If you've been following along, I've been doing my own version of Vickie Motter's series on guilty pleasure books, comfort books and books that changed her life. This is the final one, on books that changed my life.
I mentioned last time that 'Amrita' by Banana Yoshimoto fit under comfort books, but also under books that changed my life. This was the first truly international book that I read, not counting all the European stuff we grow up with, or Jostein Gaarder which I will get to later. The style of Yoshimoto's writing was so unlike anything I had ever read before that it kind of blew me away. In so much of what she writes, the action happens off-stage and her stories are about the emotional fall-out that follows. They are... very quiet, but full, like that first big breath you take after swimming underwater. This really opened up my eyes to what is possible, outside the familiar realm of European-centric literature. Besides Poe and Kafka, this author is the one who (I think) has had the biggest influence on my writing today.
Since I mentioned Jostein Gaarder, I have to talk about 'Sophie's World'. I was in grade seven when I first read this. My sister, one year older, had a teacher who mentioned this book in class and for some reason she bought it, though I think she never actually finished reading it. Our family was on a trip to Hawaii when I borrowed it from her and coincidentally, that very same teacher was on the flight with us, recognized my sister, and noticed me reading it. A few months later, he singled me out on the first day of high-school, in my first period English class. That experience shaped a lot of my high-school years, but more importantly, that was the first book that really made me think about what I was reading. It wasn't just a story.
The next on my list of life-changing books is actually a series called 'Borderlands'. I ended up giving them away a couple years after I finished them because they creeped me out so much, despite the fact that I bought all five books in the series and devoured each of them in a single sitting. They are short story collections. Horror stories, but not the slasher kind, they are psychological horror. One story, I can't remember from which book (I think the third), is told in 2nd person perspective, and describes walking through a house at night. How the furniture looks like monsters, the feel of light and shadow and what things could be hiding in the dark corners and how even the most familiar, comfortable household things appear scary and full of danger... the writing was amazing. Eerily creepy, like a childhood nightmare, you get submerged into it. Because the story is in 2nd person, you feel like you really are the main character, but it's very weird, oddly surreal, like you're hopped up on cold medication or something. The story ends with the reader realizing that the main character is walking around in the house of a family he/she has just killed... and, when you're feeling like you are that character, it's very unsettling. Again, this series really shaped the way I view limits of stories/books and what strange things are possible, though I truly never intend to read them again. I'd have to say, this particular story still haunts me... I think about it every time I get up at night to get a glass of water, and get a little shiver down my spine.
On a lighter note, the last book that changed my life was 'Thirteen Clocks' by James Thurber. My English teacher, the same one who introduced Jostein Gaarder to my sister, (and through her, to me) read us this funny little book, one chapter per week. It is the story that made me want to spin my own stories and tell my own fairy-tales. After many years of searching, my mother stumbled across a second-hand copy in a used bookstore in Hope, BC. It is one of the few material possessions that I treasure.
What are some of the books that shaped you, and why?