Since peripatetia tagged me, and talking about books seems like a useful way to avoid revision. :) I’ll skip the tagging part, though!
Rules: In a text post, list ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard - they don’t have to be “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you. Tag ten friends, including me, so I’ll see your list. Make sure you let your friends know that you’ve tagged them.
1. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. In more ways than I could possibly count, my life would be an infinitely poorer thing had it not been for these books.
2. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, Tony Judt. This book, in addition to being an unbelievably good work of scholarship, is my moral touchstone, a reminder of the great tragedies that occur when societies, states, and nations forget small truths in the pursuit of grand theories, that our responsibility as citizens — indeed, as human beings — is to remember that the world is a complicated place in which nobody is truly innocent.
3. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder. There are a lot of reasons to admire this book (which, by the way, works exceptionally well as an unintentional prologue to Postwar). In my two readings of it, however, I was struck most by his insistence of placing the Holocaust in its proper wartime context. This is where the charge of anti-Semitism has sometimes been levied at the author, but, by turning the local circumstances under which Jews were heedlessly killed into a function of Germany’s fortunes on the Eastern Front, Snyder underscores the extent to which evil arises as much from mundane decisions about resource allocation as it does from political demagoguery. The Holocaust should not stand apart from history: it is history and and thus necessarily a product of man.
4. Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk. I’ve always preferred Pamuk’s essays to his novels. This book, his memoir of the city where he has spent his entire life, gets elegiac melancholy like nothing else I’ve ever read.
5. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner. I was in a state of rapture when I read it for the first time. If I could only take one excerpt of English prose with me to a desert island, it would be the Quentin section.
6. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Charles Rosen. This book is an integral part of my ongoing self-education in music history and music theory. Rosen is my Platonic ideal of a critic, drawing on an absurdly large canon of knowledge without ever coming off as too pedantic (but I do have very high tolerance for the pedantry of others, so) and offering the most lucid analyses of music, linking the structure of compositions to the sensations they evoke, that I have ever come across.
7. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder. Yes, it’s essentially an Intro to Philosophy textbook masquerading as a novel, but I read it at the impressionable age of 13 and, while causal inference in such matters is always difficult to establish, I’d like to think that it played no small role in my willingness to indulge in intellectual curiosities at a time when social pressures tend to discourage exactly that.
8. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I knew absolutely nothing about the plot before picking this up, so, suffice to say, this novel gave me some serious feels. Something about the book’s characters being close to me in age gave the narrative an emotional charge that I hadn’t felt when I read The Remains of the Day. And that’s the trick to Ishiguro, isn’t it, to find the tempest broiling within his protagonists, whether or not they know it’s there.
9. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. Well, I read it, for one thing, and that is an achievement unto itself, and I can luxuriate in his writing for days on end, but, by the time I got to its 1,079-th page, I found the book a deeply honest and vulnerable work on all the ways in which we are alienated from both the world around us and ourselves and the struggle that must be endured to overcome those alienations, even if it comes at the cost of unimaginable pain.
10. White Teeth, Zadie Smith. Because she gets me.