I was challenged on Facebook by George Beck to compile a list of 10 books that have influenced me. The books below aren’t necessarily the ones that were the best pastimes, but they have all had an effect on my life. The first five contributed to my thinking when I was writing my dissertation.
La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighero. Reading this account of the afterworld and its inhabitants introduced me to the richness of medieval Italy and it led me to the next book,
Aeneid, Virgil. Familiarity with Virgil adds immeasurably to the understanding and enjoyment of Dante’s work. Because of these two books, I went to grad school, eventually earning a Ph.D. in medieval literature. It’s fair to say that these two books changed the direction of my life.
Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio. This collection of comic, exotic, thought-provoking tales sparked my interest in frame stories (a collection of unrelated stories enclosed or framed within another story, like Canterbury Tales and The Thousand and One Nights).
The women of the Decameron were one of the subjects of my dissertation.
The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal. A description of the practical co-existence of the three religious groups in medieval Spain that is almost impossible to imagine today.
Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, John Boswell. Books can be annotated and erudite and entertaining at the same time. Like Menocal (above), Boswell challenges commonly held but erroneous ideas.
Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond. A fascinating theory to explain the historical military and cultural dominance of Europeans. Arguing against racism, Diamond attributes developmental differences to geography.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan. This book changed my way of thinking about what and how I eat.
The Trial, Franz Kafka. One of the books that helped me think and write about the relationship between writing and the body.
Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges. A collection of stories that are brilliantly imaginative.
Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell. Practice, practice, practice! A lot of practice is what it takes to be the best.