Ten-Or-So Books Of Fundamental Importance

There’s a lot of stuff kicking around in my head at the moment, and I’ve been feeling not-Internet-y for the last few days, which is pretty odd for me. In the meantime, though, I think I’ll talk about books. An age ago Kate posted a list of books that questioned her assumptions – I’ve been trying to compile the same, but without much luck. Instead, here’s my list of Ten-Or-So Books Of Fundamental Importance (in no particular order):

1. The End of the Affair – Graham Greene
I first read The End of the Affair during rainy May 2000, having just returned from London. This is the book I wish I could write. Greene’s argument for faith, concealed within and behind a love affair, is the most transparent and wonderful I’ve ever read. This book, like Galatea, got and continues to get under my skin for many reasons, not the least of which because I find it echoed in the rhythm of my own writing and thought and emotion.
2. Galatea 2.2 – Richard Powers
I first read Galatea in the waning days of August 2003, just as things were going to hell in my personal life. It just – it slayed me. The double helix storylines – the scientific challenge to create understanding and the personal quest to understand and find – I return to it again and again and each read unlocks something new.
3. The Hours – Michael Cunningham
I first read The Hours on a sunny day by the river near Wausau as my lover and I waited for our clothes to dry after an impromptu swim. I fell quietly and hopelessly in love with Virginia Woolf on that July afternoon, my previous crush turning into a full-fledged love affair. Cunningham’s homage to Mrs. Dalloway is lyrical, lush, challenging, and emotional. The film was fine, but the novel is far more rewarding.
4. Microserfs – Douglas Coupland
When asked, I always list Microserfs as my favorite book of all time. I read it for the first time when I was 17 – no, 16? – on the recommendation of a coworker. I have continued to read it at least annually for the last nine years, and it is one of the few books that has continued to grow with me. While the subject matter will be dated all too soon, Coupland’s simple and heartbreaking observations on what it means to be human are spot on. And it has Legos on the cover.
5. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist was given to me for Christmas by my uncle and devoured during a snowstorm in the early days of 1999. The narrative is simple and charming, but this slight book packs a punch if you’re willing to accept the fable. This book marked the beginning of an obsession with Coelho, reawakened recently by a friend’s completion of the pilgrimage.
6. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
I read Jitterbug Perfume in the wee hours of the morning, July 1997, while on a youth group trip to DC. I have a hard time picking a favorite Tom Robbins novel because they are all (OK, most) packed chock full of adventure and randomness and mysticism and bizarrely esoteric subplots. My two copies of this novel have disappeared into the ether. If Tom Robbins showed up at my door, I would run away with him. Yes.
7. Blankets – Craig Thompson
Blankets forever changed my perception of graphic novels. I read it the first weekend of June 2004, during another period of uncertainty and emotional upheaval. My sister read it the same weekend, and we were both slayed. Thompson’s sensitive memoir could be, at times, the childhood of anyone I knew growing up or know now – the struggle to find your place, the first gasp of real love, the questions of faith that seem so easy until you really question them.
8. A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Reading A Moveable Feast a few days before my departure to London, January 2000, marked the beginning of so much of what constitutes my aesthetics as an adult – and, of perhaps equal importance, my desperate love affair with Paris. Food and wine and art and personality and travel – I was smitten. It remains by far my favorite Hemingway.
9. Two-Part Invention – Madeleine L’Engle
Read during what would be the only winter of my marriage, Two-Part Invention struck me as a profound example of what a relationship should be. L’Engle writes lyrically, powerfully, simply about her marriage, her youth, her dreams, her faith, and the man she loved and lost to cancer in 1987.
10. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Like Galatea, like The End of the Affair, like The Hours, I find The English Patient echoed in the rhythms of my thought, my speech, my emotion, my prose. Unlike the rest of this list, I can’t remember when I first read this novel, though I suspect it was in late 1999 after being sucked into the film one lazy Saturday afternoon with my roommates. The film and the novel marked the beginning of my obsession with the desert, though that may date back to The Alchemist a year before. Ondaatje’s prose is breathtaking. That is all.

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