A year or so ago, I’d seen a “challenge” on social media that, social media being what it is, pretty much went no place fast. It was, perhaps, too cerebral for the interwebz to process. “Make a list of 10 books that have stayed with me in some way after reading them.”

Ten? Just ten? Great Ceasar’s Ghost, how could I limit myself to just ten books out of the thousands I’ve read in my lifetime?

But then…I sat down and thought about it. And thought about it. And slowly a list came together; slowly, but surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. I’ve let this list sit and linger a bit, coming back to it and rethinking a few here and there. But ultimately I didn’t edit this list very much, replacing maybe three books with others.  Which goes to say that there are, I suppose, those influences that just manage to stick with us – for various reasons.  So without much further ado, here’s my list (in no particular order):

The Story of Doctor Doolittle

I can still, to this day, recall that pale blue book sitting on my shelf. I’d read it so often the hardbound cover was falling off, the pages tattered and browned with age and use. This was probably my first introduction to fantasy worlds, or more properly – the imaginative worlds that could exist around us, if we’d only open our eyes and see them. It’s because of this book that I dreamed of far away places of oddities, magical wonders, and strange peoples.

Journey To the West

This influenced me later in life. It was sometime in the early 1990s, and I was at a friend’s house party where we’d crashed overnight. I’d awoken to this cartoon on the television being watched by a child in the house; it was in Chinese, and obviously a pretty old cartoon. There was this monkey character on screen, and I found myself captivated by the story despite not understanding a word of it. I immediately tracked down the book and found myself absorbed into it, embracing it as if Sun Wu Kong was a long lost relative and these were the tales of his journey back into my life.

The Hobbit

Perhaps a week or so before Summer break, my 4th grade teacher pulled me aside and handed me a thin paperback book. With a smile she told me she thought I’d enjoy reading it, and I could hand it back to her when I returned in the Fall. That book was the Hobbit, and that was my segueway into the worlds of elves and dwarves and dragons and magic.

Discworld, The Colour of Magic

Again, a series that came to me at a later age. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld combined a sarcastic British humour (which I’d come to appreciate thanks largely in part to Benny Hill and Monty Python) with the fantasy worlds I’d grown accustomed to. Funny, sarcastic, suggestive…but amazing writing with a rich, fleshed out world.

One Thousand and One Nights

Fairy tales were my drug of choice as a child, but I don’t think any fascinated me so much as the tales told by Scheherezade. I wanted to be Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad…these were my heroes as much as the spandex wearing comic book types were – if for no other reason than they were my first anti-heroes, thieves and swashbucklers who were always one step ahead of danger, but somehow managing to do the right thing in the end.

A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones

If the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were my bible, then George RR Martin’s epic has been my curse. I may grow old and wither before these books are ever finished, and I will growl and grumble and stamp my feet in frustration. But when that sixth book, Winds of Winter, arrives I’ll turn into Smeagol muttering “my precious…” as I eagerly flip through those long-anticipated pages.

American Gods

This was a tough choice, because Neil Gaiman’s stories have become near and dear to my heart. But if I have to pick one, and I absolutely have to – this is the one I’d choose. His take on the status of these gods of old, trying their best to hold onto existence in the face of newer, rasher, harsher gods of today? Amazing.

The Killing Joke

Comic books have always been a love of mine, and legends hold that it was on comic books that I learned to read. I can believe it, because my earliest reading memories were of lounging on my bed, head in curled hands, legs bent in the air as I fell into their pages.  So to leave them off this list would be a travesty, but which? A tough call, but the Killing Joke was one of the best written comic books (to me) in decades. The classic Batman vs. Joker confrontation, with the Joker recognizing that all it took to create the monster he was, was One Bad Day – unarguably the very same One Bad Day that created the Batman himself. Joker’s attempt to prove that anyone could be driven to become a Joker, or a Batman, under the right circumstances? Epic concept.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

The day I realized “holy crap, these are some righteously fucked up stories!” is the day I saw the world through clearer eyes.  I can recall reading The Tinderbox and at some point I thought: wait, this soldier broke his word, and killed the witch. And he’s kidnapping this woman. Every night. And “kissing” her, as if I’m an idiot and I don’t know what this actually means he’s doing to her. And she’s passed out the entire time. Can we say, roofied? Date rape? Da fuq, man…! But: again, these stories stuck with me because they were nothing like the Disneyfied versions I’d been fed by television and movies.

Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman created such heartwarming characters, full of depth and life, out of the Dungeons & Dragon’s board game world that to this day, I strive to create characters that will mean as much to someone else. Tanis, Raistlin, Kitiara, even burly old Strurm – I lived and died with them.