Books That Made Me Who I Am Today (poor thing)

Literature anyone?You know, it’s tough picking the most influential books that you’ve read thus far in your life. I’ve read so many books and find it very hard to limit the list to even 10 let alone 20, but I thought it would be amusing to list them, nonetheless. But where do you start? There are categories of books; fiction, non-fiction, “literature,” and popular novels. I distinguish between literature and popular novels only because there is a raging debate in literary studies about what is “literature” and what is meant to be read by the masses, in other words, “popular.” Yes academics feel that there is literature which was and shall be created for their study alone (which means, if they like it) and there are novels for the rest of us. I’m being snide because regardless of my education, I still identify with the “unwashed masses.” People tend to forget that Charles Dickens was paid by the word and wrote popular literature for his time. So did Sir Walter Scott. Even Jane Austen was the popular writer of her day. ONLY in hindsight do novels become LITERATURE, in other words, worthy of study in the halls of academia. I told myself that if I were ever to become a teacher (and everybody asks me why I’m not teaching right now) I would teach Stephen King (High School and beyond) and other popular authors. No one wants to read what others have labeled “literature” unless it also happens to be good, which isn’t very often. But again, I digress.

The most influential books in my life either contributed in some way to my general outlook on life and still do, or they’ve made such an impact at the time I read them that I’ve deemed them unforgettable. I’d have to pick the top ten influential books by category. Therefore, I’m going to bore you with lists. Three to be exact: fiction, non-fiction, and general pop culture. Let’s begin with the Fiction in no particular order.

My Top Ten Most Influential Works of Fiction
1. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French

2. The Stand by Stephen King

3. Swan Song by Robert McCammon

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

6. A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

7. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

8. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

9. Native Son by Richard Wright (tied with) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

10. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

My Top Ten Worst (Most Boring/Overrated) Books Ever Put on a Top Ten or Class Reading List

1. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

2. Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. The End of The Affair by Graham Greene

5. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (sorry Alyce)

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

7. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

8. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

9. The Magus by John Fowles

10. The Golden Bowl by Henry James

Actually, any of these author’s books can be deemed boring and unreadable, but that’s just my opinion. I’ve read two of Salinger’s, three of Hemingway’s, two of Greene’s, five of Hardy’s, two of Faulkner’s, and three each of Fowles and James and trust me, none get any better. Why, oh why, do we insist on making our kids read this crap in schools? Let’s start a new Canon of Literature and clear out the old “modern” novel and make way for the new. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll come up with a new list, one from which I would teach children in school. Also coming up tomorrow: Top Ten Non-fiction.

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4 thoughts on “Books That Made Me Who I Am Today (poor thing)

  1. Genre snobbery irritates the heck out of me, too. And I think it’s sad, because most of the books that I’ve loved the most and learned the most from have not been “literature.”

    Suggestions for you New Canon of Literature:

    The Harry Potter books; I think these would be terrific to teach!
    Stephen King’s The Green Mile
    Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book (especially good for showing an accurate picture of the middle ages
    Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods
    Mark Twain’s short stories
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

    I could go on. And on. And on.

  2. Pyro, Love the moniker by the way, ๐Ÿ™‚
    I agree with you about the genre snobbery. It’s rampant. Like you I would teach those books that had the greatest impact, NOT necessarily considered “literature.” I like your list, especially Twain and Gaiman. I have American Gods but haven’t read it yet and I do love the Spanish magical realism of Marquez. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I agree with you 100% about “Gatsby.” Dull, dull, dreadfully dull. I have not read a lot of fiction, perhaps as a result of being forced to read such things in high school. One book that continues to stand out in my mind though is “Catch 22.” Funny and deadly serious at the same time. Along the same time and era was “Slaughterhouse Five,” to my mind one of the scariest books ever written. And although it is on the non-fiction list Hersey’s “Hiroshima” makes a perfect companion to “Slaughterhouse Five.” Those three were enough to cement my pacifism for life.

  4. Hey Crash, thanks for the comments. Yes, I could never understand what we were supposed to learn from that book. I liked other books written in the 20s and 30s, (i.e. Babbit by Sinclair Lewis) but it seemed more accessible. I’ve never read Catch 22 although I know others of my class were forced to in High School. We had an “experimental” regimine of English classes in the early 70s in which we were divided up by genre and could choose which ones we wanted to take. It was fascinating. I’ll have to look into the books you mentioned. Thanks for the comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

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