Saturday, September 27, 2014

RRW's Top 10 Books

Recently I was tagged on Facebook to list my top 10 books that have influenced my life in some way.

Considering I was spending more personal time offline than than on Facebook, I didn't get the chance to tack away. But now I'm able, and since then have decided that the list was important enough to me to put on my blog, with a few additional details that weren't on my original post.

That said, here they are!

1. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
There's something about Vonnegut's style that just jives with me. I also have very fond memories of this book from my days in high school, more specifically my classes with my English teacher. In fact, I still have that gut reaction to think or blurt "So it goes" when something/someone dies.
In which case, so it goes.

2. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
This book made me cry. It made me cry a lot.
I didn't care that much for "journal-styled" novels even back then, but Flowers for Algernon struck a cord in me that I can't ever quite describe. So much so that I wound up naming a character after the titular lab rat, Algernon.

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I know I'm naming a lot of old books that many of us were assigned to read in high school English, and there's a good reason for that: They're just downright damned good books. And I think a lot of kids can benefit reading them and, better yet, learn to enjoy them.
Fahrenheit 451 was different, though - I didn't read it because of a class assignment. I actually read it out of spite over not getting into the advanced English class in my freshman year, though I believed I deserved to. After all, I liked the required reading for the advanced classes better than the standard class that I was assigned to.
I read Fahrenheit 451 not out of necessity because my teacher told me to, but because I wanted to. And it inspired me to seek out more books - by Ray Bradbury included - outside of the classroom. Since then he's become one of my favorite writers.
Rest in peace, Ray.
4. 1984 by George Orwell
Here is another "required reading" that wasn't required of me because I didn't get into the advanced English class.
Actually, I never read 1984 in high school, and only got around to reading it after borrowing a roommate's copy. Not gonna lie, I felt kind of cheated out of not being assigned to read a book as amazing and pertinent as 1984, as it's become very relevant to my interests in later years.

5. Carrie by Stephen King
If anyone ever asks me what my super power of choice would be, I would say telekinesis. I have an unhealthy obsession with telekinesis. I partially blame Carrie for that.
I really loved this book when I read it for the first time in the seventh grade. I really felt sorry for and sympathized with Carrie... which is exactly why I would recommend anyone to watch the 2002 TV remake over the 1976 movie, which I loathe with the passion of a thousand dying suns as someone who really loves the book and Carrie as a character (I can't say anything about the 2013 remake, as I haven't seen it yet!).
I'm always rooting for you, Carrie.

6. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Oh Stephen King.
Regardless of how you feel about him or his writing, there's something about Bag of Bones that's very different about King's usual style. It lacks a lot in the usual King campiness, and definitely by far my favorite of all the books he's written. Normally I don't get that creeped out by most horror novels, but this one really got me a few times.
I also like to make a point that this book made me realize something about myself. I've suffered depression. After the death of my mother, I underwent a similar experience as the protagonist, Mike Noonan, after the death of his wife. Eventually my ability to write had been crippled with an incapacitating pain, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. The next three years following my mother's death resulted in many nights stressing over empty documents until I fretted that I would never be able to write another word again.
In a way, Bag of Bones helped me to realize the power that my depression had on my ability to form words. I guess you could say that it helped me to understand something about myself and, in a way, point me in the right direction to make myself better. Not so much in the way Mike Noonan did, but... you know.
We all have our hauntings.

7. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Speaking of novels that "got me", House of Leaves is by far the scariest book I've ever read.
Danielewski really pushed the limits of what can be conveyed through text, giving both a claustrophobic and paranoid feel throughout the whole thing. From bizarre font styles to insane ramblings of a deranged mind, I'd definitely recommend this book if you're looking for something that's... well, different.
If nothing else it's really inspired my more subtle style of horror, which is actually not that easy to do through text when you don't have the visuals or the scare cords to really shock your audience with. Not that I... like those aspects in my style of horror.

8. Watership Down by Richard Adams
I'd like to say this book saved me from being stuck in a really horrible class that forced me to miss one of my favorite periods in sixth grade, haha.
Basically I was held back into a first-grade level reading class for no reason. I got bitter about it and skipped it to stay in my normal class a few times, got in huge trouble. So instead I would go and read Watership Down instead of the required reading which, to me, were really stupid (I remember after the one about sentient mustard and I outright told the teacher I won't do any of the required reading). I was actually a pretty rebellious eleven-year-old... but it got me out of the class when they realized what I'd been reading instead.
On a more relevant note, I loved this book. You'd think a story about rabbits going on journeys would be for kids, but it's definitely not a kid's book. At least not for those who are supposed to be in a class with first grade reading material...

9. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
Normally I don't like first person POV novels, just as I don't like journal-styled novels. I'll read them, but I'm not a fan of them.
I picked up Odd Thomas on a whim shortly after my mom had died, because it kept catching my eye at the grocery store whenever I was in line. I read a few lines, really enjoyed it, and eventually bought it.
I mention my mom's death because, like Bag of Bones, these books really helped me through in some way. I was going through a rough time and needed to get into the head of a character like Odd. His positive attitude and his ideas on the afterlife and ability to speak with the dead, in some ways, affected me and gave me something to look forward to. Reading these books was kind of like my own little therapy session.
Odd is a great character and by far one of my top favorite protagonists.

10. Otherland by Tad Williams
Saving the best for last, since this is a title I bring up a lot because these books have got to be the most influential in my experience as a writer.
Anyone who reads my stuff might get a better perspective by reading Otherland, as his style inspired me in many ways. Between both culturally and racially diverse set of multiple POV characters, to the mood and style and distinctive voice that engages each character's POV style, among just the fact that it's a downright amazing story.
I didn't learn how to write from workshops and writing classes and craft books, but from books like Otherland that inspired me to follow my own voice and style. In a way, you could consider Otherland being my teacher.

So that's my top 10. Originally I was worried I wouldn't have enough books to put on my list... only to find myself having to regrettably remove some without the risk of going over my limit. It was a fun list to do, though. Definitely got me thinking.

There is one last book that I feel deserves an honorable mention, at the very least:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Like it or love it, we all gained a little something from Harry Potter. I feel the need to mention this because of my previous mentions of my depression, and what this book meant to me during one of the hardest periods of my life.
In July of 2007, my mom passed away rather suddenly. She had started to slip into a state of dementia before she was comatose, and then died in her sleep. The day I found out that we would have to take her to a hospice was the day I bought my copy of the final Harry Potter book. I was 20 years old at the time, and mentally preparing myself for the worst. But rather than staying present, I allowed my mind to wander to words on a page as a coping mechanism. When I went to hospitals and places where I couldn't lug a big hardcover book around, I spent that time reading warning labels on the hospital bed, or posters on the wall, or anything that I could focus on just to escape for a millisecond.
When I wasn't sitting at my mom's bedside watching her die, I was in Harry Potter's world. While most people would rather delve into something a little more lighthearted, watching Harry's struggle against his - arguably bigger and more important - adversities helped propel me through my own. While Odd Thomas and Bag of Bones helped me realize things about myself afterwards, Harry Potter was there with me during my struggle between fantasy and reality. Because at the time I wanted nothing more than to disappear into a world away from the one where my mother was dying a quick and yet agonizing death. It's like that friend who you remember being with through thick and thin, and yet no matter what happened you will always remember and appreciate that they were there.

On second thought, I've no idea why this book isn't listed as my Number One. Probably because I can't allow myself to let it be measured by any numbers or countdown. But there you have it.

So it goes.

1 comment:

  1. Heh, I was tagged to do this too. Mine is here: