In Friday’s Style section, Michael Dirda praises the Library of Congress’s freshly minted list of “Books that Shaped America” for eschewing the “familiar high-culture shibboleths” of traditional great books lists. Instead, the collection—also an exhibition running from Monday to Sept. 29—is all about influence.
Dirda writes: “When first published, these books shocked people, made them angry, shook up their deepest beliefs. They shamed readers with accounts of racism, greed, corruption, Puritanism and provincial narrow-mindedness. Here are the impassioned works that made us look behind the curtain, into the bedroom and closet and boardroom, at what we were afraid of and at what we covered up.”
Beyond the game-changing status these books had upon publication, they also share a sort of perpetual clout. Whether you read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960s or 2000s, there’s a good chance it changed the way you view the environment.
Personally, I’ll never forget the sweltering Texas summer my mother painstakingly read aloud all 47 chapters of Little Women. Maybe it was her way of keeping a rambunctious six-year-old occupied in the comfort of central air. Or maybe she was trying to instill the values of hard work, optimism, family loyalty and creativity that those scrappy March sisters embodied so well. I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve re-read that book (it’s definitely one of the first I downloaded on my iPad), but I do know it set a standard early on in my life of what it meant to be a daughter, sister, and ultimately, a woman.
We’d love for you to share with us the books that shaped your life, whether they made the Library of Congress’s list or not. Use the comments section below or tweet them using the hashtag #booksthatshapedme.