It was summer semester of my freshman year of college, so the dorm was empty of the usual shouting and jostling. My room was completely dark except for my desk lamp. Like many students, I was hungry, so I was drinking a cup of hot tea to fool my body into thinking it was not hungry. I had the Cowboy Junkies’ Caution Horses on the stereo, and I was hunkered in my desk chair reading the final pages of Dostoyevksy’s Crime and Punishment. I drained my mug, finished the last page, and closed the book. I had finished the book, but the book wasn’t finished with me. It haunted me for days, weeks, years. In fact, I still think about it to this day (many years later).
Some books are like that. They get their claws into you or they seep into your consciousness and begin to define the way that you see the world. Your paradigm has shifted, your perspective has been changed, you can never go back to the way that you used to be.
This summer there was a small trend online of listing the seven (or so) books that changed your life. As far as I can tell this meme came from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who posted in July her seven books that changed the way she sees the world. The topic was picked up by Bobbi Newman who shared her list a couple of days later on her Librarian by Day blog. So, I thought I would do my best to advance the meme by presenting my top seven books that changed the way I see the world and share some of the vote-getters of other bloggers for The Hub.
Let’s start with my list (in no certain order):
Click the picture to go to Goodreads to find out more.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Since I’ve already mentioned this one, it’s a good one to start with. One of the ultimate â€œseriousâ€ books, I had no idea it would be so engaging and engrossing. It is absolutely universal in its scope but painstakingly detailed in its description of Raskolnikov’s life and philosophy. Who knew one crime could reveal so much about the world.
The Catcher in the Rye (Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005) & Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. I’m putting the next two together because I read them back-to-back, they are the same author, and they both had a very similar impact on me. I often have the tendency to respond very strongly to the narrative voice in a book and these are two books that feel like you really know the narrator. I read these as a teenager at a time when there weren’t many authentic teen voices in literature. I was hooked from the first paragraph. I used to buy copies at thrift stores and give them to people.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Teens’ Top Ten, 2009; Best Books for Young Adults, 2009; Popular Paperbacks, 2011) & The Giver by Lois Lowry (Popular Paperbacks, 2010; Lowry was also the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2007). One sparked my interest in the YA genre; the other renewed my faith.
Animal Farm by George Orwell. A book that I describe today as being the closest to perfect that a book can possibly be. I feel about this book the way I hear people describe their â€œsoul mate.â€ Every part of it rings absolutely true for me. â€œAll animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.â€ Brilliant.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Alex Award top ten, 1998; Best Books for Young Adults top ten, 1998). This is a book that grabs you by the lapels and drags you kicking and screaming up a frozen mountainside in the howling wind. It is one of the most intense reading experiences that I’ve ever had. It changed me by making me realize that, among other things, life is pretty easy down here near sea level. This book was a kick in the pants to get out there and do something difficult.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Excellence in Nonfiction Award nominee, 2010). Before reading this book, I didn’t know there was a dilemma for omnivores. I thought very little about the food that I ate. An attitude that feels sort of quaint when looking back.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This one started with an audio version in English class in school. The reader was fantastic and really dramatic about it and had me captivated. Ghostly curses, zombie shipmates, and a haunted old man. What’s not to love? I still read it at least once a year.
What makes this exercise of picking these books so much fun is looking back at the list that you create to see what it says about you. As I look at mine, I realize that I’m an old fuddy-duddy who likes old fuddy-duddy books, so I asked some of the other bloggers here at The Hub to give me some of their picks for books that changed their lives.
So, here is the honorable mention list selected by the bloggers. I’ve summarized their comments about the books or quoted them when they provided it.
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Best Books for Young Adults top ten, 2008, Great Graphic Novels top ten, 2008). A universal story told in a universal visual language.
- Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher (Popular Paperbacks, 1999; Popular Paperbacks, 2010; Crutcher was the Margaret A. Edwards Award winner in 2000). â€œI’ve been reading YA literature almost exclusively ever since… It exemplifies what great YA literature is: a powerful and well-written story that’s truthful and honest with teen appeal.â€
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (Popular Paperbacks, 2010; Lowry was also the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2007). â€œIt made me aware of unjust societiesâ€ not just in the fictional world of the story, â€œbut in our own world too.â€
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Teens’ Top Ten, 2009; Best Books for Young Adults, 2009; Popular Paperbacks, 2011). â€œIt brought me back into the world of YA lit and started me down the path to being a YA librarian.â€
- I Capture the Castle by Doddie Smith
- I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier (Cormier was the Margaret A. Edwards Award winner in 1991)
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (books in the trilogy made Best Books for Young Adults, 1997; Best Books for Young Adults, 1998; Best Books for Young Adults, 2002; Popular Paperbacks, 1999; Outstanding Books for the College Bound)
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: Interesting to see these two right next to each other; they came from the same person.
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (Popular Paperbacks, 2002; Outstanding Books for the College Bound): I’ve seen this one on several lists.
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint ExupÃ©ry
Well, that’s it. Let’s see what everyone else has to say. We want to hear about the books that changed your life.
— Joel Bruns, currently reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and Happenstance Found, Book 1 of The Books of Umber by P.W. Catanese.