I read this hiking guide at 16, before my first backpacking trip. I remember staring at the cover photograph of the author's armamentarium—tent, stove, pot, sheath knife, Carborundum stone, compass, signal mirror, and about a hundred other items carefully chosen for their small size and light weight—and feeling such itchy feet that I could hardly sit. Four weeks later, I set off for the Tetons with my older brother. We ate exactly what Colin Fletcher ate (Maggi powdered soup, Wilson's meat bars, Kendal Mint Cakes) and wore exactly what he wore (wool socks, fishnet underwear). In later years, I stopped following Fletcher's advice so slavishly, but he was with me in spirit after college, when I worked as an instructor at a wilderness school in Wyoming, and on countless camping trips since then. I once calculated that, all told, I've spent more than a year of my life sleeping in tents. Colin Fletcher made me do it.
The Joy of Sex By Alex Comfort, MD
Ah, to be in my 20s again, eager and sometimes even able to be as acrobatic as the couple who gamely posed for this book's famous illustrations. There's something touching about the very idea of a sex manual—it's sort of like a how-to book on eating or breathing. But when you're at a certain age, nothing could be more apropos. Back in the seventies, the man in the pictures had longer hair than the woman, and neither had a particularly distinguished body. In the newest edition, they have switched their hair lengths and apparently spent the intervening years working out with personal trainers. Buff and yuppieish, looking ready to throw on their clothes and run out to their jobs at investment banks, they've lost their hippie languor, but they still gaze at each other with the tenderness that suffused every page of the original. As that old reactionary Alex Comfort put it, "You don't get high-quality sex without love."
The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth By Sheila Kitzinger
In the fullness of time, book no. 2 led to book no. 3. In my 30s, lying in bed with my husband, I listened to a New Age tape of whooshing amniotic fluid and practiced Kitzinger's recommended positions for labor, just as a decade earlier I'd practiced Comfort's recommended positions for sex. Kitzinger made birth sound difficult but exciting, as indeed it turned out to be. I remember reading, on the last page of my edition, under the heading "Week 40," the sentence "You will soon hold your child in your arms." Did Dickens or Tolstoy ever write nine more affecting words?
Roget's International Thesaurus
This isn't a standard how-to book. It provides the tools; the reader decides which ones to use. I've owned this thesaurus—the old-fashioned kind, with thumb notches—for 35 years. Although a thesaurus is usually defined as a dictionary of synonyms, I'm not the first to point out that it's less about the similarities between words than about the distinctions between them—distinctions not just in denotation but in connotation. Case in point: Just this week I completed the final revisions of At Large and At Small, an essay collection on which I'd been working for several years. The final section was the acknowledgments. One of the people I wished to thank was a friend who had dispensed editorial counsel. Hmm. What kind of editorial counsel? Was it excellent? Yes, but that's boring. Was it skillful? Yes, but so is the work of an auto mechanic. Thesaurus time! Was it sterling? Perfect: just the right meaning, plus the associations of luster and value. Just as my friend Adam was a sterling editor, this is a sterling book.