My Bookshelf

I changed my cover photo on Facebook recently; the image was one of my barrister's bookcase (I have about 12 and I just got a couple more for all those books on the floor). I studied it recently, and was intrigued by the books that I found there.

I read a lot of books that I don't keep - I pass them on or donate them. And of course there's my Kindle books.

But I have many books that I have just because. Because I feel better knowing I can pick them up any time I want and re-read them, glance through them to refresh my memory, or simply feel good having them around.

So I thought I'd share with you some of my "I must have this book on my bookshelf" books.

In no particular order:

1984 by George Orwell. This book is one that I make a point of reading every year because it reminds me of some very important things: like, the meaning of words. The manipulation of "truth." Our willingness to succumb to blandishments and punishments.

Encyclopedia of British Literature, and Encyclopedia of American Literature. Now, granted, the volumes I have are dated - much has been written since they were published. But they are valuable nevertheless as they expose the reader to some of the greatest writing coming from each nation. And they're lovely because they can be dipped into without "committing."

For the same reason, I keep The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I had promised myself I'd read through it last year - I failed. Perhaps I can keep that promise this year! Shakespeare was a master of words, and a man with a prodigious talent for capturing human archetypes. If I could pick one person from history to have dinner with, he'd surely be on my top 10 list.

For a similar reason, I have Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad on my shelf. I continue to be astounded that a man born in the Ukraine, a native Polish speaker, could so perfect his command of the English language that he introduced me to words I did not know, but moreover, were the perfect word choice for what he was trying to express. While I love most everything he wrote, Heart of Darkness is a special favorite as one of the basic human stories of self-discovery and what lies beyond it.

Speaking of understanding human nature, I keep several books by Dickens on hand. I listened to A Tale of Two Cities on tape not long ago, and found myself weeping at the end as Sidney Carton offers his life up for the good of those he loves. Dickens could write a villain, and a hero, with such conviction that he is probably, next to Shakespeare, the master of this aspect of writing.

The Mask of Apollo by Mary Renault. I discovered this book as a child while I was reading my way through the local public library. It introduced me to Ancient Greece, and sent me on a quest to learn all about Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt; the Gods, archaeology, history, and philosophy. And all because I read a book!

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Confession: I'm not a huge Steinbeck fan, and that's sort of like admitting treason in terms of American Literature. But this book won my approval for teaching me about symbolism - how to read a larger meaning into a perhaps hyperbolic character and situation.

The Arthurian Legends. Perhaps just because I love these stories; but also perhaps because it's another of the stories told over and over, in different ways, the world over.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It's complex, confusing, passionate, harsh and lush: Russian literature at its most provoking.

The Merck Manual. Because before there was the Internet, you learned about medicine from books.

Le Rouge et Le Noir by Stendhal. Probably just because it was the first book I read - without translating - in French. I would recommend this goal to everyone. When you can actually think in another language, you understand the power of language to influence everything about us as human beings. Which takes me back to 1984.


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