The Five Books that made me
So how do you go about choosing just 5 books for a list like this?
I guess the truth is you cant really – how can you possibly breakdown a lifetimes worth of reading into 5 singular titles? Pure madness and futility. So what I’ve tried to do is pick out the 5 titles that have influenced me as a writer, books that have really stayed with me throughout the years and left a lasting impact on me, both as a author and an individual. The kind of books that I would have loved to have written and the kind that inspire me to keep battling with that blank page.
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl.
Perhaps an odd place to start, but a great deal of my formative years were spent clutching a Roald Dahl book and disappearing into its wonderful fairy tales and striking illustrations. Sure I have a large collection of all the classics – Charlie and the chlorate factory, the twits, James and the giant peach, the Bfg etc – but it was always the tale of that dastardly fox that I would return too. As a young child I was captivated by the clever and tricky Mr. Fox, repeatedly outwitting the evil farmers in order to feed his hungry family. It’s the one book that really stands out from my formative childhood reading years, and a tale I still love despite Hollywood’s best efforts to ruin it a few years ago.
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
Such a clever book telling a heartbreaking and emotion tale set in a subtle sci-fi landscape. First published in the 60’s, it tells the tale of a test subject, Charlie Gordon, who has undergone groundbreaking surgery to increase his intelligence. The eponymous Algernon is a laboratory mouse that has been subjected to the same experiment prior to Charlie, and a mouse who displays incredible intelligence after the procedure. Flowers is told via a series of reports and diary entries from Charlie, as he slowly gains super intelligence and starts to fall in love. Only later to discover the temporary nature of the experiment, as his friend Algernon begins to deteriorate and regress to its original natural intelligence levels. Sensing his pending regressions, the now super intelligent Charlie, sets out to try and halt his foreseeable fate.
I was awestruck by the way in which the diary entries of Charlie clearly reflected his varying mental states as the plot progressed. As we meet him he is a man of low IQ and mentally handicapped, and as such his diary entries are rudimentary and littered with spelling and grammatical errors. Later his reports developed into dense literary and intellectual entries due to his superhuman intelligence, only to again regress later as its effects began to wear off. An incredibly skilled piece of writing, you can gauge Charlies mental state and intelligence at any point simply by the language in which the entries have been written.
It’s a truly groundbreaking work that covers themes of intelligence and its link to happiness, as well as the treatment of the mentally handicapped.
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuck
We all know Fight Club and we all now were not supposed to talk about it. I’m sure we all know the plot and we all know who Tyler Durden really is, so I wont re-tread it here.
I include it here because it was my introduction to Chuck Palahniuk, an author who has possible had the greatest influence on my own personal style than any other. I love the anarchy, the chaos, and the disruption that is Fight Club – but what really stuck me was the writing style. What I learned from Fight Club, and many of his other releases, is that writing can be simplistic, minimalist and effective at the same time. Anyone can take a brief flick through my own work – A Man Who Can See The Future – and see the short sentence structures, the nihilism and the colloquial language, and see the influence Chuck has had on my writing.
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
Where to start with House of Leaves? Anyone whose come across this 700+ page labyrinth of a book will surely relate with the struggle of just how to describe it?
For starters it’s a book with numerous narratives and characters, an unreliable narrator, copious footnotes (some with footnotes themselves), numerous references to fictional films and books, and a writing style that literally flows like the maze that forms the centre of the plot. In brief, a video record of a man exploring a labyrinth that opened up underneath his house is discovered. These tapes are being described and reported to us by a narrator who has stumbled upon these tapes whilst clearing the house of a deceased neighbor.
The extraordinary thing about the writing is that whilst the labyrinth is being explored, the text on the page quite literally mirrors the action it is describing. So whilst we are following our explored along a corridor, the text forms a narrow band across the page; when he descends a staircase, the text forms a staircase on the page; when he falls down a hole – the text forms in long, elongated strings down the centre of the pages. At one stage our explorer look through a hole in the wall and at that exact point in the text a large hole has been cut straight through the page!
Its possible the strangest and most intriguing book I’ve ever come across, and something so unique and inventive that I’ve never been able to forget it. A true Rubix cube of a book.
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
Maybe a controversial choice?
One thing you should know about me is that I have a fondness for the darker corners or the entertainment world. I have a huge love for heavy metal and all other types of extreme music and am an avid horror fan, particularly enjoy extreme foreign cinema (to which a guide is here). So the day I stumbled upon American Psycho and caught wind of some of the passage, I was left stunned and excited. I have never come across literature so dark, so nasty, so aggressive and so extreme before, or since. I think books like American Psycho are necessary and important and in tragically short supply. For every Harry Potter there needs to be a Patrick Bateman.
Alongside the graphic nature and extreme imagery of the book, sits a truly frightening commentary on the nature of capitalism and materialism, told through the eyes of a vacant and shallow madman for whom everything, including people, is a commodity.
A truly shocking piece of literature that I will never forget.