The Trees with the Lights in Them

My former student Blake Walker asked me for a top ten list of books. I have given, rather than lent, each of these to more than one person, expecting the receiver would find it too good to return and the giver would find it intolerable to be without.

10. Blink and The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell neatly organizes his observations into categories of people; happily for us, like Jane Austen, he imagines in complete sets.

9. Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw

Act II: “Women upset everything.” Indeed.

8. Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace

Wallace’s nauseating command of vocabulary recommends this collection of his shorter work. The title essay is the controversial article published in Gourmet, the title itself an allusion to M. J. K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster.

7. Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl

A good recipe we prepare, serve, and carefully write into our collection; a great recipe we perfect, hoard, and cherish for appropriate occasions; a transcendent recipe we make because we must, because it defines us in that particular chapter of our lives. Reichl generously shares the third of and with the Fourth Estate.

6. The Wrinkle In Time trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle

Heavy on the Christian allegory (in the C. S. Lewis tradition), but admirable kything; “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children. They have not closed the shutters. They like it when you rock the boat.”

5. Proof, David Auburn

As the best plays do, finds good employment for the constraints of the form.

4. Wit, Margaret Edson

Winning the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, Edson decided to continue teaching kindergarten. Lucky kids.

3. Close to the Machine, Ellen Ullman

Bull Durham with computers.

2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

2 years of note cards became this text, which teaches ways of seeing John Berger’s work cannot. Heady stuff, particularly the tree with the lights in it at the end of the second chapter.

1. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino

(Read Invisible Cities first.)


  1. Michael says:

    After working with ad agencies and communication professionals, I’m impressed with the balance between your verbal eloquence and your designer’s eye. Many creative shops have to employ two staffers to accomplish that.

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