1.) One book that changed your life.
Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. I’ve pretty much outgrown this one — I don’t really agree with, well, most of the conclusions that he comes to, and the protagonist is something of a slack-jawed straw man — but I read this at just the right age for it to blow my mind, and I still adhere to the main revelation that I took from it: that human societies function best when organized at a smaller level.
2.) One book you’ve read more than once.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Picked by virtue of the fact that I think I’ve read it more than any other book (with the possible exception of Le Morte D’Arthur) — I read it when I was six years old, it’s the first book I remember reading on my own, and I’ve come back to it at least once a year since. Its depiction of the corrupting influence of power, of evil as both an internal and external force, and its faith in the potency of ordinary people to resist it, have all had a powerful influence on my own thinking.
3.) One book you’d want on a desert island.
Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach. This sprawling, sixteen-book German epic about a bumbling simpleton being initiated into the mysteries of man and God is nothing less than the single greatest achievement of Western literature, and nobody’s even heard of it.
4.) One book that made you laugh.
Y’know, I don’t laugh that often when I’m reading — I might be amused, or think “Huh. That’s clever,” but actual, out-loud laughter? I’d have to go with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Every line in the damn thing is perfectly constructed, and it’s also the most bleak and bitter satire of the way bureaucracy destroys lives on a (literally!) cosmic scale that I’ve ever encountered
5.) One book that made you cry.
The Power That Preserves, by Stephen Donaldson. Another fantasy novel (can you tell I’m kind of a geek?) in which the epic final battle takes the form of an epic conversation, an almost Buddhist argument over the nature of reality and the function of morality within it. The conclusion that the protagonist comes to — that concepts such as hope and despair are irrelevant in a moral struggle, that evil must be resisted for its own sake, without anticipation of success — is a deeply moving one to me, not least because of what it costs him to achieve it, and probably explains why I’ve ended up allying myself with third parties.
6.) One book you wish had been written.
Chretien de Troyes’ continuation of Perceval, le Conte du Graal, not least because it would spare us all any number of nonsensical conspiracy theories about the Roman Catholic Church. For Chrissakes, they’ve done enough monstrous bullshit in their history without us having to invent more.
7.) One book you wish had never been written.
I guess I could come up with some kind of snarky response, like The Communist Manifesto or Atlas Shrugged, but the fact is that I really don’t jive with the whole “suppression of information” thing. Bring on all the ideas, good, bad, and ugly. And thus I, Clinton-like, will neatly tap-dance my way past this whole debate.
8.) One book you’re currently reading.
Time Enough for Love, by Robert Heinlein. It’s a bit of a slog, but much more enjoyable if you approach it as a loosely connected collection of short stories, rather than a coherent novel.
9.) One book you’ve been meaning to read.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t made it through The 9-11 Commission Report, but I think I’m going to have to steal Rik’s response and say The Qu’ran. Islam is a rising geopolitical power, and I honestly have no genuine understanding of where they’re coming from.