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five books that changed my life.

June 29, 2011

it’s always fun for writers to talk about the “books that changed their liiiiiiiiiiives, dahhhhling” because we are pretentious assholes. we like flaunting our literary know-how. one of my favourite websites – the frisky – has all their editors posting lists of five books that changed their lives. i don’t know why. it’s probably book awareness week, or something. newsflash: EVERY WEEK OF MY LIFE IS BOOK AWARENESS WEEK.

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so i did it. i did the literary masturbation. literary circle jerk. read my well-read-ness and WEEP.

no, in all actuality, it was interesting to do this. i named the first five i thought of, right in the first ten seconds, and they are pretty much what i’d stick with.

my rules: i excluded poetry. books of poetry are mutable, ever-changing. anthologies of poems change with different editors, editions, moods of the writer. (not a judgment. simply a fact). if i were to do this with poetry, i would have to do merely the five poems that changed my life, but that is another post all together, yes?

here we go. the five books that changed my life.

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number 1 – the bible. a HA. or as my favourite doctor would say  – “bru. gotcha.” you thought this book would never come up. maybe at some point in my life i thought this book would never come up. religion and i have an interesting and convoluted relationship that spans the roman catholic, ukrainian catholic, and anglican churches. you all know i went to roman catholic school for ten years. the bible changed me in one main way: that it made me give up my religion. i clearly remember being 13, in class at school, and asking why the bible (why the faith i was baptised in) said that being gay was wrong. i was told i could choose to leave the catholic faith. and so i did. the bible is full of some of the most hateful things i’ve come across – if not necessarily starting as hateful, then becoming hateful through the warped words of false prophets (what golden calves they are!). the things that have been carried out in the name of the bible are too cruel and too many to write about. and then the bible also has these twisted, beautiful stories about hard-hearted angels, and pillars of salt, and incest, and men who live for hundreds and hundreds of years. and all these terrifying, exquisite parables. it’s a hard dichotomy, the bible. it’s a patchwork thing put together by what i picture to be bigoted men of yore. the apocrypha is what interests me the most. but for now, the bible is at the top of the list. but maybe not for the reasons you expected.

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number 2 – hesiod’s theogony. ugh i’m making myself gag with my pretension even writing this, but it’s true. the theogony is not so much a book as it is a complex mixture of family tree and poetry. hesiod catalogues all of the stories and all of the genealogies of the ancient greek gods. and if you know me, you know i slobber over this shit. i was considering going into classics before i realised that i would have even less of a career in that field of work. classics and the greek stories thrill me. from the theogony, the first work on my intro to classics course in university, i jumped to the iliad (boring), the odyssey (always pick kharybdis over the scylla), the golden ass (what. the. fuuuuuuuck) and the aeneid (beautiful but horrid). the theogony cracked open a world i was only just attempting to peek into, and my writing today reflects that.

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number 3 – as i lay dying (william faulkner). you KNEW he had to be on here somewhere. you KNOW how much i adore this lying drunk of a man. what a smooth talker. what a hero. the first faulkner book i read was actually the sound and the fury but i was so bamboozled at first by that book that i didn’t absorb it properly. as i lay, however, flew by in a flurry of coppery sweat, death-stink summer, pure and unbridled animalistic insanity. faulkner is my writing hero. i have a whole other blog post that i am going to write about him, but what i most admire is that he didn’t coddle his readers. he wrote full well knowing that only a specific subset of people would have the patience and the knowledge and the grit to pick up his books and make it through them, and he didn’t give a SHIT. he used words that were scintillating and glowed amongst the rubble of the other writers of his time (im looking at you, papa doble). faulkner burned his words into the page with an unapologetic mien. he had no patience for the cowardly, the lazy, the stupid. i can’t pull off that literary braggadocio, but i admire it so greatly that i’d like to think that it gives me confidence. (this is only one of the reasons i like faulkner. but it’s the main one.)

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number 4 – the hobbit (jrr tolkien). my father is the tolkien fan. i tried to read the ring trilogy and got so bored i stopped. (i have a rule that i stole from one of my professors – if a book bores you after fifty pages, throw it across the room! don’t read it!) while the trilogy made me want to swallow my own tongue, the hobbit was a different kettle of fish. my father started reading a beautiful big old illustrated (the picture of smaug, indolent on his riches, bilbo crouched, wary – i still remember it) version to me when i was really, really young. this is not bragging, this is truth. i was probably about five or six because it is a very vague memory but a memory nonetheless. this book was important to me because it was a moment between my father and myself, but more so because it was the first time i really remember taking reading into my own hands. dad would come in to my room every night and read me a portion of the book. and then one night i was too impatient with how slowly he was reading, and i started to read it myself. the book was good, and i can’t wait for the movie, but the book is so important to me because it was the dawn of my real reading.

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number 5 – practical magic (alice hoffman). i am such a huge hoffman fan. it was my mother who recommended her to me, which is a big step for a mother to suggest such luscious, laden books to a daughter who is just coming into her own burgeoning sexuality. hoffman helped that journey in a big way. her writing is amazing – and you may laugh because she a NYT bestseller, and because she has written so many books that she runs the risk of becoming a parody of herself – but there is a thick cadence to her tone that never fails to get me. my copy of practical magic is tattered and faded and so beat up because it has survived so many years of being dragged from place to place. it’s just sexy. it showed me how writing can be physical, body-centric, adjective-laden and still strike a powerful thing inside of me. she walks the line between cheap and dire, and walks it well. (don’t watch the movie. don’t do it.)

 

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and those are my books. laugh, scoff, or become interested in them. they changed the way i write and the way i read. they are powerful and funny and odd and off-kilter, and maybe not what you (or i) expected.

what are your five?!

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