The 5 Most Influential Books in My Life

I’m not sure what prompted me to write this post, but it seems like an appropriate time to talk about the five books that most influenced me as a person and as a reader. Perhaps it’s because I’m going through a big transition now, both personally with my father-in-law’s declining health and professionally with my impending doomsday of January 1 for unemployment, that I want to reflect a bit. Either way, I think there’s something significant to be learned about someone in a list like this.

Maybe other bloggers will take my cue and do a list of their own?

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  1. The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon

    Tower_Treasure_Hardy_Boys
    The first Hardy Boys book is my number one, and it’s not close. It was the first proper book I ever read and it’s largely, if not entirely, responsible for kindling in me a love of story. My parents’ raised me to find my own path. I wasn’t forced to do a lot of things around the house. Nor did they necessarily make me read or play sports. I’m not sure I could suggest these techniques for every child, maybe not even my own, but it worked for me. I found the things I loved and I did them, a lot. Sports, reading, video games, etc. Perhaps, if I’d never come across Frank and Joe, and their best friend Chet, mom and dad would have made me read more. Such drastic action never became necessary. I went on to read over a hundred Hardy Boys books before I moved on to greener pastures. If someone adapted them for an adult audience I’d probably go on to reading a hundred more.
  2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    Atlas_Shrugged_Ayn_randCan you believe I have the guts to admit that Ayn Rand influenced me?! For those who don’t know, Atlas Shrugged is essential a what-if-story that asks, what would happen if a society’s most productive citizens refused increased taxation and government regulation and went on strike? At it’s core, it’s an objectivist philosophical text shrouded in a mystery and romance dystopian novel. It opened my eyes, not to objectivism, but to the power of narrative to communicate ideas. Rand wields her story with almost physical bludgeoning force, trumpeting her ‘perspective’ on nearly every page. It’s long winded and at times exhausting, while also possessing a great deal of conviction. I’m not sure it works as a piece of fiction or as a philosophy book, yet I steadfastly assert it works perfectly in tandem to accomplish both.

    I went on to read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land a few months later and it had a similar impact, albeit putting forth a far different world view. Rand gets the nod for getting to me first.

  3. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

    Sword_of_Shannara_BrooksI could go on and on about how Shannara impacted me, but I wrote a piece for Pornokitsch that does a better job than I could ever hope to recreate in this little paragraph. However, I will say that it’s the reason I write this blog today.

    I read Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain first, it should, by all accounts, be the novel(s) I list here. But it’s not. Brooks snared me in a way that Alexander could not and I admit that length has something to do with it. As a pre-teen Shannara was like holding another physical reality, a book that occupied a time and space all on its own by sheer breadth. Cracking it open felt like opening a portal to another world and it was the purest escapism I’d witnessed to that point, or at any point since. It was magic.

    Read the piece I wrote for Pornokitsch. I can’t necessarily recommend that everyone read Brooks’s first novel. I’m not sure it holds up that well, especially to an experience genre reader, but if you know a twelve year old in need of a distraction, forklift a copy of Sword of Shannara to them.

  4. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis

    Times_Arrow_Martin_AmisI knew a guy in college. His name was Ted. He was Thai, but born in America. That’s only significant because his sister was Miss Thai Universe, which for some cultural reason that escaped me made her an uber celebrity in Thailand. She had a talk show and was in all the tabloids. When Ted would visit her, he was also occasionally caught up in it. Now, this has absolutely no relevance, other than being an odd story, except that Ted recommended I read Martin Amis, in particular Time’s Arrow.

    Ted was an English major. Oddly, Ted didn’t read fiction. By the end of our freshman year Ted only read criticism. We were playing pool one night and I brought up Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Ted replied (I’m paraphrasing), “absurdism, yadda, yadda, colonialism, yadda yadda.” Of course, he hadn’t actually read the novel, just five or six essays about it. With that in mind, I hope you can see why Time’s Arrow so appealed to Ted — a novel told entirely in reverse from birth to death. It’s a thought experiment, a literary gauntlet thrown down.

    Except, it’s not a gimmick. Amis takes on the Holocaust from a completely different angle. An angle demonstrating that the abomination only made sense in reverse, where instead of taking life, the Nazi’s restored it. Amis’s novel was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1991 and remains imprinted on my memory as an example of the relevatory ability of fiction.

    Ted went to live in Thailand after our first year and I lost track of him. I never had a chance to talk to him about Time’s Arrow.

  5. The Scar by China Miéville

    the_scar_mievilleWhat the f!$% did I just read? That was my reaction when I read/finished The Scar. Miéville’s third novel, and his opus to this point in his career, is one of the most creative works of speculative fiction I’ve ever read. On finishing it, I flipped back to the beginning and started it again. If The Sword of Shannara made me love SFF, then The Scar showed me what it could do when an author of Miéville’s capabilities set his phaser to ‘kill’.

    The novel begins with a ship leaving New Crobuzon. On it, is a middle-aged woman named Bellis Coldwine who’s  headed for a far-flung colony. The ship is soon captured by pirates, and the passengers and crew taken to Armada, a floating city constructed of hundreds of ships tied together. Unexpected twists abound and the sheer creativity of the setting overwhelms the senses. It is in my humble opinion one of the most significant pieces of SFF written in the last twenty years, and along with its predecessor Perdido Street Station, may be responsible for launching a whole new wave in the genre.

***

That’s my list, eclectic though it may be. I just left off Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, Dan Simmons’s Hyperion, Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, Don DeLillo’s Pafko at the Wall, and a few others.

So, what makes your list?

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Rob B September 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Never read the Hardy’s I read their literary cousins THE THREE INVESTIGATORS, probably the first fiction that got me hooked on the idea of series and ongoing characters in printed media

  • Douglas Hulick September 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Well, crap: now I suppose I need to read The Scar after all….

  • Larry September 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Back in 2009, I wrote a post on my reading soundtrack that contained 32 books that I then felt best reflected certain facets of my life. List might change slightly today, but I doubt it.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) September 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Hm. Have to give this one some thought. Numbers 1 and 2 on my list are no-brainers, but the rest is a bit less obvious. Curse you for making me think, Justin.

  • Mazarkis Williams September 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    OK this is hard … I’d have to say Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, because she took a totally nerdy protagonist and made her the hero of the story. Stopping there lest I leave an essay on your blog.

  • Jared September 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I read Nancy Drew, not the Hardy Boys – inherited them from my sister, who inherited them from my mom, who inherited them from… (and they eventually got given away, which kills me). By the time I even discovered the Hardy Boys, it was too late – I was a… uh… Nancy Man.

    Terrible phrasing there.

    Camus’ The Fall was my personal Atlas Shrugged. It whacked me with PHILOSOPHY when I was tender and exposed. Harlan Ellison had brain-punched me earlier. And, later, Fowles’ The Magus did the same thing (and, to a less dramatic yet more lasting extent, the work of Robert Graves).

    As far as SFF goes… um… Dragonlance Chronicles was the first non childrens’ fantasy book that I read and it BLEW MY TINY MIND. Krynn was my Shannara. I also read and loved Shannara at that time, but Weis and Hickman got there first. I practically remember where I was when I read every page of those books…

  • Jared September 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    SITE FEEDBACK. Is there a way you can make your Post Comment button a darker colour? I keep losing it. Gawd, I am old.

  • Herb September 25, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    The Hobbit, The Wheel of Time (it’s one very, very long book), The Orchard Keeper (this is MY libertarian opus), Crime & Punishment. Hmmm, need one more.

  • Chris ("Salt-Man Z") September 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I remember checking out all the Hardy Boys books they had at my elementary school library. Oddly, the one I remember most is “Brother Against Brother” from the later “Casefiles” series.

    Good list. It’s a fun subject to ponder; I just might have to put my own list together.

  • Stefan (Civilian-Reader) September 25, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    An interesting list! I’m with you on The Scar – that’s still one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels (and perhaps the fourth-most-re-read book on my shelves).

    One thing that’s always interested me about “Most Influential” book or movie lists is that nobody ever mentions books that were influential/had an impact because they were so BAD.

    For example, a lot of the Urban Fantasy stuff I read early on was just bad, or didn’t click with me, so that had a huge influence on the fact that I barely read any of the genre. Same goes for paranormal romance. I’m sure that’s also why a lot of people say they “don’t like SFF”, because they just didn’t click with the book that they tried first. Isn’t that also influential?

    Another example would be ‘Perdido Street Station’, a book that I found horrendously dense and boring – but it was also my first fantasy in a very long time (outside of Terry Pratchett and some Black Library stuff), and therefore put me off reading more in the non-tie-in (and therefore familiar) fantasy genre. Then ‘The Scar’ came along and I was intrigued again. Then Scott Lynch, and I was hooked.

    • Jared September 26, 2012 at 4:42 am

      The Scar would be *kind* of on my list – it was the one book I had with me when I ran off to get married. So I remember reading it the day before my wedding – and it was with me on the biggest day of my life, etc. etc – but, damn, I can’t remember it at all.

      My copy also had a printing error, so I missed about 60 pages of it.

      • Justin Landon September 26, 2012 at 7:11 am

        For someone who loves China so much, shouldn’t you probably reread it?

      • Stefan (Civilian Reader) September 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

        I’d recommend re-reading it. It was a lot more ‘contemporary’ and ‘accessible’ than Perdido, and each time I read it I fly through it. China at his best, although I will admit that I haven’t read nearly all of his books. And I really want to read Iron Council.

  • Jordan September 25, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Dune is certainly my number one, and then in no particular order: Shogun, The Count of Monte Cristo, Ender’s Game, and The Eye of the World. Robert Jordan is responsible for my love of fantasy, Monte Cristo is easily one of the best books ever written, Ender’s Game was the first SF I can remember reading, Dune just kicks butt, and Shogun is a freaking masterpiece.

    • Justin Landon September 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      That’s a great list. Most of those could have made mine too.

  • Kathryn September 26, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Interesting selection (note: I have a copy of Sword with that cover; I think my copy is older than me!). I might have to do something similar.

  • [...] Musings. Justin Landon, the man behind the reviews at Staffer’s Musings, put up a list of his 5 Most Influential Books in his life, so I thought I’d do the same – but I couldn’t limit myself to just 5. Also, I [...]

  • Sam X September 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    As you allude to, one must give credit to Ayn Rand for the amount of success she has had in terms of influencing people and their ideas. As much as I dislike and disagree with Atlas Shrugged, it’s a great piece of evidence that writing can change minds and the world. If I can have 1/100th of the success she had in that regard, I could easily judge my life a success.

    • Justin Landon September 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Indeed. I’m not a huge fan of philosophy, but it’s a powerful book, as evidenced by the polemic reactions.

  • Peter September 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I remember reading Hardy Boys with my mom. We’d alternate reading each page aloud and I remember her bursting out laughing because of how enthused I’d get while reading.

    5 books is tough. I’d add as potentials: Chronicles of Narnia, Run Rabbit Run, Blood Meridian, Hyperion, Moby Dick, Book of the New Sun, Atlas Shrugged (same reason you mention, not my love for objectivism), To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • Redhead October 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I knew there was a reason I liked you. We both read and admit to enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Like you, I experienced it as an eye-opening novel, not as philosophical treatise. I made the mistake of reading a biography about her, and now it’s tough for me to enjoy her novels in innocence. Even so, I’ve always found Atlas Shrugged to be rather therapeutic when I’m feeling down about my professional choices.

    Also, The Scar? Mieville’s masterpiece.

  • [...] in. At the very least, it might make this project seem a little more human. So with hat tips to Justin Landon and Aidan Moher, here we go. [Disclaimer: If this looks like a certain reddit comment, that's [...]

  • Cărţile copilăriei » Cititor SF November 4, 2012 at 5:31 am

    [...] articol scris acum câteva săptămâni de Justin Landon, despre cărţile care l-au influenţat cel mai mult, a fost urmat rapid de altele asemănătoare în toată blogosfera americană. Citindu-le, mi-am dat [...]

  • Joe February 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Gaaah! I was trying to find if you had a review up for Great North Road, since I finally finished my freaking PhD and have a bit of free time, and instead I stumbled on this. I can’t believe – well I can bu that’s not the point! that you still favor Atlas over Stranger!

    • Justin February 4, 2013 at 9:16 am

      I’m like 25% through GREAT NORTH ROAD. It’s a slog. Been reading it for months. He’s so damn long winded.

      • Joe February 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

        Well, I went ahead and bought it. The pickings are pretty slim at the bookstores in Tokyo. About to give it a try.

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