Bunny (immecrazyhead) wrote in image_of_god,

Life-changing books

This week's prompt comes courtesy of my new friend, ldwheeler, who writes in his journal:

Writing that Madeleine L'Engle post a couple days ago sparked my curiosity. I'd be interested in hearing from the friends-list (or some sizable portion thereof) as well as any kind visitors/lurkers the books that have permeated your lives, that stay with you on some gut-level, or at the very least you just found yourself uttering "Wow" over and over when you finished 'em. Name as many as you like (though you might want to keep it under 20, heh), and feel free to say something about 'em. (You certainly needn't wax as prolix as I do below.) I may learn a little bit about some of you; at the very least, I'll get some learned recommendations of stuff to add to the Read-This-Someday stack before it topples over and claims my life.

I'll start. These aren't in a particular order, though pretty close.

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Satisfying on so many levels, from spiritual treatise to comedy-of-manners to murder mystery. Dostoevsky managed to write a book that encompassed all the major themes of his previous books. And then he died.

2. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. If I have to explain, you probably won't understand. If you understand, then I don't have to explain. Even when the writing is stilted, it remains evocative in its portrayal of the inherent power of love, courage, wisdom and integrity ... and of how the small and overlooked may prove crucial at the end of the day. And despite what some critics say, it's not really all that simplistic when you look harder.

3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. No idea why this one resonates so much deeper than other Dickens. Maybe it's the obvious heart that went into it; Dickens was on record as saying it's his favorite among his own works. (Of the many film versions, the old one with W.C. Fields as Micawber remains the best if not the absolute truest to the book.)

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. See my last post.

5. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. My introduction to Vonnegut and how he thinks. While we're on different wavelengths when it comes to, say, faith, I find quite a lot of his worldview mirrored in mine.

6. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. My first encounter with truly humanistic (in the best sense of the term) science fiction, or so I thought at the time. (I guess I didn't realize at the time that #4, #5 and #18 on this list, all of which I had read at this point, were SF. Plus I had probably read Wells' The Time Machine by this point. Inspired my second-ever filk song. (Second-ever of consequence, rather, meaning that I still have it in my filk-book.)

7. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. An able introduction not just to Christianity but to the way Lewis thinks. While his arguments aren't necessarily as steel-tight as he may have thought (or that plenty of adherents seem to insist) -- I agree with him, but can see holes in the arguments -- it's still some pretty solid thinking.

8. The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton. The enemy of belief? Not disbelief, but apathy -- as learned by our hapless duelers who learn they have more in common than they do with most others. And while it's clear which side Chesterton's on, he's very fair to his atheist character, in ways making him more sympathetic.

9. Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis. This is the one where I set it down and just said "Wow." Over and over.

10. The Star Dancers by Spider and Jeanne Robinson. The first Spider I'd read, it managed to strike me on a visceral level even though I'm completely indifferent to dance as an art form. Some very, very vivid characters.

11. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. I've got to reread this story of the whiskey priest sometime soon.

12. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Yes, graphic novels count. And this one revealed the possibilities of the form. As well as being a pretty amazing story, with elements of science fiction, psychological-thriller, philosophical treatise, crime drama, etc. I dread the impending film even while hoping that the filmmakers will pull off a Narnia/LOTR and actually get it right.

13. The complete Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists. Virtually anything Gaiman does is worthwhile. The story of Dream of the Endless and his siblings and the lives they touch -- which is to say, all humanity, past, present, real and unreal -- is astounding in the way it synthesizes myth, literature, history and pop-culture while crafting a new narrative of its own.

14. Christine by Stephen King. The one with the demon car? What's this doing here? Chiefly, it's the book that exposed any lingering snobbery I had for what it was: snobbery. When I was younger, I had a mild case of the viewpoint that I've since come to disdain in others -- the idea that if something is widely popular, it can't be any good, and thus the bestseller list is full of hacks, the prolific King being Hack #1. Then I risked smashing my prejudices by reading some King -- this stray novel my mom had lying around her house -- and it was indeed smashed. I realized King is a modern master of crafting mood, and I'm not just talking suspense and tension: Christine is as much about the unsettled, uncertain vista of late adolescence as it is the evil vintage Fury. That said, an evil vintage Fury is pretty cool.

15. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Much has been said about this book, about the instructions of an elder demon to a novice about how to best lead his charge astray -- and how the most effective route to spiritual destruction is through the little things, the petty annoyances. But I should also add: At times, it's a very, very funny book. Partly due to the stuffy, officious tone of Screwtape, as in the book Hell is run as an uber-bureaucracy, and I can't help but think Lewis may have based him on a few Oxford officials.

16. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Yep, more Lewis. A treatise on selfishness and forgiveness, disguised as a walk through Purgatory.

17. The complete output of Philip Yancey. Some of the most intelligent and thoughtful of modern popular Christian writing.

18. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The story of a mentally disabled man whose intelligence is elevated via artificial means. It is left open-ended as far as whether what was done to him was ultimately bad or good.

19. The Crosswicks Journal memoirs by Madeleine L'Engle. I referenced these in the L'Engle post.

20. Finally a shout-out to Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, the funniest book on punctuation anybody will likely ever write.

A few of my favorite authors aren't represented here -- Robert Sawyer, Orson Scott Card (sometimes), Harry Turtledove, etc. -- not because of any disregard for them, but because I was just naming the creme de la creme in my psyche and soul, so to speak. And I did not mention the Bible, because to me it's far more than a "book," being sacred writings that serve as an avenue for the voice of God -- I didn't want to set it at the same level of other books, worthy as these books are. (Plus, since it's an anthology, it would eat up a number of entries -- Job, Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of John are essential literature whatever one's beliefs.

Yeeks, I went on far too long. (Feel free to be much, much shorter.) Your turn!


So what about you? What books have changed your life? I'm interested to know as well--might even make some additions to my reading list =)
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First and foremost I have to say the Bible is well...THE book. Even though it's only now that I'm reading all the way through it. Doing so has made me realize how many of my beliefs came from it without me even realizing it.

And I have to ditto Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. But really anything by Lewis is thought provoking.

Orwell's "Animal Farm" is also on my list as I read it pretty young--it was my first taste of something with political or sociological meaning. That somehow followed suit with "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck.

1984 is what I'm currently reading. After reading "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman (which is also on my list) I had to. Next I'm going to read "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley.

As I said L'engle is also on my list, although I would have to say that the latter books in the Time series influenced me just as much, or more, than the first (in particular, "A Swiftly Tilting Planet").

Gary Paulsen was my other favorite author as a kid/teen. His series about Brian (including "Hatchet") influenced me as well as tons of others by him.

Margaret Peterson Haddix was probably my third favorite, with her "Among the" series. I guess I didn't get a lot of ideology out of those, but her style and the actual tools that she used in her writing excited me and made me want to write.

In the last few years as I was looking for answers about life, I steered away from fiction and toward Christian apologetics. Beside C.S. Lewis', Ravi Zacharias' writing and lectures have had the biggest impact on me.

I think you would like some of Chesterton's nonfiction. I've currently reading The Everlasting Man -- about what sets Christianity, what sets Jesus, apart from the continuum of myth and pagan legend. (He also, like Lewis, has some neat turns of phrase and is witty when you least expect it.)
An aside: while Chesterton himself is quite Catholic, he makes his case largely for Christianity as a whole. (I forget whether you're Catholic or Protestant -- I do know some people probably shy away from Chesterton due to his Catholicism, and they're missin' out.)
I did read Orthodoxy, which came to my mind when writing my list but for some reason it seems to me it didn't have as big an impact on me as Ravi or C.S. Lewis. But perhaps it's just that I haven't read enough of him yet.
I used to be a Catholic. I now consider myself Protestant but still hold some of my old beliefs as well as tastes. At any rate there's no cause for me to shy away from Chesterton so I'll put "The Everlasting Man" on my reading list. Thanks for the suggestion =)