My Ten Most Influential Books

Michael Amram Rinast has invited me to list the ten books that have influenced me the most. I will gladly name ten books that have had great impact on my life, but I can’t swear there are not others that have had equal significance to me. These are the ten that come to mind now:

1. What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives — Forgive me if this seems egotistical, but this book has been percolating in my mind and heart for forty years.

2. The Book of Genesis–The first book of the Torah–more than any others has influenced  the way I think and try to act. Other biblical books could easily make this list, but one biblical bookstands out for me, and I want to make note of that.

3.The Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon–Within the next few days I will post another essay that will make clear why this book means so much to me.

4. The Rabbi by Noah Gordon–It is no exaggeration for me to say that reading this book for the first of many times when I was 18, shaped the direction of my life. It was an honor to mer Mr. Gordon in 2001and share this with him in person

5. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss–To me this is by far the greatest of many great Dr. Seuss books. It is a marvelous lesson in loyalty and honor that first touched my heart when my teacher, Mrs. Naomi Asher, read it to us in second grade. It still touches my heart today.

6. Call It Sleep by Henry Roth–The gritty story of Davy Pearl’s coming of age inspires me for its lack of sentimentality and the amazing insight it offers into childhood emotions. As an adult I continue to resonate to those emotions.

7. The Jews of Silence by Elie Wiesel–This ground breaking expose of the plight of Soviet Jews in the sixties alerted the world to the issue which galvanized the Jewish world for nearly two decades

8. Night by Elie Wiesel–It is hard to imagine that the Holocaust would hold nearly the place it does in the minds of people of all backgrounds today were it not for Wiesel’s haunting memoir.

9. Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon–Unsurpassed for it realism and sensitivity to the issues of people with disabilities

10. (TIE) Basic Judaism and As A Driven Leaf both by Milton Steinberg. Basic Judaism opened my eyes as a high school student to the necessity of distilling the essence f Judaism in such a way that encourages people to build on their learning. As A Driven Leaf, which weaves a magnificent historical novel from a few small fragments of Talmudic and Midrashic evidence, opened my eyes to the beauty and possibilities inherent in creative Biblical interpretation.

I hope you like my choices and invite interested readers to share yours.




13 thoughts on “My Ten Most Influential Books

  1. Two thoughts
    1. Your book better be one of your favorites. An author should like his own book.
    2. I was very excited when I saw this show up in my email because I thought I was going to get a new list of books to read. But, I know you way too well !!!! I already knew you really enjoyed 9 of the 11.


  2. I am going to make it 10 pieces of writing. 9 books, 1 poem because the poem is so influencial to me. Hopefully acceptable. Clearly I don’t follow directions well!!!


    1. Don’t know why I became “anonymous” on the last comment. Still Lisa.
      I don’t know why I was so tempted to do this, and when i started I wanted to finish. I think because it defines who I am, what is important to me, and how I got here. Tis the season to self reflect.

      And when I compare our lists, I realize why we get along!

      Okay the first is #1 for a reason…but the rest in no particular order

      Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. We can learn so many lessons from the dying. What is important to us on oue death beds is really what should be important all the days of our lives. There is a book by a hospice nurse with stories from her patients. Don’t know the name, but would love to read that too.

      My grandfather’s blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. I like this book for the same reason, but i also really am attracted to the spiritual and specific Jewish infusion of caring for patients with life theatning diseases.

      Oh, the places you’ll go by Dr Seuss. I feel a clever way to teach the ups and downs and realities of growing up and getting through life.

      Three cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Teaches the power of education. Terrorism and hate come from lack of education. His work changed lives, and saved lives. I wouldn’t want to be married to him because he isn’t around in his family’s life. But he teaches we can make a difference in the world.

      The Book of Ruth. Love it for several reasons. Goodness can come from tragedy. Life can be bitter and sweet. Converts are wonderful Jews. Great Jews can descend from a non traditional Jewish family. Clearly some rabbis agreed with me since it is read for what I consider the most important Jewish holiday. Where would we be without Torah?

      Beginning Anew edited by Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith Kates. I love the in depth commentaries of all of the portions read through the high holy days. I read it a couple of times, and it added so much meaning to the Days of Awe. I still treasure the lessons of the talented women contributors.

      Talking to God by Rabbi Naomi Levy. I turn to it when I need help praying because it has a prayer for every occasion. It has helped through rough times, and added joy to special times.

      The missing piece by Shel Silverstein. Clearly a kids book, but full of lessons for the parent reading it to the kid. Sometimes when we are not whole, bruised or bent we can see the world better than when we are visibly “all together.” Sometimes what we really want, is not what is best for us, and we have to figure it out the hard way.

      Oddly enough, this one pops up next. Israel: A spiritual travel Guide by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman. The book made my journey from the airplane to every stop along the way full of meaning. It was the most spiritual trip of my life. I have no idea when I will go back, but I eagerly anticipate that day.

      The poem, Birth is a beginning by Rabbi Alvin Fine. I view life in those terms, a journey, a sacred pilgrimage. I can put aside my differences in belief, with the rabbi and ignore the last line, then it becomes a perfect poem for me.

      I loved the little exercise. Thanks for bringing it up in Elul.


  3. Of course, “What’s in it for Me…” is at the top of my list. Next are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Catcher in the Rye”. My runner-ups include “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”–both by Mitch Albom; I also love “The Book Thief”, “Everything is Illuminated.” Oh, and I can’t leave out The Godfather, although you probably wish I would.


  4. Thank you, Susan, for this thoughtful list. I remember reading Cathcer in the Rye when I was fifteen. It was early in the morning, and I laughed so hard I woke up my parents. I remember the beginning was hilarious, and then the book turned so very melancholy!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes! The beginning of Catcher in the Rye cracked me up too. Love that book. I also enjoyed As a Driven Leaf. Rabbi Miller put it on my reading list. Night was one of the first Jewish books I ever read. Unforgettable. Address Unknown is another awesome read. Have you ever read it? Spectacular ending!


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