dinner on a quiet night – and he invented a number of interesting characters (my personal favorite is The Toff). I consider his books more like getting coffee at a greasy spoon diner rather than from a barista at a high price coffee shop. It’s comfortable and, even if the quality isn’t as high, you always know what you’re going to get. Sometimes that’s what I’m looking for in a book. And it doesn’t hurt that you can find his books in used book stores for less than two dollars.

Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer
I borrowed this book from a friend at school and ended up purchasing it for myself as soon as he asked for it back. It was the first current science fiction that I had read and I was fascinated by the world that Farmer had created – a world where you were cryogenically (sort of) frozen for six days of the week and lived only one day, sharing your apartment with six other groups of people. I went on from there to read the Riverworld series, the World of Tiers series, and pretty much every other Farmer book I could find. From there it was on to Asimov and Saberhagen and there was no turning back. This was the first slip down a long slope that has led to my current library of many boxes of science fiction. While some of Farmer’s work disturbed me (A Savage Feast) I’ve never forgotten how thrilling it was to read this book for the first time and I still get immense satisfaction from re-reading.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
I had a very strong hero worship sort of idealistic view of war when I was growing up - the nobility of combat and the epic scale of battles and campaigns. This was the first book I read that opened up a new perspective on that – that no matter how glorious a cause and how noble a fight and how brilliant the commanders, at the end of the day there are individuals out there who have a shitty job in a dangerous environment and, for them, war sucks. My first reading of this book signaled the beginning of the end of my black-white way of viewing the world.

Out of the Silent Planet by C S Lewis
My parents bought me and my brother the Narnia books and read those stories to us growing up. But as I got older I put those aside in favor of more “adult” reading and I guess there was a part of me that enjoyed and never forgot how Lewis was able to retell stories that were part of my cultural memory but put them in a fantastic context. When I picked up the first book of this trilogy all of those memories came back. What I like about this book, and the series, was how Lewis repackaged the fight between good and evil into a modern day, almost science fiction, story.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book is amazing, powerful, essential, and just an absolutely American story. I can’t really describe it beyond that. Every time I re-read this story I’m moved.

Bible the King James version
Of all the different versions of the Bible that I own or have read over the years, the King James is still my favorite. The translation sucks but there is something about the now archaic phrasing that lends weight to the words on the page. This is the way an epic should sound. It also doesn’t hurt that some of my favorite Bible stories were first read in the King James (and all the other stories that were never read to me but I found and read wide-eyed – such a bloodthirsty and salacious book that Old Testament: Lot and his daughters, Noah and his sons, Jehu – as one of my teachers in high school said - the Rambo of the Old Testament, the Song of Solomon, and others).

Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
There are some books I own that I don’t read cover to cover but instead pick up to read a few passages now and then. This book is at the top of that list. I don’t consider myself an aficionado of poetry. It’s a form of communication that I am not at all familiar with. But there is something in the poetry of Emily Dickinson that resonates with me.

Okay. That’s enough for now. I’ll probably update this next year… (editted to add: Actually, I lost interest in updating this )...



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