Trending Topics: #booksthatchangedmyworld

I’m not really a book person. I rarely finish novels – most of them are simply too boring to make me want to find out how they end. When I do enjoy a book, I tend to read it over and over. I’ve read each Harry Potter book at least three times (except the last), and have read Pride and Prejudice (197 years old and still f***ing hilarious) about six times.

I can’t, even now, think of a (fiction) book that has profoundly changed my life in the way my favourite music has. The closest to a life-changer would be Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, which taught me the habit of flipping a coin over important decisions – not, in my case, to act so impulsively, but to reveal my subconscious desires: if I’m disappointed by a result, it means I didn’t really want to do it in the first place.

Mostly as a child I grew up reading standard fare – Lewis Carroll was a particular favourite, as were Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy fiction: The Wind in the Willows, Narnia; the usual. When I was eight, I used to read a comic written by Pat ‘Judge Dredd’ Mills called Misty – a fabulously morbid slab of gothic horror – specially for little girls.

The first book I remember finding profoundly affecting was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair by Nicholas Fisk. I was about ten, and I’d read a couple of his other stories – Trillions, for one – and the thing I loved about it was that he didn’t patronise his audience. He wrote grown up, solidly-written science fiction in which the protagonist happened to be a child. What was most arresting, other than the vivid detail of the worlds he described, was the shock twist ending. I bought the book from Amazon a couple of years back and, finding it just as good now as it was back then, sent it on to my nephew. I hope he read it. When I first stayed over with one of my closest friends, I was pleased to see Nicholas Fisk’s children’s stories nestling comfortably between Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene on her bookshelf.

I also remember really enjoying Jason Bodger and the Priory Ghost, which is still an enjoyable read now, and sparked a mild interest in medieval life and language. More linguistic shenanigans took place in Watership Down, which managed to evoke the lore and culture of something like Middle Earth without boring the pants off me. I read Watership Down maybe a dozen times; I never even finished The Two Towers.

In my teens I tended towards Austen, Dickens (I still re-read A Christmas Carol every winter), Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. For my GCSE extended essay, I chose Orwell’s increasingly relevant Animal Farm to compare with Watership Down (topic: anthropomorphism), and then at A-Level selected Dracula, Frankenstein and the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe (topic: gothic horror). I still shudder every time I think of Manuscript Found In A Bottle, and its shocking ending.

I went through a real cyberpunk phase in my late teens and early 20s – of course linked to the music I was listening to – and worked my way through all the genre classics by William Gibson, Jeff Noon and everyone else The Matrix ripped off without understanding at least two thirds of what I was reading. Terry Pratchett wrote some surprisingly good sci-fi short stories – more in the Isaac Asimov vein than anything you might expect as a Discworld reader.

I found the stories from the 50s and 60s most interesting because of their prescience – Asimov’s I, Robot was actually written in 1950 – though of course those authors believed we’d all be on the internet using room-sized computers!

I remember telling my boyfriend at the time that I had absolutely no intention of reading a stupid children’s book like Harry Potter, but eventually being talked into reading it, if only to shut him up. I made my way through the first three in a matter of hours and then had a fun time with the fledgling Amazon trying to order the fourth, which continually seemed to be out of stock. I then had the same conversation with two of my colleagues: “I’m not going to read some silly kid’s book” – “No, really, it’s great” – until eventually they caved and ended up proselytizing to everyone they’d ever met about how they really, really needed to read these books.

My favourites are Azkaban and Phoenix.

Other than that, I’ve mostly read what could generally be described as “popular fiction”. I like the black comedy crime capers of Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) and Carl Hiaasen (I’d recommend Native Tongue – though you’ll smirk every time you see a press release aftwards). I also really like Michael Crichton and Stephen King, considering both generally underrated because people assume they can’t be any good if they’re that popular, which is a bit silly if you think about it.

I’d still like to read the American great classics like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird. I think East of Eden is probably the only US classic I’ve read, and I enjoyed it very much. Mostly, though, I spend too much time reading things like Greg Keyes’ Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, which doesn’t carry the lofty prestige of being high school essay fodder, but will make you clamp your hand over your mouth at yet another didn’t-see-it-coming plot twist.

I’m currently making my way through The Dark Tower series, which has the multiple benefits of being a. by Stephen King; b. sci-fi/fantasy and c. Proper Literature. What it mostly is, is bloody entertaining, so I fear my multiple-reads pile has another entry. War and Peace will just have to wait …

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