When I moved to Boston from Florida in 1990, I was literally starting my life over again. I had gotten divorced and had spent eight of the prior ten years in Florida, with it no longer feeling like a home and with nothing to hold me back. Moving back to Boston was like returning to my youth. Of course, at that time I was 28 and uncertain of my future. Nevertheless, it was going to be a fresh start.
Clothes, my writings, and very few personal possessions were my entire world. And books. However, since space was limited (as well as funds for shipping anything significant), I opted to bring only ten books. Twenty-seven years later, I do not recall what they were. Suffice it to say, my house is currently a small library.
It got me to thinking about what were the important books, or rather, what would be THE important books if ever I were in a position of “starting over.” I realized I could make a list now and then later, tomorrow or a month from now, that list might change. My only caveat was that I could not name “complete” volumes or collections, other than poetry. There would also have to be a viable reason for each: WHY were they important. After some thought, here is my list (at least for today) in no particular order:
1) The Bible, Old and New Testaments, King James Version. For the poetry and for the beauty of the language as well as a reminder of my ethical roots.
2) The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. A story of a spiritual journey (which I first read at a low point in my life) seems an obvious choice if I were on a new spiritual journey.
3) Ulysses by James Joyce. I’ve only started it, never delved too far in. Again, the language is magnificent and the story of a journey within a day is impressive.
4) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Never has murder seemed to be written about with such panache. A major influence on my writing.
5) Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. The intricacies of thought coming from an insurance executive is stunning. Truly a craftsman.
6) Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. Such unbridled passion and lyricism. There is nothing like him today.
7) Jazz: A history of America’s Music by Ward and Burns. The companion piece to the documentary series. You can HEAR the music while reading.
8) The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Well, we need some good pulp fiction. Bitter, brutal, nasty, and raw.
9) The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud. If you’re on a spiritual journey, it might be helpful to understand yourself.
10) On The Road by Jack Kerouac. A combination of lyricism, passion, brutal honesty, and unmitigated gall. And a reminder that the road doesn’t end.
That’s my list. I’d love to see yours.