Thanks to @rachelleshanrock for the suggestion. This is a daunting list to attempt. I'm going to list (I think?) the novels that have influenced my life the most (as opposed to the most entertaining novels or most memorable books I've read or most in agreement with the literary academy's critical opinion). The top 4 are solid. Then it gets iffy.
  1. Illusions: The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
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    I first read this amusing novel on an eight-day bicycle tour of California's rugged north coast taken just after I graduated from college (in other words, I was in an impressionable state). I've since read it 17 times over 31 years (see photo) because it reminds me that life is a journey, not a destination, and the novel is full of reminders for the advanced soul (that's you and me!) in a tight little story about friendship that's not preachy.
  2. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.
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    Three adventures in one following a Kerouac type zen bum around the Bay Area (near where I grew up) where he learns about Buddhism from a thinly disguised poet Gary Snyder and we cross paths with other Beat legends (Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Phillip Whalen, etc.) It speaks to me about zen, hobo travels, and poetry, and is Kerouac at his best (less drug fueled than On The Road). Worth a read just for the reenactment of Ginsberg's famous debut reading of 'Howl' at San Fran's Six Gallery.
  3. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
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    I debated which of Vonnegut's novels to include, since he is the reason I am a writer. Settled on Cat's Cradle because it explores technology and religion and man's inhumanity to man through technology, all topics I still seek out. I was blown away by the book's humor, big subjects, short chapters and I remember starting to write my first novel soon after finishing because he made it look so easy. It's not.
  4. Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson
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    This is (was?) an amazing book. I'm not sure if it stands the test of time since much of what he wrote in 1992 has become commonplace in movies and video games (and the real world!). I was wowed when I first encountered this page-turner about cyberspace and Hiro Protagonist's search-and-destroy mission to save the world. Because Snowcrash turned me on to William Gibson and other speculative fiction writers, it makes this list. (Will read again this year to see how it holds up.)
  5. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
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    A great writer of California. A great writer of the human condition. A hilarious story with great characters. Picking just six books is hard, and I could've gone with his epics Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, but Cannery Row is the perfect gateway novel to (re-)discover Steinbeck. I read all of Steinbeck when I was first writing a lot of fiction as I was proud of this fellow Golden-Stater who proved (to young me) you didn't need to be back east or in NYC to make it as a novelist.
  6. Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey
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    As good a choice as any for an impossible slot. Impossible to just pick one novel from many contenders by Kesey, Chabon, DeLillo, Franzen, Gibson, Hornby, Moore, Pynchon or Roth. This book features west coast loggers (see a common thread here?) struggling with family and life, an epic story with such vivid description of the forests I grew up in it sticks with me. But I'll have a different No. 6 tomorrow, and another next week, and another next month, and so on, and so on.