“List ten books that have made an impact on your life.”
This game is going around Facebook again, and I got tagged a couple of times. I’m not particularly good at this kind of thing. First, my mind goes blank and I can’t remember any book I ever read in my whole life. When I struggle past that block, I have to face the fact that my Most Influential List isn’t exactly all fine wine and filet mignon. Definitely some Ritz crackers and root beer in the mix.
All that said, I did a list anyway. Without links or cover art, because those are tedious and that’s why God created Google.
And, as it turned out, most of my “books” are actually “authors who wrote lots of books.”
10 Influential Books in My Life, not in any kind of order:
1. Jane Austen. I don’t like all of her novels equally–I’ve read Mansfield Park only once–but I admire her in all of them. Her humor is so subtle that it’s hard to pick out one particular place where she’s being “funny.” I also like the way that, despite our living 200 years apart, she apparently knew many of the same people that I do.
Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, but when I was younger, it was the hilarious Northanger Abbey.
2. Dave Barry. Seriously, Dave Barry gets top billing as “influential”? Yes. He’s funny, insightful, snarky, irreverent, and makes his point way better than the earnest and impassioned bloggers that I usually don’t read anyway.
3. Patrick F. McManus. A lesser-known star in the literary firmament, McManus wrote a humor column for Field&Stream for years. I grew up reading his collections (I didn’t like his later forays into novels). One of the first gifts I gave to DJ was a McManus book. McManus is funny and folksy and very quotable. Pretty much my life ambition.
4. The Younger Evangelicals, by Robert E Webber. Taking a break from my humor-author crushes, I read this book when I was a younger-than-thirty wife and mother trying to figure out who I was as a Christian. The book details the differences between the older, more fundamentalist Christians and the younger, more inclusive generation. It was groundbreaking reading for DJ and me both. He’s read it once since then, and I’ve never gone back to it; I doubt we’d find it as mind-blowing now. It was what we needed then, though.
5. A New Kind of Christian, by Brian MacLaren. Yes, in my younger-than-thirty years, I loved what MacLaren had to say. He approached the faith from a non-traditional perspective and articulated a lot of the questions that I didn’t dare. I haven’t reread this book, nor do I care much for what MacLaren has had to say more recently; but this one opened up my thinking a lot.
6. Facing East, by Frederica Mathewes-Green. When I read this years ago, she was the perfect combination of wit, humor, and faith. I grew up without any knowledge of my broader Christian heritage, and Green introduced me to Eastern Orthodoxy, a vast history, and a way to approach God that I’d always wished for. Eventually my thinking and faith took its own path, a different direction from this book. But this one, along with the two previously, came to me when I was at a crossroads of faith. They showed me a God who was big and flexible; it allowed my beliefs to grow, instead of solidifying, cracking, and falling apart.
7. Dick Francis. This is definitely in the Ritz-and-root beer category, because there’s nothing particularly profound about murder mysteries set against a backdrop of British horse racing. But the writing is clean and sharp, and the stories are engaging. His earlier novels are best; he had a knack for explaining things without committing the terrible sin of “infodump,” where an author just throws in a paragraph full of Everything You Need To Know to Move Ahead. My favorite is Hot Money. DJ’s is To the Hilt.
8. Feed, by M T Anderson. I thoroughly enjoy Young Adult books, and I always like a set-in-the-future dystopia. This one is both, plus it played into my dislike of going along with the crowd, my resistance to being marketed to and manipulated, and the discomfort of not quite fitting into the culture. The opening line sets the tone for the type of people you’ll be spending the book with: “We went to the Moon, and it sucked.”
9. Evolution vs Creation: Do We Have to Choose? by Denis Alexander. A discussion of how the two theories don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. The book gets technical at times, but I enjoyed the way the author tackled thorny questions on both sides without hanging my entire spiritual destiny on the answers. This is a subject where I’m happy to do a lot of speculation without any concrete answers, and this book gave a lot for me to think about.
10. James Herriot. Ever since DJ began reading these aloud to the kids, I’ve realized how much of his storytelling I adopted and tried to imitate. He has a way of stating a theme, then telling a couple of anecdotes related to it, all with very understated humor–making himself either the butt of the joke or an almost invisible observer. I’ve written like that for years. Tried to write like that. Herriot did it (as Ranger would say) googleflex times better.
And there you have it, my list of ten influential books/authors. Now if you’ll excuse me, I I need to go get some Ritz crackers to go with my Chardonnay.