I just spent an hour as a guest on a conference call for Spencer Reynolds’s wonderful reading group, Book Readers Club.
Spencer has been leading this group, dubbed “Where Dedicated Learners Come Together Every Week,” for some five years now. Participants hail from all around the nation and meet on a live conference call once a week (though many catch the discussion later via podcast) to read and discuss their given book of choice.
This week was the final week of their reading of The Go-Giver, and they had invited me to join them. I did.
After reading a selection (we took turns; two members read Chapters 12 and 13; I got to read Chapter 14 and thus close the book!), we discussed the book for a good half hour. They asked all sorts of intriguing and excellent questions. The one that I did not have a good answer for was the very last:
“What is your favorite book?”
Geez. You’d think I’d know.
At first I gave a lame answer (“That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child, and I have four kids”), but then mentioned two that I love: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, and John Steinbeck’s great sweeping classic East of Eden. Then I followed that with another lame answer: “It keeps changing; I guess my answer would be different depending on what day you asked.”
After hanging up, I thought, Hey, that’s not true.
The books that have had the most impact on me are timeless, and they don’t change from day to day. I still remember the very first book I read on my own: Little Bear, by Maurice Sendak. The impact of that one will never go away. (I think I have modeled my life, more or less, after Little Bear’s.) The Narnia series and The Odyssey (as well as the Bible) I encountered as a child, and their impact has been huge and lasting. (No single book has had a more earth-shattering, life-changing impact on me than The Last Battle, the last of the Narnia books, which I read when I was ten.)
What is true is that the list keeps growing. I read East of Eden only recently (five or six years ago), and all of Neil Gaiman’s writings more recently still.
So, after some minutes of reflection, here is the Director’s Cut of my answer to that question: not one but ten favorites, the books that have had the most impact on me thus far, as a writer and as a person. These are listed chronologically, according to when I read them, longest-ago first.
It’s kind of a weird mix, but there you go.
The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis
The Odyssey, Homer
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller
As a Man Thinketh, James Allen
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Stardust, Neil Gaiman
What are your favorites?