Books that changed my life (a list)

This post is a cop-out because, determined as I am to update this thing once a week, I have not yet reconciled that determination with my, as C.K. Dexter Haven would put it, deep and gorgeous thirst. Yes, instead of diligently working to provide my loving, faithful readers with novel and fascinating content, I was drinking from that sweet cup of life in Austin. Because that’s where you go to drink from the cup of life when you’re poor and live in Texas.

Anyway I read this list on Buzzfeed and was sort of stuck by the idea that I might like to make one too. I’m not claiming that any of the following books are the best books ever written, but all of them have meant some thing to me. These are the books that I finished and audibly whispered “Wow” to my empty room. You know those books that you read and you just need to tell the whole world about, these are those books for me. Enjoy.

1. A Room With a Veiw – By E.M. Forster

This is my favorite book, mostly because it said all those things that I felt but couldn’t describe. It’s more than just a straight forward love story, this book explores people desperately trying to look like they know exactly how they should live their lives. I love it not only  for the beautiful prose and the overwhelmingly awesome scene in the violets, but because the love that George offers Lucy is not a love that puts her on a pedestal as the most beautiful woman he can find, but a love that sets her free to be her own person.

I feel like I can’t really do this book justice in so small a format, maybe someday I’ll write more about it. But for now here’s a few quotes to wet your appetites;

“It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored.”

“I taught him, ‘he quavered, “to trust in love. I said:’when love comes, that is reality.’ I said: ‘Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.”

“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.”

2. This Side of Paradise -By F. Scott Fitzgerald

In a letter to his daughter, that I read and sort of remember, Fitzgerald wrote that the first novel needs to be a blood sacrifice, meaning that you put so much of yourself into it, your hope, your pain, and everything. Only after you write something this honest and open can you begin to master the business of making things up.

This book is so heavily influenced by Fitzgerald’s earlier life that  it’s hard for me to avoid this obsessive feeling that I might have at least a few things in common with my literary hero. Not that I understand the world of social climbing in pre-WWI, but I understand the bitterness in Fitzgerald’s writing in the way he treats the main character, Amory Blaine.  To me this book is about all the things you think are important when you have no understanding of what importance actually is. Like A Room with a View,  this book is both cynical and romantic. None of the characters are anywhere close to perfect, and it explores rather that moralizes their imperfections.

But that’s just, like, my opinion, man. I’m no English major so I could have it all wrong. I’ll LeVar Burton myself out of this situation by saying “You don’t have to take my word for it”.

Here’s some quotes;

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” 

“”I’m a cynical idealist” He paused and wondered if that meant anything.”

“There is no more dangerous gift to posterity than a few cleverly turned platitudes”

3. Flowers for Algernon – By Daniel Keyes

If I’m honest this isn’t a book I knew changed me right away, it sunk in overtime. But more than any other book on this list, I can say with absolute assurance that this book has made me a better person. The  reasons are a little too close to heart to really share with the whole wide internet, but to summarize; I have a sister who has Asperger’s Syndrome and as a young and stupid child I couldn’t understand why she was so different and her differences frustrated me.

There need to be more books like Flower’s for Algernon. Or it should be required, no compulsory,  reading. Being brought up in the polished, airbrushed world of American society can be confusing, it can leave children unable to come to terms with the differences of others.

It’s odd how books can get to you in a way that other experiences can’t. Books give you empathy and empathy is so incredibly powerful. This book made me confront parts of myself I don’t like, but parts that needed to be confronted all the same. It’s about the check list we all keep in our brains by which we decide who is worthy of our time, and the ugly side of our preoccupation with perfection. This book is about all the wonderful, talented, creative, intelligent, and fascinating human beings we leave behind when we attempt to build our world in the image of the one dimensional characters we’re taught to admire

Once again, I could write a full article about this book (and I probably should someday) so here’s some quotes for getting on with.

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”

“Even in the world of make-believe there have to be rules. The parts have to be consistent and belong together. This kind of picture is a lie. Things are forced to fit because the writer or the director or somebody wanted something in that didn’t belong. And it doesn’t feel right”

“There are a lot of people who will give money or materials, but very few who will give time and affection.”

4. Leave it to Psmith -By P.G. Wodehouse

On a much lighter note, there’s P.G. Wodehouse, and it was very difficult not to just put in this #4 slot “Everything P.G. Wodehouse ever wrote”. I’ve chosen this one because Psmith is my favorite character he created, and this is my favorite Psmith story. The book has all the elements of every other Wodehouse book; mistaken identity, tangled romances, outrageous characters, and a writing style that I want to soak in like a bubble bath. If you’ve never read Wodehouse let me enlighten you, it is by far the most pleasant, sweet, funny, and charming experience I have ever known in print. Wodehouse is a revelation to me because every time I pick up one of his stories I just feel better. The world he writes about is so sincerely innocent. There’s never really deeper meaning to these stories or some great moral in their innocence. They’re sort of pastoral and idyllic for the shear joy of language and the bizarreness of humans. The books are like melted butter or frothy melting marshmallows on my hot chocolate, they just make me feel wonderful and happy to exist in a world where they also exist.

I’ve lost the ability to communicate with anything other than raving glee about these books and I’m sure that they are something that needs to be experienced rather than  explained, so I’ll let the quotes speak for me.

“No, no. P-s-m-i-t-h. I should explain to you that I started life without the initial letter, and my father always clung ruggedly to the plain Smith. But it seemed that there were so many Smiths in the world that a little variety might be introduced. Smythe I look on as a cowardly evasion, nor do I approve of the too prevalent custom of tackling another name on in front by means of a hyphen. So I decided to adopt the Psmith. The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as in pthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan.”

“A depressing musty scent pervaded the place, as if a cheese had recently died there in painful circumstances.”

“Other men love you. Freddie Threepwood loves you. Just add me to the list. That is all I ask. Muse on me from time to time. Reflect that I may be an acquired taste. You probably did not like olives the first time you tasted them. Now you probably do. Give me the same chance you would an olive.”

5. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut

You may wonder why I chose this Vonnegut out of all the rest of the Vonnegut in the world. This is my favorite for several reasons; first, this was my introduction to Vonnegut, second, I think it’s a shame nobody ever mentions this one, and third, the themes of this book spoke to me in ways that Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 didn’t (not that those books weren’t fantastic, shut up this is my list.

I love this book because it shows how violently society will reject the uncommon path and the hypocrisy in the way we treat altruism. In the book the main character takes over his very wealthy family’s charity, which is really only a tax shelter, and begins to disperse the funds to the needy citizen of the town his family owns. This is met with fear and resentment by practically everyone he knows and he is deemed insane and a drunk (though he is actually a drunk). Like all Vonnegut it’s moving, thought provoking, funny, and so fantastically written it makes me sick, but it’s not quite as bleak as his others. I think it’s rather optimistic. But read it yourself and then comment to tell me how wrong I am.

The quotes;

“A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.”

“You’re the man who stands on the street corner with a roll of toilet paper, and written on each square are the words, ‘I love you.’ And each passer-by, no matter who, gets a square all his or her own. I don’t want my square of toilet paper.”

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

That’s my list. There’s probably a lot more I can add to it, and might, if I ever get the urge. I haven’t even touched on fantasy, or books I read when I was much younger. But I’m already past the wire here and I feel like I got the major hits on it anyway.

I do hope somebody out there sees this and reads one or two of them. Books, particularly the special ones, can turn you into a kind of evangelist. It’s nice to think that other humans are sharing in your thoughts and experiences the way books allow us to. And the things that I love, well, naturally I want other people to love them too. At the risk of just killing it with sentimentality, I think it helps us all feel less alone to share ideas and stories with each other.

Books, books, books, I love books. I’m a stark raving bookmanic.

Thanks for reading.

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