There's an interesting meme going around social media. The idea is to list ten books that have stayed with you in some way. The list is not meant to be great literature - just some books that have had a lasting effect. The instructions state not to think about it too much but of course I've ignored that advice. I think about everything too much.
The list itself was not particularly difficult to make. A group of about fifteen books came immediately to mind and that was fairly easily whittled down. It's the 'why' of the selection that intrigues me. Of the hundreds of books I have read, why these particular ten?
After much thought, I decided that there are a couple of factors.
First is the story. My list contains stories that are compelling from the first to the last word, often featuring a character with whom I am heart-breakingly in love. A group of academic colleagues uncover the unknown depths of a man after his death. A gifted writer and student goes through psychological hell and comes out the other side. A child understands racism for the first time and doing so, sees the heroism of her beloved father.
The second thing that stays with me always is language. My favourite books use language in a way that keeps me coming back to hear it again and again. I love words beautifully and simply used. They echo in my head for days and years. A few of my books make this list largely on one phrase alone:
"My darling, my darling lie down with us now, for you are also earth whom none but love can sow."
"I keep writing here so I will always have something to read."
"There is no such thing as a breakdown."
Some of these books I read more than thirty years ago and one, just last year. I've shared a few of them with my daughter and she loves them as much as I do. All of them remain on my bookshelf and will do so always.
What's Bred in the Bone - Robertson Davies
Famous Last Words - Timothy Findley
The Passion - Jeanette Winterson
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept - Elizabeth Smart
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien
Safe Houses - Lynne Alexander
The Sonnets - Ted Berrigan