Polis Books

Ten Books That Stayed With Me


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey ("But it's the truth even if it didn't happen." That one line, said by Chief Bromden, has always stuck with me, and can be considered the blueprint for any work of fiction. Also, I remain convinced that if you read this book you'll agree with me that Jack Nicholson was woefully miscast as R.P. McMurphy.)

The Sword of Shannara - Terry Brooks (This book began my early love of epic fantasy. I read it before I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so at the time I was unaware of the debt Terry Brooks owed to J.R.R. Tolkien. But at the time, I grew to love little Shea Ohmsford and the giant Druid Allanon. I remember waiting outside my local bookstore the day each new book in the series arrived.)

The Stand by Stephen King (King has long been my favorite writer, and it was this massive tale that, in my opinion, achieved the pinnacle of his talents. I still remember the Trashcan Man, Randall Flagg, and reading this book with a flashlight under my covers at summer camp when I was supposed to be asleep.)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (I actually enjoyed this book more than her more-heralded White Teeth, partly because I went to a similar college as the one this book depicted, but the emotional daggers this book throws are as sharp as any writer I've ever read.)

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (The pinnacle of what can be classified as 'crime fiction', in my opinion. The plot and 'suspense' are secondary to the story of three young boys whose lives are irrevocably changed in one day, and how their neighborhood changes over the next thirty years. The Sean Devine/Jimmy Marcus dynamic is truly icnonic. The kind of book that stays with you and makes you wonder where each of its surviving characters ended up.)

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (The first book that made me cry, and if you've read it you understand.)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (The vulnerability and ferocity of Eggers's first book just stunned me, and there is a fury beneath the emotion in this book that is just raw and powerful and I can't ever shake it. Finally, finally, finally.)

The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh (The first cop to write a novel about policemen. But the novel wasn't so much about policemen, but about men who happened to be police. They drank, swore, had sex, cried, and when Wambaugh came on the scene, he proved that the most honest writing often comes from fiction. Real as a shotgun blast.)

Ulysses by James Joyce (I read this book over several months in my 8th grade English class. The achievement I felt when I finished, and the knowledge that Joyce had written a book that could take both a lifetime to read--and fully understand--was empowering.)

Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller (Perhaps an odd choice for this list, but this is the book that helped get me my first job in publishing out of college. I enjoyed this book, managed to dig up the email address of the book's editor, and he was gracious enough to have an information interview with me about the strange world of book publishing. Later, that editor would put in a glowing word to the editor who would hire me as an assistant back in 2003. So I owe this book bigtime.)

Jason Pinter is the Founder and Publisher of Polis Books