Books That Have Stayed With Me

Apparently there is a meme on Facebook where people are listing the books that have stayed with them in some way. I first heard of this from The Tolkienist because predictably enough Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit make the Top 10 of those mentioned. (The data is pored over in a little more detail over at The Atlantic.)

I’m not much of a one for Facebook, but I am one for books. I think lists of this kind are both fun and illuminating, especially when it comes to seeing what your friends say.

Here’s my stab at identifying which books have stayed with me the most. Unlike the Facebook meme I’m not going to confine myself to fiction because plenty of non-fiction jumps out at me when I think about this.

So, in no particular order…

  • B-Flight by Bruce Carter. You’ve probably never heard of this but it was one of the first books I ever bought for myself, circa age nine or ten. It’s a First World War tale and a love story, about a boy who lies about his age and runs away to join the Royal Air Force. I didn’t know at the time but the author was himself an RAF pilot in World War One, which is maybe what made the tale so vivid and compelling.

  • The Lord of the Rings – of course. Probably the book I’ve read the most number of times since I first came across it in my teens. It caught me at an impressionable age, and made a considerable impression, maybe helping to make me the person I became.

  • The Silmarillion, which I read a few years later and found even more haunting. The blurb on the back of my paperback copy has a remark by some reviewer about “How did one man given X number of years work become nearly the creative equivalent of a people?” Good question!

Here I’ll pass over some things I won’t include because perhaps they shouldn’t count as books. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was to me first a radio series, and though I’ve read the books and they’re great, I always think of it with the voices, the effects, the music from the show, which made a hilarious and mind-blowing whole. Likewise I’ll reluctantly pass over The Foundation Trilogy because I first heard it as a radio drama. Very reluctantly because I quite wanted to be Hari Seldon at one time! Who knows, he may have been responsible for my swerves into the social sciences.

Also I’ll pass over plays, even those that I first read before I ever saw them performed. Great ones include a bunch of Shakespeare (Hamlet and Othello especially), as well as Death of a Salesman and Endgame.

  • The mention of Endgame makes for a nice segue, so onto a chess book. Think Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov was a classic, especially in the way that the personality of the author and the players he talked about came through.

  • From Quarks to Quasars is the next non-fiction title. It’s a highly readable shortish book covering the vast sweep of modern physics, and I think the first time I had my mind boggled by coming across quantum mechanics. My mind stayed boggled for quite some time. Ok it’s still boggled but nowadays I don’t have much occasion to think about it. (After some years trying to figure it all out I decided I wasn’t going to be able to make the kind of sense out of it that I would find satisfactory and I better go think about other things instead.) I could also mention Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert, another great book on such things.

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre. Probably the book I’ve read the most number of times after Lord of the Rings. Interestingly le Carre has compared himself to Tolkien saying that he has similarly created his own private fictional world. The perplexing thing is that his world seems to actually ring very true to reality, and in his own way he’s got as much to say about society, organizational life, politics and such as something like The Wire.

  • A Perfect Spy by le Carre also makes the list. Powerful to the point of being almost traumatic to re-read, and it seems it has a very large basis in fact.

There are quite a lot of books that stayed with me for a long time, but no more. I was a big fan of Graham Greene at one point, and The End of the Affair for example would definitely have made this list at some times in my life. (It’s tempting to list some things that are more literary so I can appear less of a lowbrow geek, but I will resist that and skip them. Also it was tempting to pass over the science books for fear of seeming a pretentious dork, but there you go.)

  • Thief of Time is my favorite and most read Pratchett. I could chuckle to myself endlessly about codfish. I’m like that.

It occurs to me that there are various categories of books that have been hugely influential on me without it being easy to pin down actual single books that were important and which stayed with me. For example I considered mentioning The Life of Gandhi by Louis Fischer, but while the topic is one I’ve pondered a great deal at various times, it’s hard to say that one book was all that important in itself.

So as I’m at risk of spinning off into an endless list of books and media that were collectively hugely important, perhaps it’s time to wind down and end this list.

I might return to the topic in future. In the meantime, I’d love to read other people’s lists.

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15 thoughts on “Books That Have Stayed With Me

  1. 100% with you about the chuckling to oneself effect of Pratchett books – should be a verb ‘to Pratchett.’

    Quick list of books here as not at all LOTRO related:
    er well ‘The Hobbit’ was fun OK but I actually didn’t enjoy my last reread of LOTR! Maybe I simply know the story too well.

    And now the list of books I have ‘with’ me, well in my heart as I gave away almost all my books when I left Europe.

    Invisible cities – Calvino
    Don Quixote – Cervantes
    The Trial – Kafka
    A Wild Sheep Chase – Murakami
    Neuromancer – Gibson
    Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison
    Red and Black – Stendahl
    If this is a Man – Primo Levi
    The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
    Man in a high Castle – Philip K Dick
    Red Cavalry – Isaak Babel
    The Green house – Mario Vargos Llosa
    Death in the Afternoon – Ernest Hemingway (if you are not put off by Bullfighting…)
    Laughter and Forgetting – Kundera
    Any short stories by JG Ballard.

    Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams complete works I will take to the grave.

    My wife has started some of these and in her opinion they are probably more appealing to male readers…..(Don Quixote excepted it is also her favorite book – and to read in Spanish original must be even better)

    Oh and to prove that these are not just added ‘so I can appear less of a lowbrow geek’ I will wrap up with an awesome book:

    Master and Margarita – Bulgakov which featured recently in one of my LOTRO post riddles:

    ‘To out fiddle the devil
    Don’t diddle the riddle
    Tricks in the detail
    If you lose you lose your soul
    Wo! Lands and be he a moth…
    Riddle diddle
    Master of lime, triple sec and tequila
    Oh fiddled and diddled
    I do love to riddle…’

    Sorry this reply is so long maybe I should have blogged it! (I may yet do so…)

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      • I’ll sort the typos for you here if you want.

        Enjoyed your list, and I think it is definitely blogworthy. Would love to see a books meme going among game bloggers.

        There are lots of books I loved that didn’t make my list, your Stendhal and Kundera picks among them. I was a little older when I read them compared to things like LOTR, which probably affects how deep an impression they left on me.

        I agree that after you’ve re-read something a lot of times, you can become over-familiar with it. It’s been a while since I read LOTR in its entirety, watched any of the movies, or listened to the audio versions I have. I did re-read the Helms Deep chapter when I got to the Hornburg in LOTRO, because the game helped me understand the chapter better and vice versa.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for being my proof reader 🙂

        Lets start that book blog meme rolling! Will do a post tomorrow (work depending – its crazy at the mo!)

        From the perspective of which books are from my youth, early twenties and, lets just say, ‘later than that’, I was a real Sci-Fi and Fantasy bookworm until about early twenties, then an English studying girlfriend pushed my book envelope into another level. Never looked back although I resist, to this day, her offer to read Madame Bovary! (Bitter memories I think!)

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  3. I have to admit I haven’t read many of the books on your list. I did read the first book of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and enjoyed it though. I’ve never tried a Terry Pratchett book but always wanted to. In fact there are many series that I just haven’t gotten around to trying yet. I have a few physics books, but again I haven’t gotten around to reading them. Most of my non-fiction books are just about game design or psychology. I enjoy learning about things though and I go through phases of interests.

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  4. I completely agree on Tolkien’s legendarium, Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy & Asimov’s Foundation series (along with the Robot novels).

    In fact all works by Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov. One of Adam’s books that particular stuck with me is a small documentary novel called “Last Chance to See” which is absolutely fantastic.

    To these I’d like to add Orson Scott Card’s connected Ender & Shadow Sagas (starting with Ender’s Game & Ender’s Shadow). Absolutely brilliant stories for all ages. Card’s “Enchantment” is a captivating story as well.

    Also the Sherlock Holmes series by Conan Doyle of course, which used to be my bedtime reading when I was a kid. I love them all still 🙂

    Above are probably my top 5 series/authors that I continue to read over and over.

    Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe are also favourites of mine. Ah, there are so many of the classics I can’t list them all here :p

    The Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke has also stayed with me over the years, along with the novel Non-stop by Brian Aldiss.

    Most of Paulo Coelho’s books I have loved immensely. “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” & “The Alchemist” are in the top 🙂

    Gosh I could go on and on… and those are just the fiction books and those I remember to list :p

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s strange how there can be wonderful books that don’t stay with you. Last Chance to See is amazing, and I’d totally forgotten of its existence before you mentioned it.

      I loved the Holmes stories too, and did think about putting The Hound of the Baskervilles on my list.

      I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of Asimov and Clarke too, but the Foundation series had the biggest impact on me.

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