The Books That Changed My Life (part one)

I have some news. No, unfortunately I haven’t found an agent yet (although hopefully soon!); I’ve decided to start a second blog. I’ve spent the last few weeks setting it up, so feel free to have a look and let me know what you think.

It’s called Modern Classics and came about when I decided to move the book reviews from my blog; they don’t really go with the rest of my content, so the new blog collects them all in one place. I still plan to talk about books on this blog as well; I just haven’t had much to post about recently and I think separating the content will help both blogs in the end.

So to celebrate I thought I’d do a couple of posts about some of the books that have changed my life. This first part looks at the books that changed me as I grew up; the second part will be the books that have shaped my ideas about philosophy and life. I’ll post the second part in a couple of days so it won’t be too long to wait. I wonder how many you’ve read? 😉

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
I first read Anne Frank’s diary in high school and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s one of the most haunting accounts of the Holocaust I’ve experienced and what still strikes me about it is how mature a writer Anne was; she made you feel like you were in the warehouse with her, and her family felt like your family… that’s why her loss feels so devastating to anyone who’s read it.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
I had all of the Narnia books as a child but Wardrobe was my favourite; I must have read it at least 50 times. It was one of the first books that brought my imagination to life, of Narnia and other worlds… in many ways it was the first book that made me want to write. It made me dream and that’s something I’d love to do for someone else one day.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit was my favourite book as a child; one of my teachers recommended it to me and I still remember the feelings of sadness and loss that ran throughout the story… it was beautiful and unlike anything I had read, the perfect fairy tale. I still have my original copy; I plan to pass it on one day.

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I read Shelley’s novel as a teenager and admire it even more now. As a work of science fiction it’s virtually flawless and still one of the most unsettling novels I’ve read. Its examination of the ethics of creating life has influenced me many times in my own writing. I always found the monster rather pitiful… with the developments in genetic engineering, it’s still very important today.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Holmes series has been a favourite since high school; I enjoy the novels but it’s the stories I like best. They’re so well crafted (particularly The Adventure of the Speckled Band) and rarely feature superfluous details; I learnt a lot about structuring short fiction from Doyle. The character of London from the 1890s has always stayed with me as well; like looking through a window at another world.

The Children of Men by PD James
I’ve read a few of PD James’s books but The Children of Men is unlike anything James has written; a dystopian novel centring on mass infertility… yet it has the depth and characterisation of any of her works. The detail in James’s world is unsettling, but in Julian there’s a sense of hope as well… it’s easily one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve read, and the kind of novel I’d love to write.

Blood Music by Greg Bear
I read Blood Music when I was fourteen and since then have read all of Bear’s novels. It’s one of those few novels that deals with science in a realistic and accessible way, using human development as a vehicle to examine the nature of consciousness and life. It was one of the first SF novels I read and had a big impact on me; the final scenes as the last humans transcend is breathtaking.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Stewart’s novel was published in 1949 and is one of the most haunting novels I’ve read. It follows what happens after the fall of society, what knowledge survives as life tries to go on; it’s really a lament for humanity, a warning against excess. It’s just as relevant today as when it was first published.

On Writing by Stephen King
On Writing is Stephen King’s memoir and guide to the craft. King covers everything about the process; from brainstorming and developing ideas, to plotting and characterisation, to finding an agent and accepting rejection. For writers it’s a priceless resource; I’ve learnt more about writing (and editing) from this one book than from any other I’ve read.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is one of the most difficult novels I have read but it’s also one of the most important novels of the last 30 years. McCarthy’s prose is so stark, so beautiful, it touches your heart; the characterisations so poignant that they come to life even though you don’t know their names. I challenge anyone to read The Road and be the same; it’s devastating… one of the few works of fiction that makes you look at the world in a different way.

11 thoughts on “The Books That Changed My Life (part one)

  1. i was wondering when you’d reveal your other blog, or maybe you’re keeping it separate like yours truly. 😛

    shame to say i have yet to read any sherlock holmes book. 😳 i would if i could borrow it though. i love mysteries; i’m nuts about agatha christie. have you tried any of her books?

    interesting to read about books that are close to your heart. 🙂

    CJ: I know, I meant to post about it last week but life intervened. At least the cat’s out of the bag now. 😉 It’s really meant to complement this blog in style and theme; my plan is to self-host and have it as a separate page on the blog, but that’s a long way off yet. I remember when I first found out about your other blog; it was like Superman and Clark Kent, we never saw sulz and your other identity in the same place! 🙂

    I read most of Agatha Christie’s books before I read the Holmes series. They were very good but the Holmes ones seem a bit more evocative of the time period, which is why I like them. Half the fun of Holmes is trying to work out his reasoning and the stories are great because you can get that in one sitting! If you wanted to try Holmes, they’re all available at Gutenberg; this collection might give you an idea if you’d like the rest.

    And I’m glad you liked the list! The second part might surprise you. 😉

  2. Thanks for sharing, CJ. I’ve already read many of the books on your list, but not all. I realized I’ve never read Frankenstein, so I might have to give that a try this summer.

    “Of Mice and Men” (Steinbeck) and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (Lee) are two books that I feel changed my life. I’ve read both of those several times. They have worked themselves into my very soul. Also, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (Hurston) is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read.

    I also enjoy good children’s lit. “The Magician’s Nephew” is my favorite book out of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Have you read any of Kate DiCamillo’s books? “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane” is beautifully written. I also enjoy anything by Meindert Dejong, “The House of Sixty Fathers” and “Along Came A Dog” are my favorites. I am currently reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Very enjoyable. (Can you tell I’m an elementary school librarian?)

    I could go on and on. But, I’ll restrain myself. Some of my best friends are books! : )

    CJ: Glad you liked it, TVB! It’s just a small sample of the books I love but I think all of these have influenced my life in a positive way. The second part should be fun too, so I’m looking forward to that. 😉

    I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird and that had a big impact on me as well; I think I read Of Mice and Men but I don’t remember it very well. I’ll have to reread it. One of the most beautifully structured novels I’ve come across is Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; at times it’s transcendent.

    I love to read children’s literature when I can; it has an innocence about it that is wonderful and some of the best writing is in children’s lit. I haven’t read Kate DiCamillo; I’ll have to look for her books! One of my favourite series of the last decade is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials because it’s so different to everything else; can’t wait to read his latest.

    Books make great friends, don’t they? Some of the best moments of my life have been spent with a book, discovering a good story… some people just don’t get that! I guess that’s why bibliophiles are so unique. 🙂

  3. Hi cj,
    Congrats! Your new site is looking fine. I’ve read most of the books on the list but not all. I find that the tourist season is the worst time of year for me to read in. I just never seem to have the time to complete a book and end up reading the same chapter over and over and then getting interrupted again. In the winter it’s a different story. It’s a great time for me to read.

    CJ: Thanks TT! Finding the right theme was the hardest part, so I’m glad it looks okay. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep track of everything I read now. 😉

    So you’re a winter reader? Interesting; I often go through long periods without reading (particularly if I’m writing), but then I’ll devour a dozen books in four or five weeks. I love reading in winter, though; there’s nothing better than curling up with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate on a cold night. It’s bliss. 🙂 Take care, and good thoughts.

  4. Congratulations on the new site, cj. It will add to your overall eruditeness. I shall hop over and take a look.
    I was even younger than Anne Frank was when I read her book. I found it fresh, honest, shocking, and life changing. Certainly belongs on any list.
    I never read the Lewis or the Williams—why, I wonder? I actually read some of Lewis’ “adult” books as a teen, and they scared me a bit. Now that the Narnia movies are out, I’ll have to at least see them.
    All of Sherlock Holmes! Speckled Band! (I couldn’t make out WHAT that thing was) Indeed!
    Haven’t read those particular James or Bear, but now I will. King’s book is splendid; but no matter what you say I’m not going to read The Road! I mean, I respect you greatly, but, ahhhh!
    Peace & good reading! 😉

    CJ: Thanks, Muse. It’s really just a side project and I don’t expect too much from it, but it’s always fun starting a new blog! It’s my fourth blog now; guess that makes me a veteran. 😉

    I think I would have been about 12 when I read Anne’s diary, so just younger too; I’ll never forget how I felt reading it… she represents so much more than herself and to this day I don’t think I’ve read another book that’s left me as overwhelmed as her diary… I hope I never will.

    That’s interesting about Lewis. I loved the Narnia books when I was a younger but to be honest I’m not sure how I feel about some of them now. I still love Wardrobe and think the themes are universal, but some of the themes near the end of the series trouble me… particularly Susan’s absence in The Last Battle. I did enjoy the movie version of Wardrobe, though; it’s very faithful and the music is great.

    I understand about The Road! MQ just finished reading it and had the same reaction; brilliant but devastating. I wonder how they’ll handle it for the movie? I can’t imagine it being any easier on the screen… arguably it shouldn’t be. Peaceful thoughts to you, Muse, always. 🙂

  5. Interesting list. Sherlock Holmes is a perennial favorite – I don’t think Agatha Christie comes anywhere close. Even though Hercule Poirot is very charming.

    I can never interest myself enough to read Anne Frank’s diary, regardless of the sympathy I feel for the victims of the holocaust.

    Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” would probably be on the top of my list.

    But the 1st ever books that fascinated me were “Gray’s Anatomy” (my ped was kind enough to lend me her copy), “Our Solar System”, a kid’s book on Astronomy.

    I mostly grew up on a staple of quaint books. Bronte sisters, Hardy, Austen etc. Being a kid in India then meant a supply of books from USSR. I still have this book – “Kids & Cubs” by Olga Perovskaya. A hunter’s kids raise various animals like tiger, fox, wolf etc. I still love it 😀

    And Shakespeare, Marlowe, Shaw etc. I still can’t get over “Macbeth” (love the witches), “Othello” (though to my dad’s horror, I admired Iago), “Dr Faustus” & “Pygmalion”.

    But it was Bertrand Russell & Somerset Maugham who truly made an impact on my life & my thinking. And C.E.M. Joad’s “Story of Civilization” – an open enquiry on the meaning & evolution of human civilization.

    CJ: Hi Priya, glad you enjoyed the list. It’s just the first part and probably won’t look right until the other part is done (it’s taking me a while!), but it’s been a fun project to do. It’s been very rewarding to look back on so many books.

    That’s interesting that Gray’s Anatomy and Our Solar System were the first two books to inspire you. Makes sense. Looking back I had a book of mythology that had a big impact on me; eventually that led me to writers like Joseph Campbell, who have had a big impact on the direction my life has taken. Perhaps sometimes it’s the more unexpected books that have the biggest impact on our lives.

    The Brontes and Austen are wonderful; I particularly love Wuthering Heights, just the structure and Heathcliff as a character are very striking. I’ve never really gotten into Shakespeare as much, though I do like Julius Caesar; it’s mainly Hemingway and Kafka that have influenced my thinking. They’ll both be on the next list.

    You reminded me, though, that I’ve not read Things Fall Apart. I’ve wanted to for years so I’ll have to find it; it’s one of those books everyone should read, particularly writers. It’ll give me something to post about too. 😉

  6. anne frank, cs lewis, stephen king (the novels), frankenstein and sherlock holmes, read them all 🙂

    also edgar rice burroughs, his books take me away…

    i think life changing was the womens room, by…wait…

    CJ: Edgar Rice Burroughs was great. It’s been a long time since I read them but I loved the Tarzan stories. I remember reading some of Willard Price’s Adventure books when I was younger as well; they were a lot of fun.

    I also loved Roald Dahl, particularly Matilda and The BFG – I wanted so badly to get them on this list! Oh well, maybe next time. 😉

  7. marilyn french. had to get it out the book case.

    also, arthur c clarke, and the best of the best, isaac asimov, its surreal how much of their stuff is coming true! and of course _0_ star trek..

    i’m going to read the womens room again now, thanks for reminding me 🙂

    CJ: Wow, I’m amazed but I just realised, I’ve never read The Women’s Room. I never got round to it; I should, it’s a piece of history and something a writer should definitely read. I’ll have to check it out of the library.

    Weren’t Clarke and Asimov brilliant, Amanda? I reread them often and just the whole idea of Asimov’s law of robotics is fascinating. I’ll give you a preview, by the way: Childhood’s End is going to be on the second list when I finish it. 😉

  8. Hi C.J. I remember growing up I always loved a good mystery. There was a book called The Ghost Next Door, I loved it and have tried to find it in my adult years but have not come across the same one.
    I also loved Behind The Attic Wall.

    As an adult I also liked to read mysteries and always loved Dean Koontz. As far as authors I love Poe and Robert Frost’s work has definitely inspired me.

    Oh, how can I forget Erma Bombeck-love her too. Okay, I know I’m talking authors instead of books but I thought they were worth the mention.

    Hope all is well, I will spin by your new blog.


    CJ: Hi Maribeth, The Ghost Next Door sounds very interesting. I don’t think I’ve read it but the name is familiar. It wasn’t by Wylly Folk St. John, was it?

    I love Dean Koontz too; I think he’s very underrated, particularly the way he gets overlooked for King. Koontz wrote a novel, Fear Nothing, about a rare condition called XP which I always remember; it was fascinating and one of the most suspenseful novels I’ve read.

    I’m okay; I’m just starting to get back into blogging again after a break, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing again. Hope things are better with you now too.

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