- The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway. This was one of the first books assigned during my Lost Generation course in college. I'm not sure if the book so much as the class opened up my eyes to the expatriates and their carpe diem world view, but the book actually turned out to be the first vehicle for my feminist leanings. I'll never forget the gender-neutral namesake of Brett Ashley, or her subtle, masculine mannerisms and actions. The book also introduced me to Hemingway's more radical writing style -- using dialogue more often than narrative to tell a story. It was cool to see his style adopted by the more modern writers I'd been used to reading. There is even a third influence in this book for me. It brought history much closer for me. I felt like I could have been there myself while I read this book, in the salons on the Left Bank, having tea with Sylvia Beach and Gertrude Stein. And with the war in Iraq being reported on more and more at the time, the sentiment of Hemingway's novel definitely transcended the decades, still making relevant points after all that time.
- The Vagina Monlogues, Ensler. This play showed me womanhood. Period. I'd never fully understood the beauty of women, the power of women, the multifaceted-ness of women, until I saw this performed, and then read it shortly afterward. I can't even describe the cultural importance this play has for me. It's so empowering, and changed my view to help me believe in myself even more.
- The Lost, Mendelsohn. This book showed me a much darker side of history, and of human nature. It also showed me the perseverance we are capable of as human beings, and taught me to appreciate the present. It taught me that there is no such thing as no legacy.
- The Bible. It's corny, it's overdone, it's cliche, but how could I not? I grew up in a Catholic household, I went to church every Sunday until I was seventeen (by choice or by force), and the only non-Catholic school I've ever attended was my kindergarten. This book has had an enormous impact on me, whether or not I was resisting it at any point in my life. As a child, I viewed it as a place for answers...sometimes even magical ones, if I played the game correctly. (Did you ever do that, where you ask a burning question to God, flip open the Bible, and whatever verse your eyes land on, that's your answer?) These stories pervaded my education every single year of my life. I've drawn on them for symbolism in my own writing, I've rejected them as the absolute truth, I've accepted most as myth, I've relied upon them for morals, I've debated their immorality, I've let them act as a comfort, I've kept their more uncomfortable teachings at bay, I've proclaimed the work unfinished, and I've even found through them a pathway to education and even feminism. How. Could. I. Not.
- Blonde, Oates. My obsession with Marilyn Monroe began with this book. How could I understand what I do about pop culture without learning a thing or two about this icon? Although this book is a novel, I eventually learned from Marilyn (and Oates, who writes beautifully) the value of art, compassion, gentility, and identity in places even like the silver screen. So much changed after Marilyn. Maybe even because of her. She's certainly made an impression on me.
- Dead Man Walking, Prejan; Forgiving the Dead Man Walking, Morris. I'm combining these two books because they both taught me to love social justice, even though Prejan's book wasn't what I was expecting (lots of legal jargon), and Morris' account seemed to go on a bit too long. However, both addressed the U.S. court system and its flaws, and made me a more firm proponent of civil and human rights. It was hard to think of a failing system up until I'd read these books.
- The Sense of Structure, Gopen. Where do I begin with this masterpiece? Almost a textbook, this guide to language and writing is my literary bible. After reading it, I had gained such a focused perspective on my own writing style. It taught me how I could better hone my craft to make my readers understand the feelings behind my words. There is so much good stuff in this book. Who could have fathomed writing from the reader's perspective?
- A Light in the Attic, Silverstein. This book introduced me to poetry, and kept the lighthearted side of me alive while I was growing up. It showed me that poetry is not always dark and sinister and depressing, like it was rumored to be around my classrooms. Poetry shaped a lot of who I am as a person, symbolic poetry especially. I think it was good for me to keep the rhythm to my life, and to find it in my subject matter.
- The Bhagavad Gita. Another religious text that expanded my cultural view. I loved how it connected to so many things I'd already been taught, and made me feel so close to the rest of humankind. In studying the Gita, I ended up studying so many other wonderful philosophers. It truly expanded my reach into so many other areas.
- The Outsiders, Hinton. Classic themes of the search for identity, gallantry, and social divisiveness. It's got it all. "Nothing gold can stay."
not undecided recently shared a list of the top ten books that have influenced her view of the world. I thought I'd try my own hand at the exercise, although I tend to read more for pleasure than anything else. I hope you'll try it, too. Consequently, if you're looking for more intellectual answers, not undecided's post has many many links that will take you to some indirect recommendations. This one was really hard for me, because I first had to ask myself: What is my view of the world? Of course I still don't have a concrete answer. I apologize, my answers start to get a little lax towards the end. I'm pretty sleepy. But here they are, in a possibly particular order: