A challenge circulated around Facebook recently:
List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.
A lot of people (including myself) did think too hard. How could we not when considering such a personal subject? I suppose normal Americans are flippant about their reading, or reading might only be a small part of their lives – but my reading material is a life preserver; it’s all that’s keeping me in contact with the pre-60’s (pre-apocalypse) Europe. Excuse me for taking a few extra minutes.
I guess I’m not as intelligent as many of my friends because they listed grand works of theology and philosophy, while the majority of my list is fiction. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not accusing anyone of dishonesty or bad motives, but really…how can someone list Calvin’s “Institutes” as a book that greatly influenced and / or stayed with him over the years? I’ve tried reading it and can’t get past the first chapter without falling asleep or getting so frustrated with the abstract verbosity, I have to quit. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single work of theology or philosophy that has ever affected me emotionally or offered me anything other than a few convenient arguments I might use against atheists.
Nor is my list profoundly ideological or “conservative”. Benjamin Wiker wrote “10 Books Every Conservative Must Read”, and while he lists some classics (like Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution” and Belloc’s the “Servile State”), only one of them actually made it to my list: Tolkien’s “Return of the King”. I feel the need to apologize to some of my friends; it’s almost as if they’re more high-minded and concerned for the fate of the west because their material is political and conservative. Pat Buchanan, Francis Parker Yockey, Oswald Spengler, all made multiple lists, while I have children’s stories. Well, it’s likely true that my friends are more intelligent (and thus have higher-minded material on their lists), but at the same time, (and with no desire to defend myself from the charge of being unintelligent), I’d hate for some of the books on my list to be given less than their due. They’re just as biting, in their own way, I would argue, as anything written by Buchanan, and far more true than the opinions of Spengler.
On a final note (before revealing my list), I hope parents read this with a hint of caution. I read many of these books long before graduating high-school; they struck me emotionally in my formative years and will likely always be some of the most influential books I’ll ever have read. So, were I you (not telling anyone how to run their business), I’d keep all the “teen fiction” so popular at Barnes-&-Noble decidedly out of their reach, supplementing instead with the classics.
These are not listed in any particular order; I couldn’t place them in order of influence or importance even if I wanted to. So, here’s my list (for what it’s worth):
1. Body by God ~ Dr. Ben Lerner
I’ve developed quite the library of alternative health and fitness material since reading this. Looking back, it’s not the most well-written or informative of them all, but it was the first of the genre I ever read. My sister gave this to me as a gift one Easter (she knew I was trying to be a Navy SEAL at the time, so she thought it would be helpful). Dr. Lerner’s book introduced me to the world of alternative and holistic healing and convinced me of the importance of organic agriculture.
2. Last of the Breed ~ Louis L’Amour
My dad made sure we grew up with a love for the wilderness; additionally, Louis L’Amour was a staple in our house. Last of the Breed is, arguably, his best novel. I read it when I was young and just beginning to recognize the political injustice in America (Bill Clinton had just won the Presidency for the first time and many Conservatives were demoralized). There couldn’t have been a worse time (as far as liberals were concerned) for a boy to read Last of the Breed. I read it during the upswing of the militia movement, when taking to the woods to fight off tyrants was being romanticized in flea markets, gun shows, and early morning diner conversations the country over.
3. The Lord of the Rings ~ Tolkien
I initially listed “Return of the King” because it was the most striking of the trilogy, but I learned that Tolkien meant for all three to be a single volume originally. Due to paper rations during the War, they had to be published separately. And again, thanks to my father, these were a staple in my house; we had Bilbo read to us before bed time. I’m convinced the best way to read Tolkien’s masterpiece is when it’s infused with a personal sense of nostalgia. I feel sorry for people who never had it read to them as children. (The same goes for Lewis’ Narnia series).
4. 1984 ~ George Orwell
Clinton had been in office for a few years when I finally discovered Orwell. The negros made government school lunch-rooms off limits. Any poor white boy who lingered would be attacked or otherwise publicly humiliated. So I spent that time in the library at a little table in the corner. I’d read books to escape the oppressive reality of school. What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good – because I discovered the dust-covered world of old Europe. Unfortunately, though, I stumbled over Orwell’s book. The blurb on the back suggested the hero Winston lived in an oppressive society and gradually found the means to resist and overcome it. Another “Last of the Breed” triumph against tyranny, I thought. I eagerly read it. By the torturous end, I was sick to my stomach and infuriated. I was innocent until reading Orwell.
5. War Crimes Against Southern Civilians ~ Walter Cisco
I was grown and familiar with the scholarly world by the time I read this. I remember thinking it was light on citations. I was hoping for more information and better resources. But what the book lacks in scholarship, it more than makes up for in zeal. Until reading it, I had a passive pride in my Southern history and thought of the War in terms of quaint weekend travels, seeing historical sites or watching reenactments. This book made Northern atrocities personal.
6. Man Alive ~ G.K. Chesterton
I’ve spoken about my post-military depression on this blog (multiple times), so it should be no surprise to my readers. At the height of my military career, I was a respected member of my unit, decorated, on my way towards being a Navy SEAL, when I had my heart broken by a woman. Also, at the same time, I had become convinced my service was a sham and that American foreign policy was evil. In the short space of a year, my entire identity unraveled, I lost the girl of my dreams, and realized I had spent the better part of my adult life pursuing service to the Devil. This was all on top of the normal depression military veterans feel when transitioning to civilian life. There were some dark times and I likely wouldn’t be here right now if not for having randomly stumbled across Chesterton’s “Man Alive”. If life has never forced you into asking major existential questions, consider yourself blessed. For those of us who have been there – Chesterton’s story is better than any “self-help” manual or disingenuous comfort from pretentious, meddling pastors.
7. Quentin Durward ~ Sir Walter Scott
Of course, God doesn’t strike major blows to our lives if He doesn’t intend on building us back up better than we were. I gradually discovered old Europe through the literature of Sir Walter Scott (and through the blogging efforts of a few angelic individuals). I’ll spare the autobiographical notes, and just say that all of Walter Scott’s writings (at least, all I’ve read thus far) have inspired me, but this one in particular, because it’s about a knight in a land that does not necessarily share his values. Durward is a foreigner…like all of us are foreigners in this world. And he’s opposed by a twisted intellectual who is rich, commands armies, and relies on devilry for inspiration.
8. That Hideous Strength ~ C.S. Lewis
Subtitled “A Modern Fairy Tale For Grown Ups”, this was the first book I ever read that really made me a conservative. Of course, I’d have all of C.S. Lewis’ works on this list if I could, and by only listing this one, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of the rest – but this one really stands out for me. It’s a book I’ll re-read over and over and should a time ever get fixed for my death, it (and not excluding the Holy Scriptures of course) will likely be the last book I ever read. Wiker lists “Abolition of Man” as one of the 10 books every conservative should read, but Lewis says “Abolition of Man” was his attempt to state (in non-Fiction) the point of Hideous Strength. If a person doesn’t grasp Lewis’ point in “Hideous Strength”, he’ll likely not get it when stated directly in “Abolition”. We true “Conservatives” are in a spiritual battle against those who seek to overthrow all Godly order in the world and institute a “scientific” (read: Satanic) dystopia. No one makes this plainer than Lewis.
9. The High King ~ Lloyd Alexander
This was another book I discovered while fleeing from the harsh reality of government school. The entire “Chronicles of Prydain” series is splendid (with the exception of book 4 “Taran Wanderer”, which, on some interpretations, could have a contemporary egalitarian theme). Based loosely on old Welsh legends, Alexander introduces children to a world of honor and old-world social mores, with entertaining characters and magical stories.
10. All Creatures Great and Small ~ James Herriot
Soon after discovering 1984, while scrounging around in the same library, I stumbled over Herriot’s autobiographical books, describing his time as a veterinarian in the English country side. Of course, I was so badly educated at the time, I didn’t realize where the books were set; I was well into the second book before realizing it was all supposed to be taking place in England. Herriot showed me there was profound good in the world, even in spite of Orwell’s vision. I loved these books so much, I began volunteering at the local vet clinic. I remember the Vet (Dr. Jones, I believe his name was), snickering when I told him I wanted to be a veterinarian after reading Herriot. “We’ll cure you of that” I remember him saying. I’ll spare the grisly details, but he was right in the end. Still – Herriot’s writings have stuck with me to this day.