A little exercise from over on Facebook that a few of my fellow ex-Barners took part in: 15 books that changed/impacted my life in some way or another. Here are mine, in absolutely no particular order, and with no apology…
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Lewis Carroll
Why this one? The world is a magical, ultimately illogical place full of bizarre and amazing people, places and things. It also taught me that words are wonderful, malleable tools (or weapons) for describing and thriving and surviving in it. It made me want to dream big.
2. The Diviners/Margaret Laurence
Why this one? It is incredibly well structured and written, and the story of a woman trying to maintain independence while trying to balance key relationships fully engaged me. I thought it was my first banned or at least controversial book, but then I remembered sex education via Lady Chatterley’s Lover…
3. Great Expectations/Charles Dickens
Why this one? I discovered my affinity for the bizarre and horrible through Miss Havisham, for adventure and intrigue (later to be fully realized by Dumas’ novels!), and for coming-of-age stories. I endured the pain of love rejected (thankfully, not for reals at the tender age of less than 12!) After this, I would be drawn to books that had strong themes around social, political and related personal struggles set in varying time periods (whether actual or as later imagined in Sci-fi/Fantasy visions of the future/other worlds.) Many authors/books arguably do these things better than Dickens, but this was my “first”.
4. The Gate to Women’s Country/Sheri Tepper
Why this one? Someone once must have thought that I could learn important life lessons from this novel of a feminist utopia where brutal violence is being bred out of society, and said society exists primarily as a matriarchy. Apart from discovering that I LOVE dystopian novels, I took from Women’s Country a realization that I could forge a pretty decent life on my own terms, that “settling” should never be an option, and servitude and violence need to be kicked to the closest curb.
5. The Illustrated Man/Ray Bradbury
Why this one? I discovered imaginative literature in a big way through Ray Bradbury. Never a fan of short stories, or collections thereof, Illustrated Man effectively changed all of that. The story of the tattooed man whose individual tattoos would come to life in the telling of each successive story in the collection, I thought at the time was brilliant. Not all of the stories are that great, but some are superb.
6. The Man in the High Castle/Philip K Dick
Why this one? When I was a kid one of my favourite games to play on my own was “what if”. I was always – very seriously – thinking about “what if x happened, what would the world be like? What would I be like?” When I discovered Philip K Dick, and specifically, this novel, I felt like I had met someone who “got me”. High Castle is an alternate history envisioning a world in which the Axis Powers have won WWII.
7. Ever After/Graham Swift
Why this one? I am addicted to anything related to time travel or the juxtapositions of timelines. This novel focuses on the latter, looking back from a current existence into another’s life as told through a journal. It explores why what we do matters or should matter. Since I think about this concept a lot, the book resonated pretty highly with me. And it was far more accessible, at least for me, than Byatt’s Possession.
8. It/Stephen King
Why this one? Stephen King’s novels were the impetus for me getting involved in book discussion groups. When my friends and I discovered Salem’s Lot (this was the first one for our little group), we all read it and talked about it incessantly. This was the beginning of a life-long urge to read and discuss books (and films, for that matter) with others.
I always thought that The Stand was the one that meant the most to me from King’s work, but this has turned out not to be so. My mind constantly drifts back to It. I love coming-of-age stories (It has it in spades). I thrive on stories where love is found, lost, and then sometimes, satisfyingly, is regained (It.) I love stories that illustrate strong friendships that are exemplified through selflessness and sacrifice (Uh, It.) I am scared of clowns (Duh, It.) Except for the incredibly stupid spider thing, I love this novel!
9. I, Robot/Isaac Asimov
Why this one? I didn’t discover Asimov until I was at University. I really liked Sci-fi at that point, but I was, I thought, less enamored by tech/science-heavy versions of it. At least this was how I viewed Asimov. Story short, I dated a guy who was appalled by my attitude and lent I, Robot to me. What a revelation. Through I, Robot, I discovered how much I appreciate it when imagined worlds and futures are rationally and fully conceived: They don’t need to be real, of course, but they need to make sense within themselves.
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy/Douglas Adams
Why this one? Because it’s damned funny and I recognize my own sense of humour in it.
11. Winesburg, Ohio/Sherwood Anderson
Why this one? I am so drawn to these stories in part because of their portrayal of small-town life but also because of their intense focus on the inner lives of the characters, and the loneliness and alienation they experience.
12. The Count of Monte Cristo/Alexandre Dumas
Why this one? Best adventure story EVER, and always a member of my top 5 reads! After reading this novel the first time, I begged for fencing lessons, although I seriously doubt I called it fencing. (Not surprisingly, there was nowhere in Simcoe, Ontario to learn fencing.) Instead, I made countless swords out of sticks (which my father put an end to the first time I duct-taped a pocket knife onto the end of one), dug tunnels into snowbanks as escape routes, and turned my closet for a few weeks into an impenetrable cell.
13. Of Human Bondage/M. Somerset Maugham
Why this one? Of Human Bondage is perhaps the most intensely personal for me, particularly the seeming contradiction of Philip Carey’s pursuit of an independent and unencumbered life pitted against the desire to be intimately connected with another, ultimately someone who cares nothing for him in return. One of the best books I have ever read.
14. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle/Haruki Murakami
Why this one? Reading this novel was like being trapped in a fantastic dream. You know, the type of one where you know you’re dreaming but you can’t wake up. A surreal and utterly bizarre experience that I didn’t want to end. A man loses his estranged wife’s cat and sets out to find it. This one is all about the journey, and that is what ultimately appeals to me (although the destination is welcome when it comes!)
15. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret/Judy Blume