Anyone on Facebook the past few weeks has come across the challenge to list 10 books that have influenced (and presumably been read by) the person in question. A certain amount of sniping has followed, mostly over the number of people who claim to have read Joyce.
No one asked for my list, but I mentally began compiling one anyway — and soon noticed some things even more surprising than how many people are simpatico with Dante. Hardly any of the lists I’ve seen include the Bible, William Shakespeare or non-fiction in general.
Shakespeare wrote plays and sonnets — not, technically, books — but he and the Bible are undoubtedly the two most lasting influences on Western literature. Non-fiction includes everything from Plato to Glenn Beck.
As I said, no one asked for my list. But here it is anyway, annotated.
1. The Bible. Really, there is no understanding Western civilization or Oklahoma politics without it.
2. The Tower Treasure, Hardy Boys #1, by Franklin W. Dixon. The Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) were how I discovered reading could be fun. Ghostwriters were paid $75-$100 per volume to crank out these books; needless to say, they received no royalties.
3. Harlow’s Oklahoma History, by Victor Harlow. My introduction to Oklahoma history. Pretty dry, in retrospect. Goble and Scales’ Oklahoma Politics, among others, is an easier read, but Harlow’s sparked an interest that has never flagged.
4. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” said historian Jacques Barzun. I would add Huck Finn.
5. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie. My first grown-up book.
6. The Illiterate Digest, by Will Rogers. Still my hero.
7. To Absent Friends, Red Smith. The last and maybe greatest of the old-time sports writers. When asked if writing a daily column was difficult, he said, no, you “simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
8. And Still the Waters Run, by Angie Debo. The part that Rodgers and Hammerstein left out.
9. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. “Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.”
10. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is bigger and more important, but I happen to like this one better.