I actually find it to be a useful exercise - it makes you look back and put your reading experience(s) into perspective. Mine was done in no time but it was hard to limit it to 10 books.
Just to make it clear – these are not necessarily the books I consider best but those that for some reason had a great influence in my life, in my way of thinking and/or seeing the world. (Oh, and the Bible does not count – as a French man who converted to Christianity (Protestantism) in his early 20s, it was too obvious a choice.)
So here are the 10 books that influenced me the most :
1. Contes et nouvelles, Guy de Maupassant : this is probably the first assignment in school that made me realize French literature can be great too.
2. Les Fleurs du Mal, by Baudelaire which made me realize that drugs can do great things!
3. Blake’s poetry and Designs : Authoritative Texts, Illuminating in Color and Monochrome, William Blake.: William Blake’s huge impact – made me want not only appreciate poetry but also write some, draw some weird stuff, listen to the Doors and look for spiritual meaning in life.
4. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad: loved the treatment of good and evil within and the film adaptation Apocalypse Now amazingly captured the intensity of the book.
5. Beloved, Tony Morrison : definitely a break in my understanding of literature - how writing can reflect the fragmentation of the self and the unspeakable. What a challenging book. This led me to appreciate Faulkner.
6. Representations of the Intellectual, Edward W. Said : Said’s view of the amateur intellectual (in the ‘outsiderhood’) who must be free to maintain a critical voice as opposed to the professional intellectual (bound to public institutions or corporations and forced to make compromises) was a turning point. It made me realize this was what I wanted and gave me a road map for my intellectual life. Eward Said’s humanism and eloquence have always fascinated me. What a loss when he died!
7. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis: at the time anyway, I thought this was the best work of apologetics along with Francis Schaeffer's Escape from Reason . It raises so many fascinating questions, and it has definitely strengthen my faith. (a special mention for ‘Screwtapes Letters’ which add humor to reasoning!)
8. Evidence Invisible / Cultural Misunderstanding, Raymonde Caroll : a book that showed me that some of the relationship problems with my American friends were actually less personal and more cultural. A scary realization that we are all the unconscious product of our environment. Something I have tried to become aware of ever since.
9. Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff & Johnson : a somewhat complex book in cognitive science which in the end, convinced me of a few simple facts – the mind is embodied; our thoughts are dependent on the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience. Therefore we are not free to think just anything. This also explains why abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. This book eventually led me to my doctorate research.
10. The Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd. This book gave me hope again that there may be other Christians out there (including theologians - wow!) who had the same questions as I did and thus challenged the ways of the Evangelical church. (in addition to The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Knoll and Boyd's Letters from a Skeptic; which also gave me plenty of hope)