Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 More Books That Changed My Mind

About a year and a half ago I posted on here a list of ten books that forever altered the way I look at the world and the people in it. Since then I've read a few more books which have had a rather profound impact on me for better or for worse and decided it was time to update the list (the original list can be found here).

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr
Sometimes when I go to the library and there isn't anything I want in the science fiction section, I delve into the regular part of the library, looking for misshelved SF novels, or ones with enough clout to be considered more than sci-fi. This is one such find. Although it is set between the 2500s and 3781, it sort of defies classification as a science fiction novel. It's funny, dark, disturbing, and realistic all at the same time. It kind of caught my attention as one of the first books to surprise me in quite a while. Despite the fact that repetition is one of the main themes of the novel, I found myself unable to anticipate what was going to happen next much of the time. The book is so entertaining it sort of lulls you into a sense of security and then hits you like an arrow in the face. It stood out too because I didn't realize that so much irony could be packed into one book without becoming extremely annoying. All in all, one of the best post-apocalyptic science fiction novels out there.

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
I went on a mini-Vonnegut kicker last summer (see more below). I had read a lot of his short fiction before but never any novels, so it became my mission for a few months to burn through as many of them as possible. I read this one in two days, which is probably the shortest time I ever spent reading a book. I've mentioned before (I think) that though I enjoy reading, I do so slowly, in fits and starts. Not this. I needed this in me as fast as possible. It's not a big secret that I have some unresolved issues with my brain. I've self-medicated depression and anxiety with alcohol for a number of years, and have had a very difficult time letting go of anger and other, less easily defined emotions. This book treats time as something nonlinear, a perception that really helped me with my troubles. Some days are good, some days are bad, but you can kind of live in the good days if that makes any sense. It sounds really corny when I try to articulate it, but depression and anxiety are irrelevant when all time is the same time. You can't worry about the future or feel bad about the past if it's all the present. Reading this book made a really big difference in the way I look at my life and deal with my problems and for that I am extremely grateful.

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
I read this also. It is not as good of a book as Slaughterhouse Five - both books are psychotic and frenetic and shocking and powerful and so much more that can't really be explained in words, but this one is more of a mess somewhat. Not that I mind. But I can see, more so with this one, why people who don't like Kurt Vonnegut really don't like him. I still think those people are missing something really important but that's just, like, their opinion and that's okay. I find his style of writing to be ahead of its time, even maybe ahead of this time. I remember being in a writing class once and the instructor said something to the effect of, "it's weird how experimentation in the medium of film is considered progressive but with novels it's frowned upon". Vonnegut's novels are experimental, sometimes to the point where they maybe shouldn't even be called novels. Slaughterhouse is more an example of that but I talked enough about that book up there. Anyway, just like the above mentioned taught me about time and how to deal with it, this book taught me about people. It is mentioned several times throughout the book that no one person is any more important than another, and the book tells the story of every character, no matter how relevant they are to the story. Everybody is of equal value. Some of them tie in to the end, some of them don't. It doesn't matter. I find that a harder thing to wrap my head around than time being nonlinear. Because of course I'm the most important person in the world, I'm me. But that's not the case. Everybody is just as important as I am. Not more, not less. I still have trouble with that actually. It's hard to accept. But it's a good starting point and it's helped me in a lot of ways to stop looking up to, or down at, other people, and to stop being so angry at other humans all the time. They're just doing what they need to do. They're not doing stuff to hurt or offend me specifically, they're just doing it because that's what they do. And there should be no anger in that.

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
But enough about the massive hard on I have for Kurt Vonnegut. I was in the library one day, browsing the science fiction section as I so often do, and unable to make up my mind about what to read. I did what any self respecting adult would do in a time of difficulty and texted my mother. She recommended this book to me. About a week later I texted her again, this time something like "why did you do this to me" and "I'm never trusting you again" (self. respecting. adult.) The next time I was visiting home, my grandmother mentioned that she was starting to read it, so I offered her my condolances. This book is good. It's really, really good. It's also hands down the most traumatizing and devastating novel I've ever read. I didn't even realize that a book could have such a profound effect on me. This is the first time in my life I've uttered the words, "I can't, I really have to go home and read this book". I talked about it at work because I needed someone to feel my pain. And then I realized that nobody can feel my pain, ever. That's what makes it one of the few things that is really mine. So, you know, it's something to be cherished. I'm going to get off that topic before I start to sound like a Clive Barker novel. This book is meticulously researched which makes it educational, it's perfectly paced, it's got a great sense of humour, and the characters are so relatable and well written that when they start dying en masse it rips a hole in you that no amount of ice cream or red wine will fill. Thanks, Connie Willis. Thanks, mom. Thanks for making me feel like a human being again.

Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
I went to see the movie adaptation of this book when it screened at the film festival many moons ago (you can read my review of it here). I thought it was so weird and fucked up and unique I immediately wanted to read the book. It took me two or three years to get my hands on a copy - the libraries didn't really seem to have it until the American remake came out so I had to wait for that. It was worth it. The novel dives into places I can't really begin to describe. It's beautiful, it's touching, it's gross and violent. Parts of it made me feel sick. Most of it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Like I was witness to something I wasn't supposed to see. It does a really good job of capturing a certain time, and a certain place, opening with a description of the suburb as a land of failed potential, and just building it from there, getting more and more depressing and horrible to the point where death by vampire almost seems like a release. I would venture to say it's the best vampire novel I've ever read, not only because of it's rather unique subject, but also because it's not really a vampire novel. It's a great novel, with a vampire in it. It's just so crisp and the characters are so realistic and so shitty. Another unique thing about it is the neutrailty. The main character is a little kid who gets bullied, but it doesn't really sympathize with him any more than it does the kids who pick on him. They all have their own shit going on, they're all horrible and flawed humans, all victims of the time and the place. It's interesting and I've never read anything quite like it.

So that's what I have to say about that. Did you read any of these novels? Agree with me? Think I'm full of shit? What books changed your outlook on life? Why not recommend me something, friend. Go ahead. It's free, and it's anonymous. It'll be our little secret.


  1. Dhalgren by Samuel Delany.

    1. I actually have that on hold at the library! I read one of his short stories, "The Star Pit", in an anthology this summer, it was fantastic. I've been trying to get my hands on one of his novels since then.

  2. You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey.