The 10 Most Influential Books I’ve Read

I’m stealing this idea from Staffer’s 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 thought this would help me focus my list of books I want to highlight in my future Grand Notion posts.

Without further ado, here are the 10 books that most influenced my life*.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Published in 1960, this book came out nine years before I was born, but touched me deeply when I got around to reading it sometime in my teens. Decades after it was written, it remains a classic and will find readers long into the future because it explores timeless issues: prejudices, the loss of innocence, and standing up for one’s principles in the face of our peers. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

2. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Elves, dwarves, and dragons – oh my!

The story that started them all. What can I say about this that hasn’t been said since 1937 when it was first published? Yes, you must see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the story (movie trailer below), but keep in mind that the book itself is full of wonderful literary gems that you shouldn’t miss.

3. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda

This book is fright with controversy. First published as non-fiction in 1968, Mr. Castaneda details the events he experienced while under the tutelage of a Yaqui witch doctor known as Don Juan. Mr. Castaneda details (ahem) interesting peyote sessions and the path to power. I read this book when I was about 13 years old – a very impressionable age. I remember climbing up onto our roof and really thinking I was going to grow up to be a bruja – a witch. There were even moments I thought I could fly. But, obviously, I didn’t become a witch nor could I fly. And after reading that the author may have had a couple of screws loose to begin with, I realized that neither could Don Juan.

But this book put me on a different path from my peers. I embarked on a life-long inner journey and I learned about lucid dreaming. It really is a fascinating technique and I attribute the origins of all my stories to my ability to tap into a part of my subconscious that most of us just ignore (probably, for good reason).

4. The Education of Little Tree by Asa Earl Carter

Another controversial book, I found this endearing story about a young Native American growing up in the rural southwest very moving. When I first read it, I thought it was fiction and because I am just as ignorant as most Americans in regards to Native American speech and customs, I didn’t think the story was being racist. I took it at face value, and enjoyed the story. I also had no idea about the author’s bizarre background and the evidently racial intentions of the author, who claimed, until his death, that he was Forrest Carter, not Asa Earl Carter, a former Ku Klux Klan member.

What this story and author taught me was the power of words. Like a sorceress weaving commands into spells, Asa Earl Carter created a new life for himself with a small book he called a memoir. Not only did he fool thousands, he may have fooled himself.

5. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

A non-fiction book about barefoot running, the author got me running so that I can enjoy it. If you’ve ever wondered about those weird, expensive slippers some folks wear about town, read this book.

6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This is the book that set me on my path to writing. Mr. McCarthy’s spare writing style made me appreciate how a writer could use so few words to paint a world of hurt. Not only did I feel the author was writing directly to my soul, I felt he was writing my soul. It was like he was in my head, and for some reason it stirred yearnings in me I hadn’t known I had: I wanted to write.

7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafón

Up until reading this book by the famous Spanish author, Barcelona meant nothing. It was just another city, another metropolis that had seen countless generations pass. But this book put Barcelona on the map for me. It brought the city alive. I felt I could smell, taste, see, and know the inhabitants and places of that city after reading Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Though I have never been to Barcelona or Spain, his story inspired me to set my first book in this region.

8. Hunter’s Run by by Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois and G. R. R. Martin

Hunter’s Run is not your typical science fiction, adventure story. For starters, the main character is a minority. For sure, today there are more and more representation of minorities in genre fiction, but for a long time (and, yes, even today), the majority of genre fiction focuses of your standard Caucasian inspired characters. And though I like ALL genre fiction, it would be nice to read a story where the characters looked, acted, and sounded more like me – a Mexican American.

So, when I first read Hunter’s Run, and though the main character is not meant to be easily liked, I fell in love with Ramon Espejo because I recognized the struggles he went through and realized that all stories are universal, even if I had a hard time relating to a hardened person like Ramon Espejo.

9. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Of all things, I think this book taught me about tolerance. A tale of unwavering faith, Mr. Martel has a way of drawing the most fantastical out of the ordinary while hiding the divine. A remarkable fantasy adventure, as I first read Pi’s harrowing trials, I learned that despite the world of differences, we are all yearning for the same things: acceptance and forgiveness.

10. The Holy Bible by various Jewish and Christian authors and translators

This will offend the majority of the world, so if you find criticism of your religious texts intolerable – STOP READING. I’ve tackled this one last, so you don’t have to miss out on all the other good books I’ve mentioned above.

I’ve been a non-believer (yes, an atheist) from a very early age. However, though I almost always held a deep skepticism towards the stories told in the Christian Bible, you can’t ignore that some of them are very powerful and, frankly, entertaining. I mean, come on, Ezekiel Chapter 37? That’s probably one of the first zombie stories ever told. And all of Job’s trials? Great metaphors that have been used over and over in story telling to great effect.

The mythologies contained in this tome are ancient and draw upon diverse cultures that were encompassed into a faith that enthralled millions throughout the ages. I can’t help but admire the power in those words.

Until later, read to change your life.

* Said with the caveat that these are the 10 books that have influenced my life thus far. Plus, I might be forgetting a few here and there. I reserve the right to change, add to, or completely destroy this list.

16 thoughts on “The 10 Most Influential Books I’ve Read

  1. TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD is a great one. Considered it for my own list as well. But, when I read it the first time I was too young to appreciate it. Stupid school system and when they want kids to read things.

    1. I did read it young, but it did change the way I viewed the world. I realized it wasn’t enough to just do the rght thing, and I realized that just because you did do the right thing, didn’t mean all would turn out right.

  2. I’ve only read one of these (The Hobbit). Like most, I have dipped into The Bible (mostly for ammo, lol). Life of Pi is on my bookshelf. I’m sure I’ll get to it soon enough

  3. I loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, which I found unbelievably easy to read – in fact I couldn’t put them down.

    There was no need for a pre-emptive apology over your comments on The Bible – as atheistic comments on a religious book, I thought they were very fair.

    It is a book with a terrific range of stories, including the Book of Esther, which doesn’t mention God at all but shows a woman determined to rescue her people. Considering it was written in an age when women had no power, I find it very moving. There is a wonderful romance in the story of Jacob and Rachel – a man forced to work 14 years before he can marry the woman he loves.
    There are dramas, battles, intrigues, wanderings, family strife, national strife, kidnapping, oppression, self-sacrifice, wonderful poetry and much more, the complete human condition, really.

    As I’m a Christian, the Bible has certainly influenced my life, although I accept that there are difficult passages. I do believe that it was inspired by God but, having been written down by humans, it is not infallible.

    Very few books have moved me to tears but one which did was The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov. It is only a longish short story but I found it incredibly moving. It is a story of striving for what seems impossible and the need for the ultimate self-sacrifice in order to reach the goal – a much under-rated book.

  4. Nice to see a non-Christian recognizing that the Scriptures nevertheless possess an intrinsic, literary value. (Not to mention how an acquaintance with their contents makes helps make more sense out of much classical literature.)

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