Monday, June 30, 2008

The Top 5 Books That Changed My Life

This idea's from Sarah. The idea is to list the top books that have changed your life. They don't have to be your favorites, but they have to be the ones that had the most impact. I actually have about eight books, but Sarah's a neophyte and insisted I make the list managable, so I cut it at five. Hope she's happy.

1. The Mystery of Chimney Rock - Choose Your Own Adventure.

No, I'm not kidding. This is the book that I blame for becoming a reader. Back, once upon a time, I really didn't like reading. Then one day, bored at school, I picked up this book. For some reason, be it the visceral feel of flipping back and forth or the various ways you could meet an untimely end or the stellar, award-winning writing, this book completely changed the way I looked at all those papery things sitting on the shelves.

I was truly never the same again.

2. The Stand - Stephen King

Believe it or not, it took a long long time for another book to blow my mind. To be honest, this book is kind of a placeholder for most of the work of Mr King, but it is quite a standout (pun mercifully unintended).

The Stand is more than just a book, it's an experience. Impossibly epic, the brick accompanied me on a road trip to the black hills when I was ... oh, fourteen? Reading about characters making their way across a country devastated by a supervirus as I was driving through the wastes of northern Nebraska and southern South Dakota was one of those magical summer childhood experiences that has always been with me.

Bonus points for King for using a unified world, of course, with characters from one book popping up in another. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm all about cross-pollination of my characters.

3. The Odyssey

Homer's Greek epic about ships and monsters and Odysseus. Yeah, I know, you look at me and say "So what?" And I tell you, "But it means EVERYTHING!"

The Odyssey is everything I love about quest tales (honorable mentions to this list Lord of the Rings and Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and epic poetry (other honorable mention The Divine Comedy) wrapped into one. The hero with his flaws sets out to do what he must, and along the way gets himself into shit you just want to strangle him for.

But because he's Odysseus, and he's just that cool, he always weasles his way out of situations. Odysseus is cut from the same character cloth as most trickster-archetypes, such as Bugs Bunny or Jack Sparrow. Unlike them, he racks up quite a body count of friends who aren't nearly as blessed with main character status.

It's funny, it's tragic, and it's epic. The Odyssey truly is epic in every sense of the word, spanning years and miles and planes of existance in its story. It opened my eyes to just how big a story could be. To the scope that could be presented to tell such a small moral (don't be an arrogant dick, especially to the gods).

And it's still my favorite Greek classic.

4. House of Leaves - Mark Z Danielewski

I've never met anyone who has read this book.

Everyone should read this book.

That said, this is one of the most frightening things I've ever read. A meta-book, a book within a book within a book, the story is the most convoluted, non-Euclidian nightmare that you could ever imagine. And it's fitting, too. This is a masterful book, that is very aware of itself as a book and utilizes the unique opportunities that the written word has over other media to help supercharge its tale in a unique way.

Never did I feel that books had as much power as I did when I read this one. I still feel uneasy when I look at my copy.

But I really wish I knew someone who had read this one.

5. Jitterbug Perfume - Tom Robbins

Might as well be a stand in for all of Robbins' books, but it's my favorite, as well. When I think of Literary Rockstar-dom, Tom Robbins is the embodiment of exactly what I mean.

Fearless, edgy, yet endlessly comfortable, Jitterbug Perfume blew the doors off of writing and convinced me to take more risks and not only write bigger, but think bigger. With his comfortable, casual style, Robbins can both turn a phrase and warp a mind without much effort.

His books are endlessly cool, with metaphors hanging off of similies which cling desperately to symbolism that's slowly losing purchase as it holds, with one slowly weakening hand, to Robbin's cigarette (legal or not).

It shouldn't work, it should be a massive disaster, but it works amazingly. Never did I feel so empowered as I did after this book. In fact, this book is partially responsible for the creation of this blog.

.... and that's it. That's five. Hope you enjoy, and if you want to read any of them, I provided links so you could go get them yourselves. Ones that are also on the list (but didn't make it because of Sarah's silly cut-off:

- Musashi, Eiji Yoshikawa
- 1984, George Orwell
- Dance, Dance, Dance, Haruki Murakami

1 comment:

SeH said...

You, sir, are a liar. You are the one who wanted the arbitrary limit on your list, and I have my gchat archive to prove it! I'd normally just call you out in private, but since you decided to slander me in public, I felt compelled to defend myself. Nonetheless, that's a nice list you have there.