Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The books that made me, well, me

I had such fun with yesterday's post that I thought I'd take a stab at listing the books that have shaped my life, for better or worse. I've tried to put these in the chronological order in which I read them, with a one sentence explanation of why the book has stayed with me.

There's no way I could put a limit on this list. Like the albums, I'm sure I'll soon think of 50 other titles I could name. But, let's have some fun, OK?

As is quoted in the Jefferson/Adams letters, "I cannot imagine a life without books." And, yes, I'd love to spend a week in the library at Biltmore Estate with no tourists and a big stack of books.

The books: 

"Danny and the Dinosaur" Syd Hoff -- Learned how to read it before kindergarten.

"While The Clock Ticked" Franklin W. Dixon -- The one that ignited the inferno.

"Where The Red Fern Grows" Wilson Rawls -- Joyce Hill's fourth-grade class, Brickey School, 1987. Read it twice.

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" Arthur Conan Doyle -- So darn fun, plus I was (am) envious of Sherlock's brain.

"That's Not All, Folks" Mel Blanc -- This book began my love affair with vocal impersonations, old-time radio and Jack Benny.

"Curtain" Agatha Christie -- Hercule Poirot's swan song. Sigh.

"The Moon Is Always Full" David Hunter -- True crime tales from a friend and mentor set in my neck of the woods.

"The Bible" -- It's history, literature, spiritual study, puzzling, promising, and pure poetry in parts.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" Harper Lee -- Read it before I was assigned it; the book made me a better person.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Ian Fleming -- The best 007 novel

"A Tale of Two Cities" Charles Dickens -- Sydney Carton's sacrifice is the truest form of love.

"The Great Gatsby" F. Scott Fitzgerald -- I've been gazing at blinking green lights for years.

"Education of a Wandering Man" Louis L'Amour -- Daytona Beach, 1996. Knew I wanted to roam the world and become a writer.

"Nixon" (three volumes) Stephen Ambrose -- Summer 1996. Convinced me to major in history at UT.

"Lincoln" David Herbert Donald -- Life-changing look at our best president.

"A Life on the Road" Charles Kuralt -- July 4, 1997, Jackson, Wyo. Wanderlust. Wishes. Wonderful.

"Anna Karenina" Leo Tolstoy -- Terrible. Tragic. Terrific (in both senses).

"American Scripture" Pauline Maier -- Rekindled my love for the Declaration of Independence

"Lee: The Last Years" Charles B. Flood -- Cut through the crap to the power of reconciliation.

"Lonesome Dove" Larry McMurtry -- Read a 1,000-page novel in two days. Those cowboys became real, flesh-and-blood characters. I think of them often.

"Shoeless Joe" W.P. Kinsella -- I'm a shameless romantic about baseball. Beautiful book (and hook).

"It Wasn't All Velvet" Mel Torme -- One of the best memoirs I've ever read by an underrated citizen of jazz.

"My Antonia" Willa Cather -- Grabbed me in a way I can't quite explain.

"The Sun Also Rises" Ernest Hemingway -- Memorial Day 1999, my Dad's cabin. Thus it began...

"A Farewell To Arms" Ernest Hemingway -- St. George Island, 2000. Brilliant. Beautiful.

"Julius Caesar" William Shakespeare -- The Bard's bait that hooked this fish forever.

"A Drinking Life" Pete Hamill -- Not a wasted word can be found in this textbook study on how to write a memoir.

"Joe DiMaggio" Richard Ben Cramer -- Graceful, classy, just like its subject

"The Old Man and the Sea" Ernest Hemingway -- Read it in one night. I still struggle with that marlin.

"The Catcher in the Rye" J.D. Salinger -- One big "stuff it" to the Establishment.

"Theodore Rex" Edmund Morris -- Trust-bustin' Teddy Roosevelt in his prime.

"The Last Picture Show" Larry McMurtry -- Hopped in the car on my own journey to find McMurtry after reading the book that saved me from the worst brawl I've ever had with the Black Dog. All I found was his bookstore and the Dairy Queen, but had a heck of a fun road trip.

"The Lords of Discipline" Pat Conroy -- Those broken sand dollars still haunt my dreams.

"Killings" Calvin Trillin -- Among other stories, one filed from Halls Crossroads, set in March 1977. Stunning, sad, shocking, superbly written.

"Amazing Grace" Robert Drake -- No Good Friday passes without me thinking of this true Southern gentleman and the finality of his father's passing.

"Careless Love" Peter Guralnick -- The best book ever written about Elvis (along with its prequel).

"Centennial" James Michener -- Rocky Mountain High, baby.

"The Last Lion: Alone" William Manchester -- Churchill's most fascinating period.

"Sinatra: The Song Is You" Will Friedwald -- A superb study by a marvelous musicologist.

"Master of the Senate" Robert Caro -- History of the U.S. Senate and its best Majority Leader.

"In Cold Blood" Truman Capote -- Haunted me, showed me how a "nonfiction novel" works. 

"Love, Me" Garrison Keillor -- My dream come true: Best-seller, The New Yorker, William Shawn

"The Things They Carried" Tim O'Brien -- Vietnam tales that haunted my dreams

"At Random" Bennett Cerf -- Cerf's is the life I wish I had lived (other than my own).

"Swimming in Sky" Inman Majors -- He calls Knoxville "paved hell." Yet he loves it. Great debut.

"Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming" Rheta Grimsley Johnson -- This cemented my love for a writer I am proud to call a friend. Hell of a read, too.

"Cosmos" Carl Sagan -- Puts one's place in the universe into perspective.

"Maine" J. Courtney Sullivan -- The best novel I read in 2011.

"The Descendants" Kaui Hart Hemmings -- Heard about it in Hawaii before the movie. Marvelous!

"Death of a President" William Manchester -- This is how one writes a historical narrative.

"Life Itself" Roger Ebert -- A heartfelt final curtain to America's best film critic.

"Cronkite" Douglas Brinkley -- Cronkite was the best news anchor. Period. "And that's the way it is..."

"All In Good Time" Jonathan Schwartz -- Charming, troubling, moving memoir by my favorite radio personality.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" Arthur C. Clarke -- I will never look at the world in the same away again.

The journey continues...



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