I was looking through Neil Gaiman’s blog earlier (I visit it every now and then to read about his daily life, book updates, and words of advice) and I came across a video on the three books that changed his life. It got me thinking about my own list of life-altering literature.
It was my dad who introduced me to the wonderful world of fiction and it’s something I will always be grateful for. I remember being such a nerd, reading in the car, in the dark, in family gatherings, while eating and even walking – it came to a point where I had to wear corrective glasses. Nevertheless, I was happiest when I had a book in hand, immersed in extraordinary worlds and stories. It wasn’t too hard, though, to know which ones really stood out and made an impact in my life. I came up with these five titles, almost instantly, written by my favorite authors:
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The most popular book from the Narnia series is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which I loved. But the very first one I read was this prequel. My dad had suggested that I start with The Magician’s Nephew because it recounted how Narnia came to be.
It was a fascinating read, and it got me excited for the whole series. I went on to read everything until The Last Battle, which I wrote a report on for my 6th grade English class. Just as Lucy stumbled upon the wardrobe that opened into Narnia, I found the gateway into fantasy fiction in The Magician’s Nephew. It jumpstarted my love for magic, otherworldly creatures, wonder-filled journeys, and wanderers seeking out adventure.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I have a clear memory of my dad coming up the stairs, a book in hand, telling us how he had just purchased it after reading rave reviews in the newspaper. He told us it was about a young boy who found out he was a wizard. I remember taking the book in my hands and flipping through the pages, wondering what the fuss was all about. I loved the cover art instantly. And the story about The Boy Who Lived captured our (my father, my siblings, and I) imagination up until the last book in the series. My dad would always, always reserve the next book in advance, and when it arrived we would all be scrambling to get first dibs. It made me sincerely believe in magic, that I would get a letter from Hogwarts any day, and that I could command a broom to fly by shouting “Up!” in earnest.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
When I first heard of Sandman, it was in a speech by a high school teacher before the opening of a play. He had quoted a famous heart-wrenching passage that began with “Have you ever been in love?” I ran to the book store a few days after to check how much this Sandman comic was and found out to my dismay that it was way beyond my P100-allowance.
Luckily, a classmate of mine said I could borrow her copy. I brought it home and made the fortunate mistake of leaving it lying around for my father to discover. While I was out one day, I received a text from my father saying that he found the borrowed copy, read through it, and thought it was morbid, grotesque, etc…punctuated by “I love it.” The next time we were in a mall, my father marched to the bookstore, asked where the Sandman series was located and, much to my amusement, bought all the available volumes.
With that first graphic novel began my love affair with anything Neil Gaiman. It’s been such a delight to read his works, from the graphic novels to the short story anthologies to the novels. I admire the way he tells his stories – simple, conversational, easy to read, and sprinkled with wit and humor. Truthfully, he’s one of the reasons why I decided to become a writer. Everything he said about writing made sense. Want to be a writer? Write! Put one word after the other. Ask yourself: What If? Make good art.
I’ve learned a lot about the technical side of writing from school, orgs, and my dad, but reading Gaiman taught me the more important side of it – that to be a writer means to have a love for stories and to sit down each day and commit to putting them down.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
What if, in the future, all the books in the world were burned? Ray Bradbury explores the question and turns it into what he calls a “dime novel” which for all its complexity and imaginative language is worth more than mere dimes. While the story is riveting and mind-blowing for sure, it wasn’t the plot per se that changed my life; it was the man behind it.
Since I stumbled upon Ray Bradbury, I haven’t been able to get him out of my head. I’ve hunted down his books and read pages and pages of his stories, and his writing never ceases to amaze me – so full of fire, of explosive plots, and interesting characters. Who else could think up an African veldt that comes to life, a lonely sea monster that falls in love with a lighthouse, a mysterious crowd that gathers at every accident, a man who’s afraid of his own skeleton? Bradbury is a genius.
I’ve also read his non-fiction book called “Zen in the Art of Writing,” which is a piece of work that I go back to when I need a writerly pep talk. Right now, I’m reading The October Country (last copy, baby!) and it’s my favorite of his anthologies so far.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I picked up this book randomly after seeing that the cover was stamped with a National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction logo. I’m usually not a big fan of realistic fiction, but this was a real page-turner. The intersecting stories of the characters were poignant and hard-hitting.
The novel is about time and timing and growing up, about reality not meeting expectations, and learning to live with it. I was emotional after reading the last few pages; it got me thinking of a different set of What If questions. I wondered about lost opportunities, loves, and broken relationships, and how much of life is wasted on waiting for “the right moment.” One day we wake up, not knowing how we got to where we are, only to discover that we’ve been robbed little by little of our youth and vitality by the goon called Time. Anyway, it sounds depressing, but really, it’s an enlightening read with a hopeful ending.
What are the books that changed your life? I’d love to discover the stories that you love and treasure 🙂