My Life in Books, The First Thirty Years

This is a meme of my own invention (as far as I know). [Update: Nope, Paul did it first. I may have subconsciously plagiarized him. Sorry Paul!] The books that had the greatest impact on me year by year. Obviously very subjective, and vexing for all sorts of different reasons. Not always the best books, not often the most helpful books, just those that occupied my mind more than others. The years are to my best recollection; I may have fudged some of them.

I’ve had to list a number of unbreakable ties, where I remember the influence of each book as being so dominant and the books as so incommensurable  that it was impossible to choose.

And there were a couple near-ties where I painfully excluded a runner-up. (Invisible Man, Catcher in the Rye, Wittgenstein, Lucretius, and Hegel’s Phenomenology all fell into this category.)

So, by age, from the beginning!

  1. Goodnight Moon
  2. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton
  3. What Do People Do All Day? (unabridged), Richard Scarry
  4. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
  5. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Dr. Seuss
  6. Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, Carl Barks
  7. The Pushcart War, Jean Merrill
    The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (tie)
  8. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
  9. The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, Daniel Pinkwater
  10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
    What is the Name of This Book?, Raymond Smullyan (tie)
  11. “By His Bootstraps” and “—All You Zombies—”, Robert Heinlein
  12. The Singing Detective (script and serial), Dennis Potter
  13. The Sirens of Titan; and Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
  14. White Noise, Don DeLillo
  15. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
    Moby Dick, Herman Melville (tie)
  16. Ulysses, James Joyce
  17. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
    Imaginary Magnitude, Stanislaw Lem (tie)
  18. The Tunnel, William H. Gass
  19. The Castle, Franz Kafka
  20. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
    Interstate; Frog; Gould; assorted short fiction, Stephen Dixon (tie)
  21. The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
  22. Michael Kohlhaas, Heinrich von Kleist
  23. The Melancholy of Resistance, Laszlo Krasznahorkai
  24. The Obscene Bird of Night, Jose Donoso
    How It Is, Samuel Beckett (tie)
  25. The Waves, Virginia Woolf
    Epileptic, David B. (tie)
  26. The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi
    Simultan, Ingeborg Bachmann (tie)
  27. Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
  28. The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams
    Rameau’s Nephew, Denis Diderot (tie)
  29. Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
  30. A House in the Country, Jose Donoso

I am sure there are many books that felt more significant at the time whose influence I have mostly forgotten because I failed to pursue the directions they signaled. My memories have persisted of those books that were close to the parts of me that remain with me now.

This is probably as good an autobiography as any. Anyone else want to try?