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  • Lance Mannion
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Sherry Chandler

I love this list, Lance. Thanks.


Lance, out of curiosity, how much do you make per each book sold through your aStore? I am trying to weigh the costs / benefits of buying a reasonably priced book through Amazon vs buying a cheaper copy somewhere else and PayPal-ing (a verb! yea I went there) couple of bucks instead.


These are books you probably shouldn't have read, given the way your life has turned out? Pshaw, as Blue Girl in a Red -- oops, BLUE State would say. I wish I'd read as many great authors as you have (and perhaps I will, now), but I haven't, even though I've read voraciously all my life. Yet like you, the ones that really sank in and stayed with me to this day have certainly shaped the person I am today and probably my station in life, as well. But I'm not in the least bit sorry for that. We're good folk, Lance. That counts for a great deal.


I'm sure I read "Yankee" about the same age level you did, along with "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Treasure Island;" I think "Tom Sawyer" was probably middle school years, and "Huck" was high school.

Where's the trash fiction, Lance? Will no one speak up for "Peyton Place" or "The Carpetbaggers"?


OK, buddy, I posted my list.

Damned prosaic, but then I was more of a realist.


I miss Kurt Vonnegut.


Christ, I've got a big list of mostly non-fiction, but some not. Guess I'll have to get back to you on this. I did read Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead, but they don't make my list. Selfish Gene did.


Some of these are plays and short stories:

The Faraway Lurs
Catcher in the Rye
Romeo and Juliet
Wuthering Heights
Streetcar Named Desire
Adventure of the German Student
The Fountainhead
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Heart of Darkness
The Trial
The Lymond Chronicles
The Heaven Tree Trilogy

(God, no wonder I'm so out to lunch).

Kit Stolz

Lina makes a really good point, plays? (And no movies, for that matter?) I love reading, but the reality is, certain plays (such as "A Streetcar Named Desire," for one, and "Romeo and Juliet," for another) and movies have changed my life more than 99% of novels or non-fiction books, and to pretend otherwise is pretentious. Sorry, but it's true.


Plays are allowed. Macbeth's on my list.


I have exposed my youthful mind, here. Boy, my youth is a faraway place.


Small niggly detail: it's the Honorary Consul, not Counsel....
Good list.

Michael Bartley

Robert Kennedy's To Seek a Newer World (The campaign edition) struck my ten year old brain right between the eyes (how about that Yogi). His death shortly after broke my young heart and made me much more skeptical of my country and the world I was growing in. In high school, it was Mari Sandoz and her shattering Cheyenne Autumn that crystallized my energy and anger at the loss of RFK which along with so much other American horror and tragedy, left my youthful innocence crumpled somewhere in a windblown ditch off of highway 212 just short of Lame Deer. It also gave my study of the American West and environmental history greater focus and poetry. Next, while initially skipping college for the wilds of the West, I read Ed Abbey's Desert Solitaire which led to a life of perpetual wandering and wondering as student and teacher of western wildlands and wildlife (the cities of course are the true wilderness of the west). There were others, but these three serve as a kind of touchstone for me and have led to a lifetime of seeking stories with poetry in their prose, wisdom in their words and heartbreaking truth to face square on while, in Abbey's words, outliving the bastards.


Love Joseph Mitchell, and Up In The Old Hotel. I am endlessly enamored of old New York.

Relatedly, one of my formative books was The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Today we'd call it a YA novel. It's enchanting- in WW2 New York, the 4 Melendy siblings make a pact to pool their allowances and each weekend and go out on the town. The opera, the museum, the circus.. it was the book that gave me some bravery to step out on my own in NYC as a kid, and is to this day a supernaturally charming book, one I'd recommend to any parent with kids at the age of being curious about the world. Can't do it justice with this summary, really.


Before I can even remember:

1 (tie): the Lorax by Dr. Seuss; the Wump World by Bill Peet; Who Really Killed Cock Robin? by Jean Craighead George. (I can't remember not being an environmentalist, long before I heard the word.)

2 (tie): the Snarkout Boys & the Avocado of Death, and/or Young Adult Novel, by Daniel Pinkwater; Don't Care High, Son of Interflux, and No Coins Please, by Gordon Korman. (The line between activism, entrepeneurship, and withdrawal is far less important than the requirement that any of them be as entertainingly, genially absurd as possible.)

Before high school:

3: The Stand by Stephen King. (People in power will kill rather than admit their fuckups. Horror is easier to write convincingly than happy endings, though both are possible.)

4: The 1983 to 1988, plus Historical, Bill James Baseball Abstracts. (Masterful demonstrations of how to ask questions, and how math, research, moralism, and anecdotes can be deployed together to answer them and find new questions.)

5: The Real Campaign by Jeff Greenfield. (Not the book that _should_ have spurred my precocious fascination with politics, but the book that did, bless and curse it. I was a big Advise & Consent fan myself not long after.)

6: The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., by Robert Coover. (From which I learned much about the joy of language and names, and of the temptations of solipsism, which, given that I had almost no friends at the time, it took me years to see the book's cautionary aspects.)

During high school:

7: The Postman, by David Brin. (Sometimes the way to great deeds and usefulness starts with putting up a good enough false front.)

8: Is This It?, by Bob Geldof. (Sometimes the way to great deeds and usefulness starts with having no idea what you're getting yourself into. Okay, usually.)

9: How I Saved the World, by Philip Slater. (There are great and accidental heroes, hooray, but sometimes the villains have astoundingly good points to make too. A first warning, perhaps, that I was a radical in the making.)

During college:

10 (tie): Black Boy by Richard Wright, Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Beals, Member of the Club by Lawrence Otis Graham. (Somehow I'd gone to de-facto segregated schools for 12 years without quite believing that racism is real.)

11 (tie): Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach by Emily Sachar, My Posse Don't Do Homework by LuAnn Johnson. (I figured out I was supposed to become a teacher by the fact that I kept putting myself into the teacher memoirs, trying to think how I'd handle the situations.)

12: Coming of Age in New Jersey by Michael Moffitt. (My first realization that, as a socially tone-deaf bookworm, I could treat human interaction as something to study! And analyze! And become good at! Which I often am now.)

Since then:

13: Equal Distance by Brad Leithauser. (At 23, the protagonist seemed an amusingly/ disturbingly half-accurate portrait of me, and his best friend a startingly accurate, though dissolute, version of the guy two years ahead of me in school I'd always wanted to be. At 26, on re-reading, I found I'd turned much more into a not-dissolute version of the best friend. I'm neither of them at 35, nor would I want to be, but I'm not sure the transformation was an accident.)

14 (tie): No Logo by Naomi Klein, and Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken/ Amory Lovins. (My favorite non-fiction save-the-world books.)

15. Prisoner's Dilemma by Richard Powers. (This is what my middle-age mental breakdown will look like. At least it, and my children, will be funny.)

Terry Pratchett should be listed, but I can't just pick one book. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Queer as Folk" should be listed, but they're tv shows.

Steven Hart

Pre-high school

THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, Ray Bradbury: A tall decanter full of dreams. If memory serves, I got into Bradbury via the film version of Fahrenheit 451, which was on TV quite a bit for a while, and which I liked mainly for the glorious music by Bernard Herrmann. I had already devoured R Is For Rocket, The Illustrated Man, and The Golden Apples of the Sun, but this is the collection I always think of when somebody asks me about Bradbury in his prime. These stories were culled and revised from Bradbury’s first book, Dark Carnival, and are some of the most macabre stuff he ever wrote.

WHY I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN, Bertrand Russell: The title essay is the reason I never finished confirmation classes at the church my parents were flogging me into every Sunday. Does a book’s impact get any more personal than that?

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? Philip K. Dick: My introduction to PKD came from a small library of paperbacks that lined a couple of shelves in my seventh-grade science teacher’s classroom. The back cover promised all kinds of smutty science fiction fun. What I got was a cage-rattling meditation on the nature of human identity, and an undertow of tragedy that just about knocked me sidewways at my tender age.

THE ASCENT OF MAN, Jacob Bronowski: My introduction to Bruno came via the Channel 13 broadcast of the BBC series, and as soon as it was done I got a copy of the hardcover book by joining the Literary Guild. Did I understand everything I read. Of course not, but the effort did me good.

GODS, GRAVES, AND SCHOLARS, C.W. Ceram: A great popular history of archaeology, loaded with Indiana Jones stuff as well as some excellent leads on other works of history. I learned about Cortes and the conquest of Mexico from this book, which led to a lifelong fascination with the subject.

THE HEIGHTS OF MACCHU PICCHU, Pablo Neruda: My introduction to the greatest poem by one of our greatest poets came about through a science fiction story, “Come to Me Not in Winter’s White” by Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison, which I read in Ellison’s collection of collaborative stories, Partners in Wonder. Art is where you find it.

High school

CANNERY ROW/THE PASTURES OF HEAVEN, John Steinbeck: After coming across a beat-up copy of Travels With Charley in a Sea Isle City bungalow, I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore years reading every Steinbeck title I could get my hands on. For my money, these are his two best novels.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS/IN OUR TIME, Ernest Hemingway: The next summer was spent plowing through the big guy’s works, which didn’t take as long as the Steinbeck Summer, so I filled out August with a few Herman Hesse titles. (This was the mid-Seventies, when high schoolers looking for stirrings of transcendance felt obligated to read Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.) Since I was also going through my Sorrows of Young Werther period, the romantic longings in A Farewell to Arms really struck a deep chord, and I continue to admire the spare music of Hemingwway's short stories.

THE GLORY AND THE DREAM, William Manchester: Mid-20th century American history, from the arrival of the Bonus Army marchers in Washington D.C. to the eviction of Richard Nixon from the White House. Narrative history at its finest. I think it’s a tragedy Manchester never got to finish his three-part Churchill biography.

WRITINGS AND DRAWINGS, Bob Dylan: Lucky me. Not only was Blood on the Tracks my first Bob Dylan album, but 1975 was a great year to be a Dylan fan. Blood on the Tracks came out in January, The Basement Tapes was released (in water-down form) in June, and all through the fall I followed the glamorous wanderings of the Rolling Thunder Revue in the pages of Rolling Stone, and Desire came out so early in January that I have a hard time remembering it as a 1976 release. Somewhere along the way I acquired this collection of lyrics, album cover notes and poetry in a slick tan cover, which is the reason I knew most of Dylan's other albums by reading them before I listened to them.

INTERVIEW WITH HISTORY, Oriana Fallaci: I never made good on my teen fantasy of having an affair with the diminutive hellraiser, but I did the next best thing and spent a lot of quality time with this collection of interviews, in which Fallaci made Yasir Arafat, Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran (among others) deeply and profoundly regret the day they opened their doors to her. Kissinger once said that agreeing to talk with Fallaci was "the stupidest thing I ever did." Years later, when I found myself bumping shoulders with Kissinger at a buffet table, the only thing I could imagine saying to him was, "Damn, Henry, Oriana really pounded that one up your ass, didn’t she?" And yet I kept quiet! What demon possessed me, that I behaved so well?


RED HARVEST, Dashiell Hammett: After the farm wagon dropped me off at Livingston College, I batted some of the straw out of my hair and headed for the campus bookstore, where my very first purchase was this detective novel by a writer I’d been hearing about for some time. It has the most perfect opening of any noir book I’ve read. I think I spent the rest of the semester talking out of the side of my mouth.

MATTERS OF FACT AND OF FICTION, Gore Vidal: I'd long had a vague idea of Gore Vidal, but it took someone lending me this book while I spent several weeks recovering from a bout of mono to show me what I’d been missing. Exemplary essays and reviews that opened up a lot of new horizons for me. In fact, one of the reviews led me to . . .

THE POWER BROKER, Robert Caro: When I wrote The Last Three Miles, I had in mind doing something with a bit of the same historic sweep that makes this massive biography so engrossing. Robert Moses’ heroic image as the master builder of New York City was overturned by Caro’s examination, which takes in virtually every significant trend affecting mid-20th century America and New York City, and shows how one man really can make a difference – for good and for ill. The book’s level of detail is daunting, its argument commanding, its scope breathtaking.

PATRIOTIC GORE, Edmund Wilson: My introduction to the Civil War as something more than a collection of dates and battles with odd names came through this massive collection of essays on the era’s literature. Abraham Lincoln’s ritings, William Tecumseh Sherman’s diaries, Mary Chestnut’s diaries . . . and Carl Sandburg’s cornpone myth-mongering, praised and/or debunked as the occasion demands.

Kathleen Maher

Who would you be if you hadn't read those books, Lance? Someone I would never have ever met, but even I am not so vain as to suggest that might make you better off. Better to blame the books. It's all their fault.

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