(Part 1, because I am wordy, I guess.)
There was a facebook meme going around along the lines of:
In your status line list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take too long or think too hard. They don’t have to be “right” or “great”, just ones that have touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I can see your list. It’s a great way to find new books.
I thought that it was actually a pretty interesting one, despite the obligatory “tag your friends” bit at the end, but I did talk to my friend Sheri into doing it, and you can check out her answers at her blog! As it is, I thought I’d write up some books that, for better or worse, have stuck with me. I’m also willing to play fast and loose as to what a “book” is in my world. I’d rather say “Ten things I’ve read that have stayed with me.”
- The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.
Until I read this book, I had been faking my way through classes. I was in fifth grade, and at this point I was tired of making up fake books to pretend to have read for my book reports. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read, but it was rather that I didn’t read for enjoyment, and it was a terrible struggle to sound out words. I had no patience for the stillness of a book. This is the book that changed that. After reading this book, I became an avid reader, and read everything I came across.
- Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore
This book had a scene early on where the dwarf liked the brains of his enemy off his battle ax. It was so gross and so awesome I remember looking up in class (still in fifth grade), looking around at everyone and realizing that no one else just read that. Books were like a secret between you and others that read!
- Stranger in a Strange Land, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Time Enough for Love, and I Will Fear No Evil* by Robert Heinlein
Fast forward to sixth grade. By now people noticed I was reading everything I could get my hands on. Also, I had learned how to avoid the geese at the public library, and now had my own library card. For my birthday I was given these four books, and I read them as if they were all one book, split into several parts. Because of Heinlein’s willingness to play fast and loose with continuity and put Lazarus Long into everything, I’m still not certain I’m wrong. I never finished Stranger or Time Enough, although I did get to within twenty pages of finishing Stranger. I remember vividly putting down the book in the middle of the FBI raid with Michael Valentine Smith sitting at the bottom of the pond/pool thing, and I just never went back. So for me, he was never found, never shot, never anything. He’s still sitting at the bottom of that pond, holding his breath the way a martian can. I Will Fear No Evil is probably my favorite of the Heinlein books because anytime you have something with gender swapping, I am there. I dislike the idea of rigid gender identities, and at 12 years old, Heinlein was the first to show me that nothing was set in stone.
- Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard.
I hated this book. This was lent to me by my uncle (he was the one who gave me the Heinlein, so I thought Battlefield Earth would be good too, but it was not.) I had no idea, until I started Battlefield Earth that you could hate a book. It was a memorable learning moment, and since then I’ve always had a willingness to close a book and never read it further. Some books you like, some you don’t care for, and some you hate with a fiery passion. I can’t tell you why I hate(d) Battlefield Earth, only that as a young pre-teen, I did. I believe that this might also have been the time I started writing, certain that I could do better. (I’ll never be as successful as Hubbard, but when you’re 12 you don’t know that, and even if you did, it wouldn’t stop you.)
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
We’re now into highschool, and things were tough for me. I vacillated between honors and remedial classes, depending on my patience and my teacher’s opinions as to where “I belonged.” Many people started making comments about my being on the “Five Year Plan” and what was worse, I didn’t know what that meant. My best friend in the world (who stayed in honors classes) was given a copy of Atlas Shrugged to read, and I picked it up at her house and read it over a few days. I wanted to prove to myself that I was smart enough for honors classes “If only I would have applied myself” and so I finished it and gave it back to her. I’m not sure she ever actually read it to be honest, but because she was the only person I’ve ever known with a GPA higher than 4.0, I imagine it didn’t bother her grade much.I liked the idea of a world that ran on meritocracy, and of course, when we imagine these worlds we always imagine ourselves at the top of the pile, don’t we?** You’ll never meet someone who wants to go back to the “good old days of chivalry” and be the one shoveling out the stables. Atlas Shrugged plays on the same sensibility: that you are the most talented person you know, so of course you deserve more than others. This doesn’t take into account the world that functions because of the people that get up at 4am and do the crappy jobs: the garbage truck drivers, the police officers, the doctors working at the clinic that’ll treat anyone for any reason. There are so many unsung and unknown heroes that just aren’t glamorous enough to live in Galt’s Gulch, and as I grew older, I started to question where “my people” are in this book. Oh, right, Eddie Willers is left sobbing by the side of the track, abandoned by the very people (including Dagny) who he supported and worked for. So long Middle Class, we hardly knew ya!
Now that I’m older, the part that sticks with me most about this book is where they fly over New York City, and Galt’s speech about “turning off the lights of the world” is realized, and you see the lights of the “Greatest City on Earth” go out, one by one. How is that not a tragedy of hubris? How is that not throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
When I hear politicians talk about Atlas Shrugged, I have to question that politician’s understanding of what they read, not to mention their understanding of “socialism” and history.
* Bonuses! I refuse to follow rules and only count 10 books!
** How many people believe that during a zombie apocalypse they won’t be zombie chow? I mean, look at the numbers, and it’s not just the good and honest people that are alive for the movie – it’s just a handful of people, and chances are you and I are dead, or about to die an unpleasant icky death. I mean, I know we’ll all do our best not to be the zombie, but numbers are just against us.