At first I wasn’t going to take part in Book Blogger Appreciation Week, but after reading all the excellent posts from the participants I felt the irresistible urge to jump in. It looks like today’s assignment calls for us to introduce ourselves. Taking into consideration we’re a bunch of book bloggers, it’s only fitting we begin our introductions by listing five books that represent us as a person or our interests/lifestyle. Just like Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, I thought this would be an easy task. You know, just list my favorite books and be done with it. Well, like many things in life things aren’t always as easy you think they might be. First off, just naming five favorite books has always been tough for me. Second, these books need in some way to represent who I am as a person. Thirdly, if these books do represent, or in some ways define me, how on earth do I limit this list to just five books?
After a lot of consideration, I’ve come up with a list of five books. As I’ll try to explain, all five of these are significant in their own ways.
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – It might seem a little odd for guy with a reputation for being big nonfiction fan to include a work of fiction. I begin my list with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath not just because it’s a great American novel that vividly portrays the hard lives of the impoverished and marginalized during the Great Depression. I also didn’t include it just because I’m descended from poor American Midwesterners who migrated to the West Coast in search of better lives. The Grapes of Wrath was the first piece of great literature that I read for pleasure. That means nobody assigned me this book to read as part of a class or coerced me to read it. I was soon inspired by Steinbeck’s novel to read other great works of fiction and followed it up with novels like The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple and On the Road.
- Europe: A History by Norman Davies – Years ago I read a review in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper of a huge, informative, but above all readable, history of Europe. Not long after reading that review I bought a copy of Davies’ book from Powell’s. I spent that summer with my nose buried in it and was treated to my first comprehensive look at European history from the Stone Age to the present. Not only did the book deepen and widen my understand of Western civilization, but thanks to Davies I learned two important yet overlooked things. One, the 19th century was the most seminal period in history when one takes into account the degree of which its events, discoveries and contributions shaped our modern age. Second of all, just by looking at a map you can see that Europe isn’t really a separate continent but merely a peninsular of Asia’s.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley – Not only did this fine book kindle my interest in prison memoirs, but it also made me read other books by black writers like Soul on Ice, The Wretched of the Earth, Discourse on Colonialism and Invisible Man. As good as that is, I credit this book for inspiring me to read powerful and intellectually challenging books. The passages where Malcolm X recalls evenings spent in his prison cell devouring books on history, colonialism and philosophy will always be near and dear to my heart.
- A Short History of Christianity by Martin E. Marty – A buddy of mine loaned me a copy of this book years ago and I’m still recommending it to people. Better than anything I was taught in church, Sunday school or even college, Marty’s book showed me how Christianity evolved as a religion. A Short History of Christianity is short, direct and given its brevity, surprisingly comprehensive. It served as my gateway to similar books that take a more scholarly approach to Christianity, ones like God: A Biography, A History of God and The Gnostic Gospels. In 2013 when I did a guest post on Kim’s blog, this was one of the books I recommended.
- Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer – It was hard for me to choose this one over Shermer’s How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science since I had read that one first. But in this rising climate of Internet-fueled anti-intellectualism, time and time again I find myself taking guidance from, and recommending to others this book. It’s also inspired me to read and take comfort in other books like Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories: The Role the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History and Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground.
Even though I stand by my selections, my goodness it was hard limiting this list to just five titles. None of you have any idea how hard it was to leave off The Poisonwood Bible, Freakonomics, Guns, Germs and Steel, The End of Faith, Outwitting History, Savage Continent and Shot in the Heart. Maybe I’ll just have to discuss those books in another post. Enjoy!