As we travel through life, there are certain books that mold and remold us, and though we may not have read the books for a long time, we remain, nonetheless their work. No book ever crosses the path of our destiny without leaving some mark upon it forever.
Sometimes books influence our beliefs or imbue us with so much knowledge that our intellect is forever shaped. More important to me are those books that provide a mystic transport to another reality. Equally important are those books that give pure druglike pleasure and relaxation, allowing us to escape reality in times of stress. Whether they are profoundly philosophical or provide an endless adventure, books provide us with a means and system to leave the prison of our aloneness and enter alternate worlds of infinite possibility.
What does a person's favorite books tell us about that person?
Codes: F=fiction, N=nonfiction, R2="read the book twice over my lifetime", R3="read the book three times during my life", A=autobiography, Y="I read this when I was young; it would be interesting to determine if I would find it as valuable today as when I first read it."
Below are my favorite books, in order of preference:
Number of the Beast, by Robert Heinlein (F, R7): this is also my most reread book.
Please psychoanalyze me and tell me why it is my favorite novel. Of course, I did enjoy the adventure, genius characters, the parallel universes, the love, and the wit.
However, I could not finish the book the first 3 times I tried, and you also wont be able to finish it your first time. That's OK:
It gives you a chance to try again later in your life.
People either love this book or hate it. Personally, I enjoy underlining words in the book that we don't understand, and then I look them up.... Words like "amphigory" or "Deja Thoris" or "Kilkenny cat" etc.... You can learn a lot by doing this. In this way, you can make the adventure of reading this book before bed a supreme learning experience. Every time I reread it, and I will continued to do so, I learn something new. Tell me what you learned.
I do think it was bold that Heinlein ends with an insane chapter most humans can't understand. There is probably not a human on this planet that understands every reference in that final, diffuse chaotic-fragmentation chapter. It is this boldness throughout the book (which most writers could never get away with because readers would think an author had lost his mind), that I enjoyed! How could Heinlein be so bold and daring?
And the book is also about love. And adventure, with a vague backdrop of lurking danger. Also, notice how Heinlein says so little about the surroundings. It starts at a California party. I see it in my mind. The pool. The leaves on the trees. The musicians. The dancing. But Heinlein's magic is that he says almost NOTHING about the party, yet your brain fills in the gaps, and you see it anyway. How does he do that?
Jack Kirwan wrote in the National Review that the novel is "about two men and two women in a time machine safari through this and other universes. But describing The Number of the Beast thus is like saying Moby Dick is about a one-legged guy trying to catch a fish." He goes on to say that Heinlein celebrates the "competent person."
I'm totally insane (in a good way) about this series of graphic guides to science.
In terms of pure mind-boggling concepts, such as higher dimensions, imaginative alien life, and the future of humanity, I'd say that Diaspora by Greg Egan is my favorite book in this department. I also found that The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle had many valuable lessons. I'm also a fan of the author Chuck Palahnuik.
For a wonderful book on Einstein and some ramifications of his strange theories, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Einstein's Universe by Gary F. Moring is great.
. The following book series are among my favorites: George Chesbro (Mongo and Veil series, F), Jack Chalker (Well of Souls series, F,Y), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Martian series, F,Y), Richard Marcinko (Rogue Warrior series, N/F).
Notes: The Mist is a novella in
Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauly.
He Who Shrank is a novella in
Famous Science Fiction Stores: Adventures in Time and Space,
edited by Raymond Healy and J. Frances McComas.
Number of the Beast drags towards the end, but the beginning
is especially interesting and exciting.
As for music, how can you beat: The Book of Secrets by Loreena McKennitt or Ashes are Burning by Renaissance?
Cliff Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University, is the author of twenty books (fiction and nonfiction) with translations in six languages, and is associate editor of numerous journals.
If you would like me to publish your own "Top Ten" list of books, please send me your list formatted in html, as above, and also send a one or two line biographical sketch. Feel free to take the source of this page to help you format your own list for inclusion on this page.
Amphigory - nonsensical writing
Harridan - A strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman
Jirel of Joiry is a fictional character created by American writer C. L. Moore, who appeared in a series of sword and sorcery stories published first in the pulp horror/fantasy magazine Weird Tales. Jirel is the proud, tough, arrogant and beautiful ruler of her own domain—apparently somewhere in medieval France. Her adventures continually involve her in dangerous brushes with the supernatural.
Cooper’s Droop – The Cooper’s ligaments stretch causing the breasts to sag. This is sometimes referred to as Cooper’s droop. Myth has it that if a woman could hold a pencil under her breast, she has Cooper’s droop.
Moloch – is the name of an ancient Semitic god, in particular a god of the Phoenicians, and the name of a particular kind of child sacrifice associated with that god. Moloch was historically affiliated with cultures throughout the Middle East, including the Ammonite, Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant. In modern English usage, "Moloch" can refer derivatively to any person or thing which demands or requires costly sacrifices.
Messalina – Valeria Messalina (c. 17/20 – 48) was a Roman empress as the third wife of the Emperor Claudius. She was also a paternal cousin of the Emperor Nero, second cousin of the Emperor Caligula, and great-grandniece of the Emperor Augustus. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she conspired against her husband and was executed when the plot was discovered.
Pied-à-terre - a small living unit usually located in a large city some distance away from an individual's primary residence. It may be an apartment or condominium. The term pied-à-terre implies usage as a temporary second residence, either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a person of some means.
Baksheesh - a term used to describe tipping, charitable giving, and certain forms of political corruption and bribery in the Middle East and South Asia. Leo Deuel sardonically described baksheesh as "lavish remuneration and bribes, rudely demanded but ever so graciously accepted by the natives in return for little or no services rendered.
Beulahland – Beulah Land is a well-known gospel hymn written by Edgar Page Stites (1836–1921) in either 1875 or 1876. The hymn, Stites' most popular, is set to music written by John R. Sweney (1837–1899). The hymn concludes with O Beulah land, sweet Beulah land: My heaven, my home forever more. Isaiah 62:4 the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon in which the Jews shall no longer be called Forsaken, but Hephzibah (My Delight Is in Her), and Jerusalem shall no longer be called Desolate, but Beulah (Married). This implies that the Jews have turned back to the worship of God. The universe in which the crew of the Gay Deceiver settled briefly, looking for a safe place to have their babies. It was pastoral, libertarian, and mostly very dull. The history was slightly different from the crew's homeworld: There was no slavery, but much indenture; and sometime in the 16th century the oceans had risen considerably, changing the coastlines and much of the political situation.
Codpiece -- a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's trousers and usually accentuates the genital area.
Retroussé - Turned up at the end. Used of the nose.
Lysistrata - one of the few surviving plays written by Aristophanes. Originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BCE, it is a comic account of one woman's extraordinary mission to end The Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace — a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes.
Laplap - a waistcloth or loincloth worn in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. This item of clothing has three parts: a front flap, a back flap, and a thread to tie them around the waist. The sides are generally open. How much is covered by the front and back flaps varies.
Kalend –first days of each month of the Roman calendar. The Romans assigned these calends to the first day of the month, signifying the start of the new moon cycle. On that day, the pontiffs would announce at the Curia Calabra the rest days for the upcoming month, and the debtors had to pay off their debts that were inscribed in the calendaria, a sort of accounts book.
Paskoodnyahk – (paskudnyak) Yiddish insult. THE most potent and offensive insult known to man. it has so much connotation that cannot be truly defined that the closest you can come to its meaning is "horrible person". no other definition has the meaning, and there is no way to convey how powerful that word is. Use with caution.
Gilbreth - Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878 – January 2, 1972) was an American psychologist and industrial engineer. One of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D., she is arguably the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. were efficiency experts who contributed to the study of industrial engineering in fields such as motion study and human factors.
Neutra - Richard Joseph Neutra (April 8, 1892 – April 16, 1970) is considered one of modernism's most important architects.
Noblesse oblige – One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned. Noble ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility
Hypergolic -- substances that ignite or explode on contact (without needing an external aid such as a spark). Hypergolic substances are used as rocket fuel and explosives.
Praxiteles -- Praxiteles of Athens, the son of Cephisodotus the Elder, was the most renowned of the Attic sculptors of the 4th century BC. He was the first to sculpt the nude female form in a life-size statue. A supposed relationship between Praxiteles and his beautiful model
Kilkenny cats -- anyone who is a tenacious fighter. An old story about two cats who fought to the death and ate each other up such that only their tails were left.
Hetaerae -- In ancient Greece, hetaerae were courtesans, that is to say, highly educated, sophisticated companions close to what is for the modern times the geishas. They are often wrongly confused as prostitutes, due to having open, but unpaid sexual relations.
Rapscallions -- A mischievous person: "they were the rapscallions behind this practical joke"
obstipate – to constipate severely
floccinaucinihilipilification is the second longest word in the English language. It means an estimation of something as worthless. See also: floccinaucinihilipilificatrix.
You'll also find lots of names to study in the book, as in one of Heinlein's sentences: "You sound like Whorf debating Korzybski with Shannon as referee. ... It won't take him long to decide that I'm not Lobachevski."
From Nandor: I've read some key book multiple times. My tallies below, sadly enough. I'm sure you'll be able to read too much into my psyche, but here we go. All spellings and numbers of books are from memory (are there 14 John Carter books, or only 12? I forget)
2 times: The 5 books in the Riverworld sequence, Philip Jose Farmer The 14 books in the John Carter sequence, Edgar Rice Burroughs The Handmaid's Tale, Margret Attwood 3 times: The Bible straight through The 8 books in the Well World sequence, Jack Chalker V for Vendetta, Alan Moore The Watchmen, Alan Moore A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain 4 times: The 14 books in Asimov's robots, empire, and foundation sequence The 4 books in the Wrinkle In Time books, Madeline L'Engle Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan The 5 books in the Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander The 3 books in the space trilogy of CS Lewis 5-10 times: The 5 books in the Hitchhiker's Guide sequence, Douglas Adams The 3 books in The Pendragon Cycle, Stephen R. Lawhead 10-20 times: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien 20-30 times: The 5 books in The Dark is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper The Book of Job from the Bible About 50 times: Each of the 4 Gospels and ActsAnd the worst of all: I've read The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien exactly 57 times. Yes, I kept track (starting about 20 years ago). I read it for the first time in fourth grade (so I must have been about 9 years old). I read it for the 50th time just before the release of the first movie in 2001 (when I was 29). Yes, there was even one year where I read it four times (my sophomore year of college, when my girlfriend was at an exchange semester at another college). Yes, I've read through four different sets of the books and had to throw them away due to wear and tear (no, I didn't hold burials of the remains). Yes, I shed a tear every time I read that Samwise puts Elanor on his lap and tells his wife "Well, I'm back." What can I say? I'm a loser. But I LOVE that book!
I've read a number of books several times:
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy, 3 times
Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy, twice
Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut, at least half a dozen times
Water Music, by T.C. Boyle, twice
The Road To Wellville, Boyle, twice
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson, at least half a dozen times The Double Helix, by James Watson, about three or four times
I reread a lot of books I have liked. I have always done so, and I didn't realise that was unusual until relatively recently. I enjoy it--it's like visiting with an old friend, and I usually don't reread until the details of the plot have grown sufficiently fuzzy in my memory for me to enjoy them all over again. It's less tense, too, than an initial reading--I feel no need to hurry to the ending, to find out what happens, to see if beloved character so-and-so survives the plot. Wordplay, imagery or phrasing I might have loved, dialogue that might have moved me--I get to enjoy it again, in a more leisurely fashion. I often notice details and foreshadowing that I missed the first time around, too.
Upon rereading the above ;), I note the 'old friend' comparison--to be honest, when I was younger, especially, I didn't have a lot of those. Friends, that is (as opposed to... er, comparisons :). We moved around a fair bit, so I suppose that's part of it. I really lost myself in books, and I still do.
Sometimes I just reread books because I haven't any new ones to read, but usually it's for the sheer pleasure of revisiting the stories.
Mike Blailock, critically unacclaimed, has spent time on Earth as an alter boy, musician, college student, dishwasher, marine, pipelayer, senior systems engineer (computer programmer), mountain climber, skydiver, motorcyclist, stagehand and truck driver. He has waltzed with the suits and run with the tough guys. Nobody cares about any of this but it's fun for me to recollect. The point is to turn someone on to a book they may not have read and hopefully they enjoy. Ciao!
Here are my top ten books chosen for the frequency by which I return to them rather than their actual merit. I am a physics PhD dropout, musician, artist, runner and full time fry cook. There is no order to the ranking.
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