Books that shaped you as a reader

We all have them. Books that we picked up, thinking "oh, this might be interesting" and we put down again, novel finished, soul satiated. Every piece of literature we read affects us to some degree. In a way, we, as human beings, are the sum of all our encounters: every word we read, every thought we share becomes part of who we are.

Now, that all sounds rather pretentious, but it's true. Every one of us has books that have changed us and, to some degree or another, our perception or style of reading. The best novels often even move us to think in a way we may never have otherwise done.

Below I have selected the seven books I felt had the most impact on me as a reader.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

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Though this novel has long been bumped out of my top ten, it was my favourite novel all through elementary school. Looking back on it now, the whole idea behind the book really is a little silly, but the idea of making pancakes from acorns really stuck in my mind. This was the first book that got me into reading, but I suffered from such a long drought of what I could deem interesting that my love of reading started to fade until...

The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Seventh grade. It seems like forever ago now, but I read The Giver in my seventh grade reading class. More accurately, we listened to the teacher read it to us and followed along like obedient little children within our text. I was fascinated. What a world Lowry had created! What interesting ideas, what powerful messages! This book was my favourite for a short while and taught me that literature, yes, even lower-grade fiction, can have immense value.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is best compared to petrol. It wasn't just that the fumes make me loopy, it's that once Chamber of Secrets sparked, my love for reading burned--and passionately. Yes, I had heard over and over again that Harry Potter was the most wonderful story in the world and that everyone should read it. My mother even tried to read to me the first part of Philosopher's Stone at one point. I fell asleep. Several years later, however, I decided to start the series from the second novel--ignoring the first (I had gotten what was necessary, I felt, from having seen the film), I loved it. I loved Harry and Hermione and the universe that Rowling created (Not Ron, though. I still hate Ron). Rowling's Chamber of Secrets has likely done more for me than any other novel in this list in that I credit it with my continued love of reading. I've lost track of the number of times I've read the novel, but I know that as of five or so years ago, I had passed the thirtieth read of the book.

Chamber of Secrets didn't just start my love of reading, either. It started my love for writing. I wrote loads of fan fiction-- much of which I shake my head at today--that helped me to grow as a writer. I could borrow a world and characters and work just on the dialogue--then the narration, the world, and eveything else--until I started to build my own worlds and my own characters.

In the Net of Dreams by William Mark Simmons

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In the Net of Dreams was the novel that got me to acknowledge there was something other than Harry Potter in the world of fantastic literature. The novel's ideas were genius for their time (and are still quite impressive, even by today's standard). In the Net of Dreams was witty. It had a strong and interesting plot with buckets full of interesting (and oddly unique) characters. Looking at the cover, you probably think it's little more than your standard fantasy paperback, but, thankfully, you'd be dead wrong. It's amazing--it got me to start (and continue, really) reading outside of Rowling's world.

Note: I know this book is a rather unknown novel. The author has the first several chapters up on his website, if you're interested in sampling it. Yeah, the site is ugly, but the text is great.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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This novel not only caused me to acknowledge that dystopian fiction was my favourite genre, it also forced me, though later in life, to acknowledge my political views for what they were. Much has been said (and continues to be said) about this novel, so I'll spare you there--but this novel opened my eyes to subtle villainy in fiction.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Another classic, but rightfully so. What other novel can pull together a middle-aged man and a twelve year old "nymphette" in such a way that is both exceptionally disgusting and hauntingly beautiful? This novel allowed me to see that no good villain is the laughing maniac out to bore you to tears with his monologues.

No, the best villains are villains only because the story is told from the wrong point of view.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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When I originally wrote this article, I had only made it a mere half way through this novel, and I found myself wondering at its genius at every page turn. That wonderment never faded. The novel consists of six interwoven stories, nested together to form what is both incredibly ambitious and astoundingly beautiful. Mitchell has a very strong voice in his writing--a way with words that makes aspiring novelists like me question their ability to turn a phrase. Robert Frobisher and Sonmi-451 are amazing characters: Frobisher is hilarious. Sonmi is ... Sonmi.

As I student, I found myself banning myself from picking up the novel because it became nearly impossible to put down once started. Things like getting homework done, going to work, and getting sleep kept getting in my way...

I knew then that Cloud Atlas had supplanted In the Net of Dreams as my favourite novel, and even now that I've finished the novel, I feel myself being pulled back in.

Other Thoughts

Not all of these books has ever been what I would call "my favourite". Neither Lolita nor Brave New World has ever had the privilege of claiming that particular title--they could not dethrone the long-standing champion of the number one spot--In the Net of Dreams. It took seven years for another novel to finally bump it down to the number two spot.

What books changed you as a reader? What book or books got you reading in the first place? Which book do you today deem your favourite?