Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stories That Changed My Life

    Okay, I'm a ravenous fiction addict, so... because I'm short on time and long on problem sets and procrastination, here's a list of ten books whose stories have continued to haunt/inspire me long after I finished reading them. Basically, they're novels that have changed my life. 

1. Crime and Punishment
    You don't want to know what I would do for half the writing mastery Fyodor Dostoevsky possessed. Seriously, who else can weave the story of an axe murderer's existential crisis under the guidance of a saintly prostitute, and keep it terribly beautiful? If you're filled with hatred of humanity, this story will both affirm your rage while stirring your hope in redemption.

    Quote: “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” 

2. Anna Karenina

    Russian Literature is where it's at, my friends. Ahem. Anyhow, Tolstoy himself esteemed Anna Karenina above War and Peace (which you should also read). The magnificent characters come across so intricately human you feel you could meet Anna or Lenin if you walked out your door. No human emotion and thought was too silly, wicked, idealistic, or noble for Tolstoy to record, and so I couldn't help but identify with all of his characters, noble or base. Plus, there's a portion of the story Tolstoy writes from a dog's the point of view, so all animal enthusiasts will have one more reason to love Anna Karenina.

    Quote: “All the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class included all the girls in the world except her, and they had all the usual human feelings and were very ordinary girls; while the other class - herself alone - had no weaknesses and was superior to all humanity.” 

3. Les Miserables
    What draws me to mercy? What draws me to showing compassion? Victor Hugo's iconic image of the Bishop of Digne freeing the thief Jean Valjean and giving him his most valuable items. The Gospel of Jesus is acted out through the Bishop, and his impact on Valjean's life is inspiring beyond words.
    Quote: "Before him he saw two roads, both equally straight; but he did see two; and that terrified him--he who had never in his life known anything but one straight line. And, bitter anguish, these two roads were contradictory.” 

4. Waiting for the Barbarians

   J.M. Coetzee's Nobel Prize winning novel is written in an enchantingly simple yet poetic prose. Too bad that's all that you'll find enchanting. A story set in no discernible time nor discernible location, where most characters have no names, Waiting for the Barbarians examines a man's struggle for morality as fear of the indigenous barbarians leads the Empire to dehumanize anyone who opposes them. It's graphically violent, graphically sexual, and above all graphically human. I've never had a novel make me cry and scream and cheer through my tears in one page. Read it when you need your heart broken.

    Quote: "‘Look!’ I shout. ‘We are the great miracle of creation! But from some blows this miraculous body cannot repair itself! How—!’ Words fail me.  ‘Look at these men!’ I recommence. ‘Men!’”

5. Frankenstein 
    Besides that Victor Frankenstein is a chemist (hehe), Mary Shelley's masterpiece has made me re-examine everything from my purpose in creating, my view of others, compassion and justice, to my view of God. Grim but so, so necessary - and convicting.

    Quote: "'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemlance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.'"

6. Harry Potter 

   I didn't read J.K. Rowling's epic series until last year because the whole witchcraft thing weirded me out. Then I read a story of love and good vs. evil in a world we all want to join (you can admit it). This story is peppered with stunningly complex characters like Severus Snape and Sirius Black, whom you love despite how uncomfortable their actions make you. Plus, Hermione is one of the greatest female characters of all time. She's a genius who shows you don't have to be kickass to get stuff done (not that kickass is bad, but, well, I'm just not). It'll rekindle your belief in good again. 

    Quote: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

7. The Lord of the Rings
    As a writer of fantasy, of course I had to include Tolkien's renowned tale. Besides friendship and breathtaking world building (I am forever dissatisfied that we don't know much about Beluthiel's cats) Smeagol's fight with Gollum's very real addiction to the Ring transforms him from a pitiful character to someone most addicts can all identify with, however uncomfortable that may make us. Plus, the ending will leave you aching.

    Quote - "Not all those who wander are lost."

8. The Chronicles of Narnia

    My introduction to the wonderful world of fantasy began with C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew, and I've yet to stop obsessing. Theological musings mixed with children's stories; how can it get better? And I found myself, like the many marvelous characters who undergo drastic change as the books progress, altered after reading these stories.

    Quote -  “'It is very true. But even a traitor may mend. I have known one who did.' And he looked very thoughtful.”

9. The Master and Margarita
    I've returned the list to Russian Literature, surprise. Mikhail Bulgakov's novel is bizarre and satirical, two things I don't normally enjoy. And I didn't enjoy them in The Master and Margarita, either. But I've kept coming back to this novel and all the questions it raised in the years following. I mean, when Satan's visit atheistic Russia becomes entangled with a married woman who wants to find her unjustly imprisoned lover, who happens to be writing a novel based on Jesus' crucifixion, masterful (pun intended) musings on theology, fantasy, Russian literature, and mercy are bound to occur.

    Plus there's this fantastic quote: “Follow me, reader! Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar's vile tongue be cut out! Follow me, my reader, and me alone, and I will show you such a love!” 

10. A Voice in the Wind

    Francine Rivers' novel is technically classified as Christian literature, but I think that people of most religious beliefs could enjoy the story of a Jewish slave girl in Rome, who falls in love with her wildchild mistress's brother. The character development, especially in Julia Valerian, is flawless. Flawless, I tell you. I've never been so desperate over a character's choices.

    Quote: “'Can you see air you breathe? Can you see the force that moves the tides or changes the seasons or sends the birds to a winter haven?' Her eyes welled. 'Can Rome with all its knowledge be so foolish? Oh Marcus, you can't carve God in stone. You can't limit him to a temple. You can't imprison him on a mountaintop. Heaven is his throne; earth, his footstool. Everything you see is his. Empires will rise and empires will fall. Only God prevails.'" 

    Really, the list is a lot longer, but I stopped at ten. Now it is your turn, mwahaha - and you don't have to stop at ten, even! What stories have changed your life? 



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