My Top Ten (or so) books Worth Reading and that Influenced Me.

Becky Carleton, a librarian at the Johnson County Library in Kansas challenged me to name ten pieces of literature that have stayed with me. And then to challenge ten friends. To be honest, I don’t know that I have 10 friends so I’ll just post this and feel free to add your own list. And I’m afraid I went a bit over ten. It’s hard to stop at 10, so you get about fifteen. It’s hard to stop.

  1. The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran. This really spoke to me as a teenager/young adult and still does. One book I still have. My parents got me a hardbound-cased copy when I was young and I still have it.
  2. The Fountainhead (and Atlas Shrugged) – Ayn Rand. Although when I started talking about how much I liked it, I found out it was very controversial and somewhat frowned upon to like it. It still resonated with me. I remember getting so excited by it and talking about it in a BBS (yes, it was that long ago) and then getting chastised. I never thought people would take exception to it. It was just had interesting ideas, it wasn’t gospel. But you will definitely either love it or hate it.
  3. The High House – James Stoddard. A great SF/fantasy book that I read over and over. I am actually reading it right now. It is a great story of a house that contains countries within rooms and appeals to my love of hidden rooms and surprises. “In High House, which seems to have an infinity of corridors and rooms, certain lamps must always be lit against nightfall, and certain clocks must always be kept wound. Leviathan lives in the attic, and the dark river of Entropy is kept behind a locked door in the cellar.”
  4. The Rubaiyat – Omar Khayyam.When I was young, dad used to read this book to me. It had such wonderful and evocative language. If you love poetry, read this book. I still have dad’s original copy. NOTE: It is $2.25 at Amazon  Thrift right now and is under Prime shipping.   
    1. A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
      A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou
      Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
      O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”
    2. “The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
      Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
      Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
  5. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle. One of the very most influential books of my youth. Every child should read this. And adults too, for that matter. It is one of the books that solidified my love of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is actually in a quintet, although the first book was the most influential for me.
  6. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein. I am of that age that read this. The concepts may seem a little dated now, but at the time, it influenced a generation of people, including me. Also, Time Enough for Love by Heinlein was extremely influential. Both of these books address topics likewhat is love in all of its myriad aspects and why it is so important to man’s survival as a species. Both of these books were way ahead of their time for challenging the taboos of non heterosexual, monogamous relationships and saying that love comes in many forms. While this is not ground-breaking now, it was back then.
  7. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien. Back when Science Fiction and Fantasy was barely a category, and was not considered adult reading, this was ground-breaking. It was one of the first real fantasy trilogies (or novels, for that matter) with an epic and complex theme. I still re-read it and they actually did justice to it with the movie version.
  8. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin. An amazing and complex story, psychological and abstract. It is not an easy read and it is dated in some ways, like the fact that a unisex society is not as unbelievable as it was then and doesn’t need to have the attention on it that this gives it. But at the time, it was ground-breaking and the beauty of the language and subtleness of the writing puts some modern SF to shame. Also, any other works by her.
  9. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. Another thoughtful SF/Fantasy book dealing with important issues like government, religion, patriarchy and the desire to control of women.
  10. The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov. This is classic SF, considered one of the all time best, and one that everyone should read. The complexity and depth of it is astounding. It’s easily read again and again. If you want more, there are four more books in the Foundation series. 
  11. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern. A much newer novel, but I loved the mystery and hidden rooms and tents and the evocativeness of it. It brings up things that are just outside your memories and recollections.
  12. Well, after The Night Circus, I had to add one more classic: Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It is the darker forerunner of the Night Circus. “The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois”
  13.  The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. Dark, disturbing and psychologically fascinating “It is a marvelous, if mostly dark, quilt of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In an ingenious framework to open and close the book, Bradbury presents himself as a nameless narrator who meets the Illustrated Man–a wanderer whose entire body is a living canvas of exotic tattoos. What’s even more remarkable, and increasingly disturbing, is that the illustrations are themselves magically alive, and each proceeds to unfold its own story”
  14. The Don Juan Series by Carlos Castenada. They really made me wonder about psychedelic drugs as a gateway to other worlds and ways of being. And just the idea that there could be separate realities that we are unaware of. It is the author’s experiences with Yaqui Indian shamanism in Northern Mexico.

When I was young there wasn’t really such a thing as young adult so these are a mix for all different ages. And anyone who was a youth in the late ’60s – early ’70s will recognize these books and probably be familiar with at least some of them.

You will notice that I have several books, particularly SF/Fantasy books, by women. It is not a genre that has a lot of women writers even now, much less when I was young. But I have always gravitated towards, and looked for women authors. And especially where the protagonist is a female, which is rare, even now. Even so, I had more male than female authors.

As an aside, when I sold all of my SF/fantasy collection after I thought I should downsize (which I do and don’t regret), I only saved a few of the books. The High House and its follow-up False House (not quite as good), Dream Park and its follow-up and The Lord of the Rings. An interesting aside, I got well over $1000 for my collection (and they didn’t take a lot that they already had) from Hyde Books, a used book store in Fort Wayne. And they were basically all just well-read paperbacks. That tells you how much I had. I remember my last move with them where I had stacks of boxes covering the entire living room and stacked about 6 feet tall. When it seemed we might be moving out of state, I knew I had to downsize. It turned out we didn’t move at that time but it was still good to get rid of something that could almost be considered baggage, although I loved my books and had them organized by author, set and date. I still miss them sometimes.

There you have it. What are your all-time influential books?

~ Susan Casserley

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