Thursday, March 3, 2016

Just for Fun: My "Essential" Reading


I recently read a list of David Bowie's favorite books, and while looking over the list I realized that the books I consider my "favorites" or my "essentials" are just as diverse as his. I thought it might be fun to share some of them with you. Emphasis on "some" here, as I try to keep my blog posts from getting too long and to put all of my favorites would take forever... so I have limited myself to ten books.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
This book is comfort reading for me. If I've had a horrid day/week and just don't feel like turning on the television or eating a big pile of mashed potatoes, Herriot's semi-autobiographical work about a country vet is a perfect pick-me-up. I've read it so many times now that I can skip the bits that will make me cry if I don't feel like crying that day. (That's not much of a spoiler. Books about vets are always crying books in one way or another.)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
This is my favorite book, bar none. I read a passage from this book at my father's funeral. It's about love and growth and friendship. This is another one that I know pretty much by heart. Yes, it's about seagulls. Yes, it's allegorical. I first read it when I was 11 or 12 years old, and it's stuck with me ever since.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that a book about behavioral economics would really and truly change how I think about people, but it has. Everyone, especially librarians, should have a grounding in the basic theories of this field. Understanding how people make decisions helps me interact more effectively with people in my life - both at work and in my personal life. Kahneman's book also helps me understand my own decision making processes.

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron
This is the first book about Buddhism that I ever read, and it resonated so strongly with me that I investigated further and eventually decided to build my life around these principles. Any time someone asks me for a good place to start with reading about Buddhism, this is where I send them.

Fool by Christopher Moore
There's only one contemporary fiction author who has never let me down, and that's Christopher Moore. I don't even have to know the plot of a Christopher Moore book before buying it because I know I'll love it. He typically writes paranormal & monster fiction that makes fun of the genre while remaining true to its tropes, but my favorite of his works is Fool. In a nutshell, this book is King Lear from the fool's perspective, but it's so much better than that description would lead you to believe. Be warned: Fool is raunchy verging on pornographic, but it's also one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
I wish someone had handed me this book in my teens or my twenties because it changed so much of how I see gender. The story is about a human who crosses the galaxy on a mission of diplomacy and what happens when he reaches the other planet, but the gender dynamics on the other planet are unlike anything you'd expect. I think there should be at least one work of fantastic feminist science fiction on everyone's list of favorite books.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
The quick synopsis of this comic book series is: forces of nature are shown as endless creatures who reflect the best and worst of humanity. I know that's a convoluted sentence, but really - that's what it's about. I read comic books as a kid, sure, but I never really loved them until a student at my first library job recommended this series for the library. There are other comic book and graphic novel series I've come to love since then, and plenty of stand-alones, but nothing comes close to this one.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker
This is another book that changed me permanently. Being able to tell the difference between day-to-day anxiety and actual fear is something everyone should learn, but vulnerable populations need this.

Fat! So? Because You Don't Have to Apologize for Your Size! by Marilyn Wann
I don't remember where I first stumbled onto this book, but it was a revelation. I am fat, and learning to let go of the shame attached to that fact (over which I have little to no control) was a hard lesson but an important one. Also, Marilyn Wann's book was my introduction to the ideas of fat activism and size acceptance, which is important to who I am.

The Golden Treasury of Poetry Selected and with commentary by Louis Untermeyer 
I've owned my copy of this book for so long that I literally cannot remember a time when it wasn't sitting on my bookshelf. This book was my first introduction to Shakespeare, Poe, Longfellow, Eliot, and many others. This book, more than any other, shaped my tastes in poetry and even more generally in reading. Heck, Elizabeth Bishop is probably my favorite poet of all time, and I first encountered her work in this book's pages.

So, how about you? What are your favorite books that you think inform who you are?


  1. Are you familiar with this blog? It has helped me.

  2. James Herriot's books were my comfort reading in high school! It's so nice to see that someone else appreciates them too. Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice are my 2 go to books.