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What Books Changed Your Life?

Every now and then I come across some website or other where someone names a book that “changed his/her life”. Now, I’m not calling them liars, but personally, I do not know of any book that has changed my life. I would suspect that a non-fiction book might change one’s life more easily than a fiction book would. Maybe since I mostly read fiction I have not had the experience of reading a life-changing book. Then again, some people claim that a fiction book changed their lives, so who knows. (Links to these postings escape me at the moment unfortunately.) I could easily see how some authors could easily claim that there’s one book that pushed them toward their chosen profession, but I cannot make the same claim. At least I don’t think so.

The question I have is: Have any of YOU ever read a book that has changed your life?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

24 Comments on What Books Changed Your Life?

  1. Well, *changed* is a little tricky, because who knows what my life would have been if I *hadn’t* read _Shikasta_ by Doris Lessing? Or _Dhalgren_ by Samuel R. Delany? Or _The Dispossessed_ by Ursula K. LeGuin? (Speaking of which: How’s your 1975 reading going?)

    Each of these three books had a profound influence on me. But I might have ended up right where I am without them. Who can say?

  2. PS. Those shortcuts on the “Post a Comment” entry form (URL, BOLD, ITALICIZE) do nothing for me in either Mozilla (firefox) or Opera. They look like javascript. Are they IE only?

  3. I’m not sure exactly what I mean by changed either. It’s just something I hear others say.

    Haven’t started the reading yet, plan to this weekend. Last night, I trolled my book farm for the books.

    D’oh! I’ll look into the browser bug. (That might explain why others just cut & paste URL’s).

  4. Some books that standout in my memory.

    I was fifteen when Pohl’s Gateway came out in 78. It was the first time I had ever heard of anal sex or any number of other sexual positions. I have a deep hormonal memory of that book.

    Ditto with Salem’s Lot. I read that my freshman year of high school. I had read a lot of older horror by then, but that book just blew the roof of my mind. Vampires killing a baby, hot bloodsucker chicks, the spikes at the body of the stairs. Shudder. All other horror I read would now be compared to this.

    Radix by A. A. Attanasio. I was waiting at JFK airport for my fiancee to arrive back from her trip to Italy. Her flight was delayed. I downed this book in four and a half hours. It was the first modern take of what would later be called Transhumanism. It was like a Cordwainer Smith book in a Lovecraft universe. This book redefined SF for me.

    More recently, John C. Wright’s Golden Age trilogy pulled off the singular task of pushing every one of my buttons. Mad science, far future culture, chapter long discussions of just about everything. This really nailed the spirit of SF for me, and managed to codify my reasons for no longer tolerating Trek.

  5. On Gateway: Er…thanks Jeff.

    Some of your titles stand out because you associate them with what was going on in your life at the time. That’s something I do too. For example, I remember commuting to school early to avoid traffic and reading King’s It to while away the time. Or, I remember waiting to pick up my kid from Scouts and reading Writing Solid Code by Steve McConnell. (I do the same mental association with songs, btw.) I wouldn’t say these changed my life though. I guess I make a distinction between reading a good book and having a book change your life in some way.

  6. I should clarify my statement:

    Gateway did NOT change my life to the extent of driving me down a path of sexual deviancy (I managed that on my own, thank you). I was fifteen. It was the 70s. After having watched Star Wars over 100 times (it was in theaters for 16 months, y’know) and binge-reading the Foundation Trilogy, the Elric books, and Imperial Earth, it was a bit of an eye-opener to read about explorers who celebrate discovering a new star system by tying each other up and mistreating their naughty-bits. It was a book that I was worried my mom would pick up and read, and thus ban SF from the house altogether.

    As for life associations: I was once in a pretty deep funk, and spent an autumn afternoon sitting on a Vermont hillside reading Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter. The book was enough of an escapist steampunk jaunt to cheer me up. It is by no means on my favorites list, but it did play a pivotal role at that time in my life.

  7. Wow, I am going to assume you mean in the realm of SciFi/Fantasy at this point. Therefore, I can avoid a deep dive into religion, and possibly hope that someone finishes reading this post.

    I became engrossed in reading the Foundation Trilogy, did it change my life? Probably not anymore than anything else that you experience changes your life, somewhat subjective. Anyway, in my experience some of the novels from Heinlein were somewhat of an eye-opener for me as a youngster, especially with my religious upbringing. Some for the reasons Jeff mentioned in the previous post and some because challenges or differences in my belief system. I did not like all of his books, hit-and-miss for me. I think Job which had some religious satire in it had an effect on me. I remember enjoying that read – though I confess, I have not read it since. Sometimes I hate trying to reread books I enjoyed in my youth. I find that sometimes they are not as good a read after so many years, I assume because my tastes have changed or I am getting older and more mature, what are the odds?

  8. I wouldn’t say that any book has had a huge impact on me. Certainly, Heinlein and his libertarian leanings influnced me somewhat, but no where near any real life events (getting a real job and getting paid for it, getting married, having kids). So I’d say no book has made me re-examine my life and make any changes to it. Other things have done that.

    And I don’t remember all the, err, ‘expanded procreational activities’ from Gatewar. Guess I’ll have to re-read it….. For science of course.

    And yes, the comment shortcuts don’t work in FireFox or anything non-IE. I don’t know why and I’ve been to lazy to actually try and figure it out. I see that my laziness has finally paid off since John will now have a bug up his…, yeah it all comes back to Gateway doesn’t it?, and will fix it.

  9. I can’t say that I have read any true SF books that have changed my life, but did offer an alternate view on religion. I tend to avoid discussing that and politics because both are highly personal items. The book was To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust and I found it be a great view on the whole heaven and hell thing. Then on the non-fiction side of the house would be Hot Zone which scared the crap out of me.

    Finally, I wonder how our hit rates will go up from the revelations Jeff laid out for us πŸ™‚

  10. Yes, it gives a whole new meaning to the term “Lix Score“.

  11. I’ve certainly read things that provided me with information (non-fiction books) that changed my outlook or behavior in life. Does that count? For some reason the book Band of Brothers gave me a totally new appreciation for people who served and fought in World War 2, and Day of Infamy really brought home what really happened to people and America on Dec 7 1942 in a way that nothing else could.

    I suspect you are referring to fiction books and SciFi at that though.

    Overall these books are escapist fantasy. Do they sometimes provide me with a critical respite from the stresses in my life such that they help me cope? Sure. Does that ‘change my life’? I suppose it does in some ways, sure.

    Do the concepts in Atlas Shrugged, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451 really change you? They honestly might – if it causes you to get fired up against government intervention or speak out against censership then they did. Maybe they just help you voice or crystalize your thinking – in that way they would.

    Overall I guess I have to believe somebody when they say things like this because it would be too arrogant of me to say it didn’t. I understand that people speak in hyperbole all the time (as evidenced – πŸ™‚ ) but overall if someone feels that passionate about a book I’m going to take that at face value.

    Oh and look, I made it all the way to the end and didn’t mention Gateway even once.

  12. You know what’s funny? The Lix Score for the front page is 35.5, 5th grade. For this particular post and associated comments? 32.0, below fifth grade! Who knew?

    Oh, and Scott said ‘the end’ in reference to Gateway. Snicker.

  13. I’d go along with Heinlein in Starship Troopers. More along the lines though of crystalyzing thoughts and mental tendencies that I’d had all along. Mostly due to my own experience in the military and what I perceive as a sort of civil torpidity among the American populace. Maybe that’s not the answer you were looking for, having mostly read cheesy sci-fi most of the time. The STEN series I find massively entertaining, partially because it is a sci-fi re-enactment in many ways of world war II (including the book where the escape from a German, er, Tahn POW camp), but also because it really clearly brings out the way that soldiers actually talk to one another and interact with each other, especially amongst special forces types. Hard to think of a single book that really changes your outlook JUST because of a story. Although how does that saying go, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?

    Doug

  14. Ok, so the Lix score from msnbc.com is

    Readability report for http://www.msnbc.com

    readability grades:

    Kincaid: 8.7

    ARI: 10.7

    Coleman-Liau: 11.3

    Flesch Index: 70.2

    Fog Index: 11.5

    Lix: 44.2 = school year 8

    SMOG-Grading: 10.1

    Nice…why am I encouraging my ninth grader to read the paper again???

  15. You all think I’m a perv now.

    And y’all should be grateful I’m not a fan of the Gor books.

  16. I never read Band of Brothers, I did see the HBO series based on the book. Very emotionally moving – one of my favorites for TV viewing. I also gained a new appreciation for the WWII generation.

    As far as the Lix score goes . . . if it is anything like the software used at my kid’s school the more obscure words you use and the more words you use in a sentence, even if they are run on sentences caused their score on that software to go way up, so maybe this sentence with it’s run on with limited punctuation will cause the score to go up, or maybe I need to use words like picayune will help.

  17. The Lix Score is now 31.1, down from 32. Way to go.

  18. Jeff, your URL is broken. What does Gor write? Is he the same guy who invented the Internet?

  19. Pete, Pete, Pete. Your fantasy knowledge is woefully lacking and that situation must be full rectified ere people come to believe that you are a total and compelte fantasy neophyte.

    The Gor Series is a set of bound, pulped wood products authored by John Norman and display an unhealthy prediliction toward slavery and bondage, and not in equivalent terms here with the bondage of the BDSM type, especially of the female gender. All one has to do to ascertain the correctness of this proposition is to casually, but with great attention, examine any of the covers of the aforemention compendiums on human, especially female, subjugation. It is up to each person’s tastes to decide for themselves whether or not to find these books interesting or enjoyable to peruse leisurely, or with a keen eye toward detail, or to read them at all.

    Ok, so if our Lix score doesn’t go up, I’m going to be PO’ed…

  20. The Lix Score is now 31.6, up from 31.1. Way to go!

  21. In an attempt to raise our readability score, I have decided to append my previous statements with an addendum. The influences of modern literary persona can often press upon the subconscious of some individuals. Personally, I find that the authors do not necessarily change my viewpoint, but offer a differing angle to a given topic. Ultimately, the decision to have your ideology challenged by a given author is a personal thing.

    I would also like to make a few comments on the statements made by my esteemed colleague, Scott. The most interesting fact regarding the effort put forth by our servicemen and women during that time is that many of our children will not have exposure to their stories. The books and movies that we produce today will definitely enable our following generations to fully comprehend the horrors of the war at that time. I am not trying to diminish the efforts of our forces in the current conflicts around the world, but I feel that we are losing something from that generation.

  22. They actually made two Gor films which, dispite airing only on Cinemax and starring a former Playmate, failed to truly capture the raw insipidness of the series. There was also no gang ass rape, as happens more than once in the books.

    I know this because I dated a girl in high school who was into these books. I read them because she liked them. After reading I began to suspect that the girl had issues. She did, and ended up in a string of mutually destructive relationships with the less intelligent eschelon of our class.

    A writer, I believe it was Walter Jon Williams but I could be wrong, once stated that anyone who is a fan of these books has psychological problems. Jon Norman was almost banned from WorldCon in San Antonio at the request of many authors and fans. He wrote a renowned letter to Locus about his treatment there, which I’ll try to find and link.

    Sorry about the bad URL. This one should work.

  23. Here is the link Jeff refers to.

    Scott

  24. Thank you, Scott.

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