After reading some other bloggers’ posts over Thanksgiving about which books and authors they are most thankful for, I started thinking about the books that have most impacted me.
Books really can change your life. Or they can change you. Whether it’s giving you insight into worlds and people you wouldn’t otherwise have understood, or showing you a new perspective on your own life, you can put down a good book and know that you aren’t quite the same as when you started reading it.
I’m just going to share the novels from my list, not the non-fiction or poetry (perhaps that can be a future post).
Prince Caspian by C.S.Lewis
I remember my mum sitting at the end of my bed and reading to me from her old, yellow leafed copies of The Chronicles of Narnia. And as she read about Prince Caspian’s escape from his wicked uncle, how he rode through the forest in the dead of night, for the very first time I forgot where I was and the story became real to me.
It was the first time I understood the power of stories to transport us to another world, and probably accounts for how much fantasy and adventure I went on to read as a teenager.
But the real beauty of Lewis’ books is that you can keep coming back to them and finding things you didn’t spot before. On a recent trip around Iceland with friends, we spent the long car journeys listening to audiobooks of the Narnia stories and being hit again by how much depth there is in these stories.
“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I — I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
‘He is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him.’
It’s probably no surprise that an Austen novel is on my list, but maybe not for the most usual of reasons. I’m not here to talk about Jane Austen’s effect on my expectations for relationships, but rather on how she taught me to deal with criticism and rudeness.
Austen’s characters, and Austen herself, love watching how people interact. When they forget their manners and say something rude, it’s more a cause for amusement than indignation. Lizzie’s response to Darcy’s pride is simply to laugh at him. And when she learns that Lady Catherine does not approve of her, she isn’t at all bothered by this and makes no effort to earn her good opinion. I found it wonderfully refreshing!
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I actually only read this book (in translation) for the first time last year. But in Edmond Dantes’ plots for revenge, and all the decisions he has to make about how to treat the people who hurt him, something struck me. For all that I might find the flawed anti-heroes of so many books these days to be interesting and believable, there’s a part of me that really misses the kind of character who forgives, the protagonist you actually trust to do the right thing, rather than watch through your fingers as they destroy themselves and everything around them. And I resolved to keep that in mind with regard to what I read and write in the future.
“Fool that I am,” said he,”that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to revenge myself”.”
Boy in the World by Niall Williams
This is the most modern book on my list today, and I absolutely love everything I’ve read by Williams. He has a beautiful style and way of depicting people. What I loved most about this book was its optimism about the human race. A boy runs away from home and the first person he meets is Ben, the Irish lorry driver who believes that most people are essentially good. And this world view seems to echo throughout the whole book. It’s a beautiful counteraction to the fear and mistrust of strangers that is such a feature of modern life. I finished this book feeling full of hope about the world.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien
‘Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.’
I tried, but I just cannot leave this one off the list. I first tried to read LOTR when I was eleven. Avid reader though I was, this was too much for me and I abandoned it about halfway through when I lost track of which character was which!
A few years later, around the time the films came out, I picked up the books again. And this time I was utterly transfixed. I’m not one to place Tolkien on a pedestal: he said that on reflection he considered the book ‘good in parts’ – admitting that there were sections he would have liked to revise. But I love The Lord of the Rings in spite of this. These books fed my love of the the beauty that an imaginative story teller can conjure, whether it’s an entire complex world with its own races and languages, or a simple but powerful story that moves you to believe that good can beat evil.
Anyway, enough about me! I’d love to hear which books have most impacted you.