The Top Five Books Which Have Shaped My Life

As this blog is a relatively new venture, and we are still getting to know one another, I thought instead of the usual review this week I would write a post about the books which have had an important impact on my life. Get in touch and let me know if you’ve read any of these books or tell me books which have influenced your life!

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m not going to waste your time by explaining the plot of this one, either you know it, or you’re not really interested if you don’t know it by now. As a young child, I read these books endlessly and they are what fostered in me a love of reading which has lasted throughout my life. They were challenging, exciting, fascinating and mysterious. The joy of continuing to read them as I have got older is that I have discovered more and more in the books which I didn’t previously understand or notice. The story is beautiful and nurtured my love of the outdoors. The depiction of Middle Earth and its beauty and horrors was wonderous and unlike anything else I had read. The release of the films of course sent this obsession into overdrive, but it is always the books which will always hold a special place in my heart as the first substantial piece of literature I became obsessed with. I still read The Lord of the Rings at least once a year and will continue to do so as long as I live.

1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell is my favourite author. There are many authors I love, idolise even but none come close to Orwell. I am going to write a separate piece all about my love of him in the coming weeks but for now let me discuss this book. I first came across it when I was sitting my English GCSE and one of the papers featured an extract from the book. Despite the stressful situation, I was gripped by the story instantly (it was the passage at the start of the novel when Winston first begins writing in his diary, in case you were wondering).

For some reason, it took a couple of years to get my hands on a copy of the book. I began reading at 9 p.m. and finished the next morning at 10 a.m. There aren’t many books I sit and read in one sitting but there was simply no way I was going to put the story down until I had finished it. Even now, despite having read the book more times than I care to imagine, I still get that same giddy feeling I always have opening the pages and stepping into the world of Big Brother. Orwell’s use of the English Language, his radical ideas, his world building are all magnificent. I’ve gone on to read everything I could by him since that night, but that first experience will stay with me forever. He changed the way I viewed the world around me and continues to do so.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

An awful lot has been written about A Little Life. Some claim it as the most inspirational, life-changing, important novel of it’s time, others dismiss it as the equivalent of misery-porn. I tend to side with the first group.

Jude and his friends are put through sheer hell in this story. You stay with them throughout their lives and grow incredibly attached to each of them as they go through break-ups and loss and promotions and all of life’s low and high points. At times it feels like Yanagihara is bullying her characters, such are the horrors they are put through. But also, the novel is undeniably beautiful. It’s exploration of friendships, abuse, mental health and sexuality are all handled with an honesty which is daring and refreshing. It is a long, gruelling story which had me in tears on multiple occasions, but it is an experience which every book lover should have. When you come out of the other side, it feels like something has changed. Your mind has been expanded; your thoughts clarified. The book is a storm but the calm which descends after is unlike any other.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This is the most recent novel on this list and was one of the chief inspirations behind my wanting to start a blog. I read the story over Christmas and Boxing Day and as I finished it, I realised I was desperate to talk about the book but had nobody I could discuss it with.

Colson Whitehead is the man behind The Underground Railway, which was the 2017 winner of the Pulitzer prize. While I did love that book, this one blew it out of the water. It is the story of a young black boy, Elwood, in 1960’s southern U.S.A, who is supposed to be going to college but instead, after an innocent mistake, ends up in a juvenile corrections facility masquerading as a children’s home. Elwood tries desperately to hang on to his convictions and his belief once he is in the hellish home. He is a devotee of Martin Luther King and tries to live by his words and love those who hate him, but he is surrounded by hate, abuse and maltreatment.

As a piece of literature exploring race it is close to unparalleled in my mind. Colson Whitehead writes with a force unlike anyone else. His prose is sharp, precise and thunderous. Each sentence is a work of art. I didn’t read any book better last year, perhaps ever. You simply must read this book. It is moving, poignant, funny, awful, scary and everything else a good story needs to be. The message is just as important today as it has ever been, and Colson Whitehead makes sure that you as the read know that. Just to add an extra dimension to this novel, it is in fact based on a real place and real events that did take place. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is the reason I needed to start a blog and I am going to write a full review of it in the coming weeks.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As far as iconic books go, they don’t come much more iconic than The Bell Jar. It even inspired the name of my blog! It is the story of Esther setting off to New York to work as a guest editor. We follow her as she begins to lose grip on reality, struggling to maintain her friendships or relationship and after returning home and attempting suicide she is placed in an asylum. Eventually, her circumstances improve but the question always remains for how long.

This plot is made even more poignant by the very real mental illnesses that Sylvia Plath suffered with up until her suicide in 1963. Mental Health is still stigmatised today so the fact that Sylvia Plath wrote such an unflinching, candid account of depression in the 1960’s is even more startling. The lyrical style of her prose, along with her poetic turns of phrases make reading The Bell Jar a magnificent experience. The word genius is often overused but, in this case, it is completely justified. If you don’t believe me, read some of Plath’s poetry which is as equally, if not more beautiful than her novel.

Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “The Top Five Books Which Have Shaped My Life

  1. The Lord of the Rings has (almost) that kind of place in my heart, too. I don’t read them every year, but I do reread them often. It is the epic tale of good vs, evil, the amount of courage required to carry out what is required, and Tolkien’s brilliant imagination which draw me in and keep me riveted.

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