Friday, July 3, 2015

Top 10 Most Influential Books

I got this from C.S. Lewis via Happy Catholic and just knew I had to do one of these of my own. Of course this is a list of influential and not favorites, so I'll try to keep them separate as best I can.

1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

It is hard to underestimate just how much this book affected me both as a kid and as an adult. My favorite stories have always been of pure adventure, facing the unknown, and coming back alive. But Tolkien was the first to both emphasize both the importance of the journey and the importance of coming home. As I grew older and began understanding more about the spiritual battles around us, I caught a whole dimension to this story that I never saw before. It has hit me from every angle of my life and there will probably never be a book more influential to me.

2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I heard a lot as a kid before I hit depression in high school (where we, incidentally, stopped reading books) and the one book I could still go back to now, is this book by S.E. Hinton. You see, though it was thrown in the YA genre, it was written by a fifteen year old teenage girl who merely wanted to write a story. Which means she isn't writing down to her audience or pandering to them like 99% of the genre is known to do. It also tells a tale of how your station in life does not determine who you are--only you can do that.

3. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

This book hit me hard. It was the first book on philosophy that felt like it was written for backwards thinking idiots like me. Everything made sense, the world looked clear, and for the first time in my life I understood in my head exactly why I believed the things I did as I was coming into the faith. I don't read much non-fiction due to catching up on all the fiction I missed (thank you, nihilist literary world, for shielding me from actual good books while you celebrate your meaninglessness as you kill the novel) but this is the first one that hit home. If it was up to me, this would be required reading for every philosophy class. It would scare a lot of people, and rightfully so.

4. Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy

I think a lot about the end of society. Not the end of the world so much, but reflecting on T.S. Eliot's theory that the world will end with a whimper. This is the book that nails almost exactly how I think the western world will end and is, in fact, currently ending. Apathy, denial of the Truth, selfishness and greed, anger and vitriol directed at fellow men, and the death of true spiritual humanism, which we are swimming in now will lead to an end not too far from this. But Love-- true Love, and not feelings, will be what saves us from out self-destruction. If we let it in.

5. Phantastes by George MacDonald

This was the first real fairy tale I read after becoming a Catholic and it hit my imagination hard. The world, both seen and unseen, can be so beautiful, dangerous, and enthralling, that it leaves you with pure wonder for this world we live in. George MacDonald wrote a real classic here.

6. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

As I said before, fiction is the type of book that tends to affect me the most deeply, and this is the C.S. Lewis book that did it for me. It's also eerie in how true to life the story actually is, but what makes it work is the contrast of good and evil. It's really hard to make pure good not only interesting, but wondrous like it is in the real world, and show evil as how dull and stupid it is while still keeping the story enthralling. But this might be the best book to show both. It has influenced my writing probably more than any other book for it.

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is the first horror book in a lot of ways, but I think a lot of people just see it as an entertaining romp and nothing more. Heck, the monster portrayed in every piece of media is nothing like the one in the book! This is a book that stares emptiness and nihilism in the face and literally screams at its banal promises and empty way of living, while throwing in an enthralling story of a man who destroys his own life by trying spit in the face of God. The reason this book has lasted so long is because it will always be relevant. Even after Western Civilization falls, this book will show why it happened.

8. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

I think I might just list Mr. Chesterton's entire body of work here. This spiritual history of the world is fascinating, educational, logical, and striking all at the same time. There is a pattern to history that is pretty obvious to all those who look. There is also one event over all others that significantly changed the world in every way. If I ever taught a history course this would be one of the books we would read. My only disappointment is how I had to go out of my way to learn by Mr. Chesterton's work because our empty shell of a society has decided to ignore his work instead of actually dealing with it.

9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I'm not much of a reader of mysteries. Once you figure it out, it pretty much kills any interest I have in thinking of the story after finishing it, or re-reading it years later. Agatha Christie is one of the exceptions to this, but this book is probably the best mystery I've ever read. The book deals with human nature in such a direct way that touches on mortality, morality, redemption, and damnation, that at some point it becomes more about how it will all end as opposed to who actually did it. I still think about this book from time to time and it affects my thoughts on the right way to live more than I would have figured a mystery novel ever would.

10. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I suppose this should be higher, but it took me a long time to finally sit down and read this epic. And it hit me hard. The importance of hope, the wondrous adventure, the desperate struggle against evil, the decisions we make that affect us all, this book has everything. While it has deeply influenced the way I see adventure and the world of writing, it is still too new to put it higher. But make no mistake, it is incredible.

And that's my list. Maybe it isn't all that different from my favorite books list, but it is a distinction. I still think about all ten of these books on a regular basis and probably always will.

It's the truth underlying the statement that gets me every single time.

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