Life-Changers and Soul-Crushers: 3 Books I Feel Blessed to Have Read & 3 I Wish I Could Obliterate from My Memory

There are books, and there are good books. There are books that are not so good, but that are good reads. And then there are the books that, when you finish reading them, make you feel emotional, inspired, full of love for language and hope for humanity. These are the books that you can’t forget, the LIFE CHANGERS.

And then, there are bad books. Sure, there are bad books that are still enjoyable, but the books I’m talking about are really bad. So bad, in fact, that when you finish the book, you feel cheated, sullied, and demoralized. You rue the day you ever learned to read, you curse your teachers and even your own eyeballs for enabling you to read something fit only for a bonfire. You can’t forget these books, either; they are the SOUL CRUSHERS.

Of course, opinions vary (and I’m sure you all will have plenty to say after this article), but each of these books affected me and my approach to writing and reading in either a profoundly positive or a profoundly negative way. In order to keep the list in check, I narrowed it down to books written and published in the last 50 years.


Number 3 Life Changer

The Bluest Eye  by Toni Morrison

This book is not easy to read—domestic violence, incest, racism, self-loathing—it breaks your heart on every page. But the language, oh the language, is intricate and beautiful. Each word, even those that describe horrific things, dances off the last. I read this book both in high school and in college, and even as naive as I was, I could sense the importance of the lessons I could learn from both the story and from Morrison's excellent writing. Each time I reached the back cover, I felt amazed by Ms. Morrison’s ability to make beautiful the story of an ugly family.

You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.... And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.

Being a white girl with blue eyes, this book definitely broke into my comfort zone and forced me to look through the eyes of someone who could not see herself in a positive light. The Breedlove family is despicable, horrifyingly desperate, the kind of sight most people would prefer to look away from—and yet Morrison forces the reader to look and look closely. Her writing is gentle and yet brutally honest.

Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel.

The line between colored and nigger was not always clear; subtle and telltale signs threatened to erode it, and the watch had to be constant.

This book made me want to learn to write adeptly about the messy parts of human existence. It made me want to understand my world better, and make myself a better person.

Number 3 Soul Crusher

The Da Vinci Code  by Dan Brown

Many would argue that this is one of the those books that falls under “bad but entertaining.” And maybe it is, but I was handed this book by my college roommate who swore to me that it was one of the best books she’d read. My mother, too, recommended it, as did my Grandpa. Generally, I avoid trendy books until they have been vetted by the literary public, and this book had been out for a while already (it was in paperback by the time I got it), and I was hearing nothing but good things.

So, when spring break came along, I decided to set aside my pile of heady academic titles and enjoy this book. I should have known what I was in for when I finished the first chapter and stereotypical movie-suspense music started up in my head. Duh duh duuuuh! (I remember thinking as I read the book that it was fit only for a B-movie released straight to DVD. Little did I know Mr. Tom Hanks and my adored favorite Audrey Tautou would prostitute themselves in the movie version of this crap-pile.)

“These books can't possibly compete with centuries of established history, especially when that history is endorsed by the ultimate bestseller of all time."

Faukman's eyes went wide. "Don't tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail."
"I was referring to the Bible."

Faukman cringed. "I knew that.”

I was determined to like the book, but I started to get mad at every single cliffhanger chapter ending, each predictable friend-turned-foe, each overly-explained clue, and each twist of the unbelievable love story of the action-hero professor and his sexy French cohort (BARF!). By the time Dr. Robert Langdon hit London, I was downright offended by Dan Brown, and when I finished the last page, I actually chucked the book across my dorm room! Did he hate his readers so much as to produce a book full of the most predictable, most stereotypical, and most redundant collection of cookie-cutter characters and Hallmark-card platitudes ever?! It certainly seemed that way to me.

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books—books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?’

Worst of all, he sullied legitimately interesting historical landmarks, artworks, and holy sites by insinuating their involvement in his oh-so-trite plot...and…people BELIEVED his insinuations. As I read the book, I wondered—does Dan Brown think we are so gullible as to buy (literally and figuratively) this load of shite he was selling us?!?! I guess the answer is, yes, we are and we will.

Number 2 Life Changer

The Namesake  by Jhumpa Lahiri

I read Lahiri’s short story “Nobody’s Business” in college, and as soon as I was finished with it, I read it again.  When Emperor of Maladies came out, I tore through that. So I was so excited when her novel The Namesake appeared in my local bookstore. What I love about Lahiri’s writing is that her tone is unhurried, her syntax is uncomplicated, her characters are un-extraordinary. She doesn’t go out of her way to create over-the-top characters with unbelievable adventures. Her stories have the same sometimes boring, sometimes joyful, sometimes melancholic, sometimes tragic arcs that our real lives have. She does all this while still managing to be engaging and original. She is a writer who I’d love to emulate, yet I know I could never pull off her effortless style.

For being a foreigner Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy — a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity of from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

The descriptions of each character are cupped lovingly in the palms of Lahiri’s gentle prose, and the reader feels no separation between the emotions of the characters on the page and her own self. The premise of the story is straight-forward: a father names his son for a favorite writer and a life-altering tragedy, and the son struggles through a life-long embarrassment of having an unusual name before he learns to appreciate it.

The unusual name is no real burden in itself, but because Gogol is already the child of immigrants, he is especially sensitive to standing out. Balanced against his mother, who tries so hard to retain her connection to her Bengali past that she never fully adjusts to her life in America, Gogol’s wish to assimilate, to be a part of a “normal” American family is authentic and genuinely moving.

Gogol remembers having to do the same thing when he was younger, when his grandparents died...He remembers, back then, being bored by it, annoyed at having to observe a ritual no one else he knew followed, in honor of people he had seen only a few times in his life...Now, sitting together at the kitchen table at six-thirty every evening, his father's chair empty, this meatless meal is the only thing that seems to make sense.

 I was so transported by the story of this family and by the prose that seemed never to have to exert itself, that even as an American-born girl with generic, euro-trash roots, I could feel the ache of homesickness, the alienation, and the desire for assimilation acutely.

Number 2 Soul Crusher

Freedom  by Jonathan Franzen

I pined for this book, and when I finally found the precious time to read this contemporary family epic, I was so excited. I’d heard such good things about it. It won awards. It was bound to be delicious. I’d read the excerpt that was published in the New Yorker, and it seemed so promising—the idyllic yuppification of a Twin Cities suburb and the ordinary family poised on the edge of intrigue. I waited years between reading the excerpt and reading the full novel. I was assured by the prizes, accolades, and frequent appearance on my indie bookstore staff’s choice shelf that is was likely to be an excellent and satisfying read, a sure future classic and prized addition to my overcrowded book shelves. In short, my expectations were high.

This book, too, is a family epic. It follows the demise of a middle class Minnesotan family torn apart by the belief that each of them are destined for a life greater than the one they exist in. The mother pines for the good-for-nothing musician friend of her husband, the husband thinks he can save the world by tricking a rich tycoon into turning one of his eco-disasters into a wildlife protection area, and the son thinks he is destined for some hot chick instead of the neighbor girl who he has been having sex with since he was 12, and who is totally obsessed with him.  Then there is the musician who rejects fame and fortune because he thinks his art is above such pedestrian concerns. Every character is hateable. Only the daughter (who, for some reason, is the only central character whose voice we never hear) has any redeeming qualities. She, at least, lives up to her potential and doesn't yearn for more. Then again, her role in the book seems, thus, pointless. Even the nosy neighbor across the street gets some air time, but not the daughter.

"It’s all circling around the same problem of personal liberties,” Walter said. “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to."

In fact, you hate the characters SO MUCH that their eventual evolutions are wholly unbelievable and completely unsatisfying. By the time they get their acts together—either as teachers, or finally-attentive boyfriends, or as saviors of a local bird population—you don’t even care. You kinda just wish they would die. In fact, the only character who could become lovable is killed. Which I guess is sort of realistic, right? The nice ones always die and the assholes live on?

While not badly written—Franzen has enough skill to avoid insulting my intelligence, thank goodness—this book, like its characters, is full of ambition that ultimately falls flat. You can almost sense his desperation to write a truly moving tale of The American Family, but it fails. Unless, of course, he means to say that American families are hateable and destined for self-induced failure. And if he is, great, but WHY DID IT TAKE SO MANY PAGES TO MAKE THAT POINT?

This book was a profound disappointment and a proof to me that my preference for the tried and true classics is not ill-founded, for if this book is representative of where American literature is headed—please, pretty please, let me off at the next stop.

Number 1 Life Changer

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius  by Dave Eggers

Though not a novel, and so free of needing to fit into a believable fictional package, this book manages recreate on paper the innermost twitches of the self-conscious. Spazzy, neurotic, and downright digressive in places, the way that Dave Eggers retells the years after the loss of both his parents and his subsequent raising of his younger brother is so raw and approachable that you can’t put it down. You want to know how he makes it through. You want to know how he copes with a tragedy and a responsibility of such proportions.

I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.

Unlike the steady prose writing of Morrison and Lahiri, Eggers’ writing is loosey-goosey. The sentences run-on; they use a ridiculous amount of periods, colons, semi-colons, dashes, slashes and other punctuation that makes the writing sometimes feel like you are riding in a carriage over a very bumpy road. At the same time, it seems appropriate. As a reader, I always felt that I had complete access to the narrator’s innermost thoughts and feelings, and that his admitted instability, his franticness, and his neurosis made him all the more reliable.

Because secrets do not increase in value if kept in a gore-ian lockbox, because one's past is either made useful or else mutates and becomes cancerous. We share things for the obvious reasons: it makes us feel un-alone, it spreads the weight over a larger area, it holds the possibility of making our share lighter. And it can work either way — not simply as a pain-relief device, but, in the case of not bad news but good, as a share-the-happy-things-I've-seen/lessons-I've-learned vehicle. Or as a tool for simple connectivity for its own sake, a testing of waters, a stab at engagement with a mass of strangers.

The other thing that I liked about his style was that it was not endorsed by the creative writing establishment I'd been trained in. If I’d taken a story like his to one of my workshops, it would have been red-lined into oblivion. His writing seemed free, unencumbered, honest—a style that I fell into naturally myself and that I had learned to suppress. I read his book heartened to know that there was a place for that kind of writing.

Number 1 Soul Crusher

Under the Dome  by Stephen King

This the first and only Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I had always stayed away from his books and the movies made from his books because I don’t really like horror, senseless violence, and bizarre phenomena. Then I married. My husband introduced me to (forced me to watch/read) the weirdo world of Mr. King. So I watched a few flicks, and some were, while disturbing, pretty good. My hubs was already half-way through Under the Dome when he swore to me that it was SO good that I just had to read it. As with food, I do try to read things outside my comfort zone because you never know what might become your new favorite, so I dived in.

It started out well, though gruesome. I could even laugh at the lighthearted way in which the townspeople and animals were mercilessly killed off in the early part of the book. Check out this quotation from page 4:

The man stopped. The chuck realized he had been spotted. To his right and just ahead was a fallen birch. He would hide under there, wait for the man to go by, then investigate for any tasty—

The chuck got that far in his thoughts—and another three waddling steps—although he had been cut in two. Then he fell apart on the edge of the road. Blood squirted and pumped; guts tumbled into the dirt; his rear legs kicked rapidly twice, then stopped.

His last thought before the darkness that comes to us all, chucks and humans alike: What happened?

I stayed loyal even as the story of the small Maine village cutoff from the world by a mysterious and huge invisible dome became even more and more horrific because it was still an enjoyable read. The villains were villainous and the heroes were heroic. There were henchmen and martyrs, near-misses and unfortunate events. That is to say, it was solid fiction writing. I can’t say I would have chosen a book where I had to endure description after description of horrific deaths and dismemberment, but I assumed Stephen King had a point and all this was definitely going somewhere interesting and worth waiting for.

And then….

SPOILER ALERT!!: STOP HERE IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT OR IF YOU WISH TO WATCH THE TV VERSION WITHOUT ME RUINING IT

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

Ok, you are still here, so you must be ok with knowing the ending….

ALIENS? WTF? REALLY? Really REALLY? I was pissed. Super pissed. Mega-super pissed. All this great human drama was perpetuated by adolescent aliens? I’m sure it was some attempt at the whole magnifying glass-and-the-ant metaphor that has been completely played out already, but it totally ruined it for me. (Simpsons did it! They did the Dome thing, too.)

To make matters worse, the story is resolved when the hard-nosed reporter (a stereotypical female protagonist if ever I saw one) manages to connect with the alien-children and basically begs them to lay off this game by tapping into some emotional center where she re-lives childhood trauma. Oh gag me. Blech. Barf. I would have taken government experiment over this ending.

Maybe if I’d been a King-connoisseur, I might have been prepared for the way he throws in wack-a-do causes for the strife of his human characters.  (What’s that one story—the people on the plane and the time-eating monsters? "The Langoliers?" Yeah, that shit was weird too.) However, as a reader of classic novels and nonfiction, I was not. 

Unlike Dan Brown, King can write…but the plot twist upon which this big, complicated, human drama that was unfolding—wasn’t human at all. It felt like such a cop-out to suddenly squeeze in the paranormal at the end and wrap the whole thing up with a she-asked-the-aliens-nicely-to-cut-it-out-and-they-did moment.

How about you?

What books made your spirit sour and your pen twitch? And what books made you wish you'd never been born?

Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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Comments

Stephanie Reed's picture
Stephanie Reed April 26, 2013 - 12:26pm

Number 1 Soul Crusher, I said the same exact thing.  Word for word.  WTF indeed. 

monkeywright's picture
monkeywright from Los Angeles is reading The Narrows by m. craig April 26, 2013 - 12:58pm

The hardest part about Under the Dome is hitting that big reveal, slowly sliding the fifty pound, eight-inch-tall stack of bound paper away from you, and realizing you can't get those hours back.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on April 26, 2013 - 12:59pm

'Under the Dome' is actually one of King's better efforts. I've read a good two-thirds of everything he's ever written, and 'Under the Dome' beats the hell out of 'Firestarter' or 'The Dead Zone'. I think that ultimately, despite the garbage ending, it's supposed to be about how people react to situations that are out of their control. It is almost certainly a reaction to the xenophobia and rise in blind conservatism in the wake of 9/11, which still seems a valid subject to me, even though it's been sort of beaten into the ground. I'll not say it's a great novel, but I wouldn't really call it a soulcrusher either. Almost anything written by Koontz or Laymon would probably fall into that category though.

 

There are much better horror writers working these days than King; he is just the most well-known. It sounds like psychological horror would be more up your alley. Check out (yes, I know it's a bit of an obligatory selection) 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Jackson or 'The Red Tree' by Caitlin Kiernan Neither features any blood-and-guts sort of horror, and both are interesting in a character-driven sort of way. I suspect that each owes a debt to 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on April 26, 2013 - 1:01pm

'Under the Dome' is actually one of King's better efforts. I've read a good two-thirds of everything he's ever written, and 'Under the Dome' beats the hell out of 'Firestarter' or 'The Dead Zone'. I think that ultimately, despite the garbage ending, it's supposed to be about how people react to situations that are out of their control. It is almost certainly a reaction to the xenophobia and rise in blind conservatism in the wake of 9/11, which still seems a valid subject to me, even though it's been sort of beaten into the ground. I'll not say it's a great novel, but I wouldn't really call it a soulcrusher either. Almost anything written by Koontz or Laymon would probably fall into that category though.

 

There are much better horror writers working these days than King; he is just the most well-known. It sounds like psychological horror would be more up your alley. Check out (yes, I know it's a bit of an obligatory selection) 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Jackson or 'The Red Tree' by Caitlin Kiernan Neither features any blood-and-guts sort of horror, and both are interesting in a character-driven sort of way. I suspect that each owes a debt to 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on April 26, 2013 - 1:01pm

'Under the Dome' is actually one of King's better efforts. I've read a good two-thirds of everything he's ever written, and 'Under the Dome' beats the hell out of 'Firestarter' or 'The Dead Zone'. I think that ultimately, despite the garbage ending, it's supposed to be about how people react to situations that are out of their control. It is almost certainly a reaction to the xenophobia and rise in blind conservatism in the wake of 9/11, which still seems a valid subject to me, even though it's been sort of beaten into the ground. I'll not say it's a great novel, but I wouldn't really call it a soulcrusher either. Almost anything written by Koontz or Laymon would probably fall into that category though.

 

There are much better horror writers working these days than King; he is just the most well-known. It sounds like psychological horror would be more up your alley. Check out (yes, I know it's a bit of an obligatory selection) 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Jackson or 'The Red Tree' by Caitlin Kiernan Neither features any blood-and-guts sort of horror, and both are interesting in a character-driven sort of way. I suspect that each owes a debt to 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Zackery Olson's picture
Zackery Olson from Rockford, IL is reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on April 26, 2013 - 1:03pm

'Under the Dome' is actually one of King's better efforts. I've read a good two-thirds of everything he's ever written, and 'Under the Dome' beats the hell out of 'Firestarter' or 'The Dead Zone'. I think that ultimately, despite the garbage ending, it's supposed to be about how people react to situations that are out of their control. It is almost certainly a reaction to the xenophobia and rise in blind conservatism in the wake of 9/11, which still seems a valid subject to me, even though it's been sort of beaten into the ground. I'll not say it's a great novel, but I wouldn't really call it a soulcrusher either. Almost anything written by Koontz or Laymon would probably fall into that category though.

 

There are much better horror writers working these days than King; he is just the most well-known. It sounds like psychological horror would be more up your alley. Check out (yes, I know it's a bit of an obligatory selection) 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Jackson or 'The Red Tree' by Caitlin Kiernan Neither features any blood-and-guts sort of horror, and both are interesting in a character-driven sort of way. I suspect that each owes a debt to 'The Turn of the Screw'.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On April 26, 2013 - 1:18pm

Though it's far from a soul-crusher, Infinite Jest was nonetheless a disappointment to me. Repetative, disjointed, and BLOATED beyond need, it's best aspects (the Entertainment video that kills its viewers) are just glossed upon and never reach the level of profundity implied. Two hundred pages and countless footnotes in, and I felt like I was drowning. I'm a completist as well, so I read all 1,027 pages, including every footnote, and by the end didn't feel myself transformed or altered in any way. Wallace was a damn good, intelligent, witty writer for sure, and I'm sad not only that he's gone, but also how he went, but I've gotten far more from his essays than his fiction.

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is still the novel (along with Moby Dick) that I felt utterly transported by and made to feel like gnat shit as a writer by comparisson. No other prose or evocation of landscape has ever gripped me or shaken me to the core like that since. Judge Holden is otherwordly as an antagonist (perhaps literally), and the motley crew that surrounds him are the pale imitators of humanity in the way I feel that most all other novels are compared to this one.

I didn't feel as let down by The DaVinci Code. It was crap for sure (though I wouldn't mind a piece of his royalties), but I read it over two days while suffering a nasty cold, and it served its function as salve. The preposterousness of it made me laugh when normally I wouldn't have.

Gavin's picture
Gavin from Boston, MA is reading This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald April 26, 2013 - 1:12pm

I hope when I grow up I can write soul crusher books like Dan Brown that make me $100M.  Then I might be able to afford a few more Lit Reactor courses to compete with the creative writing majors out there.

http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/authors/dan-brown-n...

Erik Keller's picture
Erik Keller from Charlottesville, Va is reading Foucault's Pendulum April 26, 2013 - 1:20pm

Have you read Foucault's Pendulum by Eco? That is a great substitute for The DaVinci Code. Also for what its worth I lost interest in King in my teens, mainly due to the style. I'm not a big horror fan, but I did like the bigger themes his stories touched on.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones April 26, 2013 - 1:32pm

Life changer: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. Flat out made me want to be a writer.

Soul crusher: Life of Pi. Obvious and sleep inducing, it also made say to myself: "Self, if a novel sucks, it's okay to not finish it.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer April 26, 2013 - 2:05pm

I read the illustrated version of The DiVinci Code, which made it a bit more fascinating. The art was actually there in front of me on the page. The writing was atrocious, but the pictures were great, and I did think the concept was fun and interesting.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks April 26, 2013 - 2:13pm

I agreed with you point-by-point on the Eggers selection. I love the free, unencumbered style, and I love that you do, too -- we're both insatiable grammar nazis, and Eggers is too. I think that style really comes from a love of the mechanics of writing, and being able to play around with them.

That said, I absolutely disagree with pretty much every comment made about the King selection. I never took it to be ants-and-glass; I thought of it as God. King is very heavy-handed when it comes to the religious influence on his stories and I read Under the Dome while living in a hotel after halfway burning my house down.

The thought of God as a group of people, immature, juvenile, but ultimately loving is what I got from the novel. The hivemind of destruction and disease and death being turned over by a single redeeming quality. That God, in his infinite wisdom, might make us suffer just so he can watch us suffer -- and when confronted with that pain, when forced to actually revel in the agony he's created, he gives it up.

It was a metaphor for humanity and God, a send-up of Job and the best and worst characteristics of society and religion, and a sufficient answer to why God causes pain. The violence and aching wasn't senseless because it was senseless. King gave us the reason -- the pain we feel is senseless, and that's the answer to why God hurts us.

I fucking loved it. It was the first King novel I seriously read (I read Green Mile and Misery just to pass time, but I read UtD because it captured me) and it was one of the books that made me want to write.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes April 26, 2013 - 5:14pm

I sort of liked Freedom, mainly because of the musician character that has a fling with Walt's wife. But then again I'm an easy mark for that sort of anti-hero. It's the same way I can't wait to see Inside Llewyn Davis -- the Coen's latest effort that will be playing at Canne next month. I watched the trailer on youtube and I was gone.

My life changers, the ones that really crystalized my idea of "WRITER-hood" were "This  Side of Paradise" by who else but F. Scott. F. --  the zeitgeist king,  with "The Great Gatsby" making a huge comeback due to the movie -- which I  also yearn to see because it looks like somebody really  nailed the naughty spirit of the thing. "Of Time and the River" too, by Thomas Wolfe" looms large in my imagination.

King, I never got into. Maybe it's because I'm from Maine too and so his rural schtick was tiresome to me, but he never rated comparison with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe or Lovecraft. His characters never got to me. I thought "Shawshank Redemption" was a good movie, that's about all the credit I can give him.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep April 27, 2013 - 6:27am

I have one book that falls into both categories: Huckleberry Finn. The first two times I read it, it was a soul crusher. The third time was inexplicably life altering. And now, i love it. 

Pearl Griffin_2's picture
Pearl Griffin_2 from Portland, Oregon is reading Les Miserables April 29, 2013 - 4:18pm

I have a great many life-changers, but since we're talking in the last 50 years, the two that come to mind are The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. The Sparrow is a sci-fi work of art--brilliant and tragic--that deals with the risks and ramifications of colonization. The flashback narrative style is amazing as well. Rushdie's magical realism could not be more engrossing in The Enchantress of Florence, where stories within stories unfold--stories where love and war and heroes and dreams and imagination come to life. I can only wish that I will ever handle our language as masterfully as these two. 

I don't know about soul-crushing, but Run by Ann Patchett was a huge disappointment that made me want to get my book done just to get something better out there. It was decent until the end when, right as the characters, who are fairly likeable, are ripe to experience grief and change, Patchett skips five years into the future to tell us what happened instead of showing it. Because of this horrible event that the entire plot is based on, each character undergoes some kind of change, but Patchett skips the good stuff and pretty much takes a chapter to say "but don't worry they lived happily ever after." Cop out.

FupDuck's picture
FupDuck from Beavercreek, OH is reading American on Purpose April 30, 2013 - 10:01am

When I read The Da Vinci Code, I was a relative novice in novel reading. Prior to that book, I had read maybe 5 novels for pleasure in my lifetime. I enjoy Dan Brown's novel when I first read it. "Wow, it reads just like a movie that I see in those theater places!" Action packed, easy to read, no big words, super short chapters...  An attention-challenged, new reader's wet dream.  I read a few more books and then I decided to read some of Dan Brown's previous novels. This is when I discovered my Soul-Crusher, Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. This was the previous Robert Langdon story.  Yes, I read them out of order. Yes, I was a mindless sheep reading the featured book at the airport bookstore. Going back and reading Angels & Demons made me discover something that crushed my soul...  Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code ARE THE EXACT SAME BOOK!!! The only thing that changed was the location and what they were looking for.  Otherwise, it was the exact same plot: Important man dies, Robert's skills are key in solving his murder, Robert falls for dead guy's daughter, someone tries to kill them, lots of chase scenes, some impossible ending where humanity is saves and no one will get to know it. Oh, spoiler alert back there... If I ever see Dan Brown at a book signing, I may just punch him in the jaw and yell, "You know what you did..." Watch for me on your local news.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 1, 2013 - 11:05pm

I'm not a Dan Brown fan, but I put him at kind of neat. 'Soul crushing' seems kind of harsh.

jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners May 8, 2013 - 9:49am

My #1 life changer was The Great Gatsby. I read it a hundred-ish years ago in high school and it was the first time I felt color and my brain broke open a little and I've never read or seen anything quite the same. My #2 is The Bluest Eye and it would probably be my #1 but TGG got there first.

I hate Of Mice and Men. You know, I really haven't had literary experiences since high school that were as powerful as the ones IN high school. I'm sure that means I have horribly stunted literary or intellectual growth. Huh.

But if it's just amazing books we were talking about, I have lists upon lists. I try not to remember the crap, because there is only so much room in my brain.

Treelab's picture
Treelab September 11, 2016 - 4:10pm

The Emperor of All Maladies is a different book. I think the one you meant is The Interpreter of Maladies.