A number of bloggers I respect have begun playing Tyler Cowen's "Desert Island Discs" game, with books. I thought I'd play along. In no particular order, these are the books that (I think) had the greatest influence on who I am.
1. Fedor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment. If a novel can capture the problem of evil and atonement, this is the one. Unlike Dostoevsky, I am not a Christian, but one doesn't need to be to draw from the story of Raskolnikov's murder, torture through guilt, and reform.
2. Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. This book taught me not so much about music or mathematics, but led me to think about the way I discover and appreciate beauty.
3. Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions. Sowell the newspaper columnist is a polemicist and not a favorite. But I thank him for this book, which still informs my thinking on economics and the unintended consequences of acting with the best intentions.
4. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago. I read this more as a moral story of suffering and redemption, Dostoevsky writing about a nation rather than a man. But I won't deny that it powerfully influenced my views on politics and human nature.
5. Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock / Truffaut. This is my favorite book about my favorite form of art, and a witty series of interviews between a master of film, and a student who would go on to become a master himself.
6. Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves. A film within a magic realist novel, the magic realist novel that Dave Eggers wishes he could write. Eggers was never this clever, while Marquez was never this strange. My friend Triggercut, whose real name I don't know but who occasionally reads this blog, recommended this book to me, for which I thank him.
7. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, Illuminatus! More than anything else on this list, Wilson and Shea's satire of conspiracy theory, with a touch of Arthur Clarke, H. P. Lovecraft, and James Joyce, made me the paranoiac that I am today.
8. Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely. This is perhaps a stand-in for Chandler as a whole, and a host of equally worthy writers toiling in the same pulp noir sweatshop, but of all of the great work that highbrows dismiss as "genre fiction," Chandler's second Philip Marlowe novel is my favorite.
9. William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience. If I did have to go to a desert island, and could bring only one book, it would be a Blake collection. These poems are best read together, accompanied by Blake's etchings.
10. David Maurer, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. I ask questions, and listen to answers, for a living. This book, a collection of short stories disguised as a linguistics monograph, taught me to really listen to the answers people give me. Not to listen as in "to understand," but as in "to appreciate the glory of spoken American English."
I'd encourage my co-bloggers to participate in this project, should they be so inclined, as I'd love to read and discuss their lists.