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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Influential Books

In Jessica Olin's Essential Reading post asked the question "So, how about you? What are your favorite books that you think inform who you are?"

Because I am who I am, that set me to wondering which books I would credit/blame for being me.

Like Jessica O., one of the books that had a sustaining influence on me was by Ursula K. LeGuin. But in my case it was The Disposessed that stays with me the most. I can't even describe all the things this book left with me, but its presentation of an anarchist utopia that didn’t make me roll my eyes, the way it questions the concept of freedom, and its presentation of science as a living, growing thing had a profound impact on how I viewed the world for a long time.

I can’t pick just one Terry Pratchett novel, the Discworld is just too big and too amazing. But I can narrow it down to two primary influencers: Wyrd Sisters was the first Pratchett novel I ever read and the first fantasy novel I read that featured actual adult women making actual adult decisions unrelated to their love interests.

The second Pratchett novel I would pick is Guards! Guards! Captain Carrot, Sam Vimes, dragons, politics, policing, and life all dealt with humorously and lovingly and angrily, as appropriate.

Violence and the Sacred by RenĂ© Girard. I know people have strong feels on this book, and I came to it as a layperson not as a philosophy expert so I can’t really explain why this book resonated with me so much. I think because it helped remove a veil of illusion that had been over my eyes about the ongoing, culturally sanctioned use of violence and sacrifice.

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories. Nikolai Gogol's absurdist, satirical, farcical, tragic 19th century Russian stories. As Jenny Holzer famously said, “Protect me from what I want.”

Susan Wendell's The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability allowed me to recognize and accept myself as having a disability in a way that has really helped me emotionally and physically.

I can’t actually remember the book that introduced me to Buddhism (it had a purplish paper cover with a Dharma wheel on it, was from the ‘60s or ‘70s, and talked as much about cosmology as about the Buddha, but it started me on a path that has impacted me powerful). So, instead I’ll showcase Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. This book talks about the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path in really practical terms, and explains why meditation and the dhamma are so valuable in a way that removed a lot of my performance anxiety around it.

There are probably some that I’ve overlooked, but it’s lunchtime and food is as important to me as books are.