There are books I’ve read that entertained me, enriched me, educated me, annoyed me, and enraged me. Some haven’t done shit to me. And a few, to some degree, have changed my life. If this gets pretentious, just scream “eeoow!” and click Back. I’ll try not to be sickening, but who knows.
Charlotte’s Web — Wasn’t that a great book?! I’ve read it to each of my kids, and it was as great as ever. I think this book made me fall in love with reading, and with words. And I still cry at the end.
Naked Lunch — I was 14 when I read it, and I remember feeling euphoric when I read the dialogue out loud to my best friend. The prose style opened up a whole world to me: you could be brilliant and crude and erudite and dark and hilarious all at the same time! William Burroughs could, anyway.
Gormenghast — I was around 17. I don’t think I’ve ever come upon a literary universe this vivid, imaginative, engrossing and affecting. It reinforced my love of language.
Middlemarch — The most perfect novel in the English language. And proof that a woman could write as intelligently and commandingly, and with as broad a scope as any of the great masters, without a hint of girliness. A masterpiece, godammit!
Confederacy of Dunces — I was 28 and worked in a book store. Someone urged me to read it, and to ignore the stupid lurid cover it had in this paperback edition. Thank you, Jim, wherever your crazy ass is! This book articulated the horror and comedy of being smart and useless. A perfect tragicomedy that you can read a million times. It just gets more funny and poignant with each reading.
White Noise — This novel encapsulates the modern condition so brilliantly that I knew there was no point in trying to write fiction any more. Nothing could live up to Don de Lillo. I remember feeling grief that I wasn’t Don di Lillo. But even Don di Lillo isn’t happy with being himself, it turns out.
Prisoners of Childhood — Everyone who has read this book by Alice Miller tries to force it on other people, saying it will change the way they view their kids and their own childhood. It actually does do that! Upsetting at first, but worth it. It almost proves that the truth will set you free.
Neurotic Conflicts — Karen Horney has a funny name but she knew how to discuss the most difficult concepts in simple, eloquent language that even an idiot could understand, if only idiots would pursue psychology books.
Moby Dick — I cannot read Moby Dick. I’m sorry, I tried and I just can’t do it. It is not readable to me. But when my son read it one summer, for pleasure, not school, I realized how much smarter he is than I am. If you’re not a mom, you might not know how fantastic this feels. I admire his huge brain, and he can tell me about Moby Dick if I ever need to know.
Okay, that’s nine. Would anybody like to offer one from their own list, or even their whole list? Or make fun of my list? Or pretend to have finished Being and Nothingness? I’m here for you.