Staying power

So there’s this meme going around Facebook: list ten books that have stayed with you. Let’s just get my list out of the way right now. In alphabetical order by title:

  1. Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle
  2. D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
  3. How to Become King by Jan Terlouw
  4. Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
  5. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
  6. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  7. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman
  8. The Soul’s Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life by Thomas Moore
  9. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
  10. Witchdame by Kathleen Sky

10 books on a bookshelf.
There, and you didn’t even have to be friends with me on Facebook to find out what they were. I’m not saying they’re all works for the ages. I’m fascinated by the story world of Celestial Matters, but its character development could use some work. The Soul’s Code is a mite dry; I liked Witchdame better when I was in high school and college.

The original meme advised people not to think about this too much. I can only think that the person who came up with that had only read a few hundred books in their lifetime. So many books have stayed with me, that I had to allow some time for my mind to sift through them and get the ten “stickiest” ones. And I could add several books to this list; ten is such an artificially complete number.

As I tried to think of my ten books, I wrestled with the phrase “stayed with you.” What did that mean, really? After all, the meme didn’t ask for my ten favorite books or the ten books that changed my life the most. The phrase suggests that only books you read years ago can qualify, because how else would you know that these were the books that you’d remember for years to come? One of my first criteria was that the book had literally stayed with me: i.e., I owned a copy. Admittedly, some of the oldest, out-of-print books on my list might have been difficult to get, but I did have the ones I was thinking of—and that helped me narrow down my list of candidates. In the end, it was a combination of things. Some of the books were the ones I reflexively thought of when I read the meme for the first time. I figured these would be my childhood favorites, the books that always come to mind when I hit a question like this. I wasn’t expecting The Soul’s Religion and The Soul’s Code to pop into my mind right then. It’s nice to be surprised like that…and maybe I should reread them soon. I did list a few favorite books. How could I resist? And then there were the books that have changed my life, at least for the time being, and directly influence how I approach life.

In my highly unscientific survey of my friends’ lists, I’d say mine has more nonfiction on it than most people’s. Does fiction stay with you better than nonfiction, or is it that we’re more likely to read fiction when we’re young and impressionable, when books stand the best chance of embedding themselves in our psyches? If I’d run into this meme as a young adult, my list would be entirely fiction. I read those four nonfiction books within the past ten years, and even as I listed them, I was wondering if they’d still be with me mentally ten years from now. There are so many books out there I haven’t read yet that might displace them!

I just finished reading a book called My Ideal Bookshelf, which is pretty much this meme in book form. The editor interviewed people from various creative fields who talked about what books they’d put on their hypothetical ideal bookshelf, and the book’s illustrator provided a picture of each of these shelves. It sounded like a neat concept when I started reading it, but I never really connected with it. I think it was because I’m not familiar with many of the people interviewed, and even when I knew who the person was, often I didn’t care much unless I’d already been interested in them. It’s been much more interesting to read my friends’ lists of books, even when I don’t want to ever read any of their choices. The books we choose for whatever reasons say something about us, and it’s always fascinating to try to figure out what that something is.

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