September 24, 2014

My Top Ten (or 14) Most Influential Reads

Have you seen the little tag-posts going around on Facebook?  You write down the 10 most influential books you've ever read and then tag/challenge someone else to do the same.  Well, I can't just write my list without an explanation of why these books have been so influential to me (because some of them are definitely NOT my favorite books to read), and no one wants to read an essay on Facebook, so why not just link it to my blog instead?! So here goes (in no particular order):

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - Had to mention this one first because it is my all-time favorite book.  The writing, the story, the life lessons.  It is a literary masterpiece.  No wonder some musical geniuses were inspired by this book to create one of the best Broadway musicals of all time.....

2. The Book of Mormon - Not as "fun" of a read as Les Mis, The Book of Mormon has still influenced me more than any other book I've ever read.  If you want to know why, you should just go read it.  You don't have to become a Mormon or start going to church and stop enjoying your margaritas or anything; but just go read it. ;)

3. Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl - Do yourself a favor and go read this book!  I promise that no matter how you identify religiously or spiritually, you will come away from reading it feeling humbled, grateful, and uplifted.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - If you haven't read this book, you might be living under a rock?!  It was required reading in high school and it remains one of the best pieces of literature I've ever read, not just for how well written it is but for the beautiful lessons Scout learns about being courageous, compassionate, and more understanding.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - This is actually one of the least enjoyable books I've ever read so it would not make a list of my favorites, but it has nonetheless remained one of the most influential in my life.  It's a dark book that details the raw brutality of the slave trade within Africa and the destruction produced by man's greed.  It wasn't until the very last few sentences of the book that I realized that the book had a powerful message and something for me to really ponder and internalize.  Would I recommend others to read it?  I'm not sure, because I dislike it enough that I would NEVER want to read it again.  But is the read still worth what you get out of the book?  Maybe, because after all, the book did make my list.....

6. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis - A much more enjoyable read than Heart of Darkness, this book still explains through a piece of short fiction how ordinary and "good" people can find themselves eternally miserable by their seemingly small acts of pride.  If I made this list any longer, I'd have to include more C. S. Lewis books, because he is one of my favorite authors.

7. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli - A quick and enjoyable read (young adult novel) that I think every preteen and teen girl should read.  I still think of "Stargirl" every time I find myself caring too much about how I look or what other people think of me; because really, my time would be far better spent focusing on others and being kind.

8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - Another great literary piece that depicts a young girl's life in New York City and how she and her family rise above the challenges of poverty to find joy, hope, and meaning in life.  Thanks to my mom for recommending it, it's a new favorite and helps me change my perspective when I think life is getting tough.

9. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan - Nutrition has always fascinated me and I love watching documentaries and reading books about nutrition.  However, I find that so many of these documentaries and books have an agenda (i.e. to prove that gluten is toxic, or that all animal products are toxic) and will twist facts and present incomplete research in order to fulfill that agenda.  So to what source can one turn for sound, honest, science-based, and complete nutrition advice?  This book!  No hidden agenda, crazy diet, or tweaking of research data here.  Of all the books I've read and documentaries I've seen surrounding the issue of diet and nutrition, I wish every American would read this one. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

10. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - Whenever I feel ungrateful, bitter, angry, or want to complain, I remember Corrie ten Boom and her incredible optimism, gratitude, and ability to forgive despite the horrors she experienced as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp.

11. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder - This book started the whole "Little House" series that inspired its own TV show.  My mom read this book to me as a kid and Laura Ingalls' childhood is how I imagined my own mother's upbringing on a farm in the Alaskan woods.  One of my all-time favorites.

12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Not just a book about a mad scientist who creates a living monster from pieces of exhumed corpses, this book gives a lot of food for thought on religion, social norms, morality, and a slew of other philosophical musings.  I read it for book club last year and devoured every word (thanks, Rita!).

13. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch - A quick, inspirational read detailing a college professor's reflections on life after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.  Maybe it's just how much cancer and death have been a part of my life, or maybe it's the book's profound message of accomplishing your childhood dreams and seeing the joy in life, but I found myself weeping at nearly every chapter's end.

Honorable Mention: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale - So maybe this book hasn't been exactly influential in my life, but I just loved it and it is a fun read. :)

So that's my list, though I can't claim to have read every classical piece of literature out there (in fact, I've read a lot less than I'd have liked to).  So here is a list of books I'd really like to read because I think that some of them might make their way on the list above........

~ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
~ The Giver by Lois Lowry
~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
~ The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
~ The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
~ Sophie's Choice by William Styron
~ Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
~ The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
~ Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand


Meghan said...

Great list Holly! We are submitting suggestions for book club this coming week so perfect timing.

Taffy and Tony said...

Thanks for the list and the short explanations. Now I have some ideas for some winter reading (which is about the only time I read, it seems...)

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