I usually ignore social media challenges but today I was challenged by a good friend on Facebook to share my ten most influential books. This friend likes to read the kind of non-fiction books that a college professor of any discipline would choose to assign for his courses. As you can clearly see from my literary adventures I don’t tend to read non-fiction. So of course I felt a bit self-conscious. Anyway, I plan to reply to the challenge but seeing how I like to write, I decided to take the opportunity to expound a bit on my choices.
These are not my best books of all time. They may not even be my favorites. They are just the first 10 books that come to mind as having had an influence, good or bad, in my life. In no particular order:
1. The Three Fat Men by Yuri Olesha (1927)
I read a lot of Russian books in translation during my childhood. This revolutionary fairy tale which is regarded by many in the West as communist propaganda, brainwashing as a friend put it, opened my eyes to the injustices suffered by the masses and the need for freedom from oppression.
2. Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill (1937)
While the title implies that this is a book that deals with how to become rich, ironic that I’m listing it right after the one above, what I got out of it is the motto “your thoughts create your beliefs which lead to actions which lead to habits” which is a great motto to live by.
3. Enid Blyton books
I’m cheating I know but I couldn’t list just one of her books. I credit them for my love of reading and my childhood desire to be an author and illustrate my own books.
4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
I read this as a teenager in the U.S. after my 3 year “stay in Ghana”. I was working in the high school library and decided to read as many books as possible from A to Z. I had heard Achebe’s name before so I went with him, Anthills on the Savannah, being the first book I picked up. This one impressed upon me the importance of preserving our culture in the face of Western domination. I’ve said it before and I will say it again unashamedly but my African consciousness was developed here in America through books like these, discussions with people like the friend who invited me to this challenge, and numerous round-table discussions in college.
5. The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer (1999)
I’m embarrassed to say I have not read The Female Eunuch, The Feminine Mystique, nor The Second Sex, all books I’ve had on my to-read list since college. This one though took me away from desiring “equality for women” to demanding “respect for women as human beings”, in Mind, Body, Love, and Power. I was in medical school when I read this, and became keenly aware of the medicalization of our body just like Jean Kilbourne had sensitized me to our sexualization. It made me wonder how different the life of a woman could be if she were free, truly free, to define her own values and decide her own fate. As a student of anthropology, I appreciated her finding more of the “the whole woman” in so called primitive cultures than within our modern, progressive world.
6. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (1961)
This was an assigned reading and you know what? I didn’t like it. Too many big words, too many foreign concepts, all of which hurt my head. I’ve picked it up many times but can never finish it. It sits still on my shelf. So how have I been influenced? I despise violence and think it unnecessary so this book makes me bite my lip, give me pause, and accept that maybe indeed violence can be a positive force. That said, there are other themes. Should the colonized copy the West upon liberalization or should they craft their own future? What’s interesting is that I harbour contempt not for the European colonisers and imperialists but for our own so called leaders who hold us down.
7. Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine by Randolph Nesse & George Williams (1996)
I read this in college and it really has influenced my view of the human body and how it is we interact with our environment. Evolution selects for reproductive success, not necessarily for health, so illness in all its forms is always going to be part of the human experience as a result of the compromises we have made as a species. One example would be the protective effects of the sickle cell trait against malaria. In addition, we are in competition with other living things (bacteria, viruses) whose evolutionary goal like ours is for reproductive success so the sooner we respect that the easier we can coexist in this world. Of course, you would first have to accept evolution rather than creationism. My career would be easier if people knew or accepted this rather than expected a permanent fix and the creation of a human body with perpetual youth and health. Nurses tend to be baffled when they call me regarding a patient with a fever and my response is “okay”, or “okay get labs”, rather than “okay, give acetaminophen”.
8. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
Essentially my introduction to the horrors of American slavery and to the complexities of American history and racism in America. I read this, and the other Morrison novels, when I got to the M section of my high school library book collection within my first couple years in America when I was a blank slate. I think a re-read is in order.
9. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
Another socialist novel, this one impacted America to create the Food & Drug Administration and impacted me in realizing the lives of the downtrodden around the world specifically immigrant communities who suffer the burdens of industrialized capitalism. This is also a perfect example of how even a book of fiction can very effectively champion social justice causes.
10. The Art of War By Sun Tzu
Conflict is part of life but “the wise warrior avoids the battle”. It is better not to fight at all, but if you must, then do it right.
11. The Bible
I had a Children’s Bible and read it cover to cover and over again along with Aesops Fables, Brother Grimm tales, and Hans Christian Andersen tales. These were the founding blocks in shaping my belief in right versus wrong, good versus bad, and success versus failure.