Important books
April 26, 2005 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Which two or three books are in your opinion the most important in your collection. Im talking about books that had you not read them, you would be different today. Rank the reality shattering literature.
posted by pwally to Education (99 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A Pattern Language
The Little Prince
posted by driveler at 1:27 PM on April 26, 2005

Atlas Shrugged - in 8th grade, it confirmed everything I suspected.
The Bobsey Twin & The Big River Mystery - my first ever book when I was in second grade, a gift from my grandmother who let me choose it.
posted by mischief at 1:31 PM on April 26, 2005


A Sand County Almanac
Desert Solitaire
posted by driveler at 1:33 PM on April 26, 2005

A Child's History of the World, Ulysses, and an as-yet unpublished novel by a Beat poet called Pignon.
posted by annathea at 1:34 PM on April 26, 2005

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth and Choice Theory by William Glasser.
posted by dobbs at 1:34 PM on April 26, 2005

Ulysses--James Joyce
Collected Short Stories--Kafka
Lord of the Flies-Golding, it confirmed everything I suspected.
Harvest (or Second Harvest)-Jean Giono
posted by OmieWise at 1:42 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Godle, Escher Bach - consistently mind-blowing, especially if you are a computer person

The Hichhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - first time I read it I was in grade 6, and my fate as a nerd was sealed.

It's times like this I wished I'd engaged in the supremely nerdy habit of putting my library on-line. I'm sure there's one so obvious that I can't see it
posted by Capn at 1:43 PM on April 26, 2005

Doctor Rat
posted by cmonkey at 1:44 PM on April 26, 2005

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four
Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff
posted by kirkaracha at 1:47 PM on April 26, 2005

Well, since Capn listed GEB, I'll assume that "literature" includes non-fiction. I think I've mentioned it half a dozen times on MeFi already, but Consciousness Explained majorly shaped how I view my own thought processes and even identity.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2005

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

Although I am an avid reader, I haven't read any books I would consider as important as these are to me in many years.
posted by suchatreat at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2005

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Fertilized my view of the future.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Changed the way I read and write. It has made me a more detailed thinker, as if I will tell a great story one day.
posted by redteam at 1:56 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The Republic by Plato

The Bible ( I like the NIV from Zondervan). I would certainly be different today without having read it.
posted by tayknight at 1:58 PM on April 26, 2005

Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness.
Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.
A.A. Milne's The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2005

The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander
Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
posted by oh posey at 2:00 PM on April 26, 2005

Mischief, now it all makes sense. Ayn Rand via the Bobbsey Twins...indeed.

My two?

Halakhic Man by R. Joseph Soloveitchik and Aesthetic Theory by Theodor Adorno. I'll still be struggling with both of them 10 years from now.
posted by felix betachat at 2:01 PM on April 26, 2005

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon - don't know that I can quantify how this affected me, but I've never been the same since. All hail the Rocketman!
The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien - Despite Pynchon's paranoia, I remain an optimist and a tree-hugger thanks to JRR.
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche - hey, you said life-changing, and this sure changed mine.
posted by bobot at 2:01 PM on April 26, 2005

Ditto A Pattern Language.
I Lost It at the Movies, Pauline Kael.
Lord of the Rings, undoubtedly.
Something by Plato. Crito or The Republic, probably.
Sounds silly, but Families and How to Survive Them by John Cleese and Robyn Skinner. A nice psychological primer.
posted by argybarg at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2005

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
posted by vorfeed at 2:03 PM on April 26, 2005

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. The first time I read it, it was like I'd found someone who thought in exactly the same way I did. However many years later the film came out, and about 5 friends went to see it (without knowing that I felt such a strong connection to Cassandra), and came back saying "she's you".
posted by Lotto at 2:04 PM on April 26, 2005

Animal Farm - George Orwell.
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon.

Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware.

These are all important to me, and were life changing in the sense that I thought differently about either the topic or the form (or both) after I read them -- and their effects seem to have persisted.
posted by safetyfork at 2:06 PM on April 26, 2005

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
posted by schnee at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2005

Catch 22.
posted by gaspode at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2005

A Brave New World Aldous Huxley. Scary.
Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkings. Evolution.
About Time by Paul Davies. Time and space.
posted by furtive at 2:11 PM on April 26, 2005

Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban
set in a iron age post apocalyptic future and written in the language of the day, this book made me a believer again

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Odd that it feels cliche to mention this one, but it is the saddest funniest book I've read. Everything is all about irony these days and I'm thinking that you can't read this book like that... this book is deeply cynical and cynicism always trumps irony.

The Devils by Dostoyevsky
This one might have a lot to do with where I was when I was reading it. Cynicism again here, I'm afraid. A book about the fall of man by way of the petty acts of everyday people.

The Goldberg Variations by Richard Powers
A book of interweaving stories of discovery of the interweaving nature of life. Or something. A book with characters so real that you end up grinding your teeth at night from the gripping dreams you have about them. And Bach, and betrayal.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
No matter who you are or where you are if you haven't read this one you really should just stop what you're doing and read it right now. A book about how we can be real people when everything around us is crazy and false and how there really are heros.
posted by n9 at 2:11 PM on April 26, 2005

the illuminatus trilogy: read this in junior high, and the myraid references made me seek out a bunch of thought/literature I otherwise wouldn't have looked at.

of course, had i ran into any burroughs or pynchon, i'm sure i would've been similarly inspired. I recall the illumnatus trilogy had some racy sex scenes and that probably held my attention more than anything else.

the richard brautigan omnibus (or reader or whatever); similarly, jr. high, an introduction to the beats (along with ginsberg, I believe). still probably my favorite beat writer.
posted by fishfucker at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2005

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Paterson by William Carlos Williams and Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. I've read all 3 several times and each time they resonate almost in the exact same way they did the first time I read them. The lesser list is Seven Japanese Tales by Tanazaki, The Blue Notebooks of Franz Kafka, Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie, Desolation Angel by Kerouac, Sweet Thursday by Steinbeck, and Collected Poems by Mark Strand. All make up the core of my library.
posted by rodz at 2:14 PM on April 26, 2005

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
posted by lola at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2005

In high school, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and then Ulysses in college -- both of 'em changed the world for me.
posted by scody at 2:26 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh, and can I mention a few plays? Because reading Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead back-to-back was one of the great mind-bending experiences of my education. Waiting for Godot and Endgame were also highly significant.
posted by scody at 2:32 PM on April 26, 2005

i'm not sure any book has affected my life much. maybe the following three most so:
- a chomsky reader
- woodcock's anarchism
- structure + interpretation of computer programs, or cousineau + mauny, or on lisp, or norvig, or something like that
posted by andrew cooke at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2005

ach, no, scratch the compsci stuff for raz's authority of law.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:46 PM on April 26, 2005

When I was about 12 I read the Iliad, this made me a life long fan of mythology, history and literature.

When I was 15 I read Camus' the Stranger, this book made me examine life philosophically for the first time.

When I read Faulkner's Absolom, Absolom, in college I fell in love with language.

When I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude) I fell in love with story telling.

When I read Borges (el Aleph, entre otros) I fell in love with ideas and archane knowledge

Then I read William T. Vollman, and it all came together.
posted by sic at 2:46 PM on April 26, 2005

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger -- Changed the way I looked at character-driven works, religion, family, potential, hope, sense of self
Hero With 1000 Faces by Joseph Campbell -- shaped my understanding of religion, narrative, plot, myth, meaning
Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins -- influenced my love of writing, humor, redheads, symbology, romance
posted by Gucky at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2005

"Ball Four" by Jim Bouton crushed my childhood baseball fantasies but made the game even better.
And, yeah, "1984."
posted by sixpack at 2:58 PM on April 26, 2005

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. Everyone has that book they read in high school that changed the way they looked at things. This was mine.

Infections and Inequalities by Paul Farmer was the primary reason I switched my area of study 3/4 of the way through college.
posted by makonan at 3:06 PM on April 26, 2005

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
My Favorite Book of All Time.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I read this book for the 1st time sitting in a tent the summer after high school. It filled my mind with Possibility and helped me realize that there are many, many ways to lead your life. This book opened the door to The Beat Lifestyle and I jumped in with both feet.
(Side note: It's a shame that so many critics and academics scoff at The Beats... "Oh, I read that book in the 9th grade. It's so juvenile." GO BACK AND READ IT AGAIN.)

Next Of Kin by Roger Fouts
This book made me understand how we humans fit on Earth and why we act the way we do. We're primates, so we share our behavior patterns with other primates. Of Course!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:14 PM on April 26, 2005

Moby Dick
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Infinite Jest
posted by dogmatic at 3:15 PM on April 26, 2005

Fiction: Fun With Your New Head by Thomas M. Disch (short stories)
The Box Man by Kobo Abe.

Non-fiction: The Sacred Canopy by Peter Berger
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.
posted by Token Meme at 3:16 PM on April 26, 2005

I would certainly include many of the above and add Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
posted by mss at 3:36 PM on April 26, 2005

Candide by Voltaire
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (in 6th grade)
Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (immediately after reading Locke)
posted by ohio at 3:41 PM on April 26, 2005

Howard's End by Forster
The Castle by Kafka
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

I'm not sure if these books definitively changed me or if I just really associate stages in my life with them. They did provoke a lot of thought and Kafka was like a new world to me.
posted by sophie at 3:41 PM on April 26, 2005

The Illuminatus! Trilogy; Wilson/Shea
Chronicles of Narnia; Lewis
It; King
A Confederacy of Dunces; Toole
The Monkeywrench Gang; Abbey
Days of War/Nights of Love; CrimeThinc
1984; Orwell
Atlas Shrugged (referred to in The Illuminatus Trilogy as Telemachus Sneezed, heh.); Rand
Siddartha; Hesse
Welcome to the Monkeyhouse, Breakfast of Champions; Vonnegut
Brave New World; Huxley
The Dharma Bums; Kerouac

People's History of the United States; Zinn
Culture of Make Believe; Jensen
Black Like Me; Griffin
Doors of Perception; Huxley
posted by schyler523 at 3:56 PM on April 26, 2005

The Idiot - Dostoevsky
A Mencken Chrestomathy
The Constitution of Liberty - Hayek
posted by yclipse at 3:58 PM on April 26, 2005

In looking back, I have a hard time thinking of things that changed my life. I remember life always as it is now, really.

Four that haven't been listed:
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
In The Suicide Mountains by John Gardner
40 Stories by Donald Bartholme
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Teste by Tom Wolfe

(Also in there is A Farewell to Arms, Journey to the East, Howl, Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, Lipstick Traces, Young Adult Novel, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Cat's Cradle, Being and Time, Being and Nothingness, The Flies... I could go on...)
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on April 26, 2005

I read Henry Millers' Tropic of Cancer and decided to buy a motorcycle and leave on a trip with no destination. (i called the cycle Henry.) I spent 4 months in the rockies photographing (in an obsessed state of mind). When I finally collapsed on someones couch, they handed me a Carlos Castenada book. The world changed for me. I try to stay calm these days. I can't imagine any book doing that to me these days.
posted by JohnR at 4:19 PM on April 26, 2005

I had to read "The Great Gatsby" in high school and really didn't see the point. I read it again 40, and it blew me away.


"The Rape of the A.P.E. (American Puritan Ethic)" by Allen Sherman. Out of print, but worth finding. The single funniest book I've ever read.
posted by Marky at 4:19 PM on April 26, 2005

T.S. Eliot's collected works.
George Oppen's collected works.

third...dunno. lots of good stuff but nothing in the same league for being influential as those two.
posted by juv3nal at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2005

The Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy (R.A. Wilson). It gave me the the idea that maybe the primate brain was designed for pleasure and success. (Not that my depressed ass does much with that on a daily basis.)

Stranger in a Strange Land (Heinlein). Not sure what it taught me, but I regularly think (in a non-verbal way), "What would Mike do?"

Catch 22 (Heller). Just because they're trying to kill everyone doesn't mean they're not trying to kill you.
posted by Netzapper at 4:44 PM on April 26, 2005

- Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, at age 15.
- Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon, in college.
- Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner as a young man.

Interesting to differentiate between books that open the intellect vs. books that open the heart...
posted by rleamon at 4:47 PM on April 26, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - What Capn said.
Catcher in the Rye - This book functioned (and still does) as my "This too shall pass" book. I can read it when I am depressed and be cheered, and it provides a dose of reality when I am feeling a bit too high.
The Rapture of Canaan - Changed the way I think of religion, family, and parenting.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities - We are finally putting into practice things that Jane Jacobs told us to do almost 50 years ago.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:48 PM on April 26, 2005

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
2. Anthem, Ayn Rand
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2005

Marky - I thought The Great Gatsby was awful in high school, probably because we read parts aloud and discussed the symbolism, without getting into anything substantive. Years later, I read it again, and again, and I'm still keeping my eyes open for a first edition that I hope to find at a garage sale. I've read the book at least 50 times now.

Heinlein. All of it. It doesn't take long to read his entire collected works. Stranger was truly great, but a lot of things make more sense when you read all of them straight through.
The Art of War. This will change how you think about everything.
1984. Definitely a root cause of my political leanings.
Animal Farm. Similar to above.
Brave New World. I can't describe how I felt when I realized there was a real pain pill called Soma, and I knew someone that was taking it.
The Stand. Even if you don't like King, it is worth a read.
The Sun Also Rises. Maybe not as life changing as the others, but it puts you in a time and place like you belong there.

Those were the big ones for me.
posted by bh at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2005

Middlemarch and Bleak House.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2005

posted by fingers_of_fire at 5:06 PM on April 26, 2005

Watchmen is single-handedly responsible for shaking me out of being a generiperson. The Power of Myth made a lot of poetry, mysticism, and mythology make sense to me and helped me be a more spiritual person. And The Selfish Gene helped me build a personal cosmology once my faith was shattered.

Last summer, I read Dave Marsh's The Heart of Rock & Soul, which really broadened my musical knowledge and got me excited about a huge amount of songs that I'd not heard before. It's probably the reason I have, just this year (at the age of 37) bought a guitar!
posted by kimota at 5:09 PM on April 26, 2005

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
posted by rw at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2005

Autobiography of Malcolm X. It opened my eyes to a world I never before knew existed. You only get so many of those experiences.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:32 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

The Mill on the Floss
Slaughterhouse Five
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Jude the Obscure
posted by iconomy at 5:35 PM on April 26, 2005

Desert Solitaire -- Abbey
Cadillac Desert -- Reisner
Watership Down -- Adams
The Chronicles of Narnia -- Lewis
Mere Christianity -- Lewis
The Lord of the Rings -- Tolkein
Stranger in a Strange Land -- Heinlein
Maus -- Spiegelman
posted by RockyChrysler at 6:01 PM on April 26, 2005

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
Some kids forged their imaginations on Frodo and Gandalf; mine was forged on Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and Flewddur Fflam and the Cauldron-Born.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
by Hunter S. Thompson
Blew my teenage head apart, set me on the road to my true calling.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera
Barely a day goes by where I don't find myself wondering whether it is lightness or weight that is the positive aspect of existence.

Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, both by David Foster Wallace
Tore apart and then reassembled my sense of what a novel was, what an essay was, what reporting was.
posted by gompa at 6:18 PM on April 26, 2005

There used to be a great web resource on this type of question called "The One Book List". It was based on the question "If someone could only read one book in their lives, what would you reccomend?".

Sadly, it doesn't appear to exist online any longer (every link I just clicked sent me to a "Metacrawler" site. I do remember that beyond sacred texts like the Bible and the Koran, etc. Atlas Shrugged was #1. I tried very hard to read this book, and it just didn't do it for me.

For me, I think it would be Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. Stunning, with great philisophical messages.

Also there is "The Body" a novella in Stephen King's Different Seasons, mostly for the first paragraph, and the stunning protrayal of friendship.
posted by aclevername at 6:30 PM on April 26, 2005

Slaughterhouse Five - Vonnegut

Without Feathers - Allen

Leaves of Grass - Whitman
posted by madandal at 6:35 PM on April 26, 2005

Many of mine have been listed, and I shudder to think of trying to narrow it down to three. Books were very important to me, once upon a time.

I list these more to satisfy the curiosity of people interested in me than as recommendations, by the way. They are in approximate order of importance.

Matter, the Time-Life Science Library, 1967 ed. I feel a debt of personal gratitude to the anonymous author(s) for shaping me into the happy scientist I am today.

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
All of Heinlein's oeuvre, but particularly The Number of the Beast, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land.
The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, tr. Richmond Lattimore.
Atlas Shrugged. (In my defense, most twelve year olds haven't encountered comprehensible treatments of economics, politics, or epistemology. Rand makes all three very accessible to the bright pre-teen.)
Little Birds, Anais Nin.
I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, Gloria Steinem.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath.
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, tr. Constance Garnett.

I've read about 90% of the stuff others mentioned above, and some of them make my list of all time favorites. But the ones I listed fractured my cerebrum with a blast of pure WTF energy that made me sit up and take notice. Much of that, I think, is situation/context dependent - I encountered all of them within a rather fertile two-year period, age 11-13.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:52 PM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

The Legend of Huma. While the book is simplistic, it single-handidly got me into reading and staying up all hours of the night trying to avoid my parents at night so they wouldn't force me to go to sleep.
Since then, I have to go with Ayn Rand's Anthem, though I wanted to burn Atlas Shrugged.
Oh, CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters...make you look at sin in a whole different context.
posted by jmd82 at 6:56 PM on April 26, 2005

The Lord of the Rings - first books I ever read on my own as a child and a huge influence on the rest of my reading life.

Catcher in the Rye - the rare required-reading book that a teen could relate to, and one that aged well. Made me seek out a lot of classics I may have otherwise avoided.

V for Vendetta - Mind-blowing, inspirational, and a great doorway into philosophy and politics for a 90s slacker.

Atlas Shrugged - Read shortly after beginning corporate life, thought it explained everything. Heh.
posted by ipe at 7:19 PM on April 26, 2005

CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters.

Jumping in again to second this. Fabulous.
posted by aclevername at 7:32 PM on April 26, 2005

Sister Carrie--Dreiser
Baltazar & Blimunda--Saramago
A Fine Balance--Mistry
Player Piano--Vonnegut
Watership Down--Adams (first "big" book i ever read when i was little--both physically and themewise)
Wizard of OZ--Baum (of course)
1984 & Animal Farm--Orwell
Handmaid's Tale--Atwood
posted by amberglow at 7:52 PM on April 26, 2005

oh, and the USA trilogy--Dos Passos
posted by amberglow at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2005

Mine are all "modern" books:
Syrup, Maxx Barry
The Fuck Up, Arthur Nersesian
Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Louis Sachar
posted by itchie at 8:12 PM on April 26, 2005

On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's the third book in the series, but it sent me back to the beginning and I read them all. Although I read quite a bit before reading this book (and series) cemented my love of reading.

Bambi - Felix Salten. It's the original, not the cutesy Disney version. It strongly influenced my love of animals and nature.

Dune - Frank Herbert. Before reading Dune I avoided Science Fiction and Fantasy. It really opened up my reading options.
posted by deborah at 8:20 PM on April 26, 2005

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Stupid White Men by Micheal Moore, then everything by Noam Chomsky shortly thereafter.
posted by monsterhero at 8:23 PM on April 26, 2005

Alice in Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass and the entire Baum-authored Wizard of Oz series.

Younger Adult
Howl and other Poems, Allen Ginsberg
"I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?"

Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln
I don't believe everything (or even most of the things) in this book, but it was the book that made me realize that there were other ways to look at things I'd always taken for granted.
posted by anastasiav at 8:30 PM on April 26, 2005

A hearty second for Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany. He's ostensibly a sci-fi author, but Dhalgren is anything but sci-fi. Some of the reviews are right on though--definitely don't read it if you're looking for some kind of epic story (though it is pretty epic in its convolution and meta-esque storyline).
posted by hototogisu at 9:03 PM on April 26, 2005

Someone mentioned Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas above, but I liked Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail better. It affected greatly my understanding of American politics.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey are two books that profoundly affected my philosophy about life.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 9:26 PM on April 26, 2005

So many here that I know...but it might be worth keeping this page for those others.

I don't do a top 3 anymore on books. Ulysses just clean blew my mind away when I managed to get through it for the first time some 5 or 6 years ago. It represents for me the grand vision of the human condition, a neverending labyrinth of profundity and nuance that just keeps giving more and more together with elaborating the most amazing and soaring symphony of language and structure. It is my bible and I don't believe I'll ever actually stop contemplating it. Virtuoso to the nth degree. Nothing else at all remotely compares. It's the book that all other aspire to.

"The man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery"
Ben Dollard bulkily cachuchad towards the bar, mightily praisefed and all big roseate, on heavyfooted feet, his gouty fingers nakkering castagnettes in the air.

...I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
posted by peacay at 9:30 PM on April 26, 2005

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (the first four books only, not the afterthought fifth which isn't nearly as good)

Godel Escher Bach

The Brothers Karamazov

not to mention The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin.
posted by evinrude at 9:41 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh goody, another autobiography thread!

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
From Hell by Alan Moore
Papa Hemingway by A.E. Hotchner
posted by Hildago at 9:55 PM on April 26, 2005

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff and The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.
posted by billysumday at 10:11 PM on April 26, 2005

songs of innocence and experience ... william blake ... (i read parts of this when i was 6 and heard music immediately ... and so got started on my lifepath)

the new testament ... (also the gospel of thomas)

the electric koolaid acid test ... (needless to say, i had to take the test myself ... i passed)

principia discordia

zen buddhism by d t suzuki

william s burroughs (first just a literary influence ... until i started experiencing his reality for myself ... it wasn't pleasant and his books helped me understand it better)

also a couple of online correspondents in the last year ... and too many poets to name here
posted by pyramid termite at 10:39 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh, I also loved The Abandoned as a child. I don't think I really understood why until much later.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 10:59 PM on April 26, 2005

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. The dog-lover's bible.
posted by vito90 at 11:02 PM on April 26, 2005

Fiction: Shatterday - Harlan Ellison. (Especially the story 'Jeffty is Five'.)

Nonfiction: Walden - Henry David Thoreau

Lately, I've been reading a lot of James Joyce, and that has been making a similar impact.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:24 PM on April 26, 2005

Many of the ones mentioned above, and

Voltaire's Bastards - John Ralston Saul (and others by him)

Not 'literature', though.

Also, here's a distilled list from a similar thread compiled by the wacky kids over at, almost all of whom are MeFites past and present, for what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:47 PM on April 26, 2005

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Joyce
The Sound and The Fury - Faulkner
The Dead Father - Barthelme
Jernigan - Gates
Sexual Personae - Paglia
posted by rainbaby at 5:55 AM on April 27, 2005

The Tao of Pooh
EVERY SINGLE Douglas Adams book. All of them.
The Bible (I'm atheist)
posted by jaded at 5:55 AM on April 27, 2005

As my name implies, Cosmic Banditos had a profound effect me. I think the zany plot juxtaposed against basic atomic theory made me see that the world is a pretty unpredictable place.
posted by cosmicbandito at 6:36 AM on April 27, 2005

This is too hard. I want to list dozens. But these are the three books that I most could not stand having subtracted from my life:

The World of Pooh
Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy
Critique of Pure Reason

PS: John Holt's Teach Your Own
posted by bricoleur at 6:39 AM on April 27, 2005

The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing

I have never felt such a strong kinship with any other book/author. I felt an immediate bond to this book. The author/narrator was so nakedly honest with their thoughts. Each time I read it I felt like whole philosophies, dreams, likes, dislikes etc... were taken right out of my own head.

A Brave New World and 1984 also hold a special place in my life. At a very young age each of them opened my eyes to the ugly and racist side of human nature.
posted by Constant Reader at 6:48 AM on April 27, 2005

You know, I think I want to add to my list after thinking about it:

The Sound and the Fury had a profound effect on my in high school, and every time I've read it since, but I certainly think I would not be the reader I am today without having read it.

The God that Failed changed the way I thought about communism and history pretty profoundly. I read it just at the end of the Reagan Years, and it made me think differently about politics and loyalty and American freedom.

History of Sexuality Vol 1 by Foucault really changed the way I thought about the history of ideas.
posted by OmieWise at 7:41 AM on April 27, 2005

aclevername: thanks for the reminder! That was a great list, even though it hadn't been updated since 1998. Here's The One Book List from the Internet Archive.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:21 AM on April 27, 2005

What Constant Reader, no A.A. Milne?
posted by felix betachat at 10:45 AM on April 27, 2005

I'll second Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig for a striking outlook on Quality in a captivating narrative.

and add The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang for reinforcing what I'd suspected all along: If you can't find a reason to enjoy each and every moment in your life, you're not paying attention.
posted by ThePants at 2:33 PM on April 27, 2005

Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram.

Like I've said before, "I honestly believe that Milgram's Obedience Experiments (capitalization Well Fucking Earned) were not only the most important thing I learned in college, but the most important thing I possibly could have learned."
posted by NortonDC at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2005

Oh, yes! Where the Red Fern Grows as well. I read that book again and again whilst growing up and cried each and every time. I bought a copy of it last year and yep, I cried again.
posted by deborah at 5:19 PM on April 27, 2005

Invisible cities: Italo Calvino
Tao te ching: Lao tzu
posted by dhruva at 5:59 PM on April 27, 2005

Go Down, Moses, by William Faulkner. Probably not as mind blowing as Absalom! Absalom!, but it was the one I read first, so it had the largest impact.

Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. It kind of set the standard for the well-written cookbook.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle. The original question was, after all, the most important books in my collection, and you'd have to pry this one from my cold, dead hands.
posted by anapestic at 5:57 AM on April 28, 2005

The Drowned and The Saved by Primo Levi.
posted by underer at 2:30 PM on May 23, 2005

I have to of course second (or third?)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This book help me recognize the absurd and fluid nature of the english language.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

My introduction to the spectulative fiction (Sci-Fi, Fantasy) genre.

The Book of Lists
by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace

I wore this book out when I was a kid, and it kindled my intrest in unusual trivia.
posted by boymilo at 7:10 PM on May 23, 2005

« Older Immigrating to the US, and working in finance   |   Scifi Recommendations Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.