We become writers a lot of the time because there are books that changed our lives or had a lasting impact on us…and we wanted to try and do the same as those authors did for us. At least, that’s why I became a writer.
There are those books that contain stories that stay with you for a lifetime. They change how you view life, love, and even death. Or sometimes they just make you laugh or cry. Whatever touched you within the pages of these books, they changed you and maybe even shaped who you have become.
There are also books that help shape who you become as a writer but, these are the stories the blew my mind. If you haven’t read any of them, you definitely should consider it. Maybe they will blow your mind too.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I read this book in college and it tore my white bread, suburban perspective on life apart. I knew of course about racism, sexual abuse, and domestic violence but never had I read anything like the tragic story of Pecola Breedlove. There’s a scene in the book that haunts me to this day: a young white boy throws a kitten across the room, slamming it into the wall, while Pecola looks on helplessly. The kitten slides down the wall, limp, and falls on the radiator. The smell of burning hair fills the room. The way Morrison describes the oppression and shame the main character feels watching this happen yet unable to stop it because of her color is seered into my psyche. Everyone should read this book to see where we’ve been as a human race, and hopefully never go back there again.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
The fact that this book is written by a man is mind-blowing. Period. His portrayal of a woman suffering from the lifelong affects of abandonment, rape, and mental illness is masterful. The main character, Dolores, who has spent her formative years eating for comfort in front of the television finds herself in adulthood tipping the scales at over 250 pounds. She somehow maintains her sense of humor through tragedy after tragedy and ultimately develops the self-esteem she has been missing all along. It was the first book I read that highlighted how people self-medicate with food, and one that did it in a way we could all see a little of ourselves in Dolores.
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
Anyone who has picked up a book by Barbara Kingsolver and read only a few words knows the artistry and skill of a master at her craft. This particular story is reminiscent of Heart of Darkness. It’s a journey into madness for one ill-fated family fueled by good intentions…and we all know that the road to hell is paved by good intentions. The backdrop is the Congo, which becomes a character of force in the story that slowly wears down the will of the father, Nathan Price, a Southern Baptist preacher, who has decided to take up the mission in Kilanga and convert all the godless primitive heathens to Christianity. The story still sticks with me because of the intermingling of social, ecological, and religious undertones combined with Kingsolver’s details and gorgeous writing. It got me to think bigger, beyond myself and my little world–which is something we should all do from time to time.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The plot is very simple: a fifteen year-old boy finds a dead poodle on a neighbor’s lawn, stabbed with a pitch fork and he begins his search to learn what happened and who did it. But it’s not the plot that makes this a mind-blowing story, it is how the protagonist tells his story. You see, Christopher Boone, the protagonist, has Asperger Syndrome, and sees the world through a very unique lens. The way the author captures this characteristics of this disorder and portrays the character dealing with his world is amazing. You truly begin to understand the struggles people with this disorder must deal with every day in every interaction and relationship. Christopher jumps from advanced astrophysics to the existence of God, from quadratic equations to his favorite animals at the zoo. Christopher’s narrative voice is unlike I have ever experienced and, he makes a wonderful guide through his fascinating journey.