16 // The Books That Shaped Me

Books were as much a part of my childhood as breathing. Bookshelves lined every available wall in our house, filled with books that my mom picked up at used book sales or stores for 25 cents. I read them all, educating myself so thoroughly that I never did a formal study of American history until I reached high school (I was home-educated, so this was an option).

I’ve carried this love of reading with me to this day, though in more recent years I’ve discovered that I don’t always remember as much about a book as I wish I did.

Apparently I’m not alone, because when I stumbled across Andy Matuschak’s article, Why Books Don’t Work, it made sense.

Matuschak argues that, while the modern world is built on the assumption that adults learn best by reading words on a page, we’ve never stopped to ask whether this is actually true. Is reading the most effective medium for conveying information? What might lie beyond reading and books? (And yes, he acknowledges the irony of discussing this subject in written form.)

As I read this article, I couldn’t help but think about the handful of books that have stuck with me to this day. Not the ones that I remember reading with fondness—”Oh, that was a good book”—but the ones I recall vividly, almost as if I’d just closed the cover. It’s a short list—but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Here they are.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s interesting to note that reading is not one of the methods Gladwell documents as being how ideas spread.

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. “In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” First written in 1985, I think Postman was right.

Chasing the Screamby Johann Hari. Books don’t make me cry. This one did. This is as much an exposé of the war on drugs (100 years and failing), as it is a discussion of addiction from a very human perspective. Also, Hari’s TED talk.

Love Does, by Bob Goff. Go buy this book.

The Mysterious Islandby Jules Verne. My mom read this aloud to my siblings and me, and I think I remember the story mostly because of the shared experience of reading it together, and the outlandish guesses we made along the way as to what was really happening. (Note: read 20,000 Leagues first. Then go in blind on this one. Trust me.)

What are the books that have stuck with you? Let me know over on Twitter.