Tag Archives: Chaim Potok

The Ten Most Influential Books List

I recently participated in the Facebook meme that asks for a list of the ten most influential books on a person’s life. Here is my list with some brief comments:

1. boneyard by Stephen Beachy—This book showed myself to me in an exact way that I had never encountered before in literature. Queer and Anabaptist: two great tastes that taste great together.

2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—My favorite book until I read boneyard. I’ve read it over half-a-dozen times and it always makes me cry. The last line is heartwrenching: “We would have been safe.”

3. questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt—Really all of Brandt’s poetry, but this collection is the one that I read first and that stays the most vivid in my mind. Brandt gave me a model for how to be transgressive when I really needed one.

4. Sleeping Preacher and 5. Eve’s Striptease by Julia Spicher Kasdorf—These two books feel inseparable for me. Kasdorf was the first poet whose work I read that made me realize that poetry could be relevant to my life.

6. Rhapsody With Dark Matter by Jeff Gundy—I had the same reaction to Gundy’s work as I did to Kasdorf’s. (Also, it drives me nuts that “with” in the title shouldn’t be capitalized here. What a dumb rule. I think it’s a significant enough word that it should be capitalized, which is why I have done so.)

7. The Tides of Lust by Samuel R. Delany—This isn’t my favorite Delany novel, but it’s the first one that I read (I also did a dissertation chapter on it), and it was good enough to get me interested in all of the others. Delany is the author whose work has been most influential on my current thinking.

8. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphries—I read this while doing research for a paper during my senior year of college, and it completely changed my view of the world because it told me about a practice (i.e., anonymous gay sex) that I had no idea existed. It taught me to begin looking at the margins, because that’s where the really interesting, revolutionary stuff happens. It also helped me to see physical space in a new way.

9. The Blue Mountains of China by Rudy Wiebe—In hindsight, this was my first encounter with postmodern fiction, which is now my favorite kind of fiction. When I first read it, its ethical vision was extremely formative for me.

10. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok—This was the first text I read that explored the relationship between religion and art in a serious way. If I hadn’t read this book, the words of the poets mentioned above would have fallen on deaf ears.

Three observations on this list: 1. It is overwhelmingly Mennonite, showing that no matter how hard I try I just can’t get away, and 2. I encountered half of the texts while at Goshen College, which proves something about the importance of a good liberal arts education. 3. After a few days’ reflection, I still stand by the list’s accuracy. The only glaring omission is Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine (But what would it replace? My first thought is Potok’s novel, but reading My Name is Asher Lev made my appreciation of many of the rest of the books on this list possible), which I actually think about more than any other book because of its chapter on public restrooms. Every time I go into a public restroom that I haven’t been in before (i.e., the restroom at my job doesn’t count because of how frequently I use it), I check to see whether it has a paper towel dispenser (and if so, what kind) or a hand dryer. The science of hand dryers has advanced a lot since the novel was written, and so sometimes they are better than paper towels, but I still generally agree with the novel’s argument in favor of the paper towels. Both options need to be well-designed in order to fulfill their function of getting one’s hands dry in a sanitary manner, though. It almost is not fair to compare them as entire categories.

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The New Header Photograph

I decided to update the header photograph of my blog to celebrate my recent transition to Utica, New York. I never feel truly at home in a new place until all of my books are displayed on their shelves, so the new photograph symbolizes my new identity as a Utican. Also, the previous header photograph depicted a shelf from my poetry bookcase, and I felt it was time to go back to paying homage to my first love, fiction.

I chose a photograph of my P-R shelf because it includes representative texts from my favorite subject areas. There is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, one of my favorite African American novels; Alice Randall’s incisive parody of Gone With the Wind, The Wind Done Gone; and a Latino text, Tomás Rivera’s The Earth Did Not Devour Them. There are several queer texts, including John Rechy’s City of Night and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. There is a germinal feminist novel, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur and two of Thomas Pynchon’s novels represent postmodern fiction while in close proximity with books by one of England’s first novelists, Samuel Richardson. Works by two of my favorite authors from the past, Chaim Potok and Philip Roth, are also present. This shelf would make a lovely autumn reading list for anyone.

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And Now for Something Completely Different: Books Acquired Recently

D’anna, Lynnette. RagTimeBone. Vancouver: New Star, 1994.

This is yet another of D’anna’s books that have been trickling in over the past few weeks. I am waiting until they all arrive to begin reading them. Summer is a great time for reading a writer’s oeuvre straight through because of the extra time off. I used to spend extended periods of time with authors (Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Samuel R. Delany, and Louise Erdrich, to name a few) a lot, but, with the exception of a brief Theodora Keogh phase last summer, my reading over the past two years has been rather piecemeal. I’m looking forward to re-encountering the luxurious feeling of being enveloped in a writer’s voice for several weeks on end.

Hill, Lawrence. Someone Knows My Name. New York: Norton, 2007.

A colleague told me about this book recently. It’s a neo-slave narrative told from a Canadian perspective, which should be fascinating.

Both books bought via amazon.com’s network of booksellers. These are the last two books I will acquire before I move to New York next week. I pity the movers having to carry all of my books and bookcases!

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