Unaware that March 2nd was World Book Day, I stumbled across this tweet from a fellow Chemist (and Nature Chemistry’s Editor):
— Stuart Cantrill (@stuartcantrill) March 2, 2017
And my top 10 influential book list was born, interspersed with personal anecdotes and such.
Childhood (Heavy influence of U.K. children’s literature)
- Famous Five Series by Enid Blyton – These were the earliest chapter books I can remember reading with Famous Five initiating my love for fictional mystery. Actually, the reason I started wearing glasses at 10 was because I would read and re-read Famous Five at night using a lantern when we had power outages. Later on in life I would learn about Enid Blyton’s controversies, but at the time she was instrumental in my path to voracious reading. Sidebar – I did not realize Enid was a she until I was in college.
- The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier – I remember this book because of it’s title (there was no sword), hearing about Poland for the first time and most importantly being introduced to World War II. Looking back, I did not understand much of the book and the horrors of the holocaust until I was an adult.
- The Radium Woman: a Life of Marie Curie by Eleanor Doorly – This is the first biography I ever read and at the time I thought it was just a cool looking book with super-heroish title. To this day, I still remember that Marie Curie’s maiden name was Sklodowska because I read this book. This book combined with my love for mystery is likely how I started in science.
Looking back, I was lucky to have come across the last two books above with Wikipedia describing them as well-received children’s books. My parents did not buy them for me, I just remember the books being old and worn and I somehow stumbled on them in one of the rooms at home. Regardless, I have my parent’s to thank for the introduction.
Coming of Age (Boarding School in Nigeria)
- Time Changes Yesterday by Nyengi Koin – One of the first Nigerian literature books that stood out to me at a young age. It was required for a class in Federal Government College Lagos and I remember being saddened by the death of one of the characters during child birth. Eventually, the story did lead to a happy ending. Around this time, I was also introduced to Cyprian Ekwensi’s books – Boa Suitor, Coal Camp Boy, Drummer Boy – but somehow the memory of Time Changes Yesterday sticks out more.
- The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – My first introduction to Sherlock Holmes and his uncanny abilities. Like all the other mystery books I read, I could never figure out the end until I got to it. However, the deductive reasoning always kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s no wonder I loved House M.D., which was based on Mr. Holmes, maybe it’s the deductive reasoning or the acerbic wit). Sidebar: I’m still waiting for my wife to buy the whole series on DVD for my Christmas present.
College Years (Fictional Mystery with Adult Romance)
- The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon – I was first introduced to Sidney Sheldon at the tail-end of boarding school and it was hard to get my hands on more than a couple of his books. So my first summer in the U.S. was spent grabbing every available Sheldon books from the Athens County Public Library. It still amazes me that anyone can walk into the library here in the States and get library access just using ID and proof of address, without a fee. This was my favorite book by this author and marked the point when I transitioned to more adult mystery (read as sexy mystery), which were Monsieur Sheldon’s specialty.
- Die Trying by Lee Child – This particular book sticks out because it was one of the first novels I bought in the States. I even did a paper on the book for my Freshman Composition class at Ohio University. I was fascinated by the character and his military background, approach to problem-solving, his ability to show emotion and his way with the ladies. I picked this book up from the airport on a whim and I did not realize it was part of a series until later (turns out this was the second of the Jack Reacher series). 12 years later, Hollywood got involved and Jack Reacher is Tom Cruise.
Later Years (From Fiction to Non-fiction)
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – My introduction to personal improvement. I picked up this book from my Uncle’s library circa summer 2004 shortly after I graduated from college. Sidebar: my uncle texted me last week asking if I still had his book and I do. The first few chapters in the book sparked some common sense thoughts and began my personal psychological revolution i.e. thinking about habits, routine and a personal mission statement.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley – I picked this book up shortly after reading Covey’s book and it was my first foray into African-American History and I began to better understand the history of race relations in the U.S. Prior to this point, I had paid little attention to this topic mainly because as an engineering student, social sciences were reduced to 2 courses. I opted for psychology and philosophy to fulfill those requirements but this book sparked my personal cultural and sociological revolution.
- Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin – I picked up this book after hearing Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton talk about so much about it during the 2008 presidential primaries and campaign. An excellent book that covered a number of topics including political thought, biography and the Civil War. This was where I first learnt that what is now the Republican party had it’s foundations in the Southern Democratic party back then. It was this book that sparked my personal political revolution.
There you have it. What’s your top 10?
2 thoughts on “In honor of World Book Day”
When I was in high school I read A Farewell To Arms. It was such a tragic book, but I loved Ernest Hemingway’s straightforward and journalistic writing. In college it was Dante’s Inferno in its original Italian. I found it incredible that he was able to craft such a heavy piece of literature completely in terza rima (a type of poetry that he created), without sacrificing meaningful content. Thanks for sharing your list! I want to read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, sounds like a good one.
Stacey, thanks for visiting and sharing. I have heard of both of these books but did not realize Dante’s Inferno was poetry and am not quite as versed in Classic American Literature per Hemingway. Certainly two things to add to my list.