Challenge Accepted!

This morning, I was issued a challenge on the Face-book. Before you ask, no, it wasn’t the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was a challenge to list 10 books which have influenced my life. Now, I’m not really a “doing challenges on facebook” kind of person because as I’ve already mentioned, I think it’s a bit self-indulgent, but I was really interested in thinking up 10 books (only 10!) which have influenced my life. 

So, here is my list, after much consideration.

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
This is a pretty great book all round. It explains the history of philosophy, while bonding those teachings to the story of a girl called Sophie. I read it many years ago and still constantly quote it. It also helped me to understand that lego is the most amazing toy in the world.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Caroll (and The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor as a bonus)
Best of all the pseudo-fairy tales, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is my favourite fantasy novel of all time. I devour all remakes and reworkings of it, and love practically every one, because everything about the world of Wonderland is so romantic, fantastical and amazing. I will always be a child when I read this book.

Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Shakespeare is amazing, but we all study him to death at school and I think I’d be forgiven for hating Macbeth I’ve studied it so often. I don’t though, because it’s brilliant. It embodies everything I love about good playwriting – atmosphere, strong characters, a dramatic plotline, and moving trees. All important features, I feel.

Everything by Terry Pratchett
Of all the authors, Terry Pratchett is my absolute favourite. The man is an artist of the highest order, because it is difficult enough to be moral and make people think, but it is just something else to do that while also making them laugh and referencing cultural and historical phenomena from the dawn of time and across the whole world. I love Terry Pratchett.

Poetics – Aristotle
It’s just a great examination of literature, structure, and the appreciation which early civilizations had of the art of writing. Poetry is a little bit my thing, and I don’t think I could consider this list complete without including this fundamental text in the study of poetry. It may have been superseded by many other pieces, but it’s still a pretty big deal.

The Art of War – Sun Tzu
…which, shamefully, I actually haven’t finished. What I have read, however is brilliant. The main thing which makes this a great book is that it explains not only warfare, but life, and how to effectively conduct meaningful interactions with your fellow man. Practically every lesson which Sun Tzu mentions can be applied to some aspect of modern life.

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Iain Banks is an amazing writer, and I was lucky enough to ask him some questions about The Wasp Factory at an open radio event. It’s an odd book, but as with many on this list it delves into people and the factors which help to construct a psyche. Hands down one of the best plot twists I’ve ever read as well.

Dracula – Bram Stoker
A Gothic classic (and who doesn’t love Gothic. It’s the ultimate genre) about the vampiric master and his terrifying threat to Victorian life. I quite like the way Mina Harker has been remade as a warrior heroine in recent times, as I never read her that way in the book. The imagery is amazing, and it’s an all-round stunning read and great introduction to the genre.

The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
The Red Tent is the untold story of Dinah, the sister of Joseph (he of dreamcoat fame) from the Bible. It’s not only a wonderfully told story of multiple generations of women, full of fascinating historical references and traditions, it’s the other side of the coin, something modern feminism really embraces – but sadly sometimes not in the right way. It’s a stand-out for me.

…y no se lo trago la tierra – Tomás Rivera
It’s tempting to include loads of the books I’ve read through my time at university on this list, because they’ve all been somehow formative, but I decided on …y no se lo trago la tierra because before I read it I had almost no knowledge of the Chicano movement and people. It’s a beautiful, fascinating, sometimes very sad, but always well-written window into a social group which are hardly known in Europe. 

If I had to choose just one of these books to recommend for other people to read, I think it would be Sophie’s World, which is probably the book I feel has taught me the most. If I could only read one for the rest of my life, I’d pick Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Compared to many of these lists, I should think that mine is somewhat less political and left-wing formative than many I’ve seen, but I think that this list reflects a different type of learning – learning about people, the psyche, reactions and interactions. To this end, all of these books are incredibly important to me, and I’d recommend them to absolutely anyone.

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