I started this almost a month ago, but never found the time to go back to proof and publish. But, I really did this in 15 minutes. I am resisting the urge to change some of these now that I've had time to reflect, but I am leaving them as-is.
15 Influential Books (list comprised in 15 minutes):
1 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Although I first read this in English, I remember it because it was also the first book I ever read in French. I read several French existentialist while a student, but Saint-Exupéry's book is the one that I not only remember, but I remeber enjoying. Besides, isn't it nicer to remember a fairy tale that Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres"?
2 The Witch of Blackbird Pond A Newberry Award Winner. I remember this book because I didn't want to return it to the school library. I renewed it so many times that the librarian refused to let me check it out again. A boy in my class wanted to keep a book about the WWI and the Red Barron. We checked out each other's book and traded, content to continue reading our chosen books.
3 Biography of Jane Addams - The first biography I ever read. I remember this was part of a series of biographies. The books were covered in blue cloth and had nice end papers. The series was mostly about men, but three books were about women.
4 Biography of Amelia Earhart This book was in the same series as the Jane Addams book. (The other woman was Dolly Madison.) I remember that these books were my companions during a period when it seemed like I was continually grounded. Seems like I read them in my room on rainy Saturday afternoons.
5 The Great Gatsby. F.Scott Fitzgerald. I have read this book many times. It was required reading in high school and in two college classes. Each time I have read it, I have discovered something new that is particularly wonderful, whether it is Nick's elegy about the green light at the end of Daisy's dock in the final paragraphs, or the desolate description of Jay Gatsby's mansion after he has been killed, or the languorous way that Daisy and Sigourney endure the heat and boredom seated on a sofa, or the sense of fatality in the party scene when the group rides into the city before Myrtle is killed. There isn't a bit in this book that didn't awe me the first time I read it and I am never disappointed when I re-read it.
6 The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs. I read this three years ago and it opened my eyes to not only the horrifying nature of poverty in much of the developing world, but the equally horrifying realization that even though it is solvable, the "haves" of this world are not doing nearly enough.
7 Moby-Dick. Herman Melville. I read this during a short summer session while in college. Daily, I would pull my lawn chair into the yard of the run-down house I rented, grease myself up with suntan lotion, take a few cold beers from the fridge, and read. And read. And read. If it rained, or was just too hot, I would shift my location to the dive bar where my roommate worked, where I would sit at the end of the bar, usually the only "customer" in the afternoon, and continue plowing through this tome. I was surprised that I not only finished the assigned reading, but that I loved the book. All of my classmates thought I was crazy. Maybe it was the ever-flowing beer, but I think not. Although I don't know that I'll ever re-read Moby-Dick in its entirety, I think it will always remain near the top of my Best. Books. Ever. list.
8 Fire-Starter, Stephen King. This book was given to me as a birthday present, shortly before I graduated from college. The gift-giver told me to try to not be a snob and enjoy the book. It was the first book by Stephen King that I ever read and it taught me that there is a lot of merit in reading pop culture-type books. A good lesson for a snobby, newly graduated English major - especially as she learned in the midst of a recession that the real-world of work was not nearly as nice as the world of literature.
9 A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle. This may be the book that got me to give up on reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I thought L'Engle could see inside my head and based the character of Meg on me: smart, nerdy, few friends, short-tempered. I so wanted a Mrs. Whatsit or an Aunt Beast to drop into my world and take me away to some planet where I could be nurtured by them.
10 The World According Garp, John Irving. After reading Stephen King, I thought I could try another foray into pop culture. I had heard that Irving was a good writer, but I laughed at the marketing of the book (you could buy the book in one of several different colored covers). I rushed home every evening from a routine job -- my first "real" full time job -- to sit on the patio of the dull, little apartment I rented to read about the life of Garp. I thought it was wonderful that when he first meets his wife, she tell Garp that she wants to be a reader. How could I not love a book about someone who wanted to be a writer, and someone who wanted to be a reader?
11 A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. It was several years later when I read A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is the Irving novel that I most often recommend. By far my favorite one of his books.
12 A MidSummer Night's Dream. William Shakespeare. It is possible that I saw the play before I read the play. I know that MidSummer's Night Dream is not the first Shakespeare play that I had read. High school requirements forced me to read Julius Ceaser, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. Hamlet, Lear and Richard III were all required reading early in my college work. But it wasn't until I read MidSummer Night's Dream that I fell in love with Shakespeare. I'm a sucker for any version of this play, and I think that I've seen most of the film adaptations of it.
13 Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain. I can remember my grandfather coming to live with us when I was about 14. I was intrigued that he would read books like Alice in Wonderland and Huck Finn. (He read the encyclopedia too.) He told me I should read Huck, but I had a difficult time with the dialect. A few years later, during my Jr year in high school, Huck Finn was on the syllabus. My grandfather had just died, and I insisted on reading his copy of the book, having to cross reference the assignments from the school-issued version and mine. My English teacher was one of the coolest teacher's that I had; when she first spotted the dogeared volume I had, held together with two rubber bands, she asked about it. I explained it was my grandfather's. The next week, she had a special assignment sheet for me, adjusted for the page numbers in my book. While my reading that copy of the book was an emotional thing, Huck Finn is the book that I credit as being one of the most influential in making me a lifelong reader. And, when people have asked me if I want to write the "Great American Novel", I'm often tempted to say: "Already done. Go read Huck Finn.
14 Love Story, Erich Segal. Laugh. Snicker. Snear. Why is this book on here? It was one of the first "forbidden" books that I ever read. My mother had a copy on her nightstand and I would sneak into her bedroom to read it every day as soon as I got home from school. I would get about 3 pages read during the 10 minutes I had before my older sister would arrive home. I distinctly remember that the characters frequently called peopled sobs. I couldn't figure out what that meant. (Give me a break; I was 12). It took me most of the book before I understood that it was an abbreviation because I was reading a Readers' Digest Condensed version. I imagine that "sonofabitch" was just too racy for Readers' Digest.
15 The Once and Future King. T.H. White. I was mesmerized by this book. I never could understand why Guenevere would have fallen in love with Lancelot because Arthur was so wonderful. I had read A Sword in the Stone in 9th grade and didn't want the book to end. A few years later, when I learned that it was part of a longer novel (see note on English teach & Huck Finn), I had to get the book. It remains one of the few books over a 1000 pages that I have ever completed willingly and without being "required" reading. (Thanks to a short attention span.)