I recently reread Lord of the Flies and on the back of my copy was a quote by Stephen King saying how it was "the book that changed his life". Mine is probably I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb; I don't know that it has changed my life, but it has forever changed the way I read and write. What are some books that haven't necessarily changed your life, but have definitely changed the way you write or look at other works of fiction?
American Psycho. I've never read a book more infectious.
And I'd say maybe Rules Of Attraction.
But I don't want to narrow it down, every book I read, I take something away from it for it to change me in some way. That is what is great about books.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
@jacks_username Yes! I just reread American Psycho too. I absolutely loved it and took so much more from it than when I read it the first time.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It made me want to write.
There are three: Fight Club, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Horns by Joe Hill.
Oddly a summer drunk at 17 and The Catcher in the Rye convinced me to go to college. Bukowski taught me that all people are shit. Burroughs taught me to not give a fuck. Chuck and Etgar Keret taught me how to write.
Nothing specific really.
Choke by Palahniuk. It was the book that got me back into fiction
Bleed Into Me by Stephen Graham Jones. It was the book that compelled me to start writing more than just screenplays.
The Catcher in the Rye convinced me to go to college.
Hahahaha. Dude...me too.
The Catcher in the Rye convinced me to go to college.
Hahahaha. Dude...me too.
Slaughter house five
If a book doesn't change my life, I don't read it.
Everything I read has to affect me in some way but to narrow it down it would be between JRJ's Angeldust Apocalypse or Montana 1948 by Larry Watson.
In a general sense, yeah, the list is endless. For different reasons. I guess you could probablylook at the list of my top ten favorite books as the list of books that changed my life as well.
I want to say Franny and Zooey is top of that list. The Things They Carried, Revolutionary Road, The Great Gatsby, Hearts in Atlantis. Those all make the list.
I own I Know This Much is True and I really enjoyed it. There are bits of it that are still etched in my mind even after at least five years have passed since I've read it, so in that way, it has probably changed me.
The Goosebumps books were the first to change my life. 1 - Because it was the first thing I cared about reading on a regular basis. 2 - I had never been exposed to anything that was part of the horror genre and after those books I made it a point to watch everything I could from old silent movies to modern slasher films. 3 - It was the first time I had ever been exposed to religious silliness when someone accused my mother of exposing me to the occult for letting me read them. So they also taught me to lose all respect for evangelical crazies.
The first time I read "Metamorphosis" I was completely blown away. The first line stunned me.
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
It's so simple, concise, complete. Premise delivered, and it's the most absurd premise I'd ever seen, but Kafka never thought twice about it and just dove in without apology. I was moved by the bravery of the prose and the simplicity of the statement.
Hells Angels is Hunter's best book, it's fair to say that one changed my life.
Atlas Shrugged held a prominent place in my heart for many years, and even now that I disagree with most everything there, the ideas had a big impact.
Island is Huxley's Utopian novel, the opposite of Brave New World. After I finished it I spent an hour trying to explain it to people at the terminals of Miami International.
But the idea that your life has been changed by every book you've ever read, then I dare say that you take your reading a little too seriously or you are a little too gullible/malleable. I've read every Harry Turtledove book, most of them weren't very good. None of them changed my life.
I read Chronic City by Jonathan Letham. It disappointed me, it wasn't even a good New York book. Heyday by Kurt Anderson was a great book about 19th century New York City, but the plot was terrible and by the time they left New York I lost interest. Neither of these books changed my life.
On the other hand often books that I read purely for fun, say, the PSI Man series by Peter David or Man in the High Castle by Phillip Dick, that did end up having plenty of personal utility.
It seems to me that my life was not particularly changed by I am America and So Can You.
In Watermwlon Sugar. ~ Richard Brautigan
The Unbearable Lightness of Being. ~. Milan Kundera
The Stranger ~. Albert Camus
Three that changed my life at different times along the way.
As a big fan of Peter Straub, I have to say his entire body of work changed my life. I follow him on Twit and last year at the World Horror Convention he tweeted that he was a little chapped about all the people walking up to him to tell him Shadowland changed their lives. Though one of my favorite novels, I'd have to say his Floating Dragon novel really changed my life because it showed me how to marry science-fiction and the supernatural together in such a way that the blend is practically seemless.
I'd like to think he wouldn't be chapped about me telling him that. I think he would be rather pleased with himself.
@ Nick Metamorphosis, as well
My books are pre addiction, tortured youth
In the throws of addiction and recovery.
So many other authors and books shaped who I am today. They were solace and companionship through lonely desperate times.
It is very hard to choose one or even two, but if I had to, I would say it was either Solopsism or Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins, whichever I stumbled on first and See A Grown Man Cry/Now Watch Him Die. Rollins punched me in the face, threw me in the dirt, kicked me when I was down, and showed me a whole new way of reading and writing...and I found it at a time in my life where I really needed a literary ass kicking.
sweet description, Sparrow. Makes me want to read Rollins again...
Here's the books that have shaped my tastes and my errthing.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Hound of the Baskervilles - Grade 3
Lucy Maud Montgomery - The Blue Castle -Grade 4
Judy Blume -Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret - Grade 5
Arthur Miller - Death of a Salesman - Grade 8
Farley Mowat -Woman in the Mists, the Story of Diane Fossey - Grade 9
Sidney Biddle Barrows -The Mayflower Madame -Grade 10
Anne Rice as A.N. Roquelare -Sleeping Beauty Series - Grade 11
Dante Alighieri- Dante's Inferno (with etchings by Gustav Dore)
Margaret Atwood - The Edible Woman
Lidia Yuknavitch - the Chronology of Water
So, basically, folklore/mystery, human nature, honesty, disllusionment and betrayal, integrity, sex, sex, the taxonomy of evil (or interpretations of), feminism pre-feminist movement and acceptance/re-defining of self.
I've read a lot. These ones stand out for where they fell into my life and what I did with what they gave me.
Chuck Palahniuk made me say, "Holy shit, you can write that stuff down?"
Amy Hempel made me think, "Holy shit, words can do that?"
Hunter S. Thompson feel, "Holy shit, lies can be truer than truth?"
Vonnegut made me write.
howie, your post is the man version of the lady version I wrote. Oy.
I agree about Chronology Of Water, Drea. I had similar ass-kicked feelings by the end of that ride, too. And reading Lidia's short stories in Reel To Real, she reminds me a bit of Rollins. As far as Sleeping Beauty...I never got past the first half of the first book. I may have to pick those up again.
The Catcher in the Rye. Not my all-time favourite book, but it was the first book where I remember thinking, "Wow, I actually enjoy reading." It was significant book for me. And I haven't stopped reading since.
Revolutionary Road and Where I'm Calling From top the list, but there have been so many.
Fight Club impacted me and changed the way I think about many things.
Lots of Bukowski's poems, mostly from 80s and 90s.
On The Road, Less Than Zero, White Noise and Requiem For A Dream all changed my relationship with the world as well.
@Sparrow - Real to Reel is so visceral. Camera Obscura is one of my favorites - writing like that kicks the notion of all women author's work as "chick lit" (retch) right in the teeth.
OK, possibly a bit obvious, but for me it was Fight Club. I pretty much learned to read in prison. I could sort of read before, but not well. I couldn't write, and had never picked up a book. There was a guy who volunteered in library, where I was sent because I was the youngest and got in trouble a lot. I was just a kid, but turning 18, they sent me to GP, the post brutal place I've ever been.
Aclak, the guy in the library helped me, I read everything as if it was mind food. I read Jackie Collins to Stephen King. Then I happened on Fight Club and my axis shifted. I wasn't reading about bullshit clowns and middle class fucking. This was the disaffected, the broken and proud to be on the 'B-side' of life. Words that cut, but not an engineered and precise cut, like a razor. It cut like broken glass. I didn't smoke so could save money for batteries so I could read though the night. As soon as I finished I read it again. It felt like there was electricity through my fingers. I wasn't reading. So Fight Club for me. It wasn't just words of a tale, but the unfolding chaos, anger and pointlessness of just about everything. You know, that moment when you realize, you aint the only fuck up.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison made me realize that there were layers to life that you couldn't separate from one another, and that it was okay sometimes.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce taught me that inner turmoil was a badge of honor, not a symptom of disease. Both the book and the teacher who told me to read it helped me get out of an abusive relationship.
Siddartha by Hermann Hesse (cliche, I know) made me understand that I didn't have to control everything and that I could find God wherever I wanted him. It shook me of my eating disorder and I found God in sex, despite my self-image. Surprise, surprise.
Lord of the Flies made me love complex writing, but I liked to write before I read it. I still can't remember what started my love of writing.
Donald Duck and the Magic Stick, because it was the first book I remember reading.
Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great, because it was giving it back to the person who'd lent it to me that clued me in that most people didn't attack reading quite the way that I did.
The Diary of Anne Frank, because it was the first "real" nonfiction I read, and the first time I realized that there would always be people who doubt my ability to understand.
Catcher In The Rye, because it was the first time I genuinely identified with a character and the first time I realized that reading can be as much an act of defiance as anything else.
Das Energi, because it made sense in ways that nothing else did before or has since.
Less Than Zero, because it made it okay to love a book even if the characters were awful people.
Generation X, because it helped me realize what different things books could really be.
Shopgirl, because it helped me realize just how much you can do with very little.
The Sexual State of the Union, because it convinced me that I wasn't wrong for thinking about sex the way I did, and it was okay to think about it beyond just getting my rocks off.
I know there are others, but those really are the ones that stand out the most.
In a roughly chronological order...
Comet In Moominland - Tove Jansson - Began my love affair with books.
Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece - Jan Pinsent and Jay Parker - Started my fascination with the classical world and, with its illustrations, probably also started my obsession with modern art.
Masquerade - Kit Williams - Made me stop just seeing art and really start looking at it.
The Owl Service - Alan Garner - The first genuinely weird book I read, and I never looked back. Read it again recently and realised just how strange it is for a children's book.
V For Vendetta - Alan Moore & David Lloyd - Made me sit up and take notice of comic books/graphic novels and realise they weren't just about the spandex.
Illuminatus! - Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea - Just blew my 13 year old mind. It then took me about another ten years to the realise it was one great glorious piss-take.
A Boys Own Story - Edmund White - made me think "Aaaaaah so that's why I've been feeling so out of step!"
Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs - Another mind blower - turned my view of what literature could be and what it could do upside down.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig - taught me to chill out and enjoy the doubt.
@Howard Agreed on Zen. That book, combined with Siddartha, made me fully realize the limits of being human when it comes to controlling your surroundings. And, digging deeper, Zen gave me a sense of the "outer limits" of being human, or the spiritual notion of philosophy. Truly changed the way I looked at being human.
@Courtney Ach I should have included Siddatha as well. Almost put Bach's Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Casteneda's Teachings of Don Juan in there, but thought I'd probably given enough indications that I'm a mad old hippy wihout goiing totally overboard.
Rules of Attraction - For style
Fight Club - Style
I, The Jury - Hardboiled crime fiction
Carrie - How well a first book can be written
The Exorcist - How words can terrify a person
A Long Way Down - For storytelling
There are more, but those are the top six I came up with off the top of my head.
The Exorcist is a work of brilliance. I've read/watched horror for most of my life so it jsut doesn't "get" to me. The Exorcist combined the rational with the supernatural so well it had me doubting my own ideas about what was real, and making me jump at construction noises while reading in broad daylight.
^The Exorcist novel was damn good - so many hints and hidden possibilities, much deeper than the movie. I don't watch or read much horror because it already doesn't get to me - never did, really. I didn't find the book all that scary, but it was fascinating nonetheless.
My most life-changing book? For better or worse, (probably cheating on this one) The Holy Bible.
#1 all the way for me, as well.
I had the same reaction to "The Metamorphosis."
I hate to choose something so cliché, but when I read The Great Gatsby and "Winter Dreams," I applied the theme I perceived in both of dreams unattainable by and ultimately unworthy of the dreamer to everything in my life for weeks. The Great Gatsby made me see what books could be.
Lord of the Flies illustrated something I had always expected about humanity but had never been able to articulate.
Harry Potter made me read voraciously. I compare the series to marijuana, calling it my "Gateway Drug": it led me to stronger stuff.
"Drift" by Morris Markey showed me that literature and journalism could be inseparably intertwined.
"Hills like White Elephants" taught me to kill my darlings.
Fahrenheit 451 taught me to leave my darlings the hell alone.
Hiroshima by John Hersey made me a killer all over again.
I think that everything I've read has changed my life in that everything I've read has influenced me: if you don't come away with biggies like those from Lord of the Flies or The Great Gatsby, you come away with little tidbits of insight into writing. This you should do. This you should avoid. The triumphs and the missteps each provide some modicum of understanding.
This is going to sound awful, but for me, it was Heaven by VC Andrews.
As a child, I read every chapter book I could get my hands on. These were mostly Babysitter's Club and Goosebumps. I wasn't much into television when I was little, and I really didn't like spending time with my family, so I would carry stacks of my kid books into my room and read for hours.
One weekend, I went to stay with my aunt one city over. I was appalled by the lack of books in the kid rooms! There was nothing! I scoured the house for something to read, and I found a book that was monstrous in size compared to my teeny tiny middle-grade reading. It was Heaven by VC Andrews. I had never seen a book so huge, at the time. My parents weren't big readers, and the only books I got to see were in my fourth grade classroom, the elementary school library, and whatever I could get my hands on through the scholastic's book fair. So I carried Heaven into the room I was supposed to be sleeping in and got to reading.
I remember this book because it was the first book I ever read with sex in it, even though the main character didn't seem to enjoy it much. I also remember it because it made me cry. I had never cried over a fictional character before, and the book really had me crying. I didn't know books could make you do that -- feel those kinds of things. From there, I only sought out "grown up" books. I devoured my aunt's small collection of VC Andrews stuff. I worked my way through her stacks of Dean Koontz novels. We went to stay with my godmother in Reno for a summer, and the kids she lived with were bullies, so I hid from them in my godmom's bedroom and read through all her books, too. but my first "grown up" book was Heaven, so no matter how bad the book might be today, my nine year old self was transformed by reading it back then.
I also read Heaven and I cried when I read the letter at the end detailing her death. It upset me so much that I tossed it in the floor in anger.
The book that changed my life would have to be Inside Peyton Place by Emily Toth. It's the biography of Peyton Place author Grace Metalious and her rise and fall during her literary career. She was poor, dirt poor and barely able to buy food and gas, had to walk miles for clean water, and was in debt to most everyone who gave her credit. Then, she wrote Peyton Place and everything changed. She became an overnight sensation, her husband and children began to be ridiculed, her life had became what she wrote about. The world thought she wrote dirty and called her names, but the money rolled in. The town hated her and wanted to run her out, but she stayed through it all. Her husband left, she remarried a DJ, then left him and returned to her ex. Then she began to research how one character in her novel would die from drinking himself to death-a fate destined for the thirty-nine year old mom of three. I have read it so many times that I lost count. Why? Because it's message is simple and pure-as Grace stated in one of her novels and as she told her final lover when she signed over all her assets to him-be careful what you wish for you might just get it.
Grace wanted to be rich and famous and have it all, then when she did she was miserable.
Last exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. The story "The Queen Is Dead" has such a desperate and confused emotional conflict in it. The whole book is written so raw. Selby proved that the only limitations in literature are in your head.