Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The "Books That Changed Your Life" Meme

If Terry Teachout and my friend Az are doing it, I suppose I shall have to do likewise. I'm only sorry I can't be as revealing.

1. Flip by Wesley Dennis. It's a great book. It's a beautiful book. However, it's cruel to give a colt wings and then reveal that it was only a dream, even if there's more story after that and a happy ending. If I ever ever write a story that was only a dream, you'll know that I have cruelly betrayed my inner two-year-old fangirl. But this was also the book which showed me that I really liked fantasy, so I can't hate it too much.

2. The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I loved the fantasy series, and I was delighted when I finally figured out Aslan's secret identity at seven or so. My love for story arcs, high medieval and classical folklore, and my stubborn counterculturalism were all fed by this novel. But it's the eschatological vision that has stayed with me.

3. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I'd read The Hobbit when I was younger, of course, but I kept bouncing off the scariness after Bilbo's party. When I was six or seven, I finally girded up my loins and fled past the Black Riders. I read all three over a weekend or so, and was caught for the rest of my life. I majored in linguistics because of Tolkien. Unfortunately, nobody told me that Tolkien had watched his beloved philology die and be replaced by linguistics. Sigh.

4. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. When I was 15, nobody else was telling me that I didn't have to feel what other people thought appropriate. Dorothy L. Sayers stood up for me. She very likely saved my life.

5. Larousse's Mythology, in one of the older editions with the Robert Graves introduction. Back when I was a big fan of Mighty Isis (isis isis isis) on TV, my parents bought me Larousse at the Dayton/Montgomery County book sale. I learned all about all kinds of gods, some neat and some repulsive. I learned all kinds of things about philology and archaeology and anthropology...and unlike Az, I felt no inclination whatsoever to become a pagan. I just loved the stories and pictures. (Though I did feel kind of embarrassed by all the nekkid Greek statues.) Possibly this is because I was so disappointed in the real Mighty Isis (isis isis isis), although the whole saga of sewing Osiris back together had its moments. But it gave me a real window into worlds full of stories and poetry, which most people today have trouble referencing.

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Meg was another one who saved my life and taught me a lot about my religion. Also the book that made me realize I was a science fiction fan.

7. Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl. The book that eventually made me a Star Trek fan, and definitely the book that made me want to be a writer. It was amazingly impressive to a fourth-grader, and it still holds up as a darned good book. I have three copies on my shelf, thank you very much. Meeting the author online was an amazing experience for me. (She happened to join the same mailing list I was on. I saw her name and couldn't help asking if she was in any way related to that Engdahl...about five minutes ahead of all her other fans on the list....) Her return to the world of publishing has been a delight to my soul. I only wish she'd get the urge to write some new fiction.

8. The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust. The novel that opened up all those glorious 19th century novels to me. I thought I'd read Dumas...but I hadn't. I thought I'd read Austen...but I was wrong. Even my beloved Sabatini came to new life after reading Brust's loving tribute. I only wish I'd bought the darned book in hardcover.

9. The Story of a Soul by St. Therese de Lisieux. Insofar as I have ever been a mystic or know anything about theology, I got there by following Therese. Knox's translation is a lot better than what I read in school, so try that.

10. Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter. Got me off my butt and doing translations. A dazzling and heartbreaking read.


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