11.16.2005

Famous People's Favorite Books

For its "College Week" series, Slate has an interesting
article where famous people and authors talk about the one book they read in college that had the most influence on them.

We all are not famous, but this seems like an interesting discussion. What was the book that had the most influence on you in college? (It need not be literature)

I would have to say that the book that had the most influence on me, period, I read before college, and indeed determined the college that I would attend. However, the most compelling book for me during college was Faulkner's novella "The Bear," which is the centerpiece of "Go Down, Moses", and in fact bleeds over to a few of the other stories, which are all linked thematically, of course. Through the story of Isaac McCaslin's post-bellum rejection of his inheritance, his family's plantation and estate, because of the legacy of slavery, I learned that there's no way to avoid the world around us, no matter how disgusting and unclean it seems, and that if we refuse what is properly ours, we diminish ourselves, rather than gain through misguided sacrifice. There is no Cartesian mind-body dualism, where we can inhabit an ethereal sphere of ideas and somehow avoid their consequences as they play out in the real world.

5 comments:

Mike said...

Do we get to guess what book it was that determined your college choice? Did the Sweet Valley High Series give a shout-out to St. John's? Was there a book version of the Val Kilmer movie "Real Genius"?

dave said...

Aaron's book was "The Hardy Boys and the Case of the Great Books."

My college books were The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and A Good Man is Hard to Find. For some reason I always think of those books together, as a set. I guess one of them (Acid Test) kind of blew the whole issue of language wide open for me, and the other one opened up whole new worlds, as far as what you could do in a story and still have it be funny and affecting and real.

aaron said...

Dave, that's funny, because I was thinking of "The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of the Missing Canon"

Kistulentz said...

For me it was a pair: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Ray Carver, and The Stories of John Cheever. I am still mystified, from time to time, at how different these two books are, and yet how effortless both of them appear to be. I read Cheever's story "Just Tell Me Who it Was," about a man who suspects his wife has cheated on him in the turret window of Tucker Hall. Tucker, built in the late 1800s, was once the home of the William and Mary law school and had a mock courtroom in the basement that looked like the set to Inherit the Wind. Above the courtroom were these great huge windows where you could sit and sneak cigarettes, in my case usually borrowed from the desk of Professor Peter Wiggins. At one point in my college career, Wiggins looked at me and said, "You know, when I failed out of college, you went to Vietnam." I took that as a warning. Then he saw my backpack and its stash of Cheever, Carver, Larry Brown, Harry Crews (basically everything except what I ought to have been reading for his class) and he said, "On the other hand, you'll be fine."

Melanie said...
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