I recently discovered The Browser, a literary website with the tag line, “Writing Worth Reading,” which has a feature called “FiveBooks.” I found it a brilliant and straightforward idea. They invite experts from a wide variety of fields to be interviewed on the five books that influenced them most in their professional development. What I found particularly engaging is that the books listed by those individuals are by no means limited to their profession or field of study. Often, the person being interviewed would place a book read during adolescence as seminal in his or her direction in life.
While I was reading the interview that led me to “FiveBooks” to begin with, I kept thinking that we who are not world renown experts would have lists that are just as interesting, because the stories coming out of the impact of the books in our lives is just as compelling.
Here’s my idea, then: I invite you, my readers, to submit your list of books that had a profound influence on your life and the reasons for that, not solely professionally, but from a much broader perspective of the development of who you are as an individual. How to do that? I explain below.
Giving The Browser full credit for their “FiveBooks” idea, I came up with a twist to make it distinctive: Five Books +Plus One. Don’t think this, though, is just a play for a list of six books. The twist is to choose the book for the “+Plus One” that far outweighs the influence of the others, a magnum opus, so to speak, from which you have essentially and existentially organized your life. Makes it not quite so simple, doesn’t it?
I’m working on my list. I can tell you already, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. But I also think we need to have some basic rules.
Update 28 June: I’ve got the first draft of my list. I’ve got to think about it for another couple of days before I finalize it and write up my post.
Although I wish I could extend an invitation to anyone who might read this post to send me her or his list and have it published as a guest author on Extreme Thinkover, the nature of the blogosphere today requires a more prudent approach. So, I’ve decided to set up eligibility criteria and some easy to follow ground rules:
- Any reader can submit a list as a Comment (see the Rules below, please). Those comments will be approved using the same criteria for civil discourse that I use for all Extreme Thinkover comments. But: See #3!
- Extreme Thinkover subscribers, and my Facebook and “The Intersection” friends can submit their list as a comment, or email me at Extreme Thinkover (click on the “Contact me” link just under the header) if you would like to be featured as a guest author–Which I really hope that you’ll do!
- If you fit into #1 above, and you’d like me to consider posting your list as a guest author, write me at Extreme Thinkover (click on the “Contact Me” link above) and we can talk about it. I’m always interested in meeting new folks.
The Rules–So We Have Apples-to-Apples Lists:
- Each book on your list has to be one that you’ve actually read. The whole thing. Kindle and other electronic reader versions are permitted.
- Works from any historical period are allowed, as are works of poetry, and religious texts. Excerpts from historical works are not acceptable. And for the sake of continuity, the Christian Bible or Jewish Bible are both considered one book in their entirety, though they are compilations of individual “books” and letters. The same standard will apply to other religious texts, as well.
- One book from a published trilogy or series is allowed.
- Graphic novels that are original works are allowed. Graphic novels that are taken from a published print work are not; again, the idea is to have read the book.
- Musicals, opera, masses, and other musical pieces are not allowed. It’s a great idea, but for this invitation the focus is on the printed word.
- “Cliff Notes” or “I saw the movie” rationalizations are not allowed. This goes especially for those who might put Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and the like) on their list. If you haven’t read the published book, you can’t put it on your list. I will, however, make the smallest exception for Star Wars Episodes 4-6. It was difficult to find the novelization of those movies in the early years, but the screen plays were published. So, if you’ve read the screen play for any of those specific episodes, I’ll allow that.
How we’ll get your list ready to publish:
- Reading is one thing, but part of the fun of blogging is doing some writing yourself. For each of your five books, write between 100 and 300 words about the influence of that work on your life. For your “plus one” book, feel free to write up to 500 words on its singular impact on who you are. I put the word limits on for two reasons. One, you’ll have a clear idea what length to make your comments, and two, it requires you to be disciplined in your writing (a most important skill to learn for effective writing) and not ramble on for page after page.
- If you don’t feel confident in your writing skills, I will be more than happy to help you edit and fine-tune the commentary for your list of books.
- No deadline. I see “Five Books Plus One” as a continuing series over the coming months. And you may have yours ready before I do, so I’m not going to hold off publishing someone else’s list before mine.
Come On! Take a Risk and Send Me Your List!
It will give you something unique to do rather than watching the summer reruns on TV. But more importantly, as I said above, the books on your list and the story of how those books influenced you as a person is a compelling narrative. No life is really ordinary because every life is unique. That’s what I think makes your “Five Books +Plus One” list as important as any “expert’s.”
One caveat. I have to reserve the right to decline to publish a given list and/or comments that do not meet the standards for civil discourse on Extreme Thinkover, or does not meet the rules as outlined above.