Monday, October 14, 2013

10 Books that Changed My Mind

I'm going to start this out by saying that, despite my allusions to the contrary, I am not particularly well read. I read very slowly, mostly because I find it hard to set aside time for reading every day (I'm usually either working or drunk). Also, as will soon become apparent, I am a huge sci-fi fan. As a result, most of what I read is short, pulpy, genre novels. Most of what I read is crap, and very forgettable.

That being said, there are a handful of books which knocked me clear out of the water. The majority are considered classics, I think, and a couple of them I read begrudgingly as part of my "schooling", but they all had a very profound effect on me and, though it's been a while since I've read a lot of them, they are rooted very firmly in my mind. I can't say that they changed my life, but they certainly did change the way I think about the world and the people in it.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
When it comes to books I am a sci-fi fan but as far as movies are concerned I am a die hard horror junkie (see my now more or less defunct Blog of Horror) and James Whale's Frankenstein is my all-time favourite horror flick. That being said I didn't read this book until I was about sixteen, one summer while I was working in a craft shop. And it blew my damn mind. I was simply not used to horror/science fiction which was actually well written and I was easily mesmerized by Mary Shelley's romantic prose, if you will. Furthermore, both Dr. Frankenstein and his daemon proved to be fascinating characters, and their relationship will haunt me until I die.

Trilby - George du Maurier
Of all the books on here, this is the one I read most recently. I'm not sure why exactly I chose to read it in the first place. I think I'd read a reference to Svengali in some other book - I looked him up thinking he was a real historical figure and subsequently heard about this novel. Honestly, I was kind of expecting some excurciatingly boring tale, something like Phantom of the Opera which I couldn't stand and was apparently inspired by this book. What I got was a meandering story about a group of friends living in Paris in the mid-ninetheenth century. The book doesn't really have a plot but it captures the lives of bohemian artists in a tragic and nostalgic sort of way. It was like taking a little trip back to a time and place I really would like to visit but is alas gone forever.

"The Tooth" - Shirley Jackson
I went on a big Shirley Jackson bender as a young lass after falling in love with The Haunting of Hill House. I ploughed through her short stories like they were going to save me somehow, and all of them had a very deep and profound effect on me and the way I write - I learned that the most horrifying subject of all was not, in fact, the inevitable rise of the insects, but the way people treat and perceive each other and themselves. It's sort of hard to pick any one of her stories as having the greatest impact on me. I was going to just put "The Lottery" since it's her most famous and probably most shocking work, but this other little story about a woman defined by her toothache who loses her identity when the offending tooth is removed is way more distressing. It's just about the epitome of the subtle terror which Jackson's writing inflicted upon me.

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
Another one I read not that long ago, this is the best apocalypse story as far as I'm concerned. From the chilling opening in which the narrator awakens in an effectively abandoned hospital to find London more or less totalled (remember the beginning of 28 Days Later? Lifted from this wholesale), to the slightly unconventional method of destruction (MAN EATING PLAAAAANTS!!!), to the well thought out chronical of the demise of all vestiges of civilization, to the surprisingly well written characters, this book is fucking fantastic and scary as shit. Yeah, the circumstances for the apocalyptic event are a bit farfetched (which is probably the only thing which kept me from having a heart attack while reading it) but the realistic treatment of the way people react to the disaster could apply for any situation.

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
So far all of the books I've talked about have had a positive (if terrifying) effect on me. This book did not. It's interesting to a degree, but the symbolism is so (intentionally) heavy handed it made me uncomfortable and the novel is structured so that whenever I started to get used to the characters (I can't say that I liked them because there really wasn't any reason to) the story jumped away from them. Combined with the subject matter of the plot, this makes for the most demoralizing book I've ever read. Honestly, after I read this I kind of loafed about in a depression for a few days, unable to muster up the energy or motivation to do anything because life seemed utterly meaningless.

I am Legend - Richard Matheson
Slightly after my Shirley Jackson bender, I went on a Richard Matheson binge. I read every fucking scrap of his work I could get my hands on, which is really quite a lot. His stuff is so hit and miss that part of the thrill was what exactly I was going to get from the next story. It could be something that stretched the imagination and filled my dreams with terrors, like that one about the freaky kid in the basement, or it could be weird and stupid, like that one about the apartment building that's actually a spaceship, or the one about the two dudes banging a ghost or whatever the fuck was going on there. The man wrote a fuckton of stuff, but when it was good, it was really good. I am Legend was really good. It's spooky, it's neat, and the twist ending really made me want to reconsider my outlook on life and society, without being way too over the top with it. As yet the only film adaptation which came even close to capturing the feeling of the novel was Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price. 

Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
I'm going to admit that I might have been a little too young when I read this. I think I was fifteen or so and I may have not read it in the context which I should have, I may have found it a little too romantic, I may have sympathized with the narrator more than necessary. I've often wondered if my predilection for older gentlemen stemmed from my fondness for this book, or the other way around. I may never know.

"And Now the News..." - Theodore Sturgeon
I didn't really know what to do the first time I read Theodore Sturgeon. His writing style surprised me, it's clever, it's a little on the whimsical side, and the characters are pretty damn good for pulpy sci-fi. A lot of his stuff, if written by anybody else, I would find unbearably cute (the one about the girl with the psychic dog, or the one with the little kid alien). Some of his stuff, if written by anybody else, would be disturbing as fuck (More Than Human, The Cosmic Rape). And then there's, like, Killdozer which just defies words. He just has a way of making things, which would ordinarily be completely unappealing to me, appealing to me. Anywho, this short story about a guy who becomes way too obsessed with news, may have actually broken something in my brain. It's one of the first things I ever read by him, and everything in the story just seems so out there but so gently presented. The ending is probably the biggest understatement of all time and prompted me to re-read the whole story just so that I could understand what the hell had just happened.

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. LeGuin
Guess I might as well admit that I am not the biggest Ursula LeGuin fan - I appreciate that she is a feminist colossus in the male dominated field of science fiction writing but that isn't really enough for me to enjoy her works, and honestly her writing is a little too... political? social? for me, and way too left wing. Although I did enjoy Catwings way more than is really necessary. I also enjoyed this book, not least of all because I'm fascinated with dreams, and the differences in peoples' interpretation of reality. It articulated a lot of the half baked thoughts I had at the time, and explained some stuff about people I was trying to figure out, kind of guiding me along in my journey of self awareness. I actually think this should be mandatory reading for teenagers and everyone else who thinks they're the centre of the universe.

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Holy fuck I loved that book. Like how Trilby is a view into a romantic world which entices and allures me, The Poisonwood Bible took me somewhere beautiful and frightening. I tend not to read a whole lot into anything, so I mostly took this book at face value. I'm sure there are a million undercurrents which I didn't pick up on. I was just fascinated by the characters, the nigh incredible things they had to go through in their life, their extremely complex relationships, and the descriptions of the scenery. Good god. Also when I read it I was just at the tip of the iceberg of a really shitty breakup and it gave me strength. I laughed, I cried, I was moved. 

So those are some books that shaped the way I think about things. Anybody out there want to tell me about a book that changed your life, or at least your opinion of life? Or a book you think I would like and should read? Lay it on me, I want to hear some feedback here bitches. 


  1. My favourite book just might be "The Unconsoled" by Kazuo Ishaguru. I could totally relate to the main dude.

    1. Thanks! I'm gonna check that out. My reading list got lost when my phone died (I now know that keeping everything on my phone is a dumb idea) so I'm really desperate for new stuff to read.