My favourite ever book has been turned into a film, a moment I longed for and dreaded in equal measures. With the release fast approaching I thought it might make a nice to change to write about something I love instead of declaring my hatred for various every day things that piss me off. I feel I have reached the stage in my blog writing career where I can become self-indulgent in what I write about, almost like Samuel L. Jackson when he made Snakes On A Plane.
And when I say ’11 Books That Changed My Life’, I mean ’11 Books That Were Seriously Amazing and Left a Deep Impression On Me / Affected Me in Some Way’
It seemed a little too cumbersome for a title.
In no way am I suggesting that these books had such a strong influence on my life as other events like my birth, my near death experience (that’s another blog in itself) and the day when I got an iPhone 5s and could unlock my phone with my thumbprint.
You might be querying the significance of the number 11? It could be because there are only 11 books that changed my life. It might be because 11 is half of 22 and I’m turning 22 this year. Or it could be because I wrote about 11 and thought people might be getting bored and I couldn’t bring myself to delete any of the 11 books I’d already written about to make a nice round 10.
So here are the 11 amazing books with 11 amazing quotes that affected me in some way or left a deep impression . . .
- The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
At over 1000 pages long one might suggest that The Count of Monte Cristo changed my life because it took up so much of my time. This is a plausible argument. However, it changed my life because I think it is one of the greatest stories ever written. There is pretty much nothing that this book doesn’t contain – love- platonic and romantic, hate, revenge, pain, politics, religion, history, philosophy, psychology. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest novels of all time; Dumas creates characters that you feel entirely invested in. The Count of Monte Cristo is a hugely interesting discussion on human nature dominated by a protagonist who simultaneously repels and irresistibly attracts you.
“Just like there is a gulf between me and the past, so there is a gulf between you and other men, and my most painful torture, I can tell you, is to make comparisons. There is no one in the world your equal; there is nothing that resembles you.”
.2. Paradise Lost – John Milton
Not a novel but an epic poem you could probably make the same argument as with Monte Cristo that, at 12 books longs, Paradise Lost changed my life because it took up far too much of my time. Admittedly, it is not an easy read and it is highly unlikely that anyone without an educational or professional interest in the epic poem will ever read it. I will confess that when I was forced to read books 1 and 2 for my AS Levels I was not best pleased at the prospect. However, Paradise Lost caught my imagination more than any other text I have studied. At 12 books long, unsurprisingly, it is rich with so many varying dimensions – politics, religion and misogyny all playing huge roles. Yet the most fascinating aspect for me is that John Milton takes a figure that should be hated, somebody that should disgust us and puts us into his mind. Of course this is something that is done regularly nowadays, one thing that springs to mind is the awesome TV show Dexter, which took a sick psychopath and managed to make me fancy him (but then maybe that’s just my taste in men). However, John Milton did it before it got cool – he took the Devil and made him eloquent and attractive, he led us to feel some sort of empathy with him and an inevitable admiration towards him. I was inspired so much that my dissertation was a modernisation of Paradise Lost in prose form.
“Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.”
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
In my hierarchy of literary favourites this is at number 2. People often express surprise at the fact that I have a hierarchy of literary favourites, but if you know me you will know that I have a tendency to rank everything by favourites – films, food, friends, family. Oscar Wilde writes with an undeniable beauty and wit that can make any aspiring writer read his work and wish they could sell their soul to the Devil to write like him. The Picture of Dorian Gray is the most interesting depiction of beauty I have ever read. Wilde shows how powerfully alluring and attractive beauty is; he demonstrates that beauty is a thing to be celebrated and yet he shows how appalling and destructive it can be. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a depiction of how everything is not as it seems and the beautiful may also be the damned (yes, that is an elegant phrase stolen from Fitzgerald but it seemed fairly appropriate). However, the best thing about Dorian Gray is that Wilde doesn’t depict the destruction of beauty in a ‘it’s what is on the inside that counts’ kind of way: there is a very little sense of judgement or dictation at the end of the novel. We are never explicitly told what is right and what is wrong and we are left to make our own judgements. If you have seen the film, please do not judge the novel by that. The film is fucking awful, it is physically painful to watch.
“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
4. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
It seems there are few people left unchanged by The Great Gatsby. It is a novel widely considered one of the masterpieces of modern history; a beautifully written story that leaves you feeling slightly unsatisfied at the end. The Great Gatsby has no one singular meaning, it means so many different things to different people. I guess you could say that about any book, but it seems particularly so with The Great Gatsby. To some, its importance is in the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in 1920s America, to others it is in the hedonistic state of a post-war society, or the unique depiction of love or the very interesting portrayal of women. There is so much to be taken from such a small book. One of the most interesting things about The Great Gatsby and one of the most widely debated topics in literary criticism is not its protagonist but its narrator. Studying The Great Gatsby brought to my mind a concept I had never considered – how much of the story can be trusted as truth when narrated by an imperfect human individual.
“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
5. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
If there is one way in which this book changed my life it was to give me the understanding that Hollywood movies like The Notebook and Titanic are imperfect in their portrayal of love. The Remains of the Day is one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read and I’m not going to lie . . . pretty much nothing happens. It is an entirely modest portrayal of love and yet it is more true to human nature than any love story I have read, or film I have ever seen. It is more tragic than Allie’s alzeihemers (ardent Notebook fans will know what I’m talking about), it is more heartbreaking than Rose refusing to budge on that stupid cupboard door (everyone should know what I’m talking about). Ishiguro is a master at creating tragic and entirely depressing literature which, in my sadistic view, is the best kind.
“Indeed — why should I not admit it? — in that moment, my heart was breaking.”
6. Never Let Me Go –Kazuo Ishiguro
As previously stated Ishiguro is a master of the understated tragedy, a genius in his ability to capture the true misery and beauty of human nature. I’ve just finished a book of his called The Unconsoled, with some moments that genuinely wrenched my heart, and others that frustrated my optimism so much that I almost threw the book across the room and stopped reading halfway through (that is no exaggeration). Never Let Me Go is one of these. I want to do the book justice, but I don’t want to give anything away for those who would like to read it. In this novel Ishiguro does something which I haven’t seen done in the same way (but then again I haven’t read every book in the world) – he deals with the soul in an understanding completely devoid of religion. Ishiguro’s book affected me so much because I found myself feeling that the events within the novel, which are more than slightly immoral, could easily take place within our society.
“Poor creatures. What did we do to you? With all our schemes and plans?”
7. Harry Potter . . . all of them
I felt that after the complete melancholy of Ishiguro I’d bring a little bit of light into the blog. Harry Potter. I find it difficult to respect anyone my age whose life was not changed by Harry Potter. Indeed, I have no respect for the appalling wretches who have only seen the films. Those seven books epitomise my childhood. My Mum used to read The Philosopher’s Stone to us and put on all the voices . . . she did a fantastic Hagrid. The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire were acquired on story tape when my Dad and Stepmum realised it was the best way to appease us for a long car journey. Every time we drove to France on holiday, every time we drove to Norfolk or Leeds or Wales – Harry Potter story tape. At the start, My Mum would buy the latest release, read it in a day and then give it to me or my brother to fight over, but by the time of The Deathly Hallows we were in France and she’d pre-ordered three in advance, because there was no way we could possibly wait. Not after Dumbledore died in The Half Blood Prince. That is no spoiler, everyone knows that Dumbledore dies . . . I remember exactly where I was when I read that chapter. I remember hoping against all hopes that there would be a spell that would bring him back to life. And the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I carried on reading and Dumbledore was still not resurrected. Harry Potter for me is one of the best parts of my childhood, and I am happy to be of the HP generation.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
8. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Admittedly, I saw the film before I ventured onto the book, as I’m pretty sure is the general case. And yes, the film is brilliant – not least because of the storyline, but the acting and the cinematography is brilliant. The novel uses an anonymous narrator which is one of my preferred devices in writing (actually I think in my 3 years of studying creative writing I never once named a narrator . . . although this is probably because I hate choosing names). The novel is surprisingly different to the film, to name but one insignificant change the narrator meets Tyler Durden not on an airplane but on a nudist beach. The ending is hugely different and to be honest, as I’m writing it’s late and I can’t be bothered to hold back any spoilers . . . the narrator wakes up in a mental hospital and not only has a debate with God, but is approached by employees who turn out to be Project members telling him that the project is still going ahead as planned. This book knows how to do a twist, a twist that no one saw coming . . . until everyone saw the film. For me it brought to the forefront of my mind, the monotony of life, psychology and the role of capitalism and advertising.
“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
9. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
So everyone told me this book was amazing, that it was brilliant and I had to read it. I got ¾ of the way through the book and thought I was missing out on something, it was good but it wasn’t incredible. I started to think that perhaps people had built it up too much. However, it is not until the final chapter when the book reveals itself and it’s true worth. I have never known a book to entirely change in the final chapter, and make you reassess everything you have read previously. It’s fantastic. The book is pretty religious which people might find off putting. Something that fascinated me was that the protagonist devoutly follows three religions; he is Christian, Jewish and Muslim. This is a notion I had never previously considered and I thought it a fascinating concept.
“The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity; it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can.”
10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
There seems to be few who can do romance like the female novelists writing in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Brontë sisters included under this broad statement, and Emily Brontë in particular. I can’t say that this novel changed my life in anyway other than perhaps setting the precedent of an eternal passion like that of Cathy and Heathcliffe’s. In fact, I don’t think literature has really helped in setting a supremely elevated precedent for my understanding of love and passion.
“May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. “Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
11. The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
This is the only book I have willingly read more than once – in fact that I have read four times. This is the only book that has ever made me cry. This is only the book to make me cry four times, for every time I read it. It isn’t a classic, it isn’t particularly hard to read (although the opening is quite confusing, you’ve got to power through), it is just a lovely book. It’s set in Nazi Germany but it’s less a depiction of Fascism and more a representation of human nature with a Fascist backdrop. I have never felt so entirely invested in characters, to me, they are so human. Even though everyone spends most of their time calling each other ‘Arshloch’ a.k.a ‘Asshole’, it is not only a lovely depiction of human relationships but it is a true one – I spend most of my time calling my friends things like asshole but probably with more profanity. Since I have never felt so invested in characters, I have never felt so heartbroken when they die. The book is truly beautiful; it made me laugh out loud, and it made me cry. I mean, it is narrated by death . . . that’s pretty damn brilliant. It is a book that, within it, portrays the special role books can play in a person’s life and the power of words. And the best thing about it (and this is how I judge a good book): as I was reading it I wanted so much to finish it so that I could find out what happened in the end, and yet when I finished I felt sad and slightly empty that it was over.
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. . . I am haunted by humans.”
I’m seriously excited and seriously anxious about seeing the film because I have a feeling that, though it might be a good film, no film will ever be able to do the book the justice that it deserves. To be honest, I think that’s the case with all literature. The film may be good by itself, but in comparison to the book it can never surpass. The most recent Baz Luhrmann rendering of The Great Gatsby was great, but there is so much in the book itself that can never be transferred to film. The Remains of The Day starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, nominated for eight academy awards, was a wonderful film but not nearly as subtly beautiful as the book. And like I’ve already insinuated, The Picture of Dorian Gray film was pretty damn horrendous.
So there we have it. 11 of the best books that I have ever read.
I realise that anyone who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of literature may not have found this particularly interesting. If you a) actually carried on reading or if you b) actually like my cynical and sarcastic blog posts . . . well not to worry, I’ll be back soon, cynical and sarcastic as ever.
For anyone who does appreciate the beauty of literature . . . you are better people than that other lot. And if you actually read physical books, as opposed to kindles or their lesser known equivalents, you are even better and you will go straight to heaven when the kindlers will be stuck in purgatory.