Novels are more than just stories. Within each novel is a treasure trove of new insight. You learn to see things from a different perspective. You experience life in somebody else’s shoes. You learn their psychology and their philosophy. You share their triumphs and empathize with their pain. At the end of a good novel, you are a changed person. The story affects you on a deeper level than most forms of art are capable of.
Growing up, I read a lot of novels. It all started when my first grade teacher told me my reading level tested off the charts and that I could read any book in the school library that I wanted. My first book was The Hobbit. It was an incredible story of fantasy and wonder, and ever since I’ve been addicted to fiction. Novels have shaped my philosophy more than anything else, and I’d like to share with you the top 10 novels that influenced my childhood, and helped shape me into who I am today.
#10: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This book scared me to death when I read it. At certain points in the novel, I could barely read a page before I had to leave the room, and wouldn’t be able to go back in for an hour or more. Want to know what it’s about? Nothing. And that is terrifying.
#9: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Little Brother is a young adult sci-fi that deals with privacy and security. After a terrorist attack, the old “innocent until proven guilty” is tossed out the window, and a group of teenagers fights to take back their freedom. Very relevant in light of things like the Patriot Act and the recent NSA spying scandal. The ebook is available for free download on Cory Doctorow’s website, so go check it out!
#8: Fight Club: A Novel by Chuck Palhaniuk
This one is a little difficult to explain. I absolutely despise Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy, and I wouldn’t recommend him as a role model. For me, Fight Club was the first truly powerful example of individualism I’d seen. The novel is about a struggle to break free from the shackles of society and forge your own path. I think the characters did it wrong, and failed pretty miserably, but I found myself inspired by it nonetheless.
#7: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Is it better to be happy without morals, or to be miserably constrained by principles? This question serves as the main premise of Huxley’s classic dystopian novel which chronicles John the Savage’s struggle to integrate himself into a society in which there are no morals and everybody is happy all of the time thanks to a new miracle drug.
#6: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried is a collection of
war love stories. It shares a lot of themes with Ender’s Game (see below), like how war affects people, but the aspect that struck me most was O’Brien’s take on the difference between truth and fact. A story can be factual but not true – it really happened, but it doesn’t resonate with us spiritually. Likewise, a story can be true but not factual – it never happened, but it is universally true; it resonates with our spirits. O’Brien never tells us whether the stories in the novel are true or not, and in several cases he outright tells us that he’s lying, but they’re true nonetheless. The stories are all powerful and eye-opening. A must-read for an aspiring novelist like myself.
#5: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth is a cute little fantasy novel in which a child named Milo goes through a magic tollbooth and enters a realm of whimsy and wonder. Juster spends most of the novel screwing with your head, taking everything you take for granted and flipping it upside-down. Tollbooth taught me how to look at life from different perspectives, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every day, and that nothing is impossible as long as you don’t know it’s impossible.
#4:The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to break my strict no-spoiler policy for this one, because the only way I can explain why this book is on this list is by spoiling the ending. Ready? They kill God. The Amber Spyglass is the last book in Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, all of which is a brilliant work of fantasy, but Spyglass takes the cake for most influential. Imagine being a student in middle school, having been raised in a devout Christian family your entire life, having never questioned your faith in God before, and then reading a novel in which God is killed and cheering when the bastard goes down. It’s an awe-inspiring tale about free will and individualism.
#3: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game is sci-fi’s gateway drug. It’s a fast and exciting military sci-fi in which children are trained to fight off the Third Invasion. It explores the impact of war on the human psyche and the struggle to survive. It’s difficult to describe without spoilers, but it definitely deserves a place on this list. In fact, when the cover came off of my copy (I bought it in pretty bad shape at a Salvation Army store) I had it framed and hung it on my wall.
#2: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Hey, you can’t just put the sequel to the last book here! That’s cheating! Sure I can, because Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are entirely different beasts. While Ender’s Game was a fast-paced, action-packed military sci-fi, Speaker is more mature and mellowed out. Instead of fast-paced action, we get philosophy. Speaker is about Ender’s quest to deal with the aftermath of his actions, and to make things right. It deals with weighty topics like redemption, salvation, and what it means to be human.
#1: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand’s magnum opus boasts a whopping 1168 pages, over 70 of which are a single speech. The novel is long, sometimes slow – even grueling – to get through, and packed with hard philosophy, which makes it difficult to read. I first read Atlas Shrugged because my classmates all told me it was the worst book they’d ever read. Atlas gave me what no novel had ever given me before – the beginnings of a complete, coherent philosophy. It started me on my journey of personal development. It taught me about values, what emotions are and mean, epistemology, metaphysics, and that my life belongs to me and nobody else. It also happens to be a very exciting romance slash mystery slash sci-fi. Atlas is a book that everybody should read – but maybe you should consider reading her earlier novel, The Fountainhead, first, as Ayn builds heavily upon the concepts and principles laid out in that book.
Copyright 2013 Reverend Clifford R. Anello Jr.