Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Book Thing, Stave the Second

          This post takes up where Saturday's post left off: numbers six through eleven* of the Ten-Books-That-Have-Made-A-Difference-In-Your-Life-Pass-It-On thing.

          6. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This may be the most perfectly-written book ever. The three things I like most about it are how well Lee understands the enormous power of our insignificant, quotidian acts, her depiction of the many and contradictory faces of love, and her compassionate treatment of people trying to do the best they can with what they have. If this book can't teach you humanity, nothing can.

          7. Art And Fear: Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) Of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The first emotion I approach any new creative project with is abject, stuttering fear. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. Fear of never having another good idea ever again. Many times this book has coaxed me out of the corner where I was crouched, quivering and daunted, and told me, gently and kindly, to just make a mark. Just start somewhere. I owe my creative life to it.

          8. Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon. Another, slightly more user-friendly, take on how to maintain your creative life. Here's this book's big secret: it's not just for creative people. Anyone can profit from Kleon's advice.

          9. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope. K thinks it's very funny that I am a die-hard Trollope fan (because, apparently, Victorian novelist + name that is a synonym for A Fallen Woman = giggles). You have to like Victorian novels very much to read a lot of Trollope, but when the man was on his game, he was sublime, and this is one of his best. He wrote it as a rebuke to the British financial scandals of the 1870s, saying, "a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable."

I was struck, when I read it during the days of the dotcom bubble, how frighteningly modern and prescient it was.

          10. Secret Knowledge, by David Hockney. Hockney makes a compelling argument that many Old Masters used optical aids (the camera obscura and the camera lucida) to help them capture and render their subjects so realistically. It didn't change the way I feel about these painters, but it changed the way I think about drawing. I just got a camera lucida (it's available from Amazon for $47). Can't wait to try it.

          11. Catcher In The Rye, by J. D. Salinger. This book is the granddaddy of Young Adult fiction as we know it today, and it's still making banned books lists 62 years after it was published. What does it contain that is so awful it should be forbidden? Naughty words. Cynicism. A sex scene that doesn't happen. Drunkenness. Tenderness. Empathy. Wit. Pain. And the promise to generations of angsty adolescent misfits that they are not alone.

          What about you? What are the books that have made a difference in your life?

*I know, I know; I'm only supposed to list ten books. Think of it as a baker's dozen, in decimal.


  1. Thanks so much for the lists lately, I am going to go and buy myself something new to read for the holiday. Can't wait to indulge! 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' one of my very favorites, book and movie.

  2. I am an absolute naive child in that I need a certain kind of book & movie in my life in order to get up in the morning and face another day; 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, 'It's a Wonderful Life' by Frank Capra (?) :) Sense & Sensibility by Miss Jane Austen.