Ten Most Important Books

by J.D. Roth

Y’all are a little too smart for yesterday’s book meme. And you read this site from work. The results weren’t what I had expected. To compensate, here’s a second book meme with which to play:

Over the weekend at Baraita — one of my favorite weblogs — Naomi posted a list of her ten Most Important books. Tracing the meme, I found that it started with here’s luck, who describes it like this:

[This list explores] the notion of one’s own Ten Most Important Books. Not favorite books, or best books, but the most important. Truepenny pointed out that such a list requires not only picking the most important books but deciding what “most important” means in one’s own case. I said that in her case I would imagine there would be some books that are most important to her as a writer, and others most important as a reader. And then she noted that of course there are those books that are important because they got us through difficult times (middle school, anyone?). And so on and so forth.

Here are my ten Most Important books, in the order I read them:

1. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
This book is representative of an entire class of books that I read between second and fifth grade: childrens’ books of adventure. Similar books include: Bertrand Brinley’s The Mad Scientists’ Club; John D. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain; Isaac Asimov’s David Starr, Space Ranger; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien; and Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

2. The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
What was the first thing I ever collected? Hardy Boys books. Between third and sixth grade, I collected all 56 volumes of this detective series (and then a couple of the new paperbacks). I read each book many times. I could read one adventure in two hours flat. (Sometimes I would read the final three chapters before I read the rest of the book — each book had twenty chapters and about two hundred pages.) I discovered my first Hardy Boys book laying around in Grandma’s house. Perhaps it had belonged to Dad or to Uncle Norman. Whatever the case, this series was an important part of my childhood.

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Sometime during my third grade year, I picked up The Two Towers from Philander Lee Elementary School media center shelves. Though it was confusing — I had no idea it was the second part of a trilogy — I loved it. I loved the dwarves and the elves and the Ents and the orcs and the hobbits. Thereafter, I read The Lord of the Rings nearly every year. And it led me to Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels; Stephen R. Donaldson; and The Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. The Lord of the Rings also led to role-playing games.

4. Red Rackham’s Treasure by Hergé
While browsing through the school library in fifth grade, I came upon a comic book bound like a book. “A comic book book?” I thought, confused. I checked it out. I was already collecting comic books by this time, and was curious to see what comic was worthy of being bound in hardcover. What I found surprised me: even at that age I could tell that Tintin was as much art as comic. Slowly, I read other adventures in the series. (I wouldn’t read them all until the end of college.) I was fascinated by Hergé’s iconic figures cast against detailed backgrounds, intrigued by his stories of adventure. Tintin taught me that comic books were more than just superheroes in tights.

5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I read and liked a lot of classic fiction before my senior year of high school, but none of it had the impact of Crime and Punishment. I was an intelligent young Christian man who had a lot of questions that it seemed could not, or would not, be answered. Here was Dostoevsky, by all accounts an intelligent young Christian man who had similar questions a hundred years before. He wrote books to explore his questions. And with Crime and Punishment, he tackled themes that I had already begun to explore in my own life: the nature of existence, the possibility of a “superior man”, the nature of good and evil, of God. This book did not change the way I thought at the time, but it opened my mind for further exploration in the future.

6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
If Crime and Punishment opened my mind to further exploration, The Unbearable Lightness of Being took full advantage, took me to the farthest frontiers of thought. When I read it during my sophomore year of college, I was still a Christian, though working my way to agnostic. From its very first paragraph, this book had my mind in a tizzy:

The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed philosophers with it: to think tat everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?

And from there Kundera explores the nature of mind and spirit, body and soul, the “weight” of life, the nature of love, the concept of language, and the existence of God. I started the book a Christian becoming and agnostic; I ended it an agnostic becoming an atheist. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being again years later, and it didn’t have nearly the same effect as it had the first time. It couldn’t possibly.

7. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is not a particularly well-written book. Intellectually, it’s sloppy, relying on the same sort of propaganda techniques and logical fallacies that the government uses to convince its citizens that war with a distant country is acceptable. Some of the books’ ideas are interesting (the concept of Takers and Leavers, for example: that some people consume, or Take, the worlds resources, while others produce, or Leave, resources for others), and they can provoke a certain amount of thought. Why is this book important to me? In November of 1996, it was our very first book group reading. Paul and Connie and Kris and I had a brilliant discussion about it, and as a result we decided to continue this crazy book group idea. Nearly eight years later, the book group is still going strong, is, in fact, an important part of my life. It all started with Ishmael.

8. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
You know how sometimes you finish a book and you think to yourself, “Wow. I loved that book. I’ll have to read it again.” And then you read it for a second time. And then maybe a third? Cold Mountain was like that for me. I read it several times over the course of a few months, and since have read it once every year or two. I love the book. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the language. This is my favorite book.

9. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
I’ve raved about Proust many times over the past year, and with good reason. The man was a genius. Hidden beneath a sea of labyrinthine sentences, couched in an ocean of dependent clauses, rests a beautiful novel that explores that nature of love and the meaning of life. Presumptuous, perhaps, but full of poetry. I never know when the next sentence is going to leave me awestruck. I’ll be tackling the second of the seven volumes in Proust’s vast novel later this year. I can hardly wait.

10. Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
When I took the writing class last fall, I didn’t know what to expect. My previous writing classes had left me cold. They didn’t teach me how to write; they didn�t teach me anything. This class was different, and one of the differences was this fantastic anthology of short fiction. Each story is a gem. If you read them all, you’d have a good education on plot and character and dialogue and crisis and voice and point of view.

There you have it: my ten Most Important books. What are yours? (If ten’s too many, share five. Or three. Or one.)

Co-incidentally, scrubbles just linked to a similar collection of peoples’ 10 favorite novels. (I’m guessing that this will be the eventual permalink.)


On 13 April 2004 (10:00 AM),
J.D. said:


Somehow I forgot The Little Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit.

I hated The Velveteen Rabbit when I heard it in first grade. I loathed the book for years. In time, as I gravitated toward the fringe of school social life, the book became more and more important to me. The story — about what it really means to be loved — resonated with my heart. In high school, I led a Bible Study discussion about the book. (Perhaps that was my first book group experience!)

The Little Prince, of course, has similar themes. I didn’t read it until the end of high school, though. When I left for college, it became an important book to me because it represented the meaning of friendship. At Christmas, I photocopied pages from the book, and colored them, and sent them to Kristin and her family.

My list now has twelve books.

On 13 April 2004 (10:13 AM),
Paul said:

James and the Giant Peach was an important book for me. It was the first book that I let my imagination run away with. I think the fact that the book was read aloud to us by the 4th grade teacher helped shape its impact.

Crime and Punishment was also important to me, but it was the Stranger by Camus that really opened me to questioning my existance.

On 13 April 2004 (10:35 AM),
tammy said:

The Bible of course.
The Childcraft Encyclopedias
The Bobbsy Twins
The Childrens Hour Bedtime Stories
Trixie Belden Series
Anne of Green Gables
Jane Eyere
Strongs Exhaustive Concordance
What to Expect when you’re Expecting
Dare to Discipline

Books had a far greater impact on my everyday life as a child than as an adult. I’ve just read very few books as an adult that have effected my life or my way or changed my way of thinking. Ihave no idea what this says aboutme. Bu it’s got to mean something I’m sure! 🙂

On 13 April 2004 (11:40 AM),
Dana said:


…Ponder, ponder…

My relationship with books is kind of tainted. Plus, I’m not sure I can keep it to just 10. =)

These are in no particular order.

1. Space Cadet, Robert Heinlein – Much as JD has picked the Mushroom Planet as a stand-in (I have a hardbacked copy of Mr. Bass’ Planetoid I picked up at a Library sale years ago), I pick this Heinlein work to stand in for the whole corpus of his so-called juvenile SF books (I think they’re better than his so-called adult SF books, personally). While many elements of those stories are pretty dated nowadays, the core character values of self-reliance, curiosity, and a focus on intelligence as being a good thing have all stuck with me. Plus, while many details of planetology are way way way off base, a lot of the rest of the science is quite good.

2. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov — There’s a lot of Asimov that I enjoy, but I think this, his first novel, is his best long work. While I adore the idea of Psychohistory, I think this particular book is a much more important and deep work, commenting on elements of racism, cultural dynamism versus stagnation, and things of that nature.

3. The Time Machine, HG Wells — When I was a kid, I managed to convince my folks to buy me this enormous omnibus edition of HG Wells fiction on sale at B. Dalton. I eventually ended up with a couple of these volumes, together containing nearly everything he wrote. Even today I haven’t read my way completely through them. Again, the thing I enjoyed the most about Wells was the social commentary — unlike Verne, who primarily wrote about scientifically and engineeringly possible things, Wells just made stuff up, but then went on to more or less deal with how those things changed the world or society. Anyway, Wells in general I found thought provoking, and The Time Machine is just plain classic.

4. Sherlock Holmes (any book), Arthur Conan Doyle — I always admired Holmes, and I find the fact that Doyle was a staunch mystic who believed in fairies and ghosts to be a wonderful irony. The Solar Pons pastiches are also quite good (and there are more of them than there are Holmes’ stories, I believe).

5. The Once and Future King, TH White — I like Arthuriana, and this is one of the more accessible and modern distillations thereof (plus, both Disney’s The Sword in the Stone and the musical Camelot are in fact based on this work). This is not to pick on such excellent works as The Idylls of the Queen or the fantastic two-volume Le Morte D’Arthur, or even Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. It’s just fun, and a bit more accessible to kids, I think, while making fairly plain the whole Might is not the same as Right element of chivalry.

6. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Roald Dahl — This is a collection of short stories that was given to me as a gift when we moved away from the UP of Michigan and relocated to Moorhead, MN. I read it in the car over the two-day drive, sad and dejected to be leaving behind familiar friends and places, and not really knowing what to expect.

7.Little, Big, John Crowley — I’m not sure what to say about this book. It simultaneously has a very prosaic and a very mystical view of the world, and I love it. It appeals to both the side of me that everybody mostly knows — the logical sciencey side — and the more mysterious, emotional bits that I’ve kept suppressed for so long.

8.The Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett — JD hates Discworld. Well, he’s wrong to do so, but I’m willing to allow him his wrongheadedness. I have liked every single Discworld book I’ve read. Some hold up better than others, but really they’re all pretty good. The most recent, The Monstrous Regiment, holds a particularly soft spot in my heart because of the main character and what she goes through to find her missing brother. The way this reflects on larger societal issues is also far more complex than it appears on the surface. Terry Pratchett is getting more clever with every book, I think.

9.The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, Douglas Adams — Douglas Adams is clever, insightful, and extraordinarily funny in a dry, english sort of way. While the Hitchhikers books are great, I think the Dirk Gently books are better written and all around better books, and I like the second more than the first. I find Dirk Gently a very compelling and interesting character, possibly unique in the anals of modern fiction. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but there’s just something about him.

10.My Husband Betty, Helen Boyd — This was a difficult decision to make. There are a number of other excellent choices, such as True Selves, Gender Shock, and As Nature Made Him. Really, though, I think My Husband Betty, written by the wife of a transgendered person about what that’s like, and how she and her spouse have dealt with it, is really unique amongst the various TG-related books I’ve read.

11. (“This one goes to eleven!”) Dungeons & Dragons Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson — I blame society. (Hey, it’s a book!)

I had a hard time keeping the size of my list down.

Runners Up, in no particular order and given without comment:
Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin; pretty much anything by Jack Vance, most especially the Demon Princes series; The Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock (Lord Kelvin’s Machine is also quite fun in a Victorian steampunkish sort of way); The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers; pretty much anything by Stanislaw Lem, most especially Tales of Pirx the Pilot and Memories of a Space Traveller; The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon; Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart; the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books by Fritz Leiber; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, who is pretty interesting in his own right; The Feynman Lectures on Physics (with Leighton and Sands) by Richard Feynman; CRC Standard Mathematical Tables by Chemical Rubber Company; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Tao of Pooh.

Oh, I could be at this all day.

Epic Pooh: Michael Moorcock compares LotR to Winnie-the-Pooh.

On 13 April 2004 (11:45 AM),
mac said:

In NO particular order

Call of the Wild
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Pearl
Guns, Germs, and Steel
Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy
Lonesome Dove
Crossing to Safety
The Mismeasure of Man
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Amazing Grace

Man…that’s hardly with any thought at all. Good question Roth!

On 13 April 2004 (01:42 PM),
nate said:

Bertrand Brinley’s The Mad Scientists’ Club

Sweet zombie Jesus! You’re the only other person I’ve ever run into who read that book as well. Though the original is a classic (at least to me; I can reread the stories even now and find them entertaining), you should try to track down its sequel, The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists’ Club, if you can. A fun walk down memory lane.

I’ll try to get my own list up later today (though it’s hard to compile a “ten best” list at only 18 years of age, with at least 3 years of that spent without knowing how to read).

On 13 April 2004 (02:05 PM),
Dave said:

In the order (I believe) that I read them.

The Bible
The Hardy Boys- F.W. Dixon
Bulfinch’s Mythology
the Sherlock Holmes stories- Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings- J.R.R. Tolkien
Foundation- Isaac Asimov
the works of Karl Marx
Hero with a Thousand Faces- Joseph Campbell
A Bright Shining Lie- Neil Sheehan
Discipline and Punish- Michel Foucault
The History of Sexuality, vol. 1- Michel Foucault

On 13 April 2004 (02:12 PM),
Dave said:

For the benefit of Nate, I also read the Mad Scientist Club. And the Great Brain books. Loved ’em all.

On a tangentially related topic, does anyone remember a series of books about a bunch of teen age geeks who investigated mysteries and used a junk yard (which they had tricked out and had secret entrances/exits) as their base? I think the name was The Three Investigators, the Alfred Hitchcock mystery series. I should’ve put that on my list, too.

On 13 April 2004 (02:46 PM),
Joel said:

So I also read the Mad Scientist’s Club, along with the Great Brains. Dave, the Three Investigators was the name of that series. The smart one was called Jupiter, as I recall.
I’m not going to make a list, but I will echo Paul- James and the Giant Peach was the first chapter book I read on my own.

On 13 April 2004 (02:50 PM),
Dana said:


You’re indeed refering to The Three Investigators, the leader of which was named Jupiter Jones, as I recall.


I’ve also read The Mad Scientist Club, as well as the sequel. And, in case you didn’t know, there’s also The Big Kerplop!, which was only published recently, by the author’s son, I believe.

Don’t forget Alvin Fernald, Shoey, and The Pest, Danny Dunn, and all of those guys.

I have a “lost series”, too — it was another of those “teenage detectives”, just two this time, and the team was a kind of Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson pairing. The brainy kid was a terrific pitcher on the school baseball team, so it was okay that he was smart, and the other kid narrated the books. I’ve no idea what the characters were named or who wrote this — a friend lent me several books in this series in 5th grade, and those are the only exposure I’ve ever had to them.

On 13 April 2004 (03:29 PM),
Dave said:

Also along those lines was the “Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective” stories. Judging by the quick peek at Amazon, there are far more of them than appeared in the Canby Public library circa many moons ago.

On 13 April 2004 (03:41 PM),
Dana said:

Oh, sure, everybody knows Encyclopedia Brown — there was even a TV show on HBO about a decade ago.

I tracked down the series I couldn’t remember, but it took some doing: ‘Brains’ Benton and Jimmy Carson. I’ve only read a couple of these, and it was long enough ago that I don’t remember which ones.

On 13 April 2004 (03:43 PM),
Dana said:

Ooh, almost forgot Henry Reed and Homer Price!

On 13 April 2004 (03:54 PM),
Dana said:

Okay, this is my last post, I promise.

Dave, if you’re interested (and haven’t already done a google search), there’s a ton of Three Investigator information out there:


Green Gate One

I seem to remember some rhymes they had for leaving messages with each other’s parents. Or maybe it was just Jupiter Jones who would do that, to alert the other two to head over to the Junkyard.

Sigh. I loved their HQ. And I kind of had a crush on Pete.

On 13 April 2004 (05:04 PM),
Dave said:

Fascinating. Once again the Canby public library, which I cherished as a youth, has left my education somewhat lacking. I’d no idea that there were 43 (!!) of those Three Investigator books.

On 13 April 2004 (05:15 PM),
Dana said:

Well, I was lucky.

I was living in Moorhead at the time I was reading this stuff. Fargo/Moorhead was about 150k at the time, plus collectively there are three colleges there. I had two public libraries, two good school libraries (gradeschool and jr. high), and three college libraries, plus B. Dalton over in West Acres mall in Fargo.

All but three of those were an easy bike ride from my house.

On 13 April 2004 (05:25 PM),
Kris said:

Oops, promise broken! 🙂

On 13 April 2004 (06:40 PM),
mart said:

richard scarry – what do people do all day?, etc.
gertrude chandler warner – the boxcar children
hardy boys series – at least 20 of these…
arthur conan doyle – the collected sherlock holmes
albert camus – the stranger
william blake – the complete poetry and prose of william blake
harlan ellison – the glass teat
john steinbeck – the winter of our discontent
noam chomsky – understanding power: the indispensable chomsky
dave eggers – you shall know our velocity

books that shaped my love of learning, reading, expanded my consciousness, set my mental stage, etc.

On 13 April 2004 (09:03 PM),
Dana said:

Kris: Oops, promise broken! 🙂

D’oh! Doubly broken, now! =)

On 13 April 2004 (10:01 PM),
Kris said:

In Chronological Order, ten books that started something:

“Ballerina Bess” This is the first book I remember actually reading myself, sounding out the words aloud as I gazed at the beautiful blonde ballerina in her pink tutu and toe shoes. We were living in Guam and I think I was almost four; my little sister Tiffany was a baby, which is why Mom didn’t have time to read to me just then and I had to do it myself.

This one has been mentioned above: “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”. This book fascinated me from the start. When my fourth grade teacher began reading this chapter book to our class, the daily suspense of arrested storytelling was too much for me. After much internal calculation of my finances, I broke down and spent 75 cents for a used paperback copy at the school’s “book store”. (This was a military elementary school in West Germany– I don’t really remember how it was that it had a bookstore, more like a book stall, in the cafeteria.) I devoured the book that night, then had to both suffer and savor through the continued readings in class. It was fortunate I bought the book; we moved to California before my teacher finished.

Some Sunset cookbook, I believe entitled “Easy Desserts”. I made that from-scratch Chocolate Chiffon pie at least 20 times during the period from 6th grade to 7th. I lost my taste for it after I discovered huge black ants in the cornstarch AFTER I had added it to the recipe.

I raided my Dad’s bookshelf regularly during high school, reading “Gone With the Wind”, “The Peter Principle”, and many others. But what a shock when I picked up George Herbert’s “DUNE” and realized I could like science fiction. To watch a talented author create an entire new universe, peopled with cultures both alien and familiar has become one of my favorite activities. Alas, Herbert’s DUNE series is inconsistently brilliant and implodes throughout the nine (ten?) novels. If I read the first, however, I have to read them all.

Another from my Dad’s shelf: “The Source”, by James Michener. Okay, Michener is entertaining historical soap opera, but in this case (age 15) I happened to read Alex Haley’s “ROOTS” just after it. A one-two punch that convinced me that people will cross any line in the name of their religion. With a history of violence and hate to justify beliefs based on superstition and fear, organized religion just became something I want no part of. Of course, I still appreciate a good week spent with a Michener novel now and then.

“The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” Yukio Mishima. What? Literature exists outside the Western Hemisphere?! A classic Japanese tragedy, as passionate, and restrained, as the finest Hamlet, and yet totally foreign to my high-school self. The cat-torture scene stands alone.

My senior English thesis at Willamette was on Dickens’ “Bleak House”, which I have now read cover-to-cover six times. Although tedious to some, Dickens’ work appeals to me because it is precisely so PRE-modern. The novel form is fairly new and Dickens treats it like a rococo carving, with as many character and plot culicues as he can manage. Of course the plot twists are contrived! Of course the tangled threads of Dickens’ people all fall into place in the next-to-last chapter! Of course no one ever figures out the hidden identities of those who are in disguise! One of the first, one of the best, a Dickens novel is a pure romp, with social commentary to boot. Sadly, my thesis was only mediocre. I wish I had a chance to try again.

A biography of Margaret Sanger, a major champion of contraceptive rights. I was aghast to learn that contraception was once illegal in the U.S. and elsewhere even as late as the 1930’s! Okay, call me naive. After watching her mother die at age 50 after enduring 18 pregnancies, Sanger became a nurse who broke federal laws by handing out and sending brochures about contraceptives to women who requested them– she served time in jail for mailing such “obscene” material, then moved abroad to continue the fight. Near the end of her life, she teamed with others to found Planned Parenthood and develop oral contraceptives and, voila, The Pill!

“A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on her Diary 1785-1812” I picked this book up on a whim at a bookstore (I was waiting for Jd, who was taking FOR-ever.) and was hooked. Social history based on primary documents. This woman’s life through her own writing is a testament to the courage of pioneers, farmers and their farming wives, independent women, and mothers of all sorts. Amazing insight to the challenges of life before electricity, grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and assisted-living retirement homes.

My all-time favorite book (so far): Ursula LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” Friendship juxtaposed with alienation and estrangement, written in prose as careful and balanced as the finest haiku. This book is a masterpiece. Plus, LeGuin lives in Portland.

On 13 April 2004 (10:49 PM),
Heather said:

Its funny how kid’s books seem to make a greater impact than adult’s books…maybe too many of us don’t have the time and energy to devote to reading that we did as children. Anyways, here’s my list (in no order):

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle)- I loved all the books in the series but I must have read this one a million times as a child

A Light in the Attic (Shel Silverstein) – I got this book as a gift for my 10th birthday and I remember being so amazed that an adult could write down so clearly things that I thought about all the time. After going back and rereading it as an adult, I’m amazed by the author’s talent.

The Conglomeriod Cocktail Party (Robert Silverberg)- This was the first adult science fiction book that I read (at the ripe old age of 11!) and I still remember being totally engrossed in it when all my friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t read The Babysitter’s Club like the rest of them.

A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) – It was the first book I read in high school that I actually enjoyed, and I remember thinking, wow, I guess they’re not making me take English just to torture me. And then we read The Scarlet Letter and I went back to the torture theory.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Series (Douglas Adams) – These books have contributed immensely to my mental health…no matter how depressed I feel it’s impossible to be in a bad mood after reading them. However, I do feel like an idiot laughing out loud in public, so I try to avoid reading them at Starbuck’s.

The Future History Books (Robert Heinlein) – These are also major comfort books, although not in the same way as the Douglas Adams books. I like the fact that the stories are all interconnected, and that the more of them you read, the more you get out of them.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (Oliver Sacks) – This book is a really interesting look into the lives of people with different psychological disorders. The author writes with such sensitivity and care for his patients, it’s easy to feel what they must be going through in their lives.

Science and Human Behavior (B.F. Skinner) – A really in depth study of an almost universally misunderstood branch of psychology. I had an awesome professor in college that taught all the Behavioral Psychology classes, and this is the book he referred us to when we had questions that we wanted answered.

The Best Recipe (Christopher Kimball) – One of the Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks. It’s rare to find a cookbook in which every recipe works how it’s supposed to. It’s the first cookbook I take out if I need to make anything I haven’t made before.

Well that’s only nine…I’m sure there are lots that I’m missing. But it’s a start 🙂

On 13 April 2004 (11:01 PM),
nate said:

nate: I’ll try to get my own list up later today

And I did. I’d have posted it here, but it’s far too lengthy.

On 14 April 2004 (08:50 AM),
Dave said:

What I find interesting is that of the books listed, a very high percentage are fiction. Of the 95 books in people’s lists (including Nate’s off-site list and counting the Lord of the Rings+Hobbit as one book rather than four volumes and the works of Karl Marx as one book, the Hardy Boys books as one book and the Sherlock Holmes stories as one book), 21 are non-fiction. This includes counting the Bible (twice) as non-fiction as well as Bulfinch’s Mythology as non-fiction. Of those books, the Childcraft encylopedia is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and thus, at least arguably, only 20 of the 95 are straight non-fiction. That’s only 21% non-fiction. If you eliminate the cook books and the concordance (Tammy do you really “read” the concordance?), each of which I would consider a reference type book, that brings the total to about 18%. Fascinating.

Of the fiction, a surprising amount of sci-fi and fantasy. Perhaps this is a function of the demographic, but even Kris listed a couple within those genres, something which I must admit surprised me. The other thing that surprised me was that Shakespeare didn’t make anyone’s list.

On 14 April 2004 (08:51 AM),
Dave said:

Oops. I missed “My Husband Betty”. Alter the statistics accordingly.

On 14 April 2004 (09:57 AM),
tammy said:

Well Dave, the concordance hasn’t had such a great impact on my life as such, but I listed it because in my adult life I have opened the Concordance about as much as any other book. Because I somehow have a flair for getting into theology type debates, on and off the computer, and because I have large portions of the Bible committed to memory I find that I use my concordance about more than any other book. Now you may wonder why I need it if I have so much stored in memory. It would be well to note here that I am a few weeks shy of 44 years old and the age factor has played a mojor role in my inability to recall the references. I always know the book of the Bible but not the exact verse and chapter. So; enter, Strongs Exhaustive Concordance!

On 14 April 2004 (09:34 PM),


On 15 April 2004 (01:54 AM),
mart said:

well it took some thinking first obviously jenefer, but these are books that made an impact, so they tend to stick out a bit more. me? i’m not a huge reader any longer, so that helps narrow the field too. college and HS days were made easier by me remembering what i focused on and therefore what stuck with me. perhaps not the mystical event you imagined it to be coming up with them. i mean, i’ve seen thousands of movies and listened to thousands of cds too but i know i could easily come up with a top 10 list there too. bet you could too.

On 15 April 2004 (09:28 AM),
Dana said:

I have an odd relationship with books. For most of my life, I’ve used them
as a coping mechanism. They helped me to escape, to blot out strong or
difficult emotions, to keep myself running on an intellectual level no
matter what my emotional level was doing.

At times, I have read voraciously — two or three books a day in stretches
during summer vacation in High School, I recall. At other times, I haven’t
needed to.

So, I’ve been thinking about the criteria I used to generate my initial list
of ten books. I’m not sure how valid that list is. They’re books I like,
certainly, and that have some meaning for me, but they probably aren’t the
ten most important, really.

Here’s another slice through my reading history, from a slightly different

1. The Disappearance of Mr. Allen — The first book I remember reading by

2. The Hobbit — I can remember my parents reading this to my brother and I
in the evenings, a chapter at a time. This was a gateway to Middle Earth in
general, and the entire corpus of Fantasy, really. I read it myself for the
first time in 3rd or 4th grade somewhere.

3. Red Planet, Robert Heinlein — I can’t be completely certain, but this
is probably the first science fiction book I ever read.

4. The Identity Matrix, Jack L. Chalker — This is not a book I would ever
recommend anybody read. It’s not particularly good, but it’s on this list
because of it’s subject matter. I read this book at the tender age of 11,
which many would probably consider young for a book with lesbian strippers
in it. I wasn’t really interested in the lesbian strippers (I was surprised
when they showed up, actually — I thought they got in the way of the
story). The protagonist in the book starts out male, but by the second
chapter aliens have caused him to switch bodies with a young girl, and he
spends the rest of the book in female bodies. The appearance of a machine
that can reprogram brains, which briefly convinces the protagonist that he’s
always been female, was also of interest to me. This wasn’t my first
exposure to SF with these kinds of plot elements, but it probably is the
first book I read where it was a central theme of a serious story.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica (195x edition), various — My family has had
this since before I was born, usually tucked away in a corner in the
basement. My brother hates it, because he tried to look up Martin Luther
King Jr. in it for a school report and couldn’t find him — the encyclopedia
predates most of the civil rights movement. I’ve always loved it, though,
and it’s perfectly good for older stuff. My parents never really made much
use of this, either, so I’ve inherited it. I don’t use it very often, but I
like having it. It’s a comforting old friend. It is a pain to move,
I’ll admit.

6. A Comedy of Errors, William Shakespeare — In summer school right after
5th grade, Bob Hauer adapted Comedy of Errors and we performed it. I was
a Dromio (of Ephesus, I believe). I got interested in acting largely
because of this, although very little came of it later. Overall, though,
it’s had a big effect on me, as I feel that this is when I started
consciously developing a lot of my ‘lying’ techniques that served me so well
for so long. I was already lying about what I wanted and liked, of course,
but around this time I started taking more deliberate steps to express
myself (in secret) and cover my tracks. Plus, it’s a very funny play.

7. Foundation, Isaac Asimov — Okay, I know I pulled Caves of Steel out
earlier as an exemplar of Asimov, but I’ve got to go back to Foundation and
Psychohistory. This book, in a very real sense, introduced me to the ideas
of cultural relativism, statistical theory, and the idea that conditions and
environments can be manipulated to produce understandable results in
people. All of these ideas have had significant knock-on effects on my life
in a variety of ways.

8. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain — I read this around 5th grade, too,
because I’d seen Tom Sawyer on TV or something, and because it was a
challenge (my Mom had had trouble reading this in College or something). It
was tough going, but it was worth it. I’d already had experiences with
racism and discrimination for real, and this book gave me some history
around that, along with a fairly good-sized helping of class warfare kinds
of ideas (although not as much as I got from HG Wells, who was a dedicated

9. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking — Probably one of the greatest
books on Einsteinian relativity and the related cosmology that’s ever been
written. This is still probably the best introduction to the fundamental
workings of the Universe, as it’s currently understood by our science.
There have been some advances since this was published, but nothing that
really invalidates what’s in here. Reading this book always fills me with a
sense of wonder and possibility, and knowing what I do about Hawking’s life,
it’s an even more inspiring achievement.

10. Gender Shock, Phyllis Burke — Almost all of my coming out process
involved either internet research, or anonymous library browsing of various
medical and psych textbooks. This particular book is not about being
transgendered, it’s about how our society has pigeonholed the genders, and
what has been done to non-conforming people (of whatever type) in the name
of psychology. While I think My Husband Betty is an exceptional
work, it’s a lot more specific to heterosexual crossdressers/TG’s who are in
committed relationships with women. It adds a lot to the overall discussion
of gender and crossdressing, but I’ve only just read it, so it’s fresh. I
know Gender Shock had a pretty strong impact on me when I was reading it, an
impact which has lingered.

The most interesting thing about this list, to me, is that most of the
entries are from the same two-year period — fourth and fifth grade. We
moved from Michigan to Moorhead, MN in the summer preceding fourth grade. I
had no friends for the first half of the year, and I the friends I did have
the second half of the year were all in a different classroom. I was
miserable. I got teased and picked on pretty mercilessly. I started
reading to cope with those emotions, eventually reading about a book a day
(we had an excellent school library). I developed my taste for science
fiction at this point. I had tests of character that I had to deal with on
my own. Some I failed, some I bested. In both cases, I learned from the

In a very real sense, this is the period in my life where I stopped being a
child, and became a thinking individual. I made plans, I took actions, and
I was responsible for the outcomes. I thought about philosophy, I tested my
theories, and I revised them as I needed to. I mentally partitioned myself
off from my parents partially because Mom was working and Dad was back in
school, so they were around less, and partly because I was exploring things
about myself that I knew I had to deal with, but that I knew they would be
disapproving of.

I developed the character traits that would more or less define me, and
still do — traits that make up the core of who I am, as well as the traits
which define the “Dane”-character I ended up playing for the next 20 years.
It was the period in my life that gave me the tools I have used to live
through the intervening years and the challenges those years have brought.

On 16 April 2004 (06:51 AM),
Jeff said:

In the order that I read them:

1. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
2. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
3. Richard Scarry’s Best Story Book Ever by Richard Scarry
4. Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
5. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
6. Nigger by Dick Gregory
7. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
9. The Holy Bible
10. The Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickason

Honorable mention: World Atlas by Rand-McNally, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Books 9 & 10 are the only ones on the list that I have read since high school. Any other books I have read since then have been instructional, reference, or periodical. I don’t have the patience or time to sit and read a novel, and would much rather learn something practical if I am going to read.

On 03 April 2005 (11:24 PM),
jason said:

my list would be as follows:
1-marcel proust-remembrance of things past
2-fyodor dostoevsky-crime and punishment
3-george orwell-1984
4-james joyce-ulysses
5-friedrich nietzsche-thus spoke zarathustra
6-charles dickens-great expectations
7-mark twain-the adventures of huckleberry finn
8-edgar allan poe-unabridged
9-bram stoker-dracula
10-charlotte bronte-jane eyre

On 16 July 2005 (12:50 PM),
Craig Jue said:

What a great trip walking down memory lane…..other people’s favorites being the same as mine.

Brains Benton and Jimmy Carson have to be up there because I can still remember reading these books in my childhood (I do not know what happened to them, I’ve asked my mother several times to no avail).

I am trying to remember a couple of other books that I really enjoyed in my childhood. Mid-1960’s to early 1970’s). Both are fiction.

One was about the life of a hermit crab, from egg to the dangers of almost being eaten and then to finding a new shell as a home. The story was written from the perspective of the hermit crab as if he were a person. The book had lots of illustrations and was fairly large in size.

The other book was about a poor, but happy and close Jewish immigrant family growing up in New York. I believe there were three young daughters (ages about 10 to 14) and no sons in the family. I think the time setting was around WWII, give or take a few years.

If anyone knows or remembers either of these books, I would appreciate a note or e-mail: [email protected]


Updated: 13 April 2004

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