Books That Changed my World

Books That Changed my World

About a year ago, I posted on Austen Authors about the book group I’d joined. Now, several months later, I’m still entranced with the group and its choice of reading materials. Not all have been to my taste, but each book has expanded my viewpoint in one way or another. For example, I don’t always go in for non-fiction, but we’ve read some very good non-fiction this year that I’ve really learned from, and been entertained by as well. Recently, one of the founders of the group (they’ve been going strong for 26 years now, with about four of the original members, and others who have been members for much of that time) sent out a list of Powell’s Bookstore’s 25 Books to Read Before You Die. I found I’d read about nine of them already, and one we’re currently reading in the group.

This got me thinking, if I were to come up with a list of the 10 most influential books in my life, what would it look like? I decided that the criteria had to be books written before 1990 because those have stood the test of time. I love many other, more recent books, but thirty or so years of distance provides you with some perspective. The other criteria was that they had to be originally written in English, which is because, if I think of all the books I’ve loved or have influenced me, I’d have to include those originally written in Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Italian, French, Swedish, and on and on, and that starts to be hard to narrow down. The books on my list also have to be fiction. This is just my criteria, you might have others.

Most of those on my list are considered classics.They have either influenced me as a writer (though I read all of them before I became a writer), they were influential in my life in other ways, or I feel they’ve made a major impact not only on the world of literature, but on the world in general.They are, in no particular order, (drum roll, please):

  • Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  • Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker

This was a hard list to compile. Of course, Pride and Prejudice is the reigning queen of them all, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily more influential to me than some of the others – Their Eyes Were Watching God – in particular. I really wanted to add The Catcher in the Rye, but when one is making a list of ten, one has to be strict. All of these books I’ve read more than once – some of them, (and you can guess which one in particular) many, many times. I’m one of the few people I know that’s read Moby Dick three times. This book speaks to me through its sheer poetry. A more beautifully written novel is hard to find though I know some people have difficulty getting through it. The Color Purple hit me at a very impressionable time in my life, and though I may not have revisited it many times, it’s important to me that it be on this list. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly sentimental about Huckleberry Finn, but I do think it is one of the most important American books ever written. And Daniel Deronda is there, partly because my list cannot be without George Eliot, all of whose books I’ve read and adored, but also because it speaks to issues of race that no other writer was addressing at that time. I notice now that Dickens is conspicuously missing, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love him. Great Expectations was a very pivotal book for me. 

I’m sure I’ll think of others I’ve missed, but for now, my list stands. I would love to know if any of these books are on your top ten lists, and what others you’d add!



22 Responses to Books That Changed my World

  1. Loved the article and the comments. There are books here that I’ve loved and hated. I’m still trying to figure out why people like Wuthering Heights. It depressed me. There are a lot of people here who like Dickens, but no one has mentioned Our Mutual Friend, which is wonderful. I reread it every couple of years.

  2. For some reason the child Pip in Great Expectations always stuck with me. When I was working on my masters in special education, I had an assignment where I needed to write a fictitious behavior plan for a troubled child. I immediately thought of Pip and created a behavioral history of his actions, complete with comments and interviews with his sister and her husband, M/M Joe Gargery. It was interesting to follow the troubled orphan being raised by a reluctant and bitter sister. It was fascinating looking at this story from such a different angle and seeing things through the eyes of an educator. I received good marks, by the way.

  3. I couldn’t list just ten. Wouldn’t know where to start. I can’t say any books influenced my life. Maybe they have and I just don’t realise it. Persuasion, North and South and Middlemarch would definitely be on my list. Also Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. I read Dickens in my early teens and these two novels stayed with me. Very interesting post.

    • Yes, Middlemarch for me too, and David Copperfield. Persuasion is my fav JA after P and P. I don’t know why I feel compelled to make lists of favorite or top ten things, but it seems to help me organize certain areas of my life 🙂

  4. Here’s my list, as best as I can make it: 1) the Bible (read it completely through at least 3 times, but probably more), 2) Pride & Prejudice (read at least 50 times, maybe more,) 3) Jane Eyre (4 or 5 times … it’s one seriously long book,) 4) Little Women, 5) Little House on the Prairie, 6) This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti (which I cannot read right before bed; actually, I can’t read any of his books right before bed,) 7) The Scarlet Letter, 8) Animal Farm, 9) White Fang, and 10) Persuasion. Most of these I have read more than once, the exceptions being Animal Farm and White Fang. Those two made a huge impression on me, even though I never picked them up again, and that’s why I included them.

    I always love seeing what others have read, and sharing what I read! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. Great list!! I’d like to add a book that’s my joint favourite,along with Pride & Prejudice,namely North &South.
    I second the inclusion of Anne of Green Gables. Loved it!

  6. Most of these are on my list . I’ve never read Moby Dick. I would probably add Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and Wuthering Heights as well as a lot of others. I am quite the bookworm!

  7. That’s a nice list, Georgina, and this is a fun post 🙂

    Changed my life… I read a lot, and have my whole life, but as to actually ‘changed my life,’ that’s tougher. If I had to list eleven, I wouldn’t know what to add to this (probably my Behavioral Psychology and Neurology textbooks, as well as my basic statistics one), as I’m only including books that I can honestly say shaped the course of my life or how I view the world.

    As a big fantasy reader I like ‘Chronicles,’ which come in sets for the story to be done, so I’m going to break the single book rule right away. I will say, the before 1990 rule doesn’t put any restriction on my choices 🙂

    Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
    The Belgariad by David Eddings
    The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
    The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
    Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
    A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
    Animal Farm by George Orwell
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

      • I don’t know what that says about your cat that you went with Kitiara instead of Laurana or Goldmoon! 🙂 Actually, if I were naming one of my cats for a Dragonlance character, it would be Tika. Then I could call her, “Tika-Tika. Tika-Tika!”

        • LOL She was a feisty one, my Kit. I miss her.

          Kitiara was my favorite female character. Not sure what that says about me, either, but I was in my early 20’s then and pretty angry. I think I wanted to be like her. LOL

    • You’re definitely a fantasy fan! I love a lot of sci fi, and definitely the Chronicles of Narnia. I have The Lord of the Rings on my list to kind of represent that genre, because I consider it among the best of the genre. The only reason I didn’t include the whole Fellowship of the Ring was because I was trying to keep it to individual books 🙂

      • I know, I cheated terribly by listing chronicles 🙂 I didn’t put LotR because I didn’t read it until I was older, so it didn’t shape me in any way. Not like the listed ones, at least. My father read us the Hobbit when we were little but, frankly, I couldn’t get through LotR until I was grown up. It’s not the easiest read.

        At one point I would have included The Fountainhead, Steppenwolf and The Stranger in my top ten list, but I’ve sort of gotten over them. They seemed important when I was younger, and now they don’t so much. Now, I’m much more interested in enjoying what I’m reading than feeling profound about it. I don’t know what that says about me 🙂

  8. I’ve read all the books on your list except Daniel Deronda and will have to check it out. My list would definitely include P&P, Jane Eyre, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d also add Animal Farm (George Orwell), Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis). After taking a look at my keeper shelf, I’m not sure how I’d pick only five out of all my favorites to finish out the list!

    • Yep, I get it Nancy, this was a hard list to compile. You will have to check out Daniel Deronda, it’s an amazing book. I left off Dostoyevsky because of my English only rule (random, but it made it easier to compile). Otherwise, I would have also included War and Peace.

  9. Just ten – whew, that’s tough! I don’t think I could make a list that short! LOL. But the Bible would definitely be at the top of my list. Pride and Prejudice would probably be #2. Lord of the Rings, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Scarlet Letter, A Christmas Carol, the Chronicles of Narnia . . . . my list just goes on and on! And now I shall have to add some from your list to my TBR pile.

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