Which books changed you?

I came across this list of “Books That Changed You Profoundly” (see link at end) and I’m probably atypical.

Some of them (GASP!) I have never read. Others I have had no inclination to read. Yet others I have read long after they could have “shaped” me. One or two although they are immensely fun (“Cat in the Hat” for instance) I would hardly classify as “shaping” books.

You want to know which books shaped me when I was young? You probably never heard of them. If you have, you’ve probably never read them. Here are five of mine:

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“My Son, My Son” by Howard Spring. I remember sitting hunched over this thing in my grandmother’s apartment, aged twelve, and crying silently over the open book in my lap. I’ve had a deep and profound respect for stories which are character-driven ever since, which has certainly shaped my writing career. But Spring is a master storyteller who is vastly underappreciated and has quite unjustly gone out of fashion. This really needs to be fixed.

 

 

“Winnetou” by Karl May. Yes, I know. It is an AWFUL book when it comes to being accurate or even politically correct – and it was (even back when I first read it) far too heavy handed on the Christian proselytization message I could not understand, even when THAT young, why an Apache chief would fall hook line and sinker for Holy Mary Mother of God… other than that the author of the book which created him was a German Christian and that trumped the Great Spirit any day of the week and twice on Sundays. It took me years to unlearn all that I thought I knew about the American Indian society from reading this book. And yet… I cannot bring myself to quite turn my back on it. it’s character again, see. Winnetou, the chief in question, was almost a teen crush of mine (right until he Got Christianity, that is). I cried over this one, too.

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo. Yes Virginia, I read the book way before there was a musical. And yes, it is a great honking 19th century novel – and yes, I skipped entirely the sections where Hugo just leaves the story in order to expostulate on, for example, the habits of a particular order of nuns. But the heart of this book is a great one, and this I understood instictively. And it is a book I treasure.

“Lord of the RIngs” by J R R Tolkien. This TURNED MY WORLD ON ITS HEAD, the idea that fantasy could do this, be this. I have a paperback copy of the book – as in, the whole thing, all three books in the “trilogy” – and it’s loved to the point of disintegration. I still re-read this periodically even though I could probably tell you every paragraph of it by heart. And no, don’t even mention the movies.

“The Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric. Possibly nobody from the West – who reads this thing as a second-hand story of a history of a people in a forgotten corner of the world, and in translation, at that – can possibly appreciate this on the same level that I do. But for me, it is MY history, and i can read it in the language in which was thought of, created, written down. This is my heritage. And it is a deeply brilliant book. When the novel I wrote with my then-still-to-be-husband, “Letters from the Fire”, first came out, a writer friend who was also from the Old Country called it ‘The ‘Bridge on the Drina’ of our times – and I was overwhelmed by that comparison. Because ‘Bridge’ was so huge, so instrumental. The idea that I had written something remotely like it was almost beyond the possibility of belief.

What are yours

15 Books That Changed You Profoundly

 

3 thoughts on “Which books changed you?

  1. Mine would include Cry the beloved country, Darkness at noon, Dance to the music of time, Rendezvous with Rama, Brideshead revisited, Remains of the day, Portrait of the artist as a young man, Something wicked this way comes – in fact a lot of science fiction. Dance to the music of time by Anthony Powell is probably the one (well, it comes in 12 volumes so 12) I’d rescue from a flood. It’s more something you live than something you read, and I like to relive it every few years.

  2. I agree with some of that list; Wrinkle in Time in particular, but also Hatchet and Red Badge of Courage. Charlotte’s Web I thought was overused, and of all the Dr. Suess books you could have pulled…why that one? Butter Battle War was so much more profound.

    I’d add Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” to the list. I read those even before I read LOTR, and really they introduced me to the idea of fantasy before I even knew there was such a genre. You want to talk profound change, that was it. I found out about the Disney movie years later, and didn’t care; the books are still awesome.

    I also would add “Ender’s Game.” Oh, I know there’s a lot of Orson Scott Card hate flying around, and that’s all to the whatever, but I can’t deny that Ender’s Game was the book that let me believe it was OK to be a smart kid. I may not agree with Card’s political views, but I will always be indebted to him for letting me hold onto the fact that smart was good, not bad.

    Finally, I think Robert Cormier needs to get up on that list. “The Chocolate War” is amazing, but “I Am the Cheese” is the one that really effected me. He’s really controversial, though, and that’s a problem for lists like this.

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