Most readers can put together a list of life changing books. I have my own. A list of novels that shaped me in some way. Some of they expanded my perspective of the world, others inspired they way I write my own works. So today I’m sharing a list of nine life changing novels.
This is an abbreviated list. If I were to list every novel that affected me, we’d be here for days. So I set up a kit, an ever-growing list of books that changed my life. If you want more life-changing books, check it out too.
Treasure Island by Robert Luis Stevenson
Treasure Island was one of those early books that encouraged my love of reading and writing. While I started reading illustrated abridged versions of young readers, as I grew older I revisited it several times. Unlike other novels (and movies for that matter) of my younger years, this one held up because of it’s fun and fast-moving plot, engaging characters, and standout villain.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare is an inspiration (buy his complete works). I continue to draw from his works again and again, but never live up to anything he’s accomplished. I love King Learand Titus for the passion in their protagonists. There’s something so compelling in watching a person at their height brought low. The Tempest is surreal, and Othello is captivating. If you haven’t seen a live Shakespeare performance, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Generally speaking, people tend to talk about Catcher in the Rye as J.D. Salinger’s masterpiece, but I personally think it pales in comparison to Franny and Zooey. The novel is mostly dialog, so we Perdidoget to know these characters. If you’re looking for a study in dialog to improve your own writing, you can’t do much better than this.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Doesn’t it have a fantastic title? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timefollows a young autistic boy as he investigates the murder of a dog in his Perdido yard. But it goes much deeper than that as we follow him day by day and see everything through his perspective. It does a great job of immersing you in a characters head that may be very much unlike you, which is why it affected me so much.
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days heavily influenced the writing style in my first two books, Discovering Aberrationand The Gin Thief. I love the way he strings a sentence together, so when I set to writing a steampunk novel, I thought a voice similar to his would make a great fit. Not only that, but his novels are pure fun. Sure there are a few boring sections here and there where he get’s overly specific on how technology works or how an economy functions, but if that bores you, simply skip a paragraph or two and you’re back into the adventure.
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hess
In my college years, Hermann Hess affected me more than any other writer. I felt a real connection with him that I haven’t felt with a writer since. While everyone reads Siddhartha, a book that’s fine, most don’t move on to his real masterpieces like Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, or The Glass Bead Game.All of these novels shaped the way I think permanently, gave me perspective on life, sex, religion, and art. If you’re looking for the standout author who really changed the way I view the world, it would be Hermann Hess.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The grand achievement of this book is the fact that as soon as I finished reading it, I started again from the beginning. I don’t think I’ve done that before or since. It’s world is so utterly engrossing, and so wildly different from our own. If you’re searching for a fantasy that throws out all of the genre norms, builds a world fresh from the ground up, and tells an engaging and dark narrative, look no further than the masterpiece that is Perdido Street Station.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
It is the first book of a now famously unfinished trilogy. The fact that it’s unfinished doesn’t bother me a bit, and it shouldn’t bother you either. Let genius work. Time has always been a major ingredient in the writing of these books. Anyway, The Name of the Windis an outstanding novel that drops you into a characters head as he goes about life, grows up, learns magic, and seeks revenge in this fantasy world. It all sounds fairly typical of a fantasy novel, but in its execution, it really stands out. I’ve read it several times and will read it several more.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
This is a novel with perfect prose. I’ve never read a more perfectly written novel. It’s astounding. Blood Meridian is an extremely dark tale that will stick with you well after you put it down. There are scenes that get etched in your mind. I’ve loved some of Cormac McCarthy’s other books, such as The Road and No Country for Old Men,but even those fantastic novels don’t hold a candle to Blood Meridian.
Blood Meridian. I don’t know where to begin with this book.
It’s a western, or an anti-western. I’ve heard it called the greatest work of southern gothic lit out there, if that helps at all. It follows the kid (he has no name, always referred to simply as “the kid”) through 1850’s northern Mexico who joins the Glanton gang as they go on a scalping spree.
It’s fantastic. Maybe the best novel I’ve ever read. Definitely provocative, controversial, often difficult to read, eye-opening, mind changing, terrifying. The prose is sparse, gripping, often perfect, I mean really truly perfect as if some greater power wrote through Cormac McCarthy. What a novel. What a novel.
So many people have written about Blood Meridian, throwing my hat in the ring hardly feels justified. Doesn’t matter, I’m giving it a shot. My goal isn’t to be illuminating. I don’t think I can help you fully comprehend this novel. I just want you to read the damn book and wear the same look of shock on your face that I did during the three months it took me to soldier through it.
No it’s not a long novel. But it demands your full attention and concentration. Sometimes reading it was so taxing, I had to put it down for several days before I had the energy to pick it back up again.
And you should read it. No matter what I say throughout this piece, remind yourself that you owe it to you to read this book. It’s a masterpiece.
What’s it about? Professional American scalpers in 1850’s Mexico. The Glanton gang who butchered Indians for a buck, then Mexican villagers and American soldiers. They get consumed in the violence before getting consumed by the violence. Saying Blood Meridian is violent is kind of like saying water is wet. It’s a stupid sentiment because it’s so clearly evident from page 1 til the end.
Eye gouging in chapter one is the least of the atrocities. Scalping becomes commonplace. There are several massacres. The violence is never exciting. It’s never thrilling or fun. It is a gut punch until you grow numb to gut punches. By the end of this novel, you’ll form a callous around your heart. You’ll walk through life in a kind of stupor, replaying scenes in your mind over and over again. Will you gain a greater understanding? Probably not. But it will consume you, that much is certain.
There is a kind of illumination in the violence. Illumination of what, I don’t know. Was the novel written in defiance of God? I don’t know. Was it written with hands blessed by God? It could go either way. More than once I found myself seriously considering whether Cormac McCarthy is extremely blessed or cursed, sanctified or damned. I still don’t know. But God is in this book, and so is the devil.
The devil, in fact, makes perhaps the most literal appearance in the form of The Judge. But I’ve read convincing arguments that The Judge is in fact God. Who ever he is, he’s chilling.
The prose often require some effort to gain a full understanding of any given paragraph. Here’s a quote showing how difficult some paragraphs are to read, but you can’t deny the imagery these words conjure. This is perhaps Blood Meridian at it’s most difficult, but I personally didn’t mind:
A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.
Holy shit! Did you read what I just read? Damn it, I might need to give up the craft. That’s the kind of thing you’ll be reading throughout Blood Meridian. For some, this is enticing, but it may dissuade many. Do not let it. This book is worth it. Trust me.
The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.
The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.
I mean, come on! It’s beautiful, dark, enlightening and nearly indecipherable on first reading.
There are scenes that will linger in your mind long after you put the page down. Such as when the Judge lifts a meteor over his head in defiance of the universe. Such as when the Glanton Gang make gun powder of piss and bat guano and lava rock, then gun down their pursuers with their crude recipe.
There were sentences so perfectly wrote I threw the book down and cursed because I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to write half this well. It’s infuriating to see someone using language near perfection, even when it’s contained in a few short lines describing the way spit evaporates in the desert and how the lizards will drink it up before it bubbles and dries.
And that last paragraph. If you’ve reached this point, and you’re convinced that you’ll never read Blood Meridian, you owe it to yourself to read that final paragraph and see if it doesn’t give you chills. Even removed from all context, the final words of this novel will make your blood curdle.
I loved Blood Meridianbecause it more than once made me pause and think “How was that written by a person, a human being like me?” Can a man really be that good a writer? I don’t know. Can I ever be that good a writer? I don’t know. Probably not, and even typing that makes me sad.
It does, however, give me something to strive for. I’ll revisit this novel, of that I’m certain. And when I do, I think I’ll type out the best of pages word for word just so I can see how it feels to mimic what I can only describe as perfection. I have so much to learn from Blood Meridian.