I write for a living. Writing and reading are what I love to do most. So I figured I’d throw down some of the most important books which changed my thinking and shaped the writer and man I am today. There isn’t a doubt in my mind I forgot a book on this list but these are the ones that rose to the top first.
Interpreted purely as a human text, the Bible is a sprawling epic, filled with drama, conquest, love, betrayal, slavery, law, of kingdoms and kings, and of God and gods. It’s got everything. It’s impacted my view of literature and my perspective of the human condition. However, even deeper at the spiritual level, it’s radically changed my person, making me question the reason for my own suffering and the answers and solutions available to relieve them. The Bible continues to shape and mold me to this day and for that, it’s profoundly powerful.
Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, what is there to say about The Lord of the Rings which hasn’t already been said? Of the fantasy works written within the 20th century, it stands as a tome of unspeakable influence and power, radically changing the literary landscape for the better and thrusting fantasy into the spotlight to this day. Without The Lord of the Rings, the fantasy genre would be radically different. For me personally, it took me to realms far away and made me imagine of greater possibilities. It proved to me the power of language and prose over the reader.
3. The Stand
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First of all, it changed my view of Stephen King. Before, I pictured him as a grotesque horror author purely out to scare people in the most twisted ways possible. However, The Stand showed me he has much more depth and much greater command of language, character, story, and plot than most give him credit for. A post-apocalyptic epic, The Stand is mostly about good versus evil, pitting ordinary characters against extraordinary evil. The twists and turns in the story surprised me and how he transformed and changed characters inspired me to do the same in my own work.
I read this the summer before I went to college. It’s a cute book and very inspired and creative. The magic of the book is how it tries to help its audience understand perspective. If there’s a book to shake you out of your fishbowl and make you think of worlds beyond, this might do it. It certainly did it for me. In some ways, it sharpened my faith and my philosophy, not naively believing only in humanities limited empirical senses.
Penned by fantasy godfather George MacDonald, Phantastes is a magical wonder. It’s difficult to understand how this book didn’t reach the acclaim it rightly deserves. While it doesn’t have the strongest plot, its strengths lie in the imagination and language used by MacDonald. He’ll sweep you away quickly and make you thirst for more. You’ll question why all writers can’t write like him. For me personally, he set me on a course to truly embrace and love the fantasy genre in all its nooks, crannies, and cupboards.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was without a doubt a genius and remains as one of my favorite authors. This work, Crime and Punishment, thrust me out of my fantasy dwellings and into a more realistic, gritty world. He helped me appreciate different genres and made me think through several philosophical viewpoints, including existentialism, morals, and my theology.
Once a celebrated fantasy author, Lloyd Alexander seems to have faded away from view, being overshadowed by others. All the same, his work, The Book of Three, can be credited for pulling me out of my stupor, making me enjoy reading again. I hated reading when I was young, thinking all books were boring or stupid. But when I read this book, it opened my eyes and made me thirst to read the rest of the series. I own him a great debt.
Perhaps one of my favorite science fiction books of all time, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick was the inspiration for Blade Runner. But this book, obviously, is far superior. The level of imagination struck me as fascinating and awakened my thoughts on science fiction. However, what struck me as more interesting was his prose. Dick’s writing is coarse, unforgiving, and basic, rarely using commas and full of fragments; a far cry from the comma-laden, long-sentenced world of fantasy authors. It shook me and showed me how writing can still pack a punch without all the flowery prose.
How could the dystopian novel of the century not end up on this list? First, George Orwell is a fantastic writer in every respect. I couldn’t dream to even come close to his ability. There’s a strength within his words, syntax, and structure almost unexplainable. Of course, his ideas and his ability to speak to the heart of things takes him even further and makes him an astounding communicator. The darkness of this book also struck me. It’s a truly depressing read, taking you so far down the rabbit hole you realize there’s no getting out. And in the tyrannical and despotic world of 1984, you can’t ever get out. It’s the world no one wants to be in.
10. The Road
Much like Philip. K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy’s writing style is unique. Somehow he’s able to stick to a minimalistic writing style, using very few commas, no quotation marks or semicolons. In some ways, he spits in the face of creative writing teachers everywhere who demand specificity and detail. The main characters are always called “the man” and “the boy.” And while McCarthy loves to give gut-wrenching detail when it finds it necessary, all the other unnecessary stuff just gets left out entirely. In The Road, the power was in the relationship between a father and son and the internal thoughts guiding the story down that road. You didn’t need to know their names. It was irrelevant. Their actions and thoughts showed you who they were.