Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ten Books That "Stuck"

Ten Books That Stuck

     There has been a recent Facebook thread in which people post the titles of ten books which "stuck with them" - resonated with them to the point that they think about these books weeks, months, even years later.  These books don't have to be great works of literature or part of any canon, just books that meant a lot to those who read them.  These posters then went on to challenge friends to do the same by "tagging" them in the post.  Alas, no one has tagged me in any of their posts, but I decided to post my own list anyway.  So, here, in no particular order, are ten books which have resonated with me, some for close to fifty years!

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser 

    I read this as an adolescent.  I grew up in a very middle class home in a very middle class neighborhood in a very middle class suburb of Washington, D.C.  This book opened my eyes to the fact that there are other classes of folks out there and, try as we might, transcending class in America is close to impossible.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

     I have never lived anywhere but the Commonwealth of Virginia and have always considered myself a Southerner.  This book defined for me what that is.  I read this one as an adolescent as well and growing up in a basically segregated world racism and the horrors of slavery were lost on me then.

Siddartha by Herman Hesse

     I read this book every summer for a number of years.  The story of Siddartha trying to make sense out of his life experiences was and still is meaningful to me.  This helped me start to understand the "bigger picture" of the totality of experience and the impact of one person's actions on others.

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy

     This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time.  I was far from a piano prodigy as a child, but hours of piano practice made me identify with this book's main character.  Frank Conroy's writing is so crystalline and pitch-perfect that you wonder why anyone else even tries to write.  Now that I think about it, this book is going back on my to-reread list immediately.

The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsythe (close second The Man From St. Petersburg by Ken Follett)

     I love thrillers and mysteries.  As a teen I read a lot of Poe and each year I try to read a couple of these types of novels for pure entertainment.  I remember finishing The Devil's Alternative while moonlighting at a community hospital in Richmond.  I was in a call room all by myself when I finished the book at about 2 AM and was totally blown away by the twist of plot on the very last page which changed the whole story.  I'm a big Ken Follett fan as well.  He is a consummate storyteller and The Man from St. Petersburg is my favorite of his thrillers.

 Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

     The Viet Nam War was very much a part of my growing up and the beginnngs of my political consciousness.   I was in the very last group of men subject to the draft lottery and was very fortunate that I received a high three digit number.  I have read many books about this war, all of which are excellent.  I could have substituted Tim O'Brien's The Things The Carried or, even better, In The Lake of the Woods, but Matterhorn, for me, came as close as any book can to making me almost understand the horror of that war.  After reading this book you want to embrace every Viet Nam war veteran.

The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

     This book was part of Father Thomas King's freshman Theology class at Georgetown.   I was so intrigued with this author that I took Fr. King's upper level class on Teilhard as a senior elective.  Pierre Teilhard was a scientist (a paleontologist) and a Jesuit priest who spent his writing life trying to reconcile his theology with his scientific knowledge.  His books were banned by The Varican during his lifetime.  In The Phenomenon of Man Teilhard writes about evolution and how that scientific theory fits into theology (some would argue that it doesn't).  I greatly admire Teilhard's efforts and have adopted many of his concepts (including his vision of heaven) into my own personal theology.  Thank you Father King, who passed away just a few years ago.  If I were to pick a novel which has helped me the most to reconcile science with religion it would be Contact by Carl Sagan.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

     I love great stories and Ken Follett writes great stories.  This one I remember like I read it yesterday.  Follett has a passion for medieval cathedrals and that passion shines through in this brilliant saga of 12th Century England.  I still remember some of the vivid scenes which this author created even though I read this 25 years ago!   While the central story is the construction of a massive Gothic cathedral, Follett blends in multiple story lines of romance, royalty, violence and life in the Middle Ages.  The characters here are all wonderful and seem like family members by the end of this lengthy novel.

A Saint on Death Row by Thomas Cahill  

    I am firmly opposed to the Death Penalty for many reasons.  I have read many fiction and non-fiction books about Capital Punishment, written from both sides of the argument.  This book encapsulates all that is wrong with the death penalty.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

     I was told to read this while a surgical resident.  The man who told me to read it was and English major in college and practiced, of all things, Orthopedic Surgery.  This is Tom Wolfe's amazing telling of the story of the Mercury astronauts and the race to the moon.  The surgeon who told me to read this exclaimed "It's about astronauts but it's really about surgical residency!"  What it is about is what it takes to succeed at anything worth doing:  the right stuff.  

So, nobody asked for it, but there it is.  My list of ten books which have "stuck" with me years and years after reading them.  I could probably come up with another ten (and probably will) but that's enough for now.  I would welcome any comments about these particular books or your own personal ten meaningful books.  Thanks for reading! 

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