What follows is a list of books that have had a profound effect on me over the last 30 years or so. Some are only on this list because they pissed me off so much, they put me off books for a period of time. Most are just ones that I enjoyed immensely, and honestly, I could have a list twice this size if I weren’t so lazy.
Huck Finn is on this list because it’s the first book I actually read cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed. It was the first book that showed me that reading could actually be a beneficial, rewarding activity rather than the myriad of distractions going on in my 14-year-old life. Ignore the current vibe of anti-Twain movements because he used the “n” word. People used it quite a lot, even in the North. The book isn’t about that, as a matter of fact, it’s in spite of that word usage that makes this such a great story.
The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense
In my second stint of college, once I was a little more focused, I took an “interpersonal communications” class. It counted as speech but wasn’t as lame as a regular speech class, or so I had heard. We had to do a book review having to do with communications, and I stumbled across this gem of a book. A lot of what this book focused on was being taught to me in my customer service jobs, too, so I knew it was actually valid. It’s a great read and really helps you understand how to tell someone to go fuck themselves nicely and without backlash.
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Beloved is one of the worst books I’ve ever been forced to read. It taught me, nay, gave me the confidence to think that just because a book wins an award, doesn’t mean it’s any good. I was mid-way through my literature degree when I was forced to read Toni Morrison in a modern novel class. Unreadable, predictable and downright shitty. I spent 10 or so years thinking I was just a dumbass for not liking the book at all, then I came across a small diatribe from a guy named Myers – can’t remember or find the book anymore – but he lambasted awards groups for giving awards to authors for being different – not for being outstanding writers. I was vindicated. I allowed myself to tell people that I think this book is horrible.
Les Mis was on my “to read” list forever, and I finally decided to take a crack at it, only to realize that history has wholly tried to erase the French Revolutions. I recognized within a few pages that if I didn’t have some historical background, I would never get through the book, and wouldn’t really understand it. I finally did find a source that was nonbiased got through it and finished the book. I’m on my second read as of this writing, it really is one of my favorite books, and I can’t really put the finger on exactly why. Hugo was really an incredible writer with an ability to make the complicated simple.
Lolita changed me by showing that a great writer can make even the most disgusting subject beautiful. That’s precisely what Nabokov wanted to do with Lolita, and it is lovely. When I need to see beauty in words, I reach for this book. Thank God e-readers became available because the first time I read Lolita, I was traveling a lot and I got some really fucked up looks from people on planes. People are simps.
The Canterbury Tales
Quite the opposite of Tony Morrison, Chaucer showed me that literature can be fun. Having one entire story be nothing but an elaborate fart joke was something of a complete eye-opener for me. Literature does not have to be stuffy (although a bunch of it still is).
The Witching Hour
Ann Rice used to be one of my favorite authors. I read The Mummy and really liked her style. She’s an incredible storyteller – until she goes off on a tangent. The Witching Hour is the book that forced me to realize that just because I love a book by a writer does not mean I will like everything they do. I still have not finished The Witching Hour because it’s damn near unreadable between the actual story. It’s frustrating because the story is fascinating, as are the characters and the whole concept.
Thoreau was highly influential to me while I was in college. Reading his diatribes on routines numbing the senses, and links to a simple life and nature as an early 20-year-old broke-ass literature student were very compelling. I still fight routines to this day because of his work. It’s also highly possible you’ll find me in a $13 cabin deep in the woods at some point in my life.
The Diamond Throne
This book is credited with my second revolution in reading. Eddings was the first author to get me to read more than one of his books, and to actually miss characters at the trilogy’s end.
Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment was the first Russian Literature book I read, and it’s the book that made me fall in love with the Russian people. I’ve been told that Russian literature is “easy” which is why I probably like it. This book also awakened me to the fact that I like Russian authors. Again, I’m not exactly sure why there’s just something that speaks to me about their writing style. As you can see by my name, I’m not remotely Russian. It’s yet one more of life’s little mysteries left for me to figure out.