Jaclyn Backhaus tagged me in a recent chain about the ten books that have stayed with me. The trick is, participants cannot over-think the assessment. So in no particular order, here are ten (though, given too much time, I’d probably put a different ten… though, that’s probably not true).
1) The End of the Affair by Graham Greene: One of the most masterfully written books on time, perspective, and faith, I am ever enchanted by how much the author’s perspective about his story shifts and is in motion. Fantastic. The only sinking feeling I have about the book is due to a critique Greene wrote about it. He didn’t know his own genius.
2) Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Thankfully, I once had to attended one of McCann’s readings (I generally avoid readings like the plague), and it turned out he read from the manuscript of this novel. During the reading — during his reading — he looked up at the audience and said, “that doesn’t sound right, does it?” And he edited the text on the spot. The care — and humility — of that moment saturates the ENTIRE text.
3) Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schlansky. We read this book for a class that discussed the best essays of the year. The class streatched the term “essay” about as far as it could go, but when this book won, we did not stretch “best” at all. It’s exquisite, from an artifact point of view, from a literature point of view, from a social criticism point of view. It changed the way I think about content and form, about place, about ownership, about travel, and about self.
4) The Plague by Albert Camus. Dark and perfect.
5) Slouching toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion. A collection of essays, I think this book is an amalgamation of my favorite Didion. Numerous deep, true, and insightful pieces. Beauty on every page. And Didion.
6) The Divine Milieu by Pierre Teihard de Chardin. An amazing work on faith and vocation and the way all things are connected. A perfectly Jesuit approach to looking at the cosmos as a whole, integrated, and beatiful place.
7) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. So understated that I once sat through a graduate literature class where not one of my classmates recognized the story-shifting change that happens at the end. I will not ruin this book for those who want to read it, but Waugh’s use of pace and the gaze changes everything. But that’s the case with every one of his books –a close second for this spot was Black Mischief, though the tones are diametrically opposed.
8) The Female Brain by Louanne Brizendine. Flawed though it is, this book changed my perspective on the body, the mind, and how I am not a segregated person but an integrated whole.
9) Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte. Concrete discussions of the syntax as style. Go figure.
10) Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. I have never read another book that shifted so much for me on the significance of a single word.
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