I have read thousands of books throughout my life. If I compare my personal library catalog to my Outlook files, I liken each book to the type of people listed in my address book, some are friends, some, associates and others acquaintances.
Nearly 500 volumes grace the shelves of the sealed bookcase downstairs and the four bookcases in my humble office upstairs from which I pretend to ‘work.’ While the remotest of possibilities exists that I may move on from the house which I currently occupy, the unlikelihood of that happening encourages me to take stock of the hundreds of pounds of books that live with me. It may be time to lighten the load. I will keep the friends and bid an amicable farewell to associates and acquaintances. As I glance to my left, I see a book I have carried with me since college, Swords Into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization by Inis L. Claude, Jr. It is a third edition, published in 1964 and a textbook used in one of my classes at the Air Force Academy. I majored in International Affairs. The original owner inscribed his name and squadron on the inside cover, “Seevers 08.” I purchased it from the surplus book sales that preceded every semester. I suspect Cadet Seevers did the underlining when he owned the book and I added the highlighting.
Something clearly appealed to me about the book for me not to sell it for quick cash to the next guy who would take the course and haul it with me around the United States for 50 years. I will keep it though the world has changed so much that the premises within that volume have long since outlived their original intentions and usefulness.
A year ago, I logged all of my books in an Excel file but have been remiss to enter the new books I acquired during 2018, which include three books by Wendell Berry, a pair by Andrew Krivak and a handful of others.
110, Maybe More… No Fewer
I reviewed my list of 500 and identified those that have had a measurable impact on my life; they are my friends. I include 110 books on the final list, 110 books that my life would not have been as full and complete had I not read them. Three-quarters of the books are fiction, and nearly three-quarters were originally published prior to the 21st century. I include the six novels I wrote on the list; they have made my life more complete.
At the top of my list is Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel by Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis. That is the one book I would recommend to every person on the planet. The number two book and the top fiction book is The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. First published in 1952, I read the controversial book in 1972 when fewer than 200,000 copies had entered the United States. I acquired my copy at a bookstore on 4th Avenue in Anchorage.
The final book on the list is The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux originally published in 1909. The last non-fiction book – The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by John C. Marshall III published in 2001 – occupies the 97th position.
I can tell a personal story about each book that I will retain. The first book I read that appears on my list, I read in 1966. I spent many hours at the Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield’s public library. It was cavernous and beautiful, academic and spiritual, intimidating yet welcoming… One rainy afternoon as I slowly walked the narrow aisles surrounded by books, I happened to pull Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl from a shelf. I can never explain why a high school senior killing time as he waited for basketball practice would have taken that book from that shelf, much less be in a library in the first place.
Each of us has our personal taste in reading. With the exception of the first book on my list – which is mandatory reading for all creatures great and small – I will not say, “You should read this…” You will read whatever calls you to read it. That said, I offer my list as a curious collection of books that have impacted my life, books that offer value to all who enter their pages.[table id=1 /]