Our Most Important Books

A week or two back, a friend of mine posted on Facebook:

If you are a reader: what’s that book that is so important to you that if you can’t find your copy (say from when you read it five years ago) you just buy another like groceries. Any genre from religious/philosophical to bath-room joke book, media-tie in novel to Proust, cook-book to metahistory, graphic novel to translation of a epic (etc.).


What’s the one book you give copies of to people you Love??

I responded: I’m interested by the responses, because I don’t have any qualifying titles to add to the list. There are books I reread occasionally for the fun or the mental-popcorn nature of it (to give me a break from reality), and books I recommend (though it varies with the person receiving the recommendation and the situation), but no special book that has such a pull on my soul.

Then I mirrored his post on my own Facebook page, and the responses were phenomenal! So many, and such passion. The responses make for a fascinating list, so rather than attempting to digest or sort it, I’m sharing them here with you in no order except chronological by when someone made the suggestion. The line spaces are between respondents (so you can see that many had more than one suggestion). In some cases, my respondents offered abbreviated titles; I’ve tried to clean them up to give you the full title/author.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
Revenge, A Story of Hope by Laura Blumenfeld
Finding Fish: A Memoir by Antwone Q. Fisher and Mim E. Rivas

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translated by Constance Garnett, introduction by William Hubben)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson

The Water-Method Man by John Irving

Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
The People’s Almanac (volumes 1-3) by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace
The Book of Lists (volumes 1-3) by by David Wallechinsky, Amy D. Wallace, Ira Basen, and Jane Farrow

The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs, writing as Linda Brent

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

We Are in a Book, or any of the other Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willem
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics by Alfred Korzybski

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

My Bible
Boundaries [which seems to be a series] by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

The Psychology of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Walls Around Us: The Thinking Person’s Guide to How a House Works by David Owen
The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston
Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Rising Strong by Brene Brown

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block

Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein

Job by Robert A. Heinlein

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Odyssey by Homer

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Promise by Eckhart Tolle
Ask and it is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks
The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams [not the comedian]

Dune by Frank Herbert
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd

Galactic Patrol by E.E. “Doc” Smith

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater
Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, and John J. Ratey, MD

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater
Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater
The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The Bible, to which someone else responded: “There’s a whole lotta ‘books’ in the Bible. Any specific book or books within? I’m partial to Proverbs myself.”

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Playboy, June 1997 issue. This was later revealed to be a joke answer, but in response, another answered seriously: Playboy, September 1971 issue. And the “Women of Mensa” issue of Playboy (November 1985).

A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman

The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

A Big Storm Knocked it Over by Laurie Colwin

Hancer’s Price Guide to Paperback Books, Third Edition by Kevin B. Hancer, R. Reginald, Rahn Kollander [this respondent also offered an explanation: “Bookscans, Ace Image Library, Abebooks can give me certain data easily enough but there’s no substitute for that book.”]
The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden
The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock by Nick Logan

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice
Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan
Mirabile by Janet Kagan
The Collected Kagan by Janet Kagan
Hellspark by Janet Kagan
The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Korval’s Game by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Agent of Change by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The War Against the Rull by A.E. Van Vogt

The Unstrung Harp or Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey [The respondent said “I keep a stash of that book to give away. The single best description of the process of writing I have even encountered. And I’ve watched the real process A LOT.”]
The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O’Brian
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Hellspark by Janet Kagan
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life by Gaby Wood

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude)
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray

Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right by Joel Fuhrman, MD
Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Presidential Book of Lists by Ian Randal Strock [like I said, these people are my friends!]

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein


I’m not terribly surprised that so many books on this list are science fiction and fantasy, based simply on how I connected with most of my Facebook friends. I am a little surprised that there are so many from the Self Help section of the book store.

Repeated authors and titles

That was a lot of people listing a lot of books, but there were a few that came to mind for more than one person:

Robert A. Heinlein: Job, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (three times), The Past Through Tomorrow, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land (twice), and Time Enough for Love (twice).

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice three times.

J.R.R. Tolkien: three times (The Hobbit once, and The Lord of the Rings twice).

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy twice.

The Bible: twice.

Ray Bradbury: one each for Dandelion Wine and Fahrenheit 451.

Emma Bull: War for the Oaks twice.

Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama twice.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were each mentioned twice, once for Good Omens (which they co-wrote), and once each for The Graveyard Book (Gaiman) and Small Gods (Pratchett).

Janet Kagan: two people mentioned her novel Hellspark; one of them mentioned her other two novels and her short fiction collection.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness twice.

Daniel Pinkwater: mentioned by two respondents. Both listed Borgel, and one listed three other titles as well.

William Shakespeare: one mentioned Hamlet, the other mentioned the complete works.

And there are those of my friends who can’t decide on a book, but still want to participate, leaving comments such as:

“All books by Georgette Heyer.”

“Heinlein is on my ‘can’t wait for next book’ list along with John Grisham.” [Unfortunately for him, Heinlein died in 1988.]

Andre Norton
Allan Eckert

“all of Salinger”

“Any of the Foundation books by Asimov.”

“All of Rex Stout.”

“No one book but [Lois McMaster] Bujold both is enjoyable and I feel like I get another layer each reread.”

Mark Helprin novels
Anthony Hecht poetry


There you have it. If you’ve been looking for a suggestion of what to read next, there are a bunch of them!

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