Ten books that stand out in my reading life

A couple of months ago Emma at A Wordless Blogger tagged me for the Ten Influential Books Tag.  I’ve recently decided not to do awards anymore, partly because I keep getting nominated for the same award over and over, partly because I am out of eleven facts to share about myself, partly because I never know who to nominate, but mostly because I forget about the things until I one day start clearing out no longer relevant bookmarks in my browser and discover there are a bunch of old award nominations I just never got around to.

But this blog-tag sounded fun, as I’m all about books, reading them and writing them, after all.  Then I ran into a problem:  this tag contained no description, only a name.  And what does it mean if I say “Ten most influential books”?  The most influential books ever?  As Jimmy over at Dysfunctional Literacy never gets tired of pointing out, you can’t nominate any book the best ever unless you’ve read them all.

Okay, books that have influenced me, then.  That’s a tough one.  Sure, there have been books that have influenced me, my way of thinking and my outlook on life, but most of them were non-fiction, many of them were academic texts, and I can’t remember them specifically – when I come across something significant which I want to add to my life, I absorb it and internalise it, I don’t make a note of where I found it (I also don’t highlight novels or write down quotes).

So I decided to decided to depart a little from the brief and share with you ten books that have stood out in my reading life thus far.

Twenty Thousahd Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne
The Classics

Jules Verne’s Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under The Sea is, in my memory, the first English classic I ever read.  I read it in the eighth grade, during breaks at school (yes, I was a nerd).  It was also my first real introduction to Science Fiction.

The Small Bachelor is not the first P.G. Wodehouse story I read, but it’s my favourite.  It tells the story of a wannabe-artist name George Finch who lives in a rooftop apartment in New York during the Prohibition.  In true Wodehouse style it’s filled with misunderstandings and hijinks and is hands-down the funniest book I’ve ever read.  (When I was still courting my wife I read it to her (yeah, we’re weird like that).  It was great fun.  Should really do it again.)

Bekkersdal Marathon
The Short Stories

My high school English teacher first introduced me to South Africa’s greatest short story writer in a humorous little tale entitled Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy.  But my favourite story by my namesake, Herman Charles Bosman, is A Bekkersdal Marathon which is also the title of this short story collection.  It tells of how, one morning in church in the small town of Bekkersdal, the reverend went into a trance just after announcing the hymn but never specifying the verses.  The hymn?  Psalm 119.  Bosman could match wits with Wodehouse any day, but could also write prose as moving and heart-wrenching as the best Hemingway and Steinbeck had to offer.

My first introduction to Jeffrey Archer was also by way of short stories.  Say what you want about a man, he knows how to write an unexpected ending.  From his short stories I graduated to his novels, and own every one except the latest (I’m just waiting for the paperback release).  I even managed to turn my father into a fan, and generally we don’t read the same stuff (my two forays into his crime thriller collection didn’t go that well).

Guards Guards by Terry Pratchett, Wishsong of Shannara by Terry Brooks, Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My staple food

As mentioned before, I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! in the local library in high school.  I picked it up because the cover looked interesting, and never have I been more happy in judging a book by its cover.

Asimov’s Foundation I found a few years later in my college town’s library.  In something unheard of in my prior library experience they had the entire series, and most of his short stories.  Today I have them too 🙂  I’ve seen people comment that his writing was terrible, but I haven’t noticed it.  What I do know is that he knew how to tell a story and his knowledge of humanity and the world we live in is visible in every piece of fiction he wrote.

In my local library I always saw the Shannara novels by Terry Brooks, but never the first one, and even back then I refused to read a trilogy or series out of order.  In the end I relented and read The Wishsong of Shannara as it was the only one of his books I could track down and at that point I had nothing else to read.  In hindsight this was a good thing: had I read The Sword of Shannara first I probably wouldn’t have finished it, as the first novel of the Shannara trilogy, while considered a classic example of epic fantasy today, was not that good.  (The best of the three is The Elfstones of Shannara and it’s being turned into a television series.  Yay!)

Mister God This Is Anna by Fynn and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The ones that leave you a blubbering mess

I discovered Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn (aka Sydney Hopkins) when I was staying with relatives during a holiday during my first year in college.  It tells the story of a little girl the narrator finds on the street and takes into his home.  His intention is to take care of her, but she ends up changing his life instead through her unique perception of the world around her and her faith in “Mister God”.  A year or so later I found my own copy in a second-hand bookshop but have since passed it on to a student of mine who was going through a very rough patch at one point.  The anthology in the photo I gave to the wife for her birthday our final year in college (though she wasn’t close to being the wife yet at that point).

I won’t say much about The Book Thief here.  I still haven’t quite gotten over it.  My only comment is read at own risk.

If you can’t guess what my tenth book is, you haven’t been reading this blog very long.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
The high school text book

Most people end up hating their high school text books, but this book is still so relevant for our societies, nowadays even more so than when Orwell wrote it.  I have waxed lyrical often enough about Animal Farm and George Orwell, so I won’t say anymore here.

Special mention:

That’s ten, but I need to add one more book to this list:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My new favourite book

I’m still busy with this one, but it’s one phenomenal novel and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to read it.  Scout is without a doubt the best narrator ever, and the story explores humanity at so many levels.  There will be a review coming, so watch this space.

There are many more books and authors I can mention here, and selecting these ten (plus one) was torture, but let’s leave it at that.  I’m not going to nominate anyone, but if this tag tickles your fancy, feel free to take it.

May your weekend be filled with great books like these.

9 thoughts on “Ten books that stand out in my reading life

  1. Ha ha, thanks for the mention. I’m thinking about choosing a genre and reading every book so that I could claim to know which book was the BEST EVER, but I haven’t found a small enough genre, and I’m kind of a slow reader. Maybe a sub-genre would be more manageable.

    I’m surprised that Elfstones of Shannara is considered the best one. It wasn’t bad, but… I don’t know.

    1. For me Elfstones was the best; I don’t know about general opinion but it is the one picked for its own TV show… The pacing of Sword of Shannara was off for me and the climax a little anti-climactic – the battle in which the secondary characters took part was much more exciting than the protagonist’s confrontation will the dark lord, or whatever he was called. And Wishsong felt too much like Tolkien without being Tolkien (but that’s the most common criticism levelled against Brooks by reviewers 😀 )

      Try paranormal post-apocalyptic steampunk romance. There can’t be many books fitting that description 😉

  2. I love your choices. I’m a Wodehouse fan, as you know (interesting that you chose The Small Bachelor), but I also read my first Jules Verne just a few weeks ago and loved it. As for Animal Farm – not a surprise, but absolutely worthy of inclusion.

    1. Why interesting? My first encounter was, I think, with a collection of Jeeves short stories. But I think what I like with this story is that the insanity just escalates from chapter to chapter – in the short stories it comes in short bursts but the novel becomes a comic overdose that leaves me giggling for days afterwards.

      BTW, I also got to know this author thanks to my high school English teacher. We never read him in class as far as I can recall, but she mentioned him at some point and I went looking for his books in the local library. That woman was probably the single biggest human influence on my reading life. Needless to say, English was my favourite subject.

  3. Funnily enough, I don’t pass on blog awards for the same reasons… 🙂 Time is a killer for me when it comes to those things too…

    The hammer motif’s great!

    As for 10 (fiction) books that have influenced me? It started in my youth, and some of those books remain with me today. Everything By Tolkien (OK, it’s not a book, but you know what I mean and I just wanted to wedge them all into a single slot…). All Robert Heinlein’s ‘Juveniles’, Arthur Ransome’s sailing stories (that’s 3 slots…honest…)… and, as an adult more recently, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road particularly stands out, among others.

    1. I’ve heard good things about Kerouac’s novels. I should try to find one.

      I purposely omitted Tolkien and Lewis exactly because I can’t pick a single book, and everyone who reads fantasy always mentions Tolkien, so I thought I’d give some others a chance. Likewise with the Harry Potter books and Douglas Adams’s work.

      In other news, what do you say about Peter Jackson possibly directing an episode in the new season of Doctor Who? I like the idea, as long as he doesn’t try to turn it into a trilogy 😉

  4. Here’s some fun trivia for you: excluding To Kill a Mockingbird, I have read one of the ten books you listed. Which one do you suppose that might be? If you guess correctly, I’ll give you a great song title. If you are wrong, I’ll give you something less great. 🙂

    1. Hmmm. Not Animal Farm, for surely you would have commented on one of my many posts on it by now if you had. Let me think about this one…

      You do realise there’s nothing forcing me to use every title you send me, don’t you? Except, of course, the persisting fear that you might write a post with the title “People who don’t use my suggestions insult my intelligence”.

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