Books saved me. For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading. I genuinely cannot remember a time when I was without books. Even Before I learned to read, I made my mom read my favorite children’s books to me, over and over, until I had memorized all the words. I would stay up with my lamp on, flipping through each page and narrating my version back to myself.
“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”
When I learned to read a whole new universe was open to me. I still remember the first book that transported me completely and utterly into it’s world, a world I never wanted to leave: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I spent months after finishing that book, opening closet doors, shifting through clothes, praying to find a secret passage that would lead me to Narnia.
As a child (and still to this day) much of my reading took place late at night. Even as a kid, I had trouble turning my mind off, different anxieties and worries all piling up in my brain and unable to sleep. Books saved me and showed me for the first time, that I wasn’t alone.
Before the wonderful world Goodreads, I compiled a list of every book I read, including the date I finished it and a short review, in notebooks that sat on my night stand. In a separate journal, I still write down quotes and passages that stick out to me, in the books I read (although, Goodreads also has an extensive library of quotes from every book imaginable and allows you to create your own quote list).
A few months ago on Facebook, someone tagged me to come up with Five Books that changed me in some way and that got me thinking……so…. I came up with a list of six books I’ve read through out the course of my life that have changed me in some way:
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Up until One Hundred Years of Solitude, the only “classic” novels I had read were the ones assigned to me for classes in high school. In fact, it was Mrs. Barney, my English Honors teacher and favorite teacher who mentioned in class one day that One Hundred Years of Solitude was one of her favorite books…I checked it out from the school library that night.
One Hundred Years chronicles the epic rise and fall of the mythical South American town of Macondo, while charting the history of the extensively populated Buendia family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.” (Goodreads)
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the very first book I read as an adult, in which I became completely engrossed in the magnetic, magical, alluring world Marquez created, a world I never wanted to leave.
I had never encountered a writer like Marquez, a genius storyteller, brilliant writer, with questionable sanity. It created in me a passion for all Gabriel Garcia’s books and introduced me to my favorite fiction genre: magical realism. Solitude was responsible for deepening and broadening my passion for reading and sparked in me a love of words. Gabriel Garcia Marquez taught me through One Hundred Years of Solitude how to to look beyond what you can see in the everyday to peer into the beyond.
Where One Hundred Years of Solitude is vast and wordy, making your head spin with detail and complexity, Perks of Being a Wallflower is breathtakingly simple and pure.
The main character and narrator, is Charlie, Perks of Being a Wallflower is responsible for introducing me to is one of my all time favorite literary characters: Charlie, a shy, introspective, socially awkward, but highly intelligent incoming high school freshman, with a unique and refreshing view of the world.
While Perks of Being a Wallflower is no doubt aimed at younger audiences with it’s simplified style and diminutive number of pages, everyone can identify with the ‘coming of age” themes in the book and misfits trying to fit in.
What endeared me so much to Charlie and Perks of Being a Wallflower was his struggle to understand and deal with his fragile mental health. I am probably not the only one who sees themselves in Charlie, as he tries to understand who he is, why he feels so different from everyone else, desperate to find where he fits in, and to make sense out of life. I wish I had read this book while I was in high school, it would have saved me a lot of stress.
3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is undisputedly one of American Literature’s most esteemed masterpieces, Steinbeck’s “magnus opus.”
Out of some strange book stubbornness, I avoided reading East of Eden for many years. Post college, I think I had burnt myself out on trying to only ever read the classics, I was worried East of Eden would let me down, but of course it did not.
But in Steinbeck’s sprawling Eden, some of fiction’s most mesmerizing characters are born. “He expertly explores :explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.”It is a sprawling story of two families and their intertwined destinies. East of Eden is often referred to as the “classic retelling of Genesis’ story of Cain and Able” through brothers Cal and Aaron. But Steinbeck goes much, much deeper.
Timshel, my friends, timshel.
4. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
One of my favorite past times is underlining beautiful passages in the books I read and write them in my journal….While skimming back through my old copy of The Waves, I noticed that almost every page had at least a few lines underlined, while other pages were almost completely underlined.
The Waves is a novel unlike any other. More poetry, than novel, The NY Times calls Woolf’s writing style in The Waves as“poetic brilliance…a symphonic poem” There are six main characters, although Woolf is not concerned in character formation and is written from the perspective of each character’s inner monologue, in which they think and express themselves in a poetic manner. The Waves focuses on the poetic symbols of life. The language is beautiful, sensual, lyrical ,deeply philosophical and life and nature are interconnected.
5. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is probably the most disturbingly dark and wonderfully strange books I have ever read (and I’ve read some weird stuff!) Let me explain why:
Geek Love follows the Binewskis, a traveling, carnival “freak” show family. And by freaks, I mean freaks: the narrator and heroine, is Olympia, a deformed, albino, humpbacked dwarf, her brother is Arturo, the Aqua-Boy, born with fins for limbs, the Siamese twin sisters, Electra and Ipheginia, and Furtuno, who, in his family’s eyes, is born disappointingly normal. If that isn’t enough, the parents and the owners of the “Binewski’s Fabulon,” are also lacking in genetic flaws, but addicted to meth-amphetamine among other drugs, in hopes of creating more genetically mutated offspring to boost their business and beat out competitors.
Ahab’s Wife tells the life story of the woman who would marry the sea captain who battles Moby Dick, but she is so much more than that. Ahab’s Wife follows her on her journey to find love and tranquility:
“A magnificent, vast, and enthralling saga, Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife is a remarkable epic spanning a rich, eventful, and dramatic life. Inspired by a brief passage in Moby Dick, it is the story of Una, exiled as a child to live in a lighthouse, removed from the physical and emotional abuse of a religion-mad father. It is the romantic adventure of a young woman setting sail in a cabin boy’s disguise to encounter darkness, wonder, and catastrophe; the story of a devoted wife who witnesses her husband’s destruction by obsession and madness. Ultimately it is the powerful and moving story of a woman’s triumph over tragedy and loss through her courage, creativity, and intelligence.”