Out of My Mind

The Musings of a Woman Who Thinks Too Much

Nelle Engoron

Nelle Engoron
May 01
You can email me at "nengoron@gmaildotcom" & follow @NelleEngoron on Twitter. My archived radio shows on last season's Mad Men are available (for free!) at: www.blogtalkradio.com/madmentalk **My "Mad Men" commentary for Season 5 is on Salon rather than here -- go to http://www.salon.com/writer/ nelle_engoron/ to find all my Salon articles. **My book, "Mad Men Unmasked: Decoding Season 4," is available on Amazon in both e-book and print versions.** I'm a writer/editor/consultant who lives in the SF Bay Area. I write about all kinds of things, but am particularly intrigued by movies, relationships, gender issues, belief systems and "Mad Men." (Scroll down left sidebar for links to a selection of my blog posts.) I'm working on a novel and a memoir, neither of which is about Mad Men!

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MARCH 26, 2010 1:43PM

Open Call: Your 10 Most Influential Books

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Some conservative bloggers have kicked off an intriguing exercise of listing the 10 books that have most influenced their view of the world. 

An important caveat is that these aren't your favorite books, or the ones you most enjoyed reading, or maybe even books that you would argue are good (at least not now), but instead those which shaped your thinking for years after you read them.  (Of course, that thinking may well have changed later, including perhaps in response to yet another book!)

I became aware of the exercise from Ross Douthat's NY Times blog post describing it, but he says the idea originated with Tyler Cowen, who includes links to other lists here

I haven't come up with my own list yet, but wanted to go ahead and post this as I thought it would be a fun Open Call for the weekend: 

What 10 books would be on your list and why?

By the way, if you're like me, there will be ample fiction on the list, and not just the non-fiction heavy lifting on the linked lists!  You should also feel free to follow Douthat's example and list some books from childhood (after all, don't those often shape us quite profoundly at impressionable ages?).

Have fun and have a good weekend.


I'll update this post with links to your lists if you PM me.  Also, if you could link back to this explanatory post on your own, that will really help to let other people know what the Open Call is about and that I'm keeping a list here, etc.  - thanks!!



 Douglas Moran





Jeff Howe

Kim Bentz


Emma Peel

Aunt Mabel







Lori Hackett




foolish monkey

Deborah Young

M. Chariot


Vanessa Seijo

Joan H


Jane Smithie


Cranky Cuss

Eva T. Made Vaudeville


James Kastenholz

LC Neal


Jesse Mitchell

Gordon Wagner



 Brian B


Ralph Tingey



Natalie K Munden

Patty Jane Maher

Nola Librarian


Kit Duncan

Dr. Susanne Freeborn


Niall Kursk



Caroline Marie


Damion Chaplin

Jeanette DeMain

Pavanne Veltman






Ann Nichols

Philip Rodgers

Alaska Progressive

David Cox

Eric Lightborn


Hourglass Figure

Kathy Riordan



Bellwether Vance


Dorinda Fox



Kind of Blue

Harry's Ghost




Daniel Walsh



Geraint Istitt


Sean Fenley


Lucy Mercer

Bob Mullany

Poor Woman

Cindy Capitani

Peter Winkler

T. Michael Stone



Abbie McGee

Anthony Duval

lemon pulp




Bernardine Spitznogel


Tom Cordle

Mrs Michaels


Cindy Prochnow

Lea Lane

Hawley Roddick


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You've really got me thinking here...
I've got myself thinking, too! I've already got 15 on my list, and that's with deleting 5 I'd put on, and I'm still coming up with more. Interestingly, most are ones I read before age 25. That worries me!
I like the way this was framed. A "favorites" list would just be another in a long succession of boring exercises we might get into. You make this truly an interesting and thought-provoking exercise. Thanks. -R-
Oooo, I will have to give that one some thought. I have a pile of books I refer to on a regular basis.
Thanks, Poor Woman. I've seen similar exercises framed as "soul's code" lists - a key to yourself, in perhaps ineffable ways. Sometimes we don't know or can't articulate why something was meaningful to us, we just know that it stirred us profoundly and stayed with us. This exercise is a bit more intellectual, in asking what shaped our views, beliefs and thinking about life and the world, but still very intriguing, I think.
What an intriguing idea, food for thought.
Very, very good - thanks for sharing. Wowza - tough - but is Monday a good time to report back? Or should we do our own post? Love this idea.
As I likely won't do my own post to respond to this, I will start off by saying that early on, the Nancy Drew series gave me my first sense of strong and brave women and then Louisa May Alcott's, "Little Women. The Diary of Ann Frank, without a doubt, Gone With the Wind, big time...so many from earlier in life shaped my views and appreciation for strong female writers and protaganists.
To answer questions:

Yes, I'd love to see people do their own posts on this!! I suggest a list with anywhere from one sentence to a paragraph on each book's meaning and impact on you.

Monday or even later is fine! no expiration date on this Open Call.

If you don't want to do a whole post, you can put your list in Comments here (as Just Cathy started to do), but if you have more than a paragraph or so, I'd suggest you do a post. And again, I'll link people's posts here if you PM me.

I'm working on mine but probably won't have it done and up till Sat.
this will take some time and thought. I saw the blog you reference. Can't say that many listed were of interest or meaning to me. I did not look at many since they were pretty redundant, but I did not see The Bible, was it there?
Great idea! I'm in on this!
I will enjoy thinking about this one this weekend. I could do many lists of ten: ten most influential as a kid, ten most influential as an artist, ten most influential in terms of character, ten books I've read more than once...etc. Good idea, Silkstone :-)
Greenheron, I think that's a great idea and one that I'll throw out to anyone who's considering this and feels overwhelmed -- to narrow it down to a subset of books that have influenced you in one dimension or aspect of your life.

I've been working on my list and explanations off and on all day and I'll say that even though it's a bit of work, it's also been a lot of fun and quite illuminating!

One cheat that I saw others do on the lists I linked and which I'm doing as well is to pair some books that have equal and similar influence on you (share the same themes, had the same impact, etc). That way you can avoid making some difficult decisions when trying to keep the list to 10! I also found at least one fascinating pair that I hadn't clued into until trying to do this exercise.
I have to go with more than 10...and I still culled dozens and dozens...


1. Open Veins of Latin America/The Nobodies-Eduardo Galeano

2. The Search for the Tassili Frescoes-Henri Lhote

3. The Mediterranean, Civilization and Capitalism- Fernand Braudel

4. The Great War for Civilization-Fisk

5 Looking for Dilmun-Geoffrey Bibby

6. The Paranoid Style/Anti Imtellectualism in American Life-Hofstader

7. Through the Grand Canyon frm Wyoming to Mexico-Kolb

8. Street without Joy/Hell in a Very Small Place-Bernard Fall

9. Muqaddimah-Ibn Khaldun

10. The Histories-Herodotus


Look at Us-Saroyan
Monopoly Capital-Baran and Sweezy
From Ritual to Romance-Weston
The Golden Bough-Frazer
Social Justice in Islam-Ibn Qutb


Every Man Dies Alone-Hans Fallada
Bleak House-Dickens
Death in Venice-Mann
The Sound and the Fury-Faulkner
Across the River and into the Trees
Under the Volcano-Lowry
All the Kings Men-Penn Warren
Appointment in Samarra-OHara
The Way We Live Now-Trollope
Heart of Darkness-Conrad
The Sheltering Sky-Bowles
Post Office-Bukowski
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep-Phillip K Dick
Mulberry Empire-Phillip Hensher
This is a total challenge. I dunno . . . I have a hard time remembering the names of books I've read.
My list made me realize that I must go out and buy the rest of the books I no longer own so I can put these 10 together on my bookshelf knowing I can always reference them and re-read them at my leisure.
This is gonna take me allllll weekend. :)
Interesting exercise. In my case, I think the most influential books overlap pretty much with my favorites. But I'll have to think about it.
Great idea. Here is the link to my response: http://open.salon.com/blog/emma_peel/2010/03/26/open_call_10_books_that_influenced_me/comment
I'm thrilled so many have taken the plunge! I'm updating the link list above as fast as I become aware of new posts.

I've been so busy after posting this that I haven't had a chance to read most of your lists yet, but I will!
Ooh fun! I'll get started right away! R
count me in but I couldn't stop at ten.
Wow! I'm thrilled with how many people are doing this!!
Our list is up to 48!

I think that's all of them so far, but if I've missed anyone, just let me know (most folks aren't PMing me - I'm checking the feed but I don't know that I'll have time to keep doing that).

I also notice as always that Open Call is like a game of "Telephone" - people see other people's blogs on it and go from there, and sometimes the topic does shift a bit. Linking back to this post on yours is a good way to let people know what the Open Call is about, and also so they can find the list of linked posts above and read as many as possible!

I have to do a bunch of work I have to do today but wish instead I could read all your lists...I'm going to do that as soon as I can.
I haven't had this much fun in ages. Still trying to understand why "influential" is more interesting to read then "favorite" but it just is. It's like we get a little window into why each of us is who we are.
Lainey, I agree! The "influential" angle makes all the difference from the usual list like this. Books that shaped us.
Silkstone -- I'm curious about the common titles. I've noticed lots of lists with Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a STrange Land (or at least some Heinlein book). I guess it would be a lot of work to compile all of them.
Thanks for a wonderful Open Call!!!!
Skel, I only have time right now to update the link list above, but think it would be great if someone else looked at that -- a "meta" post on patterns in these responses would be fascinating!

We're up to 54!!
This is a great open call Silkstone. Thank you for it.
Great idea!
Count me in!
Here's mine:
Ann makes 65! I can't believe how many people have done this...it's great.
This had to be the most intellectually satisfying exchange I've ever encountered on OS. I expect to be reading and rereading all of the submissions for at least a week! Thank you, Silkstone, for elevating the discourse, for bringing some real sustenance and nourishment to Open Salon.
I can't wait to come back and look through all these lists!
Thanks for compiling all the lists. I will be browsing through them on my next foray into Amazon. One for sure: "War and Peace".
83 responses!

I'm overwhelmed at how many people have responded to this Open Call, but I guess it's no surprise that writers would feel strongly about books.
Great open call. I'll have to think about this some more. What are yours?
Caroline, mine's linked above (2nd on list) or just check last entry on my blog. Hope to see your list!

101 responses so far!! I'm stunned.
The most wonderful surprise, reading responses to this brilliant Open Call, is that one gains a unique perspective on what it's like to be inside another head. Some lists give me a glimpse of an inner life that may not be so very different from mine. But the lists that are far from my own list give me the most to ponder, because, with the help of the written explanations, I get a glimpse of what it is like to be the person to whom these books are so important. And it's very different from being me. Who knew we are so diverse in the ways these lists imply?

If you have time, please add a link to my recent response to your open call.